Given the accurate stereotypes of Jewish dating neuroses, it should not be surprising that JDate started way back in 1997. Since then a few more sites have popped up like Frumster which concentrates more on Orthodox Jews and SawYouAtSinai which combines modern technologies with traditional matchmaking.
Regardless of which site one choses, all dating sites involve somewhat impersonal forms of communication; all dating sites require a profile of some sort and with the exception of SYAS, an initial e-mail or response. Unfortunately, while the profile and e-mail are essential parts of online dating, it is apparent that people have no idea how to use them effectively. Profiles are trite and many initial e-mails are simply worthless.
That's where we come in. After reading far too many profiles and e-mails from both myself and friends, we've decided to provide some simple tips in navigating the online dating world.
Note to non-Jewish readers: While many assumptions will be specific to the Orthodox Jewish dating culture, you may find something useful or perhaps can contribute a different perspective.
Writing the Profile
At the risk of sounding pedantic, we should review the purpose of online dating: specifically, to attract someone you feel is compatible for yourself for dating.1 The goal should then be to communicate something about yourself and your interests which would best appeal to the sort of person for whom you're looking. Similarly, when reading profiles or e-mails you're looking for cues which would evoke interest on your part.
Dating profiles are not intended to be fine literature (though I suppose it could help), but there are some common missteps which would be helpful to avoid. For example, profiles and e-mails should follow basic rules of grammar and spelling. I've previously ranted about one such e-mail which read, and I quote, "Hey Josh, I likeyou rprofiel!!!"
Needless to say, I was not impressed.
Typos are common (as readers of this blog will attest), but they are also easily avoidable. If you're an Internet Explorer user, you can install the spellchecker ieSpell, and the latest versions of Firefox have a spellchecker built in. Or you could simply write your message in a word processor first and copy later.
Remember that when you're trying to make a positive first impression using the written word, it would help if you can demonstrate some degree of basic literacy.
In terms of the actual content of Jewish dating profiles, I've noticed a subtle pattern of insecurity and defensiveness. By this I mean I have seen a trend where people don't positively promote who they are, but feel the need to conform to expectations, or issue qualifying disclaimers.
One example of this is the ubiquitous line: "it's hard to explain myself in a paragraph..." or some variation thereof. This is a useless and counterproductive statement. People who are on dating sites realize the inherent limitations of the medium and if they have a profile, they are faced with the same restrictions. Speaking for myself, I have never read a profile with this statement thinking, "since she says there's more to her she must be the girls of my dreams!" Intelligent people will recognize that few individuals can articulate their gestalt in 1000 words or less, and those who cannot make this distinction are probably not worth your time. If you want to play the game of online dating, don't complain about the rules.
On the other hand, such disclaimers shouldn't be surprising once you start reading the profiles. Here's one real-life example:
I am friendly and outgoing and love to laugh and have fun. My family and friends are very important to me and they are a big part of my life. Religiously I am always looking to improve and grow in my frumkeit. I make time to learn every day, enjoy attending shiurim and I am involved in various chessed activities. In particular I have done a lot of work with the developmentally disabled population. I have always loved helping other people which has led me to pursue a career in social work. I am looking for someone who shares these values and wants to build a home centered around a Torah lifestyle and religious and personal growth. I want to be very involved in my community and am looking for someone who wants to be active as well. Also, someone who can make me laugh and I can have fun with.
Before you complain that I'm publicly embarrassing someone, I challenge you to positively identify this person.2
That's what I thought.
This profile is so generic that it could be interchangeable with dozens of people. Despite its relative length, the profile is riddled with trite, rehearsed clichês which tell you nothing about the person other than she's just like everybody else.
Finally there is the matter of a picture, and that there are still a few people who don't have one. Given the ubiquity of cameras out there I'm sure you can find someone who can help by taking an accurate up-to-date picture.3 On one hand we all sing "sheker hahein v'hevel hayofi" but who are we kidding. The simple reality is that everyone makes some judgments on physical attraction and you might as well have that up front. Even if you feel you're unattractive, there's no point in misrepresenting yourself since at some point you *will* meet and the other person will make their own judgments anyway.4 Yes the goal is to get a date, but we're also trying to be honest. The reality is that people do make judgments based on pictures, and in this case they really are worth 1000 words.5
My conjecture is that these defensive tendencies stem from personal insecurity. The very nature of dating necessitates some form of judging and being judged, but it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between rejection of compatibility and rejection of one's total self-worth. On the other hand, it's easier to rationalize being declined if you intentionally withhold information because you may counter that the other person simply does not know you well enough. Similarly, people may want to portray themselves as being just like everyone else to avoid being considered too "different" - although it's also possible that some people really are "cookie cutter" types.
Even though you may find the same adjectives popping up, there are sill ways you can express your personality. One good suggestion I once heard is to "show" not "say." For example, instead of just saying you're "funny," include something humorous which demonstrates your description. In any event, your profile is supposed to reveal something about you which would accurately distinguish you from other people, and if someone else isn't interested so be it.
How To Read A Profile
Note: This section assumes you don't just accept or decline based on a picture alone and actually bother to read what a person writes.
Sometimes when I decline profiles I get the guilt trip "how can you tell based on a profile?" In light of the previous discussion this is a fair question, but you have work with what you have. Most often it's a matter of intuition, but there are times when a profile can reveal more than one would expect.
My basic premise in reading profiles is that someone is telling me information for a reason. Let's take another snippit from someone else whom you will not be able to identify:
I truly believe that dressing modestly is important, but not forgetting that hashem sees what is in your heart more importantly, your chesed and true intentions--not what others might see just by your outward appearance. I dress modestly, yet like to dress funky and stylish as well. I wear sleeves above my elbows, and skirts only. I definately [sic] have my own style which I enjoy and makes me an individual. I have learned that my religious committment [sic] and observance does not lie in the length of my sleeve, yet how I treat people and what is in my heart.
While there's more to the profile, it is obvious that issues of modesty are a concern for her. Not only does this person feel the need to discuss modesty, but she devotes significant space to legitimize her own interpretation. From this profile I infer that she is reacting aversely to a culture which she feels overemphasizes dress as a personal value. On the other hand, she still wishes to remain part of that particular culture to some extent - either by herself or through marriage - such that she defends her position, possibly because she has received criticism in the past. Regardless if my reading is correct, it does seem clear that modesty is a significant part of her overall hashkafa or culture such that she needs to express this immediately.
Including this information could be good or bad depending on who is reading the profile. Some guys won't care about her views on modesty, others could get turned off by the defensiveness, and still others could admire this person for her relative individualism. In fact, passages like these could help weed out people who are otherwise inappropriate.
The point is that people include information for a reason, even if they aren't necessarily aware of it. If you read carefully you can often infer more about the person than what s/he has written.
On the other hand, I've been known to over-analyze on occasion so perhaps we should just move along.
Let's say you're ready to make the first move what do you do? Frumster suggests including something specific to the person, demonstrating that you took the time to read the profile. I happen to like this idea, but it's not always feasible considering what the other person wrote. In terms of length, short e-mails take less effort to write, and rely more on the strength of the profile. Long e-mails can supplement your profile and be more informative, but there is the risk of sounding desperate. Personally I avoid longer e-mails because I've found 1/2 - 2/3 of people contacted do not bother responding at all,6 so a blind e-mail is rarely worth the effort.
The truth is, you can't predict how someone else will react, so you're better off just following your intuition.
Oh, and run spell check.
One final trend I'd like to address is the tendency to include derashot7 in profiles and e-mails. From what I hear, both men and women do this, but it is most common among guys who are ba'alei teshuva or converts. Ostensibly, these people are trying to impress others based on their intellect, knowledge, or "spirituality." It's also possible they're seeking validation for their religious aptitude.
From my conversations with women, I've found that this strategy is rarely if ever effective. One person even explained her reaction as, "most likely i just laugh at him." Even if there is some insight in the derasha, there is often an element of arrogance and pretentiousness in which a hashkafa is tacitly imposed on someone else as fact. I've also been told that when women question such derashot, they are usually attacked or insulted in response.
Discussing religion and hashkafa is inevitable at some point, but it would be more appropriate to have a conversation - i.e. a mutual exchange of ideas - rather than a unilateral lecture.
And yes, this is coming from a Rabbi.
There really shouldn't be anything revolutionary in this post, parts of which are just as applicable beyond "Jewish" dating. With the emotional risks involved, dating can be intimidating and even scary, but this doesn't mean you should date scared. If you're open and honest about yourself you'll probably chase away some people, but the ones you attract will likely be more compatible and hopefully have more enjoyable dates.
After that, you're on your own.
1. Yes, Orthodox Jewish dating is generally for marraige, but slow down here. Let's just focus on getting a first date.
2. In all fairness I honestly have no idea who this person is either.
3. Even I have one, and there are very few pictures of me anywhere.
4. I find that it's imperative to let people make up their own minds about what they consider attractive for themselves. This is why I ignore people when they tell me a girl is pretty; I trust my own judgment more.
5. Frumster has the option of a password protected picture, but I'm not sure what the point is of this either since again, at some point people will see the picture. I know of both women and men (myself included) who upon sharing their password with someone promptly never heard back. If anything I would say this is worse since you how have assurance that you're being judged negatively based on looks.
6. This number only counts those who have access to read the e-mail, and either read the e-mail and didn't respond or logged in and avoided reading the e-mail altogether.
7. From the few I've read, I cannot seriously call them "divrei Torah," since there is usually little Torah to them.