Illustration by Lior Zaltzman
Some Grandmas play bridge, mahjong, or golf. I play eHarmony, JDate, and Match.com. In the past two years, I’ve corresponded with shrinks, rabbis, and a man who mentioned he has to be catheterized three times a day, but was very loving.
It used to be women of a certain age, the sweet spot between AARP and shiva, had to be formally invited on a date. They’d hope their friends would set them up with Harold the ancient widower or good old always available Uncle Joe. What a lame system.
As a woman approaching the biblical threescore and ten, oops just did that, I’m not a newbie in life. I work at a great bookstore, write books, even do review segments on radio and TV. And I can be found predawn at the gym lifting weights and catching up on the latest news. Full disclosure, my favorite thing to say there is “good-bye”.
I found myself surprised by the critical response Caroline Rothstein and Debra Nussbaum Cohen got for explaining why they feel Jews should marry Jews. Rothstein wrote about why she only dates Jewish guys and Nussbaum Cohen about why she wants her children to marry Jews.
I see no problem with the act of wanting a Jew to marry a Jew. To me this just means that they want themselves or their children to marry a partner who will be more likely to preserve a culture and lifestyle that they find comforting and nourishing. What is inherently wrong with that?
As I see it, the issue isn’t wanting yourself or your loved ones to marry a Jew, but how you react if you or they don’t. I suspect, and hope, that most of us would not do anything radical should our children marry outside the faith. We might be a little sad, a little disappointed, but this should never be cause to end or harm a relationship.
Have you heard about “senior washed up girls” — or “SWUGs”? They’re the latest acronym for a sexual trend that affects Ivy Leaguers, in this case young women at the end of their college careers discovering that (either due to free will or lack of options) they do not care anymore: about grades, hookups, relationships or anything but having a good time.
Is this cool or pathetic? Or as Raisa Bruner, a student writer at, Yale put it philosophically:
Is SWUG-ness a…fuck-‘em-all, let’s-do-what-matters-to-us kind of attitude that has nothing to do with the images of lackluster sex and desperate partying that it’s grown to encompass?
I wish. Maybe it was that way once. But right now, SWUG’s social meaning at Yale remains about the hooking up that we women are — and aren’t — doing, and how little we’re supposed to let that bother us. It’s become a signifier of not caring. Alas for the golden era of SWUGs. It was over before most of us out in the real world even knew what it meant.
Yes, another long and rambling “trend piece” in an Ivy League newspaper has been picked up and analyzed, complete with a campus visit, by New York Magazine. The next link in the chain? An older Ivy graduate (that would be yours truly) sits at her keyboard trying to make sense of what the youngsters are up to these days. Is this trend ephemeral or eternal?
I’m super glad that these fraternity boys at the University of Maryland wrote this letter to their brothers about how to talk to Jewish women, because otherwise, I would not have known how! Also, apparently I’ve been talking to myself and other Jewish women the wrong way this entire time.
The guys’ egregious “instructions” are divided into sections, including “hometown,” “major” and “topics of conversation.” Here’s a hint of what they think it takes to talk to a Jewish woman:
If from an allowed hometown you are fine. If not, lie and say you are from an allowed area. Note: DC is a toss up area, as is Vermont.
Areas you can be from: New York, New Jersey, PA (only Philadelphia area, sorry redacted), Massachussets, Rockville/Bethesda area, Pikesville
Not Allowed Areas: The rest of Maryland (especially rural counties, looking at you redacted), Baltimore, Atlanta, anywhere in the south, Connecticut are from an allowed area. Note: DC is a toss up area, as is Vermont.
On a college major…
You are a business major or an econ major or a communication major
You want to “do something with business, maybe finance” or start your own business
Alternative 1 to that: Some science major, but you are going to med school to be a doctor (why? because both your parents are doctors)
Alternative 2: You are a crim major and plan on going to law school
In summation: No matter what, do whatever you have to do to create and maintain the aura of wealth. Sadly, this letter isn’t a joke.
Recently, a series of major articles have raised the alarms on the demise of dating and marriage. Alex Williams’ New York Times piece “The End of Courtship” lamented the death of traditional, chivalrous dating, and Amy Webb’s Wall Street Journal story encouraged women to stretch the truth in their online dating profiles lest all the good men pass them by. In response to Dan Slater’s new book about technology’s effect on dating, “Love in the Time of Algorithms,” The Atlantic ran a series on online dating and whether or not it’s destroying monogamy. Each one heralded the end of romance, flowers on a first date, and all that Hugh Grant movies taught us to revere and expect.
However, even after my many negative 21st-century dating experiences, I don’t think dating and romance are dead; rather, they have evolved.
What people talking about the death of dating often forget is that for a long time, marriage existed primarily as an economic rather than romantic institution (see Stephanie Koontz’s Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage for more specifics). Dating has already evolved in response to economic and social changes to be more informal and varied in its ultimate romantic goal. For some, marriage isn’t even the endgame.
Israel Irenstein, who has become something of a relationship guru for formerly Orthodox men, was the focus of a recent Slate article detailing the dating challenges of individuals who grew up in the Orthodox community, but have since left. Among those challenges: “Inexperience, having no identity, and having no understanding of the opposite sex.”
But the story all but overlooks the experience of formerly Orthodox women. And you can’t just ignore the issue of gender — particularly when an individual comes from a community in which ideas about gender roles and personal agency are outside the mainstream.
Alex Newpol, intake coordinator for Footsteps, a group that provides support services to men and women who have left the ultra-Orthodox community, explains that many women in Footsteps struggle with interpreting male advances.
A female member of Footsteps who asked not to be identified because of the insular nature of formerly Orthodox community said the biggest issues she faces are: “How do I say no? How do I decline someone? How do I know if this is a date?”
The woman explained how activities as mundane as shopping for a new outfit can create anxiety over how much skin they should be exposing. She also said that coming from a community in which women often defer to men, learning how and when to be assertive is also challenging.
I had wondered whether Yitta Halberstam’s “Plea to Mothers of Girls in Shudduchim” [the process of dating for marriage], published recently in the Jewish Press, was really a Purim spoof, even if it did come out well after the holiday. Alas, no. Her suggestion that Orthodox women of marrying age should take any and all measures, including undergoing plastic surgery, to improve their appearance, is apparently one given in earnest.
As an Orthodox woman myself, that notion is beyond troubling. I have written here about the Jewish concept of modesty, which I believe is all about dignity. But raising our daughters with the message that they are more than their bodies — and then, teaching them that those bodies are all that matter when it comes to finding a mate — is the height of hypocrisy. What follows is my rejoinder to some of Halberstam’s most outrageous statements:
Halberstam writes: “Yes, spiritual beauty makes a woman’s eyes glow and casts a luminous sheen over her face; there is no beauty like a pure soul. Make-up, however, goes a long way in both correcting facial flaws and accentuating one’s assets.”
I really did want to put down “Secrets of Shiksa Appeal: Eight Steps to Attract Your Shul-Mate,” a new self-help guide, which begins with the cringe-worthy lines, “I once drove a boyfriend into the arms of a shiksa. The following pages are my attempt to make up for that.” But before I knew it I was through the 117-page book.
The premise of “Secrets,” written by a 20-something author who goes by the pen name Avi Roseman, is that Jewish women would be able to get Jewish men to marry them if only they would act more like non-Jewish women (a premise that Details and Complex magazines would surely take issue with — even if for the wrong reasons). Only she freely calls these non-Jewish women “shiksas,” with apparently no concern that she might come off sounding like a huge bigot. As difficult as it was for me, I let my late bubbe get away with bandying “shiksa” about; but I can’t allow the young Roseman to feign ignorance of the derogatory nature of the term.
The essence of Roseman’s approach is that Jewish women just aren’t good enough.
Patti Stanger should take her own advice.
The “Millionaire Matchmaker” was on Bravo TV’s “Watch What Happens Live” Sunday night (unfortunately I can’t find a video version to share with you), talking with host Andy Cohen, who seemed by turns disgusted and perplexed by what Stanger had to say.
Now, unlike Ilana Angel from the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, I like watching “Millionaire Matchmaker.”
• New Israeli census numbers are out, showing that Jewish Israeli women bear fewer children, on average (2.1) than their Muslim (3) Christian (2.2.) and Druze (2.7) counterparts.
• The Gloss sits down with Tamar Reich, an observant Jew and former Krav Maga instructor who recently opened New York City’s first all-female performing arts space.
• Tamar Caspi writes an open letter “to moms & dads of marriageable-age kids,” arguing, in the Jersualem Post, that it’s counterproductive for parents to insist that their children date only Jews.
It has taken Lori Gottlieb many years of dating to figure out what’s really important to look for in a husband, and after talking with matchmakers, marriage researchers and a dating coach, she’s figured out that it isn’t a guy’s height or how he dresses.
In her new book, “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough,” (Dutton, 2010), Gottlieb advises women not to wait too long before walking down the aisle, even if it’s with a man who isn’t the man of what they thought their dreams should be.
Gottlieb is 43 and the single mother of a 4-year-old son, with whom she attends Tot Shabbat at a local Reform temple. From her home in Los Angeles, Gottlieb spoke recently with The Sisterhood about the mistakes women make in their quest to find a mate, the Jewish notion of soul mates and why she no longer has a “list.”
Dating and parks, I’ve once learned, share a common trait. We’re supposed to leave both — romantic partners and pastoral places, that is — better than we found them.
I was thinking about that this past week when an email popped into my inbox from a dating site to which I subscribe. Now it’s not a Jewish dating Web site, because where I live there is not much of a Jewish population to support one. The email was from a member of the site who wanted to make a connection. The reason? Because I’m Jewish, he’s not and he’d like me to help him clear up “any misconceptions” he may have about Jewish culture.
Dating a Jew, he writes, would be a natural step after dating his last girlfriend. (Who, you guessed right, was an Arab woman, who — yup — cured him of his Arab stereotypes.) But shall we let the gentleman speak for himself?