Table for One: Product Placement

by Heather Robinson

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From The Jewish Week

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“… fools give you reasons, wise men never try.”
— From Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific”

Alison Greenberg, 40, a Manhattan marketer, has been online dating for many years.

Strikingly pretty, with a delicate profile and olive skin, ambitious and highly successful, Alison (not her real name) had, throughout most of her 20s, enjoyed the life of a big-city single woman, never lacking dates or attention from men.

Then came the attacks of Sept. 11; afterward, Alison felt keenly the lack of one special someone with whom to share her life. Also, one of her life goals was — and is — to start a family.

Alison figured going online would make her search for love more efficient.

She has been online dating off and on for the better part of 13 years. At present, she has profiles on four sites: CoffeeMeetsBagel.com, OKCupid.com, Hinge.com and PlentyofFish.com. At one time, she also had profiles on JDate.com, and Match.com.

Alison estimates that from the age of 27, she has gone on an average of about 25 dates per year with men she met online.

In addition, she says that about 10 more dates per year come from “real life”; all told she estimates she’s been on 455 dates in those 13 years.

In that time, she’s had one semi-serious, on again/off again four-year relationship with a Jewish man she met online. (A tall stockbroker, he met her specifications for external qualities; however, she suspects he lacked the self-insight and emotional maturity for a healthy, sustained intimacy.)

In creating her profiles, she draws upon her skills as a marketer.

“I position myself telling a story,” she told me. “It’s not just, ‘Here’s what I bring and here’s why you should pick me,’ but here is me … with specific tidbits that are true to me but that I think might also be appealing to the right man.”

It seems to me that even a woman like Alison, who seems entirely sincere in her efforts to meet her life partner, perhaps by virtue of the online dating medium, ends up marketing herself rather than letting go and letting life — and possibly love — happen.

Having done a bit of online dating myself, I can’t help but wonder: in a business-driven city, within an achievement-oriented community, are New York’s Jewish singles treating the search for love too much like a job, and ourselves as products to be marketed?

With a number of self-help books on the market purporting to show us how to find love, both in the culture at large and within our Jewish-American subculture — from “Data, a Love Story,” whose author, Amy Webb, says she found love by marketing herself like a product and quantifying her potential partner using a 72-point list, to “Married in a Year,” in which millionaire matchmaker Patti Stanger offers a 12-month action plan for “sealing the deal” — are we simply trying too hard? And could our businesslike, problem-solving approach to finding love be self-defeating?

Because, despite no shortage of matchmakers, dating experts and love coaches, fewer Jewish New Yorkers seem to be settling down, with Jewish mates or otherwise. And with all the dating sites out there, the idea of meeting someone in a bar or at a party is beginning to seem almost quaint.

Even some Jewish dating experts think we ought to relax and quit approaching love like a job with a deadline.

“Who can hear the sweet sounds of love with the sound of a clock ticking in their head?” said Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, author of “Kosher Lust.”

While Rabbi Boteach believes it is vital for singles to put themselves in situations where opportunities for love can arise, such as “synagogue, and volunteering for charities,” he cautions singles about getting obsessed with programs that preach marriage within a rigid timeframe regardless of circumstances and feelings.

“Desperation subverts the possibility of love, so it doesn’t work,” the rabbi said. “I believe in love and marriage, and that we are all enhanced by marriage, but I don’t want women believing their core identity is about being attached to a man only. It’s not a healthy message.”

Rabbi Boteach added, “We live in a society that makes people feel if they are 30 or 40 they are past and that’s not true.”

Michelle Frankel, owner of NYCity Matchmaking and a dating coach, says that while she does believe in having an action plan, she stresses to clients the need to live life to its fullest regardless of whether one is single or coupled.

“You definitely have to put yourself in places where it can happen,” said Frankel. “But I tell clients, no matter what, ‘Live your life and build yourself.'”

Postscript: Alison tells me that recently, following another disappointing online date, she fled to a hotel bar for a drink, and a man approached her. He is an airline pilot, and looks nothing like the man she envisioned she would spend her life with. She describes him as a “gentleman” and says she is enjoying his company.

This entry was written by and posted on April 28, 2014 at 12:50 pm and filed under Commentary.