From Belarus, Without Love

by Heather Robinson


From The Jewish Week

Changing dating expectations in a city where men won’t grow up.

At 20, living in a small town in Belarus, Olga (not her real name) placed her picture on a website for American men interested in meeting Russian women.

Within weeks, Howard, a Jewish-American man 10 years her senior, came to visit; because her English was poor and he spoke no Russian, they communicated mostly through translators.

Within a month, Howard flew Olga to Miami, and shortly thereafter they were married, a translator on hand to help her recite her vows in English.

By 27, Olga was divorced from Howard and engaged to a handsome young law student who broke her heart.

At 31, Olga sits in a coffee shop and shares her story. Towheaded and beautiful, with doll-like features and a dancer’s body, she receives glances — even in Soho, land of the models. In a soft, lilting voice, she shares her frustration: now that she is older and wiser, her definition of a “good catch” has evolved from someone like Richard Gere in “Pretty Woman” to someone more like Paul Reiser on “Mad About You.” Olga cannot find the man she claims she longs for: educated, and established, “kind like [her] ex-husband,” with whom she can have a family.

“I love the city, but I have not been lucky here,” she says. “Dating in New York City is hard; you meet so many men, but it is hard to find a nice one.”

While she acknowledges that she does not, want to date “a poor student like my ex-fiancé (who cheated on her), and says she would like to meet a man “with a good career to raise a family in New York City,” Olga claims that, having gained the ability “to earn my own money” (she works as a residential real estate broker and part-time office manager) she has come to balance her desire for financial security with the desire for true partnership in love.

She tends to favor Jewish men and is open to converting. But she is not finding love.

“I find them very smart, very intelligent,” she said. “I never met a Jewish man who had a bad job or who didn’t have a good education.”

She added that she believes Jewish men tend not to be heavy drinkers.

Many of the men Olga finds interesting are looking for younger women.

“I feel sometimes men are looking for younger women and I’m embarrassed to tell my age,” said Olga. “A lot of these guys in their 30s, they are looking for someone 22 or 25 years old.”

Does she feel she’s more of a catch now than she was at 20?

“I have more to give now, yes,” she said.

Olga feels she has an added obstacle to overcome: Some men have preconceived notions about Russian women.

“Russian girls have bad reputation in New York City,” she said. “People think because I am from a small town in Belarus, which is a poor country, I am a gold digger, but it’s not true. I am not looking to support a man, or to date a poor student. But I would like to meet a decent guy with a normal job, a person who can make his own money who wants a good intimacy and family,” she says.

Olga’s recent dates have been disappointments.

At a gala she met a “very funny, sweet, religious Jewish man” who ran a hedge fund. “He was always carrying food with him in this very old-looking backpack,” she said.

At one point he asked her to the movies.

“He brought Brussels sprouts with him and when we were watching the movie he got a knife and fork out from his old backpack.

“He was saying, ‘Oh, can you eat with me?’ and it made him upset I wasn’t eating with him, but it was so smelly and people were looking at us and I was very embarrassed.”

She added, “He only took me to a restaurant one time, even though we were seeing each other for maybe a month.”

While, as a girl of 20, Olga may have thought marriage meant being served croissants every morning on a terrace at Turnberry, her dreams have come somewhat down to earth. But these days all she is getting is appetizers at the bar and Brussels sprouts at the Loews.

Nor is Olga the only beauty in the city to bemoan the irony that, as she matures, the men she seeks — professional, established and Jewish — seem less interested in her than they were when she was in her 20s.

Andrea, 40, a Murray Hill finance professional and self-described “former party girl,” admits that she “passed on a lot of nice guys” when she was younger, but she doesn’t chide herself for it because she told them at the time she wasn’t ready — and she wasn’t.

Now she feels she has much more to give to the right man in terms of affection, devotion and stable companionship than she did at 25.

“Before, I was looking for the 6-foot-4 investment banker,” she said. “I’m not looking to financially support a man, but I don’t filter, in terms of dating criteria, someone providing me with a luxury high-rise apartment on Fifth. It would be nice to have lovely things but I’d trade it in a heartbeat for a sweet, stable, dependable man to put his arms around me at night.”

Perhaps the problem is, in a city where American dreams are made and broken, a conveyor belt mindset overtakes many daters, including professional men; there is the constant lure of possibility that millionaire matchmaker Patti Stanger has termed “the bigger better deal.”

In a city where many men chase the youngest, most beautiful women like boys seeking shiny new toys, it seems some of the girls who were once the shiny new toys have grown up.

If only the Jewish men of Boyhattan could do the same.

This entry was written by and posted on June 3, 2014 at 3:03 pm and filed under Commentary.