Half a world away from her home, a bronchitis-stricken American writer stumbles into her cousins’ apartment in Jerusalem to recuperate in the embrace of her Israeli family. Technically a guest, she feels more like a patient, but in this moment, certainly not a singles columnist. She sits in the kitchen, drinking tea, which is pretty much all her beleaguered throat can handle right now. And as the veil of Hebrew pulls back and her ear adjusts to the language, she slowly becomes aware of some oddly familiar phrases.
“She’s a beautiful girl, and I need to set her up, but there are no men.” “I have someone, but he’s on the fat side; not disgusting, but not skinny, like some of the others.” “She wants someone religious, but modern.” “He’s been out with two of her friends, and they’ve told her it’s not a fit.” “She’s too old for him.” “He’s between jobs.” The list of qualifications and excuses grows, and the writer simultaneously wishes she weren’t here and that since she was here, she could start taking notes for a future column. In a semi-conscious, illness-ridden state, Our Heroine (that’s right, it’s me) had stumbled into a parlor meeting of Jerusalem matchmakers, discussing what had gone wrong with past potential matches and how singles could be reshuffled into more successful pairings. From New York to Jerusalem, there’s no escaping the singles scene.
The whole matchmaking thing — the prospect of having a dozen strangers consider “my case” and assess my assets and liabilities — made me uncomfortable. Maybe it’s the same reason I chickened out of becoming an actor. Landing the audition would be enough of an achievement, but if after that audition (or fix-up), I didn’t get a callback, I’d be left with the feeling that it was a stranger’s rejection of something innately unfixable in me. To expect strangers to study a dossier and feel they know me enough to dabble in my destiny … it just wasn’t logical.
The next day, I apologized to my cousin for eavesdropping, and remarked how amazing it was that across an ocean and in two languages, the issues were the same. I also expressed my reservations about matchmaking in general. My cousin explained that these matchmakers were not professionals, just well-intentioned people who wanted to connect single people with each other. In her vision, the matchmaker’s role isn’t just about matching up single men with single women; there’s more of a process. Most volunteers in this circle only match people they know and can vouch for, and payment is never an incentive or a factor. They match with a discerning eye and a gut instinct, and encourage singles to give dates the benefit of the doubt. Still, she admits, even with two open-minded, realistic people, sometimes benefit of the doubt doesn’t work. “Perfect on paper” doesn’t always translate into reality.
Perhaps, as in any environment where there is a dearth of something, the answer may be to reduce, reuse and recycle. “When singles go out and decide ‘not for me,’ they don’t think ‘then for whom?’ my cousin smartly notes. Theoretically, she’s right. If there’s no chemistry for no obvious reason, re-matching your date with a friend should work. But if your date is “not BLANK enough” for you (presuming that you and your friends are filling in the same blanks with the same words) then why would that date be “BLANK enough” for your friends? Perhaps, I advocated, we’re even doing our friends a favor, by not fixing them up with men or women unless they meet our particular standards.
My cousin has a theory. On a subconscious level, she says, it’s a race. The awareness that the pool of potentials is drying up causes a competitive imperative: to find the best of what is available. While this strategy isn’t inherently bad — it translates to high standards, and trying to get together with the right person at the right time for both of you — the sad truth is that we can’t always see what is best for us, and some standards are so high they can never be reached. Those standards are called “unrealistic expectations.”
Jerusalem is different from New York City in so many ways (even though I did run into many familiar Upper West Side faces at Tal Bagels in the German Colony). But with single life, the lessons were the same. Perfect on paper sometimes gets lost in the translation. Dating by committee can help or hurt, depending on your luck or timing. And there are no magic formulas, even in a city of miracles and revelations.
Esther D. Kustanowitz has found that wherever you go, there you are. She is off to Los Angeles next, and expects singles-related issues to follow her. You can reach her at email@example.com.
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