Dating used to be a simpler affair. Or at least we like to think it was. People lived in small towns where everybody knew everybody. Everyone had the same life plan: get married and have a family. And parents never hesitated before getting involved in their kids’ lives. And so it went for a lot of couples: they either met on their own, at school or at work, or were introduced by people who knew them well. As a result they inevitably had a lot in common: they came from the same place, had a lot of the same friends, shared the same culture and, most importantly, they had the same values and ideas about where life would ideally lead them.
That all made dating a lot simpler than it is now: there was no question as to basic compatibility, no second guessing attitudes, and not a instant of doubt as to who would pay for dinner. The experience was a very codified — some would even say stifling — a sort of pre-marriage ritual which, like all rituals, had a certain reassuring quality.
While this type of dating persists in a lot of countries and social circles — think India or, closer to us, Orthodox communities — dating has changed in most of the Western world. The world we live in today is not the same it was in the 1950’s: women work and are independent, lifestyles have diversified, populations are more mobile and everybody has the entire planet available at his fingertips through the Internet. The irony is: all this freedom and the vast expansion of our horizons — both geographical and mental — has made dating much more complicated. And not necessarily more enjoyable.
A very typical date today will feature two people who do not know any of the same people, probably didn’t grow up in the same place, may not come from the same cultural background and are not heading in the same direction. What they are both likely to have is: a computer with Internet access, a subscription to an online dating site and an attractive picture posted on their profile. If they manage to sustain the promises elicited by the photographs, the relationship is likely to survive the first dinner. But it is statistically very unlikely to lead to a lifelong love affair. And so they will go on other dates with other people and have the same experience over and over again. With the same frustrating result.
Maybe what we need to do now is combine the lessons of the past with those of the present and make the best of both worlds. That is what modern Jewish matchmakers try to do for their clients. In essence, by pre-selecting the candidates to introduce to clients, matchmakers go back to a village-type situation: they present their clients with a limited pool of candidates, whose personality, background and life goals has been carefully selected to match the client’s situation and expectations. By doing so, the matchmakers insure that their clients and the people they are introduced to will have more in common than a mere physical attraction. This is just what an old-fashioned matchmaker (or a well-intentioned Jewish mother) would have done. But what differentiates the modern Jewish matchmaker from his ancestors is that he now has access, through technology, to an vast pool of candidates and that he can efficiently sort through an immense database and get into personal contact with anyone he judges fit to be introduced to his clients. It is really the best of both worlds and could work wonders for a lot of Jewish singles.