“Browsing for free” on JDate.com, with commentary

Crossposted to New Voices

I’ve been bemoaning my singleness to my friends a lot lately. Being a college senior who knows he’s gonna move–but not very far–in May is a weird position to be in. People keep telling me to try online stuff, which I don’t have any problem with, philosophically. It does, however, seem odd to me to do online dating while I’m in college. But last night I was slightly convinced by a friend.

So I went on JDate a few minutes ago to see what’s what. I clicked on “BROWSE FOR FREE” and quickly realized that there was commentary to be made. So I started over, typing up my comments as I went.

jdate-1-you-are-a-looking-for-a2I suppose it’s quite convenient that JDate predicted that I’m a straight male. Is it magical or does it assume everyone’s a straight male?  What happens to people who want to identify themselves as something other than a [Man/Woman] seeking a [Man/Woman]?

jdate-2-type-of-relationship-and-current-status1I have questions. Not snarky questions, as regular readers will no doubt assume, but real questions from a place of curiosity. Are there actually people who look for a “Friend” on dating sites? Or is “Friend” a codeword for something? And what activities might one engage in with an “Activity Partner?”

jdate-3-habits-and-kashrutI’m sure I’m more concerned with the finer points of Jewish ritual/denominational/philosophical/ideological/etc identity than most, but I these kashrut options seem limited. Where’s eco-kashrut? And why do we insist that kashrut is a matter of degrees? It’s not as though there’s a definitive list of things that one does to keep kosher, and some people do all of them and some people do none of them and some people are on a spectrum in between.

And how do I indicate which of these things I care about? I drink regularly with friends, but I don’t care how often she (whoever she is) drinks. I don’t smoke, and I care a lot about whether she does. And I care some, but not a whole lot about whether she keeps kosher. I wish there was one of those “Indicate how strongly you feel about X, by choosing a number 1-5, where 5 is ‘I care a lot’ and 1 is ‘I don’t care at all'” things.

jdate-4-education-work-and-ethnicityIf I’m graduating in May, how misleading is it to claim that I have a BA?

Without wading into the issue of what constitutes an ethnicity, this list of possibilities is beyond outrageously limiting. It assumes that all Jews are either Ashkenazi or Sephardic or don’t care enough to list an ethnicity. Obviously, most Jews in America are Ashkenazi-descended, and if you add Sephardic, that takes care of almost everyone. But it doesn’t account for all Jews by birth.

And what about converts? Am I “Mixed Ethnic” because one of my parents converted and the other is Ashkenazi? Or did she become Ashkenazi when she converted (whatever that would even mean!)?

Is the implication of this that Jews only wanna date Jews from a similar background? I again find myself wanting some way to indicate how much each of these factors matter to me.

I have settled on “Will tell you later” as a way of protesting this question, which feels pretty silly.

jdate-50-backgroundAt this point, I’m pretty sure I’m not doing this in the spirit any of it was intended, but this stuff is important enough to me that I’d like be able to indicate it with more accuracy than the available choices allow me to.

Literally, my “religious background” is Reform, but the wording of some of the options here seem to indicate that this question is not actually about background, but about current practice. Many of these could be backgrounds, but “Baal Teshuva” isn’t a background as at all, but a conscious choice that one might make after childhood–childhood being what the word “background” suggests to me.

Again, as with the ethnicity question, anyone outside of the other options offered up here is forced to pick “Another Stream of Judaism.” That would include anyone that is observant (broadly defined), but prefers “Just Jewish” and anyone that goes with something like Pluralist or Post-Denominational. It also strikes me that this is probably the more appropriate place for Sephardic to be an option, given that all of these denominations are outgrowths of the Ashkenazi sphere.

This is a seriously troubling question to me. As I’m writing this, I’m waffling back and forth in my mind about selecting Reform or “Another Stream.” I call myself Reform, but most wouldn’t look at my observance and call it Reform, so that’s potentially misleading. “Another Stream” is probably closer to what I outwardly appear to be.

I want to be able to check off boxes and I want one of them to read “Other” and give me space to type a couple extra words. Why doesn’t this question give the option of “Will tell you later?”

I think I’ll take the question literally and pick Reform.

jdate-55-how-often-to-shulWhat about people who go more frequently than “Every Shabbat?”

Then it asks me for my country and zip code. Whatever.

jdate-6-username

OK. I haven’t had a username for something other than my real name since the last time I used AIM, which was probably in eighth or ninth grade. I’m a total loss. I also don’t know how to “pop” in such a way that it will help elucidate “what makes me ME” (to use their abuse of capitals).

After ten minutes have passed and I’ve consulted with a few housemates, I’ve made a decision. But I’m not going to tell any of you want it is.

Also, it would be pretty awesome if you could list your Hebrew birthday on JDate.

Then there’s e-mail and password. Whatever.

jdate-7-describe-myselfYeah, this part is completely nerve-wracking. There are two kinds of people in the potential audience for this:

1). There are people who would read an accurate description of my personality and interests and think, “This guy sounds like an asshole” or “This dude just sounds boring,” but would actually like me if they met me. I know this because I know real people who fall into this category.

2). There are people–fewer than there are in group 1, but they exist nonetheless–who would read an accurate description of my personality and interests and actually be interested.

The question is how to craft a description that plays to both of these groups of people, both of which I’m interested in. This has stopped being a slightly humorous exercise and become significantly intense.

OK, an hour and help from three housemates later, I’ve written something that isn’t completely objectionable about myself.

Now I’m gonna think about whether this is worth spending any real money on.

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10 Responses to “Browsing for free” on JDate.com, with commentary

  1. BZ November 21, 2010 at 1:58 am #

    And why do we insist that kashrut is a matter of degrees? It’s not as though there’s a definitive list of things that one does to keep kosher, and some people do all of them and some people do none of them and some people are on a spectrum in between.

    And even if kashrut were a well-ordered linear spectrum of practice (which it isn’t, but it does tend to fit such a paradigm better than some other areas of Jewish practice do), this set of choices does a poor job of selecting points along that spectrum. The question of whether one observes one’s kashrut practice (whatever that practice happens to be) “at home only” or “at home and outside” or “not at all” is entirely separate from the question of whether that practice includes “all” of kashrut (whatever that means) or kashrut “to some degree”. Also, these choices say more about how a person perceives his/her kashrut practice (and/or how s/he thinks others will interpret what the choices mean) than about the practice itself: what is a person to do if (e.g.) s/he keeps a kosher home (by whatever definition), and outside the home, eats only kosher meat (or no meat at all) and doesn’t mix milk and meat, and will eat vegetarian food regardless of where it was prepared? This is, of course, a very common set of practices, and one could argue for calling this “at home only”, “at home and outside”, or “to some degree”, depending on one’s perspective. That’s not even getting into eco-kashrut — JDate fails to pick up some of the most common forms of conventional kashrut.

    And how do I indicate which of these things I care about?

    Assuming it works the same way it did back when I had a JDate account, you don’t indicate this on your profile; you indicate what you care about when you do searches for other people.

  2. JBG November 21, 2010 at 10:16 pm #

    Check out OKCupid. You can tell it how much things matter to you. Oh, and it’s free! Can’t beat that.

  3. Amy November 22, 2010 at 2:12 pm #

    Hi David,

    I would love to get additional feedback from you. Please contact me if you are interested in sharing your JDate experience with me.

    Thanks,
    Amy

  4. Jane Stonehenge November 27, 2010 at 5:12 pm #

    David,
    I think your dilemma with JDate reflects so much about how many of us self-identify within Judaism, the choices within that, or even hanging around the fringes. It’s difficult to find a place to sort these things out in person, let alone try to reflect yourself on a brief profile on a dating website.
    You seem pretty clear about who you are Jewishly, and you write about that in a pretty self-aware and astute way. I’m sure that anyone who ventures past the profile (keep it witty!) will discover that fairly quickly.
    For what it’s worth, if I were younger, at Drew, and single, I’d totally go on a date with you.
    Good luck!
    Deborah
    a/k/a Jane Stonehenge

    • David A.M. Wilensky November 27, 2010 at 6:00 pm #

      Well, that’s only a slightly strange comment. But thanks, Jane.

  5. Diplogeek December 6, 2010 at 11:41 pm #

    I agree completely with some of the J-Date stuff. The ethnicity thing left me (a pending convert) completely scratching my head for the same reasons- do I just pick a nusach and go with that? Do I pick “other”? My ethnic background independent of Judaism is primarily German and British, but there’s no “Yekkish” option, either. I don’t actually remember what I picked, but I put my conversion status right in my profile, so whatever.

    The kashrut thing I have less of an issue with in the sense that if someone isn’t shomer kashrut but, say, doesn’t eat pork or shellfish, or keeps “eco-kosher,” I’d probably like to know that at some stage. Of course, I would think that’s something people could discuss prior to going on a date, too. Maybe the options should be, “Traditional,” “Non-traditional,” “Not at all.” Presumably if the manner in which someone approaches kashrut is a deal breaker, you’d ask them at some point before it became a major problem.

    You wouldn’t think it would be this difficult to put up a profile on a dating website, would you?

    • David A.M. Wilensky December 7, 2010 at 10:20 am #

      But I’d object to your traditional/non-traditional dichotomy. It’s no better than the range of options on JDate because it continues to assume that there is a “complete” version of kashrut somewhere out there and that you either hold to that entirely or you’re “non-traditional.”

      • Diplogeek December 12, 2010 at 2:53 pm #

        Yeah, that’s a fair point, and one I was considering as I typed that out, actually, but I couldn’t come up with anything much better. Maybe a sign that J-Date should either leave out the issue of kashrut observance entirely and assume that most people are going to have that discussion pretty early on (since if you do keep kosher, and your potential date suggests going to Bob’s House of Pork for dinner, you’ll probably need to let them know). Or else just have a text box to fill in with something like, “Please describe your approach to kashrut.”

        I tend to think that most people’s level of observance is much more fluid than sites like J-Date assume, which makes it hard to slot anyone into those specific boxes, and of course we can’t have that (ahem). Unless you’re part of a community that exercises very rigid control over its membership in terms of which mitzvot they must observe and how (and even then, based on the number of blogs I read that are written by questioning Haredim), I think it’s common and healthy to periodically look at what you’re doing and maybe reevaluate why you observe certain things the way you do, et cetera. I feel like that’s a positive thing for a person’s spiritual health as well as the larger Jewish community, but it means that organizations and people who just want you to tick a box or two are going to be disappointed.

  6. Randi December 9, 2010 at 2:25 am #

    Dag. This makes me even more happy that I’m already married to a Jew.

    Re: The man/woman seeking question. In the clinic where I work, we have a $70K imaging device called a spectral domain optical coherence tomographer. It allows for some accurate measurements of the optic nerve and really amazing in vivo images of the retina. When patient information is entered into this device, the drop down menu for gender is “male, female, other.” I’ve not yet had occasion to use the “other” option. Sometimes though, being a member of a synagogue as a non-parent makes me feel that I should be put into the “other” category.