Lifestyles

By Stephanie Ila Silver-Silberstein

“Ma Neesh Ta Na?” – Why is this night different from all other nights? It’s a question we asked at every Passover Seder, but the sacred answer was to be different this particular year, and I guess I hadn’t yet received the memo. Our traditional blue Master House Coffee Hagadas somehow transformed into colorful librettos of New-Age Jewish poetic diatribes. Was I seeing things? Or was “Ma Neesh Ta Na?” now curiously answered with the statement, “Because this year, everyone has a date….everyone except Stephanie.”

As I sat at the “kiddie” table, sandwiched between my newly engaged brother and my cousin’s unacceptable non-Jewish girlfriend, I felt more pressure to find a date to this holy dinner than I did to eat the nauseatingly revolting, yet seemingly delicious home-made Kefiltah Fish on the plate in front of me. Where did I go wrong? How did my brother, having never lasted in a relationship for more than a month, finally acquire the title of fiancé, while I was left idly by, pining after non-committal, ass-slapping corporate lawyers who inevitably broke my heart? Most people consider me a great catch. Well, most people at that table do. Granted, I was surrounded by my mother and various relatives who can’t help but see me as a smart, attractive, outgoing and passionate 26- year-old woman. But that aside, I am all those things – and then some, damn it!

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Most Seders discuss the 10 plagues. But I felt as though I was suffering the torturous fate of some 11th plague as my family bombarded me with countless ideas on how to meet men, date men, hold onto men and ultimately marry men. That’s when my cousin, Jared, a mere tot at 24-years of age, spoke up over the dull roar. “Why don’t you just try J-date already? Not to sound like a bad public service announcement on peer pressure or anything, but everyone is doing it. My friends from work have made it into a little project for us all – we’re having so much fun with it. We have photo shoots at the office and everything! Look, you don’t have to show your picture or profile to anyone – you can just ‘tease’ the people you’re interested in and see if anyone responds.”

So, after the last verse of Dayanu was recited, Elijah made his entrance just as my entire family made their exit from the dining room and into the computer room to surf the net and view my “prospects.” After seeing an absurd amount of people I knew from High School and knowing full well how many married couples came out of the use of this particular site, I agreed to at least look into this phenomenon while at work the following week.

I had always thought meeting people in New York City would be easy, considering there are like, a gazillion of us living here – but no. The hottie I ogled on the subway got off at 77th Street, and I have yet to run into him ever again. The preppie I bummed a cigarette from at Luna Park introduced me to his girlfriend later that same evening, and the great dancer at the wedding I went to without a date, turned out to be a distant cousin!

I had already been set up with all eligible bachelors known by my married girlfriends. Furthermore, my few remaining single friends were clutching onto this now diminishing resource of bachelors for themselves. It wasn’t as though they were jumping at the chance to introduce me to any of their potential future husbands. I was the competition, for G-d’s sake! A flashback to Carrie Fisher saying to Meg Ryan, “Don’t wait too long… or you’ll spend the rest of your life knowing that someone else is married to your husband,” was the final straw. It was time to take action.

Disclaimer: I am Jewish and I hope to marry a Jewish man someday. I’ve dated outside of my faith numerous times, but still hope my soon-to-be-met soul-mate is, in fact, Jewish. I don’t mean to alienate anyone or keep the non-Jews from enjoying this story. So, if you’re at all offended, may I suggest thinking of Charlotte and her husband on Sex and the City or watch My Big Fat Greek Wedding (again)? Ok, moving on….

As skeptical as I was about the idea of Internet Dating, I had to admit, it had its pluses. As a struggling actress working a full-time job, my free time was limited; and dinners with my married girlfriends as well as rehearsals for plays took up most of this time. The chance of meeting Mr. Right on any given night in any given bar were bordering on zero, especially with alcohol and cheesy pick-up lines affecting the results. But what lay before me on my computer screen were thousands of guys from which to choose. I’m a huge believer on the “spark theory,” and I agree with the masses that chemistry is vital in any lasting relationship. However, let’s face the sad truth – a spark is meaningless without the “credentials” for lack of a better word. Said male might not ultimately be a girl’s Mr. Right, but he has to at least “look good on paper” for her to date him in the first place.

J-Date’s system allowed me to weed out all of the smoking, cat-loving, unemployed, vertically challenged men. To boot, everyone using the service is Jewish (perfect for my predisposition to fall in love exclusively with the Non-Jewish male population), and everyone is (supposedly) single! I created my profile, making myself sound like the girl every guy apparently desired (i.e. a girl who can look good in both a cocktail dress and a pair of jeans while sustaining a non-superficial conversation). I made sure the profile was “hidden” from the public so as not to be the subject of scrutiny from people I know (mainly, my now married ex-boyfriends surfing the site merely for fun). Finally, I psyched myself up by exclaiming to myself, “Let the Teasing Begin!” To be honest with you, it was sort of fun. Coming to work each morning to check my email account filled with potential J-dates was exciting, to say the least. I actually looked forward to it. At one point, I became slightly obsessed and like any good stalker, I checked my email at home as well. I emailed back and forth with a few of my handpicked gentlemen, and even got around to sending them my picture (thanks to the Xerox guys at work who scanned it into the computer for me).

But I still hadn’t told anyone I was doing this. Why? I’m not sure. Everyone was encouraging me join the online dating bandwagon, if I hadn’t already. Some of my married friends were even envious that I had this option available to me when reflecting on their own sporadic dating experiences throughout their single days. My only explanation was that as confident as I was, and as desperate as I was not, I still felt like I was giving into a stigma that would follow me forever, even if I ended up meeting my future husband on the street randomly elsewhere. My rationale going in was this: If I find myself in a serious relationship with someone as a result of this, I’ll divulge my dirty little secret to the world. If I don’t, then no one will have to know that I ever had to resort to this method of dating madness.

And for two months, I didn’t have to say a word, for my J-dates were dismal. I wanted to scream, “TMI (Too Much Information)!” to my first J-date who told me about his biological father who was put in Bellevue Hospital for attempted suicide and insanity, two minutes after we sat down at the bar. I met a comedian who was great up until he asked me if I was “a screamer” during sex. He wasn’t “joking.” But, no matter… Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho, back to the keyboard, I would go. I still had 40 teases left to use before I’d have to shell out money for the service. And as for my inquiring friends still basking in the dark, I would simply tell them that I had been set up on blind dates by non-mutual friends. I would just fail to mention that I was, in fact, the non-mutual friend doing the setting up.

That’s when my mother called me and demanded a Mother’s Day gift. She didn’t want slippers, or a bathrobe this year. Oh no. She wanted me to register on GreatBoyfriends.com. She had seen it discussed on Oprah and The Today Show and thought the concept was fantastic. Basically, a girl recommends a guy, like her ex-boyfriend, for instance, for the site. It’s done in the clever, kitschy style of one of my favorite magazine’s advice columnist, E. Jean – who happened to have created GreatBoyfriends.com. It was definitely a pain in the ass to scroll down and find the Jews, but I did manage to contact about 10 potential “great boyfriends.” Again, I told my friends about this very trendy and cool website, but left out the part about my personally registering for it.

My first date from “great boyfriends” was with Steven. He was a talented pianist as well as a successful litigator, recommended by a girl who looked as if she could’ve easily been my friend. FYI, the daydreams I was having about these guys throughout this whole experience were quite vivid and optimistic. But, needless to say, because I was, by this point, living proof of the saying, “so many men, so little time,” I was hardly disappointed when my daydreams about Steven went up in smoke the second I saw him face to face. It was obvious why the picture on his profile was so blurry, but it didn’t matter. I was meeting Josh the very next night.

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Josh’s online picture had me AND my mother swooning. So I was excited upon discovering that in person, he was, in fact, extremely attractive and had this amazing personality, to boot. He was smart, funny, successful, passionate, Jewish, and living (alone) in a beautiful one-bedroom apartment conveniently located around the corner from me. After a lovely first kiss, I was definitely optimistic. On our third date, we were to meet up with his friends from college. The following conversation ensued…

“Did you mention to your friends how we met?” I asked him outside the bar.

He replied, “Well, I said we met at a coffee shop (the place of our first date) on the Upper East Side (where we both live).” “Perfect. I don’t know how I feel about telling everyone about the whole Internet thing yet,” I said. “I agree,” Josh concurred, despite the fact that he, having been put up on the site by someone else, comes off looking fine in this situation.

A fourth date and a fifth date followed that evening. Josh would call me frequently during this initial month of our courtship proving that eventually, he would, in fact, be a “great boyfriend.” During one of these phone calls, this particular conversation took place… “Guess who called me today,” said Josh teasingly. “Who?” I asked, not knowing why I felt my stomach suddenly drop. “E-Jean from GreatBoyfriends.com!”

“Really,” I replied, still recovering from the nausea I experienced upon hearing his reference to the site out loud for the very first time and reminding me of our little secret. “She wants us both to do a segment for Entertainment Tonight! I’m not sure if I’m into the whole notion of going on national television, but think about it. It could be fun, however humiliating it might be for both of us.” To which I replied, “Well, let’s sleep on it, but I’m pretty sure I’m gonna end up saying no. Did I ever tell you about the time I posed for a spread in a nationally circulated fashion magazine only to be misquoted, mis-sized and well, mis-photographed….I’m still trying to live that down…”

I was fairly certain Josh was going to decline the offer, but when we met up the following evening, his interest was renewed. I was still leaning towards no, if only to avoid a fight with my friends who would be upset that I hadn’t yet told them about how I really met Josh.

The next day at work (a half day since it was a Friday in the summertime), I received phone calls from E. Jean (2x’s); Sue, the producer of Entertainment Tonight (2x’s); Josh (3x’s); my parents (???x’s) who wavered nearly as much as I did in their advising me on the situation; and of course, my boss (???!!!x’s), who demanded that I actually get some work done that day. I barely had time to breathe, let alone make a wise decision. It must have been a combination of E. Jean’s hyperactive peer pressuring, my parents subliminally telling me to do it because it’s “something funny to tell the grand-kids” and Josh’s P.C. answer of “Please feel no obligation to do it, it’s not that important to me,” – but by noon, I found myself agreeing to do the shoot against my better judgment.

I was told to wear something “very Charlotte from Sex and the City.” Knowing full well that my closet contained nothing of the sort, at exactly 1p.m., I dashed out of my office building and rounded the corner to Saks Fifth Avenue. I had bee-lined right for the Marc Jacobs. With no time to spare, bargain shopping was not an option. Two of the three dresses I tried on fit perfectly (thank G-d I was feeling thin that day!). I decided to take both of them and return one later – my roommate would choose which one I would ultimately wear. The clock was ticking. I scrambled to the first floor of Saks to get my makeup professionally done by the woman at Trish McEvoy. After telling her about the ET segment I was going to shoot in (Sh*#!) the next hour, I think I actually inspired her to try online dating herself! And as the makeup melted off my face during the trek to my apartment, I realized that as mortifying as this whole scenario could be, there was a part of me that thought 1) not everyone can say they’d been on Entertainment Tonight, and 2) maybe if people see someone like me using such a service, perhaps they might try it themselves! It was as though I were being charitable – I was helping rid the world of the Internet Dating Single-hood Stigma!

When I arrived at Carl Shurz Park, the location of the shoot, Josh looked hot (both literally and figuratively) wearing a sweat-soaked white button down shirt and dark blue jeans. I looked very hip in my straight-cut, strapless lime-green summer dress dotted with tiny pink flowers. I couldn’t tell you exactly what either of us said in the interview – but I do remember saying something about the irony of telling nobody about my dating exploits to telling the entire nation about them in true Karmic style.

I’ll admit part of me is relieved the segment never aired. But all and all, it was fun and my mom even offered to reimburse me for the dress I ended up wearing for the shoot (love that Jewish guilt!). I’m glad I finally gave into my secret temptation to try the online dating phenomenon. Not only has no one so much as batted an eyelash upon hearing how we met, but Josh and I are very much in love and awaiting our fast approaching one-year anniversary. There’s also a seat waiting for my “great boyfriend” at my family’s Passover Seder table. “Ma Neesh Ta Na?” I think we all know this year’s answer to that question!

Originally published April 2004
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