There are a dozen or more emails waiting in my Jdate inbox; only one sender is located within a hundred miles of me. Still, he’s pleasant looking enough, so I reply and apologize for the lengthy time it took me to respond.
I receive no reply, and after reviewing the profiles of men that are actually in my area and age group, I note that my strategy of waiting has probably worked against me: Three months is the shortest subscription period Jdate offers, so his subscription likely lapsed in between the time he sent the message and the time he gave up on the site.
Please don’t tell me there are other fish in the sea, unless you are prepared to tell me which sea; it isn’t this one.
At this point, though, I’m an online dating pro, so I quickly execute the drill I perform on each new dating site or app that I try: I search out and block profiles of all the men I’ve met on other sites that I don’t want to encounter, or even make them aware I’m on the market. The nice thing about Jdate is that since it has a limited demographic, and the pickings are so slim in my area, the list is short: I locate and block him quickly.
I run across other familiar faces; each new site feels a bit like a high school reunion, a careful scrutinization of faces that seem familiar, and sometimes I remember right away where I saw them before – people often use the same profile photos on different sites. The brush-offs feel familiar too: The ones who didn’t respond to me on other sites don’t reply to me here, either.
Actually, no one replies.
The site tries to encourage me with emails and popups that offer me a stream of potential matches. All of them are from Canada, even though I haven’t checked the box that says I’m willing to relocate; even after I narrow my search parameters down to ensure I’m not accidentally searching in Canada, they keep coming, this Canadian invasion.
I start to become suspicious of the site’s motives: Is it deliberately trying to lure Jews out of the country? Why? Who’s behind it?
I don’t need a burning bush to tell me that my six-month subscription was overkill.
There are lots of safety tips for online daters, and dozens of articles on the subject, which mostly boil down to a few key points: Meet in a public place. Drive yourself there and home. Stay sober.
All of this is good advice for staying safe.
There are other tips that apply to all first dates: Dress nicely. Express interest in the other person. Choose an activity that is low-pressure, but can be extended if things go well.
All of this is good advice for making a good impression.
Meeting for coffee is a good activity for a first date. You can always have dessert after, or just take a really long time drinking it, especially in Seattle, where some people seem to live in coffee shops and nobody thinks anything of it unless they can’t find a place to sit with their own latte and laptop.
Choosing a coffee place in Seattle is harder than you might think – the coffee you drink, and where you drink it, are statements about who you are. For example, if you suggest meeting at Starbucks, you are saying: I lack imagination. I play it safe. In a city full of unique coffee spots, I’ve picked the most generic choice available.
If you choose a unique coffee spot, you run a different risk. Its personality may make a statement, but is it the right statement? If not, you are going to spend an awkward hour sipping a beverage with someone you’ll never see again, making halting conversational attempts and trying not to check the time too often.
If possible, you should find a place that is a safe choice, but doesn’t appear to be. Ideally, this should be someplace you don’t frequent regularly, because if you like the place and the date goes badly, you might have to find a new favorite coffee place. Based on my own admittedly unscientific research, there is a 98.3% probability that your internet date will fall into the “went badly” category.
One final tip for a successful first date: Relax! Be yourself.
After several weeks of perusing mostly inactive profiles and sending unsuccessful “flirts” on jdate, I receive a message. The sender’s profile photo was taken with a webcam, possibly as part of an application for clown college: Goofy smile, strange angle, glasses askew and too big for the face they’re on.
He gets straight to the point: You seem intelligent, he writes, would you like to meet for coffee?
I tell him no. I prefer to know a little about random men from the internet before I meet them. Tell me about yourself.
As we message back and forth, a message arrives from a second man.
Like the first, he’s significantly older than I am.
Like the first, he wants to meet for coffee.
And like the first, he acts as though he’s being gracious when he suggests that I pick the place where we’ll meet for coffee.
My first jdate is with my second correspondent, who lists his profession as Educator. His messages sound intelligent, and he correctly guesses where I went to college based on my major – film – and where I grew up.
I ask him if he has any favorite movies, and he doesn’t really: Just the usual classics.
“One thing that interests me about old films is the way they give you a glimpse into the way people talked and interacted, etc. going back almost 100 years now. It one of the unique features of our age that we can have this degree of intimate and direct access to the life and culture of so long ago.”
I agree. I tell him that’s what I enjoy about genealogy, reading old documents and getting to know people: I was moved by how profoundly religious my great-great-grandfather was, when I read his will.
Yes, replies the Educator. Until recently religion was pretty much the foundation of all cultures.
Then he asks to meet me for a cup of coffee.
He suggests that maybe meeting at Starbucks might work, except that it won’t: The one that is geographically closest to both of us is basically a drive-through. I decide to risk an alternative; my favorite – at least, if you go by my Yelp reviews – coffee place, which is well-located and has places to sit. Normally I wouldn’t risk introducing a favored meeting spot to someone I potentially might not want to run into in the future, but the truth of the matter is, the only person I actually meet there is a girlfriend of mine who has her own online-dating tales to tell. If I met her there, and he showed up, she’d probably be my ally, or I could set them up on a date, and either way, I’d be doing okay.
This is how, one sunny Saturday, I found myself sitting in the back corner of a Seattle coffee house, sipping free-range coffee and admiring the rainclouds painted ironically on the ceiling.
He arrives a bit late, and is much like his profile picture: small and slightly unfocused. He first waits with the group that is trying to pick up their coffees, then discovers that he isn’t on the line to order coffee. Sorting out the ordering system takes a surprisingly long time, but things that seem obvious to me aren’t obvious to everyone. For example, although I’ve been known to pull semi-clean clothes out of my laundry basket and wear them, it strikes me as obvious that one shouldn’t do this when meeting someone.
This, too, is not obvious to everyone.
He approaches the table, rumpled and perplexed. I say hello and point to the ordering line.
Oh, he says. He walks back and gets on the line.
Eventually he returns, coffee in hand, and sits opposite me.
I’m annoyed that I put on makeup and heels, and also that I’m a quick coffee drinker – my latte is already half gone.
I ask questions, trying to start a conversation; each question results in a short monologue, about his PhD, papers he’s published, his time spent teaching in the south of England. He came here to work on a project that he hoped would turn into “something,” but it didn’t, though he doesn’t say why, and it’s fine, because he doesn’t need the income, which he doesn’t explain either.
The Educator doesn’t mention any past relationships, so I ask if he has children, and he says no, reminding me that I do have one – I mention her in my profile – but doesn’t ask about her.
He doesn’t ask anything, actually. Each time he exhausts each topic, I introduce another, which he discusses until it’s exhausted, while I listen and try to think of something else to talk about. We go back and forth like that, until I strike a nerve, asking why he left his job teaching in England.
He doesn’t want to talk about it, temper flaring as he dismisses the question.
I move on to other things, but I feel like a reporter: I ask, he answers. I sense the most interesting story is the one he doesn’t want to tell, so like a reporter, I try to draw the story out gently, approaching from different angles.
He doesn’t want to talk about it, from any angle. It was a bad situation. He was sabotaged by nasty politics. The temper flares. The conversation stops.
I’m tired of listening, and tired of thinking of things to ask him, so I don’t, and we sit there. He doesn’t know any more about me than he did when he walked in the door, a few facts he’s deduced correctly from other facts listed in my profile. I feel boring and clichéd and, mostly, unnecessary.
I say I have to go, and do.
I’m supposed to meet my second jdate the week before my first jdate. Two hours before our scheduled meeting time, I’m lying on my sofa, contemplating getting ready.
A message arrives: Traffic is horrendous on the bridge. It will take you forever to get there. Maybe we should meet another day. Best if you call me to discuss.
I’m a bit perplexed that someone would check into traffic conditions for someone else’s fifteen-minute drive, but I’m also feeling lazy, so I continue lying on the sofa and turn on a movie. I message back, No problem, let’s try for next week.
A few days later, he follows up. I’m sorry we didn’t meet last weekend. How does this Sunday look? You pick the place!
He suggests we meet at a spot halfway between us, but which I’ve told him I am totally unfamiliar with. I search Yelp for coffee places and suggest one that looks like it might also be a bakery; regardless of how the date goes, at least I’ll have a box of pastries to show for my time.
He replies in the affirmative. The email, like all the emails he’s sent, is polite and formal, as though he’s dictating slowly to a recent secretarial school graduate.
An hour before we’re supposed to meet, my jdate sends an email: He got to the coffee spot I picked and it is closed on Sundays. He’s chosen a nearby Tully’s and will hold a table there until I arrive.
I park outside Tully’s, and sit in my car. I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to go in.
I don’t like generic coffee.
I don’t want to spend an hour or more at yet another disappointing online date.
Then again, I don’t want to be the person who makes dates and doesn’t show up, especially since I know he’s not only already there, but has been there for an hour by the time I arrive.
I swear at the dashboard of my car, turn off the motor, and go in.
He’s sitting by the window, waiting, wearing neatly pressed clothes, and when he sees me arrive, stands to greet me and introduce himself politely, with a charming, slightly faded Australian accent. He looks nothing like his goofy profile picture and everything like a preppy businessman on his day off.
We chat, rambling a bit from topic to topic; he explains what he meant by “sometimes Kosher” in his jdate profile, he asks about my volunteer activities and tells me about his. He asks about the dogs I foster for rescue, tells me he’s thinking of getting a dog and wants my opinion about that. I mention my daughter, and ask about his children.
They live with his ex-wife; he only sees them once a week for dinner.
He changes the subject, asks me how often I go to synagogue, and I tell him I’ve only been in a synagogue twice in my life, though I have a recommendation for one in my area, from my father’s rabbi.
What about you?
I go to the synagogue where I used to live; it isn’t very convenient but it’s familiar. But it makes me sad to be in that neighborhood. My wife lives there, I still see her.
I ask about his ex-wife and children, I’m a bit confused about the timeline: They lived in France, and Israel, and Seattle; they lived apart, they lived together. He explains a bit, but it doesn’t make any more sense when he’s finished than when he started. Too many details are left out, and it’s a decidedly nonstandard custody arrangement.
I got screwed, he says. I don’t want to talk about it too much, it’s not really appropriate for a first meeting, and it makes me sad.
I offer some comments that I hope are helpful, and I think must be, because he replies, You’re the most upbeat person I’ve ever met.
It’s been an hour and my coffee is done, so I stand and thank him and say I’m looking forward to seeing him again. He looks wounded. I’d hoped we could talk more.
We will, next time.
He follows me out to the parking lot, but when we get to my car there’s nowhere else to go, so he turns around and walks back to his.
I don’t hear from The Former Australian for a day or two, and I realize that he must have thought I was blowing him off when I got up to leave, so I send a quick email letting him know I signed up for a mailing list he suggested, and enjoyed meeting him, and hope we meet again.
He replies quickly: Great! Would you like to have dinner next time?
Dinner sounds good, I reply.
Great! You pick the place.
I work, I parent, I volunteer, I pay bills. I maintain a home that I decorated. I budget money for current needs, plan for future needs like my retirement and The Child’s college education, and all the tutoring and test-taking and enrichment she’ll need along the way. I walk dogs and cats who live here permanently, and some who live here temporarily, and feed them and choose the food and call the vet when needed. I do laundry and changes sheets when I remember to. Sometimes I hire people to take care of some of these things, and sometimes I fire them; it’s a decision either way. When I want to relax, I plan a vacation that I’ve hopefully mostly budgeted for. And then there’s the car, with its payments and maintenance and gas and driving places with a GPS system that always seems to be missing roads that I want or need to drive on.
It all gets done, if imperfectly. I’m not complaining; I’m just trying to provide a bit of perspective on why a woman might not consider it thoughtful to receive an invitation to dinner that requires her to choose the restaurant.
My idea of a fun night out begins with someone else suggesting what we should do, followed by a few fleeting hours spent savoring the blissful freedom of not having to make decisions and be responsible.
Pick anything that isn’t sushi, and I’ll be ecstatic; pick sushi and I’ll pretend to be.
I’ll say please and thank you and what’s more, I’ll mean it.
Instead, I am offered the chance to research restaurants and offer suggestions for the approval of someone whose tastes and temperament I don’t know: You pick the place!
No. You do it.
I pull up a list of restaurants on Yelp, places I’ve bookmarked and have been meaning to try. I cut and paste them into a reply email: Thanks. Here’s a list of places.
He chooses the first one on the list.
The day before our dinner date, The Former Australian emails me: Are we on for tomorrow night?
A few hours before our dinner date, The Former Australian emails again: Did you make reservations or did you want me to take care of it? Also, any idea what the parking situation is? I get very stressed by parking.
No, I didn’t reserve. There is parking over by the mall. It is a block away from the mall.
Thank you, he replies politely. It would help to have your cell phone number, in case anything comes up.
I send it, and when I’m en route, a text arrives: There’s parking behind the restaurant. Take a left turn when you get there. Two hours free.
I hear the ping, but don’t reply. I’m driving.
I’m sitting at a table by the window, in the back.
I don’t reply. I don’t even read. Unaided, I find the parking and him.
For some reason, the restaurant’s website and menu suggested a small place, dark and rustic; it turns out to be a modern place, all angles and surfaces and perfectly groomed people wearing neutral colors. I feel a bit awkward until the waiter arrives, dressed in an incongruous bright blue polo shirt and not a hint of attitude.
The waiter makes helpful cocktail suggestions, and I order something he suggests is light and summery. The Former Australian attempts to order an orange Fanta; he doesn’t drink alcohol. The waiter doesn’t have Fanta, only some blood orange soda; it’s a brand I’ve had before, so I recommend it, and after a detailed three-way discussion of the pros and cons of blood oranges in general and this brand of blood orange soda in particular, The Former Australian orders one.
The waiter brings the drinks quickly.
I talk a bit about my day at work, then ask about his business: He owns and manages several commercial buildings, which he inherited from his father. You must be doing well, I say, the Seattle rental market is hot right now. True, he replies, but these are older buildings and we have to compete with newer buildings and large corporate owners. It’s very hard to compete these days.
The waiter appears, inquiring if we’ve had time to check the menu, so we do. Nearly everything on it is a mystery to him. What’s carpaccio? He asks me. Kimchi? Harissa? Gruyere? Emmentaler?
I explain what I know and he rejects the unfamiliar, which is pretty much everything. I order some shrimp and fritters made from beets and Emmentaler, and as I do, a thought occurs to me. Didn’t you live in France for a while?
Did you try the cheeses while you were there?
I like plain things, he says. I eat salmon a lot. Usually I have rice with it.
Do you cook?
No, I’m afraid to learn. It seems hard. I hired a private cook, though. She’s the daughter of a friend, she’s going to come over and cook for me a couple of nights a week.
What will she make?
Probably salmon, I guess, with rice.
There are services that will deliver meals to your house, I say. You can cook them, or some of the services will deliver gourmet meals already cooked.
I know, he says, but she’s going to keep me company, too. I don’t like eating alone, it makes me sad.
The Child texts me: she forget her key and can’t get inside our house. My friend up the street has a key, but isn’t home, but she can drive by, and so as our food arrives – rather quickly – I am coordinating a key delivery via text message. Finally, The Child is inside the house, and I receive multiple texts to that effect, and am ready to begin eating and resume conversing.
He asks what I think of Jdate, and I say not much. They’re good at luring you in for a subscription, he says. He tells me about another jdate he went on, with a woman who was very determined that they meet for an elaborate dinner date for their first meeting. I don’t have much to say about it, since I can only assume he asked her to suggest a place and then didn’t like the place she suggested, so I sip my drink and contemplate ordering another.
He asks: Have you heard of It’s Just Lunch?
I relate my experience with them, and he thanks me for saving him the money.
The food arrives, and I sample the beets, and don’t like them, and the shrimp, which is quite delicious. He picks a bit at his food, and eats so little the plate looks untouched.
He wants to know if I’ve tried any of the dating apps, and I think perhaps this is a conversation he should have with someone else after I’ve left, which I’m ready to do.
I glance up for the waiter but he’s already there, leaving the check on the table exactly between us.
Let’s just split the check evenly, suggests my date.
I make no objection, but as I open my wallet, I have a moment of clarity: His company isn’t company I am willing to pay for.
The waiter brings our charge receipts with the same magical speed as everything else he’s brought, and smiles as he hands mine to me. I smile back and write in a large tip, enough to ensure he’s been tipped for the whole table, with a little extra to say thanks, from me.
I end up walking to the parking lot with The Former Australian, since we both parked in the same lot. As we approach his Prius, I reach out to shake his hand, and he pulls me in for an awkward hug.
The following day, an email arrives:
Thank you very much for dinner at the trendy last night. I enjoyed myself and your company.
I want to apologize for not being completely open with you. I have recently ended a long relationship with a wonderful woman and I now realize I am not ready for JDate or any new relationship. Sorry if that is what you may have been interested in.
I wish you all the best and hope you will be a JDate success story. Sincerely, etc
No worries, I wish you good luck with the healing process.
I didn’t think any of it needed to be said, but we said it anyway.