Navigating the dating game

Technology has revolutionized the dating world, but sometimes it’s better to go old school — especially if you’re on the older side yourself. 

Just ask Judith Gottesman, a former geriatric social worker who’s been running her matchmaking business, ” target=”_blank”>, said she sees a trend where older men tend to go for younger women. However, this scenario can have its own set of drawbacks. 

Older men “much prefer to use a home landline than a cell phone,” she said. “If there’s a 50-year-old man and he’s dating an age-appropriate woman, he’ll pick one night out of the week to sit down, listen to his answering machine, and call her back. If he’s dating a 30-year-old woman who’s texting and on her cell phone all day, she’ll say, ‘Why didn’t he call me all day? Why isn’t he texting?’ ”

Though the dating pool is more limited when singles over the age of 50 look for companions in their age groups, there is additional freedom when it comes to certain areas.

“When having children is not an element of marriage anymore, or you already have them or are not planning to have them, people aren’t hung up on the details they are hung up on when they’re in their 20s,” Salkin said. “Maybe you’ll look at someone with slightly different religious and family backgrounds.”

Those who use matchmakers to navigate the scene say it suddenly becomes much simpler. One Los Angeles resident named Jeff, who is in his 50s, utilized the assistance of Orly Hadida, aka Orly the Matchmaker, a Beverly Hills-based professional who’s been listed in the Guinness World Records as the most expensive matchmaker in the world. He said, “You don’t have to go to bars or do the pickup lines and everything else. She interviewed me, got my background information and did a lot of pre-screening. She tries to match you with somebody you’re looking for and vice versa.” 

Hadida, who is in her mid-50s herself, said that singles over 50 want camaraderie and monogamy, which is what Jeff (who requested that his full name not be used) was seeking.

“When you’re in your 20s and 30s you want to party and travel and don’t take things seriously,” he said. “When you’re in your 50s, you’ve been married and have kids and want companionship.”

Dee Gaines, who has a doctorate in neuropsychology and clinical psychology, and lives in Beverlywood, echoed those sentiments. She started 3InLove, a matchmaking service for older singles that incorporates the Torah and kabbalah’s marital values. 

Dee Gaines started 3InLove, a matchmaking service for older singles.

She said that as people age, they “go through the process of thinking about where they want to put their efforts for the rest of their lives. They ask themselves, ‘What do I want to accomplish with the certain limited time I have?’ They’re interested in settling with a partner they can share a routine with.”

Gottesman added that because health issues come up as they get older, individuals often look for partners who take care of themselves. 

“People want to find someone who is healthy because they lost a spouse who was unhealthy and they don’t want go through that again,” she said. 

Lifestyle compatibility over 50 is about more than health, though. It’s also about money and whether or not people are still up for adventure. 

“Some individuals don’t want a partner who can’t keep up with their lifestyle,” Gottesman said. “If they’re not retired, they want to be with someone who is also not retired. They want someone who has an active, productive life as well. That can be tricky because some people retire early and others never want to retire.”

In their 20s, singles are more flexible. They’re willing to modify how they function and negotiate on certain issues. Jenny Apple, who sets up Jewish couples throughout Southern California, said it’s not as easy to set up those over 50 “because they’re set in their way of life. It’s harder sometimes to get them to appreciate the value of being set up with another quality individual.”

Jenny Apple, California matchmaker

It’s not about being stubborn though. Apple, 31, from the Beverly Hills area, said it’s more about the baggage that comes along with being a certain age. 

“Sometimes it’s understandable. You have children or a sick parent to take care of, and you don’t want to uproot them. That’s a challenge, and a personal life decision, but people … have to weigh the factors,” she said. “They have to say, ‘Is it more important for me to have a partner in life or to be comfortable with my environment?’ ”

Aside from enlisting the help of a matchmaker and setting up an online dating profile, Gottesman recommends that singles who are 50-plus treat dating like they did at any age. That means getting out and mingling.

“If you just stay at home and don’t try to meet anybody, you’re not going to find that he or she will just knock on your door,” she said. “You should go to singles events or volunteer somewhere you care about.” 

Gaines and her partner at 3InLove, Trudy Green, are working on putting together singles events for the older population over the next six months. She said she continues to focus on people of this age for many reasons. 

“The 50-plus community is a wonderful population to work with,” she said. “There is such wisdom and knowledge that comes out of this group.”

Desperately Seeking Soulmates

The most successful matchmakers in the Jewish community don’t want to talk romance.

His own romance "happened so long ago, there is really not much to say about it," Alon Carmel, the co-founder, of, the largest Jewish online personals site, tells The Journal when asked for some personal tips of the romance trade.

Carmel’s business partner, Joe Shapira, is even less inspiring.

"I have been on JDate," he said. "Every woman I contacted rejected me."

The fact that romance know-how isn’t their strong suit just shows how much finding love in the Jewish community — and in the wider world — has changed with the advent of the Internet. No longer are matchmakers the hunchbacked yentas who finagled Tevye’s daughters to marry someone who was "tall from side to side."

Now matchmakers are men like Carmel, an Israeli ex-pat who wears a cell phone on a necklace with a jaunty and annoying ring and commands an office on Wilshire Boulevard that has floor-to-ceiling windows, panoramic views of Los Angeles, sectional couches and a signed picture of President Bush.

Carmel is a calm man, and unlike "Fiddler’s" meddling Yenta, he doesn’t need to wheedle anyone into trying his product like he did in the old days, when JDate first started and he begged his friends to post their profiles as a favor to him. Now he concentrates on IPOs and increasing market share, growing the business while he lets the software interface do all that "romance" work for him. The modern day matchmaker is a laissez faire businessman who lets people find their own loves through his site.

And while JDate recently took over JCupid (its biggest American competitor) and Cupidon (JCupid’s million-strong Israeli site), Carmel’s business style is less corporate barracuda and more casual Friday, where millions of dollars can be made without anyone needing to shed their Abercrombie running outfit for a three-piece and tie.

"He’s not very formal," said Adam Kravitz, general counsel to Matchnet PLC, JDate’s parent company. "He’s very Israeli in that way. He is very relaxed and friendly, very personable one to one, and a very good negotiator."

SO What’s love got to do with it? Not much. It’s like this weekend’s overmarketed Valentine’s Day , which is an opportunity for flower/chocolate/diamond sellers to market their goods. For JDate, it’s an opportunity to hold parties in cities across the United States from Bethesda, Md., ($10); to Denver, Colo. ($20); to Los Angeles, Boston and New York ($25). (Parties, events and travel contributed $469,678 to total revenue — or 2 percent of Matchnet’s entire revenue of $25 million.)

For men like Carmel, matchmaking and romance have gone multinational and high tech. Instead of paying the matchmaker a fee or musing about love in the time of Pentium processors, you might want to think about getting in on the action and purchasing some stock options in an online personals company.

While there are more singles now than ever before — U.S. census statistics show that people are getting married later, getting divorced faster and more are choosing to live alone — there are also more people looking for someone to connect to, emotionally or physically or, preferably, both.

Even though the dot-com bubble has burst, and Americans are suffering from romance fatigue (according to a recent New York Times article), millions of Americans still visit online dating sites every month. According to Comscore networks, a site that tracks consumer behavior on the Internet, in the past two years spending for online dating sites has increased more than 500 percent, making online sites some of the most valuable Internet real estate on the web.

The Jewish community, too, has been affected by the paradoxical culture of fewer people getting married, more people looking for love. The National Jewish Population Survey of 2000-2001 found that Jews are getting married later in life than the majority of Americans, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t actively looking for love, and sites like JDate provide an outlet for those looking for Jewish hookups, Jewish relationships and Jewish marriages.

Since its inception six years ago in the crowded sea of dating Web sites, JDate has cornered the market and become the largest and most popular Jewish site on the web. While news sites like the Jerusalem Post’s gets 55,000 unique visitors a month, JDate receives 247,000, according to Comscore networks. Among Jewish dating sites — such as JMatch, JSingles, JQS, Frumster to name a few (see sidebar) — JDate, with more than half a million members is the largest. By comparison, JMatch says it has 150,000 members; Frumster, an Orthodox-only site, has 11,000.

JDate is also the only site that is so part of the millennial Jewish zeitgeist, that not only has posting a profile on it become a rite of passage of sorts for most single Jews, but it has practically spawned its own lexicon. JDate is used as a noun, to describe not just the site, but also the type of date that results from the site ("he went on a JDate last night); a verb ("I’m so sick of JDating every night of the week"); even an adjective that describes a date that is like many others ("she was nice, but the whole experience was very JDate"). Most Jews know someone who dated someone they met on the site, and have heard of people who married from the site.

In other words, JDate has morphed from a Web site into a Jewish phenomenon, and it has made Carmel into a big businessman.

Alon Carmel’s life didn’t start out with much promise 48 years ago. His father died while his mother was pregnant with him. She struggled to raise him and his older brother in Haifa, but couldn’t. When he was 5, she sent him to an orphanage, called, ironically, considering his later JDate career, "Mosad Ahava," an institution of love.

Far from being traumatized by the move, Carmel remembers the period with fondness.

"It was wonderful. I had a great social life there. Everybody was nice especially the kids. It was a good place," he said.

When he was 10, he went to live on a kibbutz, and three years later, he moved back in with his mother.

"We were the poorest family possible. We ate meat only on holidays," the millionaire said.

Carmel joined the Israeli army and then got a degree at the Technion in civil engineering, but he never worked in the field. "It was not my desire to be an engineer, not my personality. I always knew that I was going to be an entrepreneur."

He came to Los Angeles in 1981 — without a plan. "I came here, my English wasn’t so good, I didn’t know many people. I met an old friend who was in school together with me. He was a supervisor on the construction site and he got me a job there. The first day I came to work, they said, ‘Here is the broom, here is the shovel, now go clean.’ I was making $3.25 an hour. It wasn’t enough, so I had to valet park at night."

Working at L’Orangerie whetted his appetite for a finer life.

Having no money forced Carmel to work around-the-clock, and it also provided him with the seed to make his first $100 million. He worked on construction in the morning, in the afternoon he volunteered as a gofer with a real estate broker, and in the evening he parked cars.

"I offered my services for free so that I could learn the real estate business. I was busy and happy," he said.

By the late 1980s he had accumulated close to 1,000 apartments and was making a lot of money. By the early 1990s, he had more than $100 million in real estate equity, which he lost when the bottom fell out of the real estate market. Carmel went bankrupt and had to sell his house.

"I was extremely depressed," he said. "But my wife was very supportive of me," he said, referring to the woman he married in 1984 but prefers not to discuss.

The low was also the start of the current high. At around the time he went bankrupt, Carmel met Shapira, the man he now calls "his better half." The two started a video manufacturing business that they sold in 1996. In 1997, Shapira got divorced and was considering signing up with Great Expectation, a dating service where people pay more than $1,000 to make a video of themselves that is shown to other members.

"We were sitting at lunch and Joe was telling me about the Internet and he was saying that [Great Expectations] should be online, not offline," Carmel said. "I didn’t have a computer then. He went home and he logged onto his computer and found that there were 100 Jewish dating sites, and 3,000 dating sites at the time. We said ‘So there will be 3,001.’"

Carmel and Shapira then started researching and developing their business model, aiming to make a site that was more user-friendly and sophisticated than the other sites.

The issue, though, was naming the site. JDate got its name through a fortuitous accident of slim pickings.

"Everybody had taken all the possible names," Carmel said. "AOL had bought the name Jewish, everybody else got all the other names. The only name left was JDate, and we were really unhappy about it. We thought, ‘God, how are we going to market a name like that?’"

They ended up marketing it through search engines and small newspaper ads. They provided 24-hour customer service for people who had trouble figuring out how to post their profiles, with Shapira doing a lot of the customer service himself, and Carmel increasing his computer literacy by having his son teach him how to crop and post photographs. Word of mouth about the site started to spread, and the number of members who signed up in the first year (about 10,000) doubled, then tripled, then quadrupled and then started multiplying so fast to the point that JDate now says they have "thousands joining each day."

"It wasn’t like we were a company," Carmel recalled. "We were part of the community, part of the social setting."

Being part of the community or, more accurately, creating its own community, meant that JDate started making a lot of money. Matchnet PLC is now a public company traded on the Frankfurt Exchange (because the initial investors in the company came from Germany), and a possible NASDAQ offering is being planned for later this year. It did more than $25 million in revenue last year — the projected revenue for 2004 is $40 million, of which they hope $15 million will be profit. Matchnet has 10 subsidiary companies, including, which according to Nielsen/Net ratings is the third-largest personals site;, a gay and lesbian relationship site; and, a site aimed at college students. In the first nine months of 2003, more than 5 million new members joined Matchnet sites.

Carmel loves what he does. It’s a constant refrain in interviews: He has a dream job, he feels like the luckiest person on earth, he loves what he does.

For Carmel, an observant Jew, JDate is more than just a business. It’s a mission. "Alon has a personal attachment to JDate," said Kravitz, Matchnet’s general counsel. Although the company has grown to 138 employees, Carmel strives to engender a family atmosphere, and is friendly and approachable.

Carmel believes JDate is the high-tech antidote to intermarriage. And with openings planned in Spanish, French and Portuguese, Carmel thinks JDate can be a community unifier that brings Jews of all creeds, colors and languages together.

"The short term is to bring all Jews around the world into one place, one big happy place," Carmel said. "When we have 1 or 2 million Jews on our site, I don’t know what can happen. But we can deliver. We are inventing the future."

That future includes a recent change in the business model of Internet dating. Like many Internet sites which started out providing services cheaply or for free and later started charging, JDate recently changed its business model. Originally, posting a profile on the site was free, as was reading messages received from other members; the only people who had to pay were those who wanted to initiate contact with other members. Last summer, JDate began to charge its members to both send and receive e-mail on the site, and to access a mailbox there.

While anecdotal evidence suggests that this change has soured a number of existing members from using the site because they do not want to pay, it is hard to figure out the effect it has had on JDate and the Internet community at large. Carmel will not disclose individual JDate figures, but will only say that 27 percent more people have subscribed to all Matchnet sites since they implemented the new policy. (That’s about 170,514 total subscribers out of 16 million across the board.) Carmel asserts the reason for charging more people was not just a business decision: he did it to make the JDate community more active.

"I hope that nobody expects [his or her] love life to be free," he said. "A lot of those who posted their profiles for free actually did not answer e-mails. They felt that they were above the rest. Once you pay, you start to respect the other side. The business has to be profitable, but [this new system] also allows us to weed out the fly-by-night and uninterested and unserious members of the site."

Carmel said that recent changes are not unlike changes they had made in the beginning. "The first year it was for free, and we had around 10,000 or 20,000 users. In those days of the Internet everything was free. When we started charging a few people dropped off, but only a few."

Six years ago, who could have known that this weirdly named Web site would become so profitable?

"I did everything I could to keep JDate alive for the first three years," Carmel said. "It was impossible. I sold everything we had, we sold almost any asset, and even the ones that we didn’t have. We borrowed from family and friends to keep it up," he said.

Who could have known 48 years ago that this boy from an Israeli orphanage would become one of America’s most successful and richest matchmakers?

Maybe Carmel.

"JDate happened not because we were really smart," Carmel said, "but because it was meant to be."

Haven’t I Seen You Before?

There are many pitfalls of online dating. Posting your own profile can make you feel exposed. You can be e-mailing someone whose photo promises that he looks like Brad Pitt’s younger, taller and more handsome brother, whose profile pledges that not only is he poetic, sensitive, kind and creative but he is also the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, only to find, once you meet him, that he is an octogenarian troglodyte ax murderer.

"Online dating has no valid reference point, and there is no way to gage a person’s interest level," said New York based management consultant Marc Goodman, who set up his own site — a matchmaking Web site to rectify these and other drawbacks of online dating. "But in the matchmaking world, the intentions are very clear, and the matchmaker can verify the information about a person."

SawYouAtSinai — the name coming from the midrashic aphorism that every Jewish person met his or her soulmate when we received the Torah on Mount Sinai — is a site where users can fill out a profile, and then choose one or more matchmakers out of the 46 (four are from California) currently on the site to find a match for them. The matchmaker either interviews you or uses some other criteria to verify your information and then sets out trying to find a mate for you. There is no mate shopping on SawYouAtSinai — only the matchmakers can trawl the site seeking out matches. Once they think they have found someone who meets your criteria, they will e-mail you his or her profile, you can e-mail back your thoughts and feedback and then the matchmaker can facilitate the shidduch. If you decline a person’s profile, then you no longer have access to it.

The site has been up for 10 weeks and is currently free, with about 1,000 members in it. Goodman hopes that, within the year, the site will have more than 5,000 members, will sponsor classes and a wedding charity for poor couple, and offer the dating advice of psychologists and rabbis.

"We want people to go out on quality dates," Goodman said. "And obviously we want to get as many marriages as possible."

Looking for Love?

JDate is the largest Jewish singles site, but for those interested in swimming in smaller ponds, below is a sampling of some of the other offerings on the web.  — A dating service exclusively for Orthodox singles.   — Like JDate, but replying to messages is free. This site prides itself on being a human-based company, and it makes matchmakers available to its members.   — A Web site aimed at Jewish singles with disabilities.   — Chabad’s matchmaking site. Members need a “sponsor” in the form of an Orthodox rabbi or the wife of an Orthodox rabbi who can vouch for them.   — Generic Jewish dating site. Users fill out a basic profile (name, age, physical appearance, etc.) and then write a short essay on “About Me.”   — Another generic Jewish dating site. Users check off answers on a multiple-choice profile that includes questions like “If I had the talent … I would choose to be a: 1. Scientist, 2. Philosopher, 3. Musician.”   — Not an exclusively Jewish site, but one where users fill out a very long questionnaire, and then the site matches them up based on their personality profiles.

The Matchmakers

My friend, Clark, is a 38-year-old entertainment executive who enjoys the services of two full-time matchmakers.

"They’re always on the lookout for someone special for me. They call it scoping for ladies," he said with a laugh. And who wouldn’t be doing the same? Clark is intelligent, witty and handsome. I, for one, find it remarkable he’s still unattached.

Sometimes the matchmakers nudge Clark to push the boundaries on one of his platonic friendships. One of them will say, "I’m sure she’s interested in more than just coffee."

Yet, they never meddle too much in Clark’s efforts to discover his soul mate. And while most men would bristle at such regular consultation, it is different when the matchmakers in question are your own lovely daughters, ages 11 and 13.

Clark’s daughters spot unsuspecting women at every turn. All over Los Angeles they find creative excuses to strike up a conversation. The girls have even admired a woman’s slobbering three-legged dog at the park just to find a reason to introduce Clark to an attractive single Jewish female. One of them will gush, "Wasn’t it sweet of our daddy to take us to the park today?" Then they duck out of the way to let the chemistry take its course.

A couple of years ago, the girls weren’t terribly hip on the idea of daddy dating after the divorce and pursuing mates who weren’t their mom. While living on the beach in Santa Monica, Clark’s daughters conjured up the idea of building a chute in the sand that began at their front door and ended in the ocean: "If we don’t like her, she goes down the chute, daddy."

He tried to reassure them: "You think I’d get remarried to someone who you girls didn’t like?"

Now, because they are fast approaching dating age themselves, the two girls have gained more perspective on the importance of courtship. Clark found himself pulled aside for a father-daughter/daughter talk. "We discussed it last night and we’d be very happy for you to get remarried," one of them told him. "It is time, dad. We want you to date."

The girls’ involvement opened Clark’s eyes to one unpleasant truth: his kids have more insight into women than he does. "She’s too pretty," they telegraphed after meeting one of his dates. It was a diplomatic way of indicating their distaste for a date’s self-absorbed character, which later turned out to be prophetic.

"The older I get," Clark sighed, "the more I realize I don’t know much of anything."

They say children and pets are superior judges of character. So why do we hire matchmakers who walk upright and are old enough to drive? I think we may have it all wrong. Perhaps the best matchmakers are the young family members who know and love us, and perhaps our dogs and cats. My felines see things instantly in the men I date — the same things that take me months or even years to learn for myself.

Why is it kids and critters might be better judges of character? Age. The myth is that we get wiser with age and closer to the truth. But isn’t it also true that as we get older we make things unnecessarily complicated? We lose that clarity of vision and naivete that we had as children. Clark, I asked him, does it get any easier to date at 38 than at 28?

"Moxie," he sighed, "it’s hard until it isn’t."

Clark told me most of the issues remain the same no matter what your age — except for one.

A man like Clark discovers in his potential mates a bias against the kids that are now a part of his life. When surfing for companionship online, it’s far too easy for a woman to plug in her dream criteria for the perfect man and click the "no kids" box. But in not considering a man with kids, she risks filtering out a dream date.

Maybe if she met him through mutual friends, at a party or a synagogue, she’d see beyond those misleading demographics.

If they know you and like you, Clark believes, their notion of the ideal mate would seismically alter. Besides, he points out, shouldn’t you be wary of a man near 40 who has never committed to anyone?

And that’s when my guilt set in. I thought about all the times men contacted me through an online personal ad and I’d instantly rule them out as a result of their profile. You know the score — they either had children or failed some other arbitrary requisite I’d deemed essential.

Clark reminds me to just look for the chemistry and follow your heart.

Good advice, but I’ve found these clichés are — to use a cliché — easier said than done. In a few years Clark will be able to offer this sage advice to his own daughters. And perhaps even return the matchmaking favor.

And while I have no apparent shortage of unattached female friends around to help in the commiseration process — and a few I should probably introduce to Clark — a dad who is back on the prowl is a terrific person with whom to discuss my own mate-finding foibles. Of which there are many.

In fact, when I got burned recently, Clark was one of the select few (all right, he was one of several) who heard my tale of woe. "How did I fall for that?" I brayed. "I should’ve seen it coming."

"Oh, don’t worry. The older you get," Clark reassured me, "the easier it is to fool yourself."

Madison “Moxie” Slade is a Los
Angeles-based freelance writer who keeps a running tab of her thoughts,
experiences and other debacles at