February 20, 2019

Orthodox Couple Creates Dating App for Jewish Singles Using A.I.

Yossi and Shira Teichman Photo provided by Yossi Teichman

Dating apps can be a huge pain in the tuchus for those truly searching for love. But, worry no more my beloved singles, Forj, a new Jewish dating app, is here and ready to help you find your bashert. Orthodox millennial couple Yossi and Shira Teichman created Forj as the Jewish dating app for serious daters. As the first dating app fully powered by A.I., Forj is described by the Teichmans as the technological equivalent of the world’s best-personalized matchmaking service — without the expenses, awkwardness or inconveniences associated with hiring a human matchmaker.

Forj’s popularity has grown 100 percent monthly, with a 95 percent match success rate and users are reporting a 95 percent that the A.I. truly understands them for who they are,” the Teichmans noted.  

Forj has launched a plethora of new features including user verification – picture, age, gender, etc. all via just a selfie – powered by A.I. and a click-to-highlight anything and everything about their profile feature.

I interviewed the CEO of Forj, Yossi Teichman to learn more about the exciting ride through creating the dating app.  

JJ: How did the idea of Forj come about?

By the time I met my wife and Forj co-founder Shira in 2014, we’d both been burned by dead-end dating in New York. Singles mixers, apps and matchmakers alike, were failing us–and, like thousands of others, we were starting to experience dating burn-out. The scene was getting old fast, and we knew it was time to innovate. The dating coaching company we founded, “Breakthrough Dating,” garnered widespread attention for its innovative focus on helping Jewish singles get to know each other authentically. It yielded astounding results, with a 90% success rate. With a refreshing new twist on modern love that de-emphasizes superficial presentation and restores true connection, Breakthrough Dating proved the need for a serious dating app. I left my career in finance two summers ago to attend coding school, at which time Forj was born. Today, as a married couple, Shira and I help others forge their own paths of lasting love. Five years ago, I never imagined that our search for love would plant the seeds for the world’s first dating app powered by Artificial Intelligence.

JJ: Explain the experience and tactical process that led you toward developing Forj?

Shira and I both had PhD’s in dating. As discussed in the previous question, we had experience dating, for a very long time. We had gone to all the matchmakers, the so-called dating coaches, singles events, mixers, weekends, dating apps, workshops, you name it. But, aside from meeting hundreds of new faces, nothing was actually working.

Moreover, we saw that many of these “experts” or matchmakers, gave advice freely or techniques to use to date better. Nothing was research-based or had any concrete basis. Almost always it was, dress like this, look like this, not like this. Basically how to market yourself more effectively. (Similar to what almost all dating apps promote).

I realized that based on what I was seeing from myself and my friends, that it’s not just a numbers game. It’s not just about making introductions, there’s something more.

We decided to actually do research as to what tools are available to be able to move forward in dating. We met with a couple of top experts in the field, and conducted research, which they reviewed, critiqued, honed, and that is how we were able to create “Breakthrough Dating.” A program that was designed to give singles the tools they need to get “unstuck.” We created a small event and out of 40 people that applied the program, four ended up getting engaged. Since then we had 41 marriages.

To understand the difference between our approach and everything else out there requires a shift in mindset about what the purpose of a singles event is. It’s not about throwing people together in a room or actually trying to match people up based on similar Hashkafa or Jewish like observance level, age or all other “matching qualities.” All of these criteria are completely arbitrary and have very little to do with the success of a long-term relationship. It’s not about working people into an event because they are all “modern orthodox” or they’re all “traditional” and between the ages of 20 and 25 or 30 and 35.

What we discovered, is when you actually shift the dynamics in a room, people start to connect naturally. The three main components which we derived from our research that are critical to dating success was: vision, empowerment and connection.

As Shira’s client base grew, her clients kept telling her they were tired of dating apps, since all you get is just a picture. Dating apps have been around for a while, but within the last two to three years there has been increased disappointment with people feeling like they are meeting millions of people but nothing is happening.

That is where we thought of Forj. Let’s synthesize our research which we know works into an app so that Jews no matter what background, age, degree earned, etc. can actually meet someone who is truly compatible in a safe space, and get the support they need to move on to the next step.

And that is how Forj was born!

JJ: Explain how the themes of vision, empowerment and connection that you mentioned above help with reaching dating success?

Vision: We look at the long-run. If you were to look 20 years down the line, and envision how your life would be, what do you see? This is exactly what we have incorporated in the app to give to you. It is the core of the sign-up process and A.I. to give you the amazing life you deserve with the most amazing someone for you.

Empowerment: Our app has no judgment. We have designed it in such a way that each user can truly represent in their profile who they are in the most authentic, and true-to-self way without having to try and market themselves. That is the core of our collage, favorites, and auto-generated profiles.

Connection: Because we represent the true you in the profile, you are able to really connect to the other users in a very meaningful way. To help the users further, we have the ice-breakers and soon A.I. dating coach, to really take you to the next level!

JJ:  What is the meaning behind the name Forj?

It’s a play on “forge” with the “j” for “Jewish.” This is actually how it’s pronounced. We are all about forging healthy happy productive relationships. This is one of our key goals in the app.

JJ: What makes Forj different from other dating apps?

People are really, in certain circles, tired of chasing matchmakers or waiting for a middleman to call for a suggestion. They complain that once they do get suggestions, if they get any, that the suggestions are not compatible. Which is why they understandably feel really burnt out from years of dead end set ups, which ends in a lot of dead end dating.

None of the websites or the few Jewish dating apps out there suggest anyone that’s relevant to you or have any real way of discovering who would be relevant or compatible. The ones who are looking for a real relationship complain that they find that these apps are very frustrating and very draining. Current apps present you with endless pictures and endless swipes, but not serious prospects.

On top of that the app weeds out people that are just looking for hook-ups. If you’re just looking for a hook-up app, this is not the app for you. The questionnaire is very extensive. Our app really gets to know the user, something which is uncomfortable if you just want a hook-up. Other apps would say that they’re kind of geared towards everyone, whether you’re looking for a hook-up or you’re dying to get married. This is, of course, problematic if you want a serious relationship. There is no way to find out.

A.I.: The only app that constantly learns about you after every match on a deeper level. The click-to-highlight feature really enables the A.I. to learn from every aspect of your matches in terms of what you really want and need. Some of the other apps learn about your look preferences (but even then most prefer not to, since they want you to constantly swipe and stay in the app).

JJ: What’s your main goal with Forj?

Forj’s goal is that our users are happily engaged in healthy, happy, loving and long-lasting relationships. It’s not just randomly getting married or hooking up with someone. We really want our users to find that someone who is extremely compatible with them, and that they will be happy together for decades to come.

We want to provide the tools to make that happen!

JJ: Explain what a day in the life looks like for you as the CEO of Forj?

Where do I begin !! 🙂 As a startup there is no “typical” day. In general, we try to introduce at least one new enhancement each week and major feature once a month. So I will spend time going through those features. Our main designer is in Israel, so I’ll discuss with her what she believes should be the next big changes in design. Our outreach coordinator is in Chicago, and we’ll go over any new partnerships with influencers, media, or Jewish organizations. And lastly, our head of content is in New York, so if there is any new improvements, new questions, or other nuances to the content we’ll go over it with her. As we are looking to partner with a tier-1 influencer and bring them to join the team, I will have conversations with several to see if they are a fit.

JJ: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned while creating Forj?

People want to be seen for who they are, and are tired of continuously marketing themselves and trying to guess how others perceive them. They don’t want to be treated like objects. They want to be appreciated for their own values, beliefs, outlooks, and perspectives.

JJ:  Anything exciting coming up for Forj that you’d like to give the inside scoop on?

The main feature that is in the pipeline at this time is the A.I. Dating Coach which will not only guide users through the dating process, but will also recommend for dating spots based on who they are.


Berenice Famili is the CEO and founder of the Jewish emoji app Shalomoji and a Los Angeles based writer who covers lifestyle, health, and entrepreneurship. 

Modern Jewish Matchmakers Urge Singles to Keep Their Hearts and Minds Open to Love

In Anatevka, fictional young women yearned for a match who, for Papa, should be a scholar and, for Mama, as rich as a king. In 21st-century Los Angeles, matchmaking is different from how it was portrayed in “Fiddler on the Roof,” but is alive and well, bringing single citizens together for serious relationships.

“The best feeling in the world is making a match,” said Jenny Apple of Jenny Apple Matchmaking, who started introducing people in 2013.

“Our clients like that we’re coaches, friends and mentors all rolled up ino one,” said Jessica Fass, of Fass Pass to Love.

Apple, who attended high school in Calabasas, launched her business after years of programming Jewish events. She offers matchmaking, dating consultations and coaching.

Fass, who grew up in Northridge, got into professional matchmaking in 2013 after making three matches on her own, which, according to Jewish legend, earned her a place in the World to Come.

Apple has matched 10 couples who have gotten married or are in long-term relationships. Two of the married couples now have children. Fass, who specializes in international matches, has matched six couples for marriage and two couples who are in a long-term relationship. And through their work, they’ve set up hundreds of first and second dates with local and international singles seeking partners.

Matchmaking isn’t as simple as pairing two single people, Fass and Apple explained in a joint conversation with the Journal. Matchmakers have to get to know their clients really well before they go on a date. Clients fill out a questionnaire, which generally is followed by a personal consultation. (Fass and Apple both focus on matching heterosexual couples; they connect LGBTQ singles to another matchmaker in their network.)

“Singles I’ve met with who are not successful are obsessed with the fantasy.” — Jenny Apple

To understand clients’ goals and outlook, Fass asks where clients see themselves in five years and what they consider a fun date. “Most smart people just say: ‘It doesn’t matter what I’m doing, as long as I’m with good company/the right person.’ That’s the smartest response and the truest in my book,” Fass said.

Fass helps clients plan the date and asks them to write down everything afterward. A few days later, she interviews both parties and provides feedback. Fass noted that attending events with clients helps her see how they interact in person.

Traditionally, making Jewish matches is considered a mitzvah, and only when matches lead to marriage are matchmakers paid. But matchmaking is hard work, and today’s matchmaking professionals want to get paid.

“You orchestrate the date like a producer,” said Fass, who formerly worked in television as an on-set assistant and script manager. “We have to educate people that it’s a service that you pay for up front.”

High-end matchmakers can command fees of $15,000 to $20,000 or even more. Apple and Fass charge about $5,000 for matchmaking services but offer dating coaching and consulting for less.

The matchmakers don’t see dating apps as competition; they’re just part of the dating industry landscape.

“I’m a huge advocate for online dating,” said Apple, who used JDate when she was single and met her husband on JSwipe (now owned by JDate).

Fass echoed Apple’s enthusiasm. “I used to use [JDate] back in the day when there were no apps.” In Israel, she used Tinder and OKCupid, because there, “everyone’s Jewish.” Now, she said, “clients and people I talk to at events say, ‘No one’s on JDate and JDate sucks’ — I believe they [dating apps] all work, you just have to invest time in it. But millennials would all rather be on swipe apps.”

Dating apps make people think “it’s the boyfriend/girlfriend store and there are endless options,” Fass said, but with the apps’ high potential for miscommunication, “we need to just get you on the freaking date.”

Clients should treat app matches like “a hot sales lead,” she added. “If you have time to get on the phone, just talk … you see instant results.” Fass stated a preference for sites like Match.com and eHarmony.com, where people can share and learn more about each other.

In today’s Jewish matchmaking, dating and partner preferences skewer the layers of traditional community expectations, idealized dating scenarios and contemporary realities like financial stability.

Apple noted that entrepreneurs say they want women who are busy, but not too busy for them. Fass said that beyond “Jewish,” her male clients are looking for someone “attractive to them,” for a “nonjudgmental place to land when they come home,” and for partners with some kind of passion, like volunteering. Some want to be the sole breadwinner others understand that many families need two incomes.

The women Fass has seen are looking for men with a good or at least stable, job, a sense of humor, and someone who’s physically attractive to them, but notes that she’s seen attraction grow for women (but less often for men). Women are often picky about height, Apple added, and although women say “sense of humor” is a priority, matchmakers often have to find out what that really means.

“Remember not to judge height, age or location,” Fass said. “There are only so many Jews in the world who have the same religious level as you. You need to cut some things off your list.  Also, Jews like to eat! Our mothers are the best cooks in the world. So stop judging weight.”

One client of Apple’s would accept only dates with oval-shaped faces. “he was not attracted to a round face. I never heard that before.” Fass had one client who insisted that all of his dates wear dresses. “You can’t force someone to wear a dress,” she said.

“Singles I’ve met with who are not successful are obsessed with the fantasy,” Apple said.

While Apple and Fass are not business partners, they often collaborate on events — their next one is on Feb. 11 — and are fiercely committed to singles.

“Being married isn’t the cure and being single isn’t a disease,” Apple said.

Apple added that singles should take a multipronged approach — attending events, or hosting their own singles gatherings, in addition to hiring a matchmaker. She also notes that singles 40 and older is “a growing niche” that needs more programming.

Fass and Apple believe that there’s a match for everyone, with some caveats.

“We are always trying to make our clients happy but make them understand what is a healthy and happy relationship. It’s OK to be picky about things that you want, but do you know what’s important in a long-term monogamous relationship?” Apple said. Negativity toward a match, sometimes even before a first meeting, can be lethal, she said. “Love’s about giving and not taking.

In terms of a match’s potential, Fass keeps it simple: “Could you see yourself kissing them, and do they make you feel good? Then go for a second date.”

No matchmaker can guarantee love. But, Apple said, “we’re there to give you the best options in the most realistic way possible.”

“We can introduce you to your perfect match,” Apple said, “but you have to be open.”

Jewish father who took out ad seeking a wife for his son postpones interviews of prospective brides

The Jewish father who took out a full-page ad in an Idaho newspaper seeking a wife for his 48-year-old son has postponed the interviews with prospective brides he scheduled at an Idaho resort.

Arthur Brooks, 78, of Beverly Hills, California, decided to delay his interviews of potential wives for his son, Baron, at the Coeur d’Alene Resort over the weekend after the resort “got a little scared about people losing their privacy,” People magazine reported Sunday.

“I’ve decided now to let a few weeks go by, then we’ll reschedule,” Brooks told People.

The Spokesman-Review newspaper reported Sunday that at least a dozen women, only one local, responded to the ad. The story has been picked up by media outlets throughout the United States and internationally.

Brooks reportedly was surprised by the amount of attention his ad generated.

“I thought I might get a couple of women to respond, then I’d quietly set up a few interviews and that would be that,” he told People. “I want my son to be happy and I thought I was doing a good thing. But it took off in an entirely different direction.”

Last week, Brooks without the permission of knowledge of his son, Baron, took out the ad titled “Looking for a Wife” in the Coeur d’Alene Press, a newspaper in northern Idaho.

Baron Brooks, a broker in the health food trade, told the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, Washington, he was shocked and infuriated to learn of the ad.

Father and son met at the Salt Lake City International Airport on Saturday evening, where Baron Brooks gave his father a scolding – then wrapped him in a warm hug, according to People.

“I’d hoped to be married by now and have children, but it’s very challenging in Salt Lake City for a Jewish guy,” Baron Brooks told People. “Most of the women I meet are in their 40s and are done having kids. I came close to getting married a couple of times, but it didn’t work out. So I think my dad felt there was an urgency to make something happen.”

Baron Brooks has agreed to be present for the interviews, which will be held in his hometown of Salt Lake City, when they do happen.

“He’s going to do it anyway,” the younger Brooks said, according to People, “and I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. So if any of these women are truly willing to meet me and they’re not just crazy people out for a free trip, I want to do the honorable thing. And if it happens to lead to something, well, great.”

My Single Peeps: Denise M.

Denise, 46, shows up at our interview dressed to the nines. The woman is put together — from her perfectly coiffed hair down to her Christian Louboutin shoes. A few years back, I was running around Manhattan with a friend and we met a group of tipsy girls on the street. My friend was trying to get one of the girls to join us for a drink, but her night was ending and she was on her way home. I jumped in: “How can I convince you to stay out with him?” She said, “Get me a pair of those red-bottoms and he can take me home.” It was a joke — but only sort of a joke. Women covet those shoes. And Denise knows how to rock a pair.

Denise looks high maintenance and she carries with her a heavy protective wall. So I assume she’s something she’s not when we start talking. But her wall quickly comes down and I realize my first assumption is wrong. She tells me she gets that a lot. “People who know me say, ‘When I first met you, I thought you’d be the biggest bitch — but you’re not.’ ” I think it’s our own intimidation, though. She’s really nice.

“I’ve spent my whole life in Los Angeles. I was a film major, but I ended up in the beauty industry, and I worked in the salon and on film sets for many years.” Denise was always interested in real estate, and for the last decade she made it her career. But, she tells me, “If I ever won the lottery, I would still do hair.” After a “great ride,” she rode out some tough years in real estate. “But it’s a busy time again. There’s an upswing.”

I ask her what she does for fun. “I love going to the beach. I like to travel. I like going on walks.” She clarifies that statement, as one date took her on a hike where there were rattlesnakes — “I like to walk on a path. I like to have fun, but I’m not a daredevil. I love being around friends. I like cooking. I love going to museums. I definitely have a passion for art — theatrical and fine arts. I come from a family of artists.”

She likes men who are warm, caring and ambitious. “But not neurotic. Because some men who are successful in their businesses are a little neurotic and can’t ever take a break from work — even if you go away or go out for the evening. A big turn-off to me is laziness. I can’t be with a lazy man. I like a man who takes care of himself. I’m into physical fitness, and I don’t want some guy to be lying on the couch drinking beer all day long. That’s just not my thing.”

Her marriage didn’t end well, but, Denise says, “I can always make lemonade out of lemons. It’s honestly the only way I function every day. I want to be loved and adored and respected. I want someone to be kind to my children, who are 5 and 8. I want to give that back. I’m not looking to be selfish. I want to love someone, adore them, cherish them. I want to cook for them, hang out, go for walks, watch movies and open up a bottle of wine. I’m looking for my best friend. Someone to share the rest of my life with. I was brought up by a stepfather who was a survivor from the Holocaust, so if I ended up meeting a man who was half as wonderful to his children as he was to my brother and me, I’d be a lucky lady, and they’d be very lucky children.” 


Seth Menachem is an actor and writer living in Los Angeles with his wife and two children. You can see more of his work on his Web site, sethmenachem.com, and meet even more single peeps at mysinglepeeps.com.

 

N.Y. millionaire tells newspaper that matchmaking services are a ‘rip-off’

A New York securities trader who has spent more than $65,000 on high-end matchmaking services is calling them a “rip-off,” the New York Post reported.

Millionaire Larry Greenfield, 47, of Long Island, told the newspaper that he has tried six different agencies in the last 12 years and has gone on dates with 250 women, unsuccessfully.

The matchmakers told the Post that Greenfield wants women who are “out of his league.”

Greenfield told the newspaper he would trade his millions for  a woman who is “beautiful, thin, smart, Jewish, a sense of humor and from New York — but not an 'alpha,'” a woman obsessed with her career. He said he wants “a white picket fence, two kids, a dog.”

Greenfield said he has been set up with a Knicks dancer, West Village girls who are too artsy, and one whose looks were “terrible,” according to the Post.

The fix is in

The first time I was fixed up on a date, I was 16 years old.

It was my father’s 40-something silver-haired divorced friend Phil … who fixed me up on a date with his young
friend.

Because it was Phil, my parents decided to let me go out with the boy, whose name sounded something like Chaim Pumpernickel, a character in Hebrew literature, and now that’s how I’ll forever remember my first blind date.

I dragged my cousin along to make it a double blind date — one we wanted to leave as soon as we spotted the young men. Let’s just say they looked nothing like the suave Phil, and seemed to have nothing fascinating to say, except to discuss the movie we’d all gone to, “Police Academy” No. 3 or No. 4 or whatever it was up to was in the mid-1980s.

I wonder where Chaim Pumpernickel is now. Probably married with umpteen kids and living in the ‘burbs, watching some other movie sequel (“Rocky VXII?”). I think of him this Valentine’s Day because I just finished Susan Shapiro’s book, “Secrets of a Fix-Up Fanatic: How to Meet and Marry Your Match” (Delta Trade Paperbacks, $12).

At first glance, Shapiro, the author of two other memoirs (“Five Men Who Broke My Heart,” and “Lighting Up: How I Stopped Smoking, Drinking and Everything Else I Loved in Life Except Sex”), doesn’t seem like the best person from whom to take dating advice.

After all, she didn’t marry till she was 35 (quelle horreur!) and here’s what she said about her courtship with her husband: “My courtship with Aaron was often awkward and agonizing. At times he did anything he could think of to avoid getting too close, including not calling me for two weeks at a time. I broke up with him and started dating other guys so often that when I called my parents to finally tell them I was engaged, they said, ‘To whom?’ The ring Aaron picked out was too tight and made my finger turn red and swell. I gained 10 pounds and felt lethargic and out of it the entire engagement.

My sister-in-law had the first grandchild of the family on the day of my wedding, which I spent feeling confused and resentful. I was too tired to have sex that night anyway. Our Jamaica honeymoon wasn’t all that romantic either. I hated the hotel we picked, and we continually argued over my smoking in the room….”

As my grandmother would have said plaintively, “Oy vey!”

But, on the other hand, Shapiro points out that she has been happily married to her husband for 10 years, while many of the storybook romances and weddings she’s witnessed have fallen apart. Moreover, she’s fixed up countless couples, with 12 marriages to her credit. Her advice is simple: Get fixed up by a trusted friend. That’s the way Shapiro met her own husband. Through an informal matchmaker. Yes, it seems that old-fashioned Jewish tradition — nearly made obsolete by the Internet, the lack of communal life, people too busy with their own lives to bother, and independent singles who don’t want meddlers in their lives — is making a comeback.

About time, if you ask me.

“Why, people must fix you up all the time!” is a common refrain I hear, and I want to laugh: In my five and a half years in Los Angeles, I’ve been fixed up maybe half a dozen times. And twice by the same person. Look, I’m not saying it’s all everyone else’s fault. I’ll admit that the offer, “I have someone for you: I think he’s about 50, never been married, lives with his mother,” often makes me cynical — OK, hostile — to outside offers. And it’s true that my line of work, writing about my personal life, might not make me the person people first think of with a potential shidduch. But still. I’m not talking only about myself. I’m talking Shapiro’s advice: People need to be fixed up by other people they know. “Romance Counselors” she calls them.

Not everyone can be a matchmaker. And not every match that’s offered is one that should be taken up. But if you’re either a single person of, ahem, a certain age, or a well-connected, well-meaning yenta (or the male version of the interloper), you should consider Shapiro’s advice and get, or become, a matchmaker.

“Don’t go it alone,” Shapiro advises.

Isn’t that the point of being part of a community?

So this Valentine’s Day (not a Jewish holiday, I know, I know), forget the diamonds, the chocolates or, conversely, spending the night alone with a bucket of Häagen-Dazs.

Find yourself a matchmaker and make them make you a match.

SWF Seeks Same

Late one night, I was giving my friend Ethan a detailed play-by-play of my date when he made a frightening observation: “You don’t have many close female friends in town anymore, do you?”

Ethan was right. Most of my college friends returned East, my medical school pals stayed North, and even my closest childhood chums left the city (was it something I said?). I have married friends with babies who claim to reside in Los Angeles, but they actually live in a foreign land where nobody goes out past 6 p.m.

So my best friends in town seemed to be guys — ex-boyfriends, platonic guy friends, ambiguous guy friends. I had plenty of women acquaintances, but in terms of those I could analyze voice mail messages with at 1 a.m., they’d scattered to different area codes. I needed some local female gal pals, and Ethan volunteered to play yenta.

The next day, Ethan sent me an e-mail listing his favorite women friends who lived within 10 miles, followed by short descriptions. It was like having a personal shopper on Friendster. I choose someone who sounded like me: a quirky, neurotic Jewish writer. He said he’d contact her right away.

“Did you hear back from Erica?” I asked Ethan later that week at dinner.

He looked down at his pasta.

“Um,” he began, and I knew bad news was about to follow. Nobody ever says anything positive after “Um.” (Um, I love you? Um, I think you’re beautiful?) “Um,” Ethan repeated. “It’s just that, um, Erica said she doesn’t have enough time for her already-existing friends, but she went to your Web site and wants to know if she can invite you to parties so you can meet her cute, single male friends.”

Ugh. When I complained about this to another guy friend, Matt, he offered to set me up with his women friends. In fact, he seemed eager. I figured he either had fantasies about what these “dates” might morph into or, like Ethan, he simply got tired of hearing about my latest shoe purchase.

Matt took a different approach. Instead of presenting me with candidates, he told me to write down what I was looking for, and he’d provide the match. I wanted to meet a hipster-geeky chick like me. Then I thought: Wait. Don’t opposites attract? Wouldn’t I be better off meeting a blonde shiksa? Or a tall introvert? Or a carefree party girl with a nose ring? Maybe my mistake, in friend dating as in regular dating, is that I’m seeking my doppelganger. And as my shrink knows, I haven’t exactly fallen in love with myself. Maybe I’d fall in love with someone not like me. It all seemed too confusing, so I sent Matt my JDate profile with the note, “Just change the gender — and I don’t care if she’s ‘hot.'”

Soon I met Matt’s gym friend, his work friend, his neighbor friend, and his ex-girlfriend’s friend. We met for coffee, lunch, drinks and hiking. I went on second, even third dates. But when it came to the fourth, I just didn’t want to “go all the way.”

Even when Matt got a better sense of my type — Tina Fey meets Janeane Garofolo — meeting all these women felt like a full-time job. If I really wanted to be close friends with them, I’d have to learn their entire biographies: not just where they grew up and how many siblings they have, but how their mothers shattered their self-esteem and whether they’re vegans or just vegetarians. I’d have to remember the names of their co-workers, exes and pets. It’s exhausting enough with potential boyfriends — who has time to do that with a gaggle of new women friends? Given the effort, I didn’t want just any new friend — I wanted the female version of a soulmate: a kindred spirit.

The last straw was Amy, an attractive 31-year-old lawyer who writes witty short stories. On paper, we seemed like a good match. But when we met for coffee, even a triple espresso couldn’t keep my eyes from falling shut.

“Let’s do this again!” Amy said as we hugged goodbye.

“Yeah,” I said. “I’ll call you.” Suddenly I understood why guys say they’ll call when they have zero intention of doing so. But when Amy phoned the next week and asked me to lunch, I opted for honesty.

“Listen,” I said. “You seem really cool, but I just want to be friends.”

“Of course!” Amy laughed. “I mean, I have a boyfriend. I just want to be friends, too.”

I didn’t know what to say. When you don’t have chemistry in the dating world, you tell the guy, “I just want to be friends.” But what do you tell a woman? What’s the chick code for, “I don’t want to be friends”?

If Matt wanted to get me off his back by hooking me up with his female friends, his plan had backfired. Now, instead of me calling Matt with rants about romance late at night, these women were calling Matt to ask why I’d disappeared. One even complained that she saw me having coffee with another woman after I said I was going out of town. Apparently I’d become a cad.

That’s when I called off the matchmaking. So what if my best women friends lived thousands of miles away? I hung up with Matt and dialed my college friend Carolyn in Chicago. We spent a full two hours laughing about all my bad “friend dates,” and it was worth every long-distance dollar.


Lori Gottlieb, a commentator for NPR, is
author of the memoir “Stick Figure: A Diary of My Former Self” (Simon and
Schuster, 2000). Her Web site is www.lorigottlieb.com

King of Hearts Loves to Play Matchmaker

He’s not your typical yenta, he’s not JDate and he’s certainly not your grandmother’s cousin once removed, but Asher Aramnia loves making love connections for local Jewish singles.

With countless successful matches to his credit, Aramnia’s matchmaking activities through the Iranian Jewish Chronicle (Chashm Andaaz) magazine, which is operated by the Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center in Tarzana, has become something of a unique surprise in the local Jewish community, where women traditionally help Jewish singles find their soulmates.

"I know people think this [matchmaking] is for women, but I don’t care about that. What’s important to me is the mitzvah of two single Jews finding the loves of their life," said the nearly 70-year-old Aramnia, who lives in Westwood and also works full time as a manager downtown.

In the past four years , the magazine’s Peyvand-e-Delha (Union of Hearts) program has helped bring together 25 Jewish couples from various cultural backgrounds who were single, divorced or widowed, Aramnia said.

"After they fill out an application, I personally and confidentially interview them," Aramnia said. "Our whole objective is to make sure that if anyone does get married, that it will last forever."

The Union of Hearts was the brainchild of the magazine’s publisher, Dariush Fakheri. He said he developed the program 12 years ago to enable divorced Iranian Jews in Southern California to meet and later expanded it to include other singles.

"This program was first called ‘Another Spring,’ and we wanted divorced Jews to make connection with each other, because there was a taboo for divorced people to remarry in our community," said Fakheri, who is also co-founder of the Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center.

While a one-time $100 membership fee is requested by the magazine to cover its program expenses, Aramnia said he does not get paid for introducing couples, and the magazine makes no money providing the service.

Every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Aramnia is busy working the phones at the Eretz-SIAMAK offices and often stays up late weeknights to keep in touch with the singles he has introduced and to meet with new ones.

"The secret to our success is not asking them what they want, but rather asking what they don’t want in a mate or would despise in a mate," Aramnia explained. "This allows us to better match up couples."

Top requests from single men participating in Union of Hearts are for women with beauty and good families, while single women frequently ask for men who are not stingy or liars, Aramnia said.

Information sought by Jewish singles in the program includes age, height, weight, hair color, number of children and their ages, alimony receipt or payment, religious observations, education, occupation, hobbies, drinking limits, turn offs, smoking and priorities in a companion, according to the application sheet.

In addition, Aramnia said he does extensive background checks on singles participating in the program and works closely with them to ensure compatibility and that their relationships last.

"They [participants] become like members of my family, like my son or daughter, and that enables them to open up to me and nothing is hidden," Aramnia said.

Aramnia, who has been married for nearly 50 years, said he was first drawn to introducing Jewish singles after seeing the collapse of many marriages and families.

"When a couple divorces with one or two children, the weight of the break up is on the children’s shoulders who are tremendously impacted," Aramnia said. "This breaks my heart, and I’m willing to do anything to prevent that from happening."

Individuals collaborating with Aramnia said his unique, youthful spirit and desire to help others has been the main reason for his success in getting couples together.

"He’s just an angel, he does this [matchmaking] out of pure love," Fakheri said. "The man is remarkable. He does so many great things, like personally visiting patients at Cedars-Sinai out of the blue on a weekend."

While the Union of Hearts program has primarily introduced local Iranian Jewish singles, Aramnia said he frequently introduces other Jews from elsewhere in the country, Europe, Mexico and even parts of South America.

"We’ve had a couple of successful marriages recently between Mexican and Iranian Jews. Their cultures and families are very similar," Aramnia said. "We also have a lot of Iranians [Jews] who want to marry Americans [Jews] in L.A."

Jewish seniors as old as 70 who are seeking companionship have also been paired up, Aramnia said. He said will continue introducing Jewish singles, because of the joy he sees from happy couples.

"The greatest satisfaction for me is getting invited to the wedding and seeing the couples stand under the chuppah or when they call me up to tell me about the birth of their child," Aramnia said.

For more information on Union of Hearts, call the Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center (310) 843-9846.

Karmel Melamed is an L.A. freelance writer and can be contacted at karmelmelamed@yahoo.com

Reality Doesn’t Bite

Even though 20 million people saw Adam Mesh take the walk of shame and ride the lonely bus home on the final episode of the first season of "Average Joe, " post reality show breakup, Mesh seems to be picking up the pieces very well.

Now he’s turning the tables: The 28-year-old Jewish Joe will star in his very own show, "Average Joe: Adam Returns."

Apparently, the ladies couldn’t get enough of Mesh: Women sent thousands of e-mails and letters wondering how they could get in touch with the mensch-turned-celebrity. Well, now some can — 20 to be exact.

The women, whose identities remain a secret until the show airs, will vie for Mesh’s love at a "dream house" in Palm Springs. The producers, Stuart Krasnow and Andrew Glassman, handpicked the ladies, seeking a grand match for the deserving stud.

"We know him really well," Glassman said, "it’s almost like fixing up a friend."

Raised Reform, Mesh attends temple for the High Holidays, but says that Judaism is not a necessary ingredient for his leading lady.

"Religion is not a criteria," he told The Journal.

Although TV is not the most traditional forum for matchmaking, his family is very supportive.

"My mom is in all her glory, and she sends mass e-mails to all her friends telling them to watch," he said.

The details of the show will be a surprise to Mesh — from the selection of women to the twists and turns for which the show is famous. But now that the world knows about his little fortune — Mesh is a partner in a trading firm in New York City — he is pretty sure that the producers will find a clever way to weed out which of the women is on the show for the wrong reasons. "I have always been a romantic…. What I am hoping for, and I don’t know if it could happen, is that I meet the one person who kind of stops me, and she is the only person I am thinking about," he said.

The program is already in production, ladies, so it’s too late to send in your resume. But you never know — with all the reality show hookups and breakups, he just might be available after the show….

"Average Joe: Adam Returns" premieres Monday, March 15, 10 p.m. on NBC.