Seth Weiss, 26, a consultant from Chicago, once got set up with two cousins within a two-week span.
Alison Rodin, 24, a programming assistant from New York City, once was out to dinner with four friends when it occurred to her that three of the women at her table had gone out with the same guy.
Shortly after signing our lease, my new roommate and I realized that she’d dated my ex-boyfriend and I’d dated hers.
Welcome to life on New York City’s Upper West Side, a place not unlike the Lower East Side of yore, where Jews lived virtually on top of one another in an insular ghettolike community where the synagogues, schools, pickle shops and kosher delis could all be found within a few blocks. It was a dirty and disease-ridden area, but also one that pulsated with a vibrant Jewish pride that many still yearn for today. They needn’t, though. That type of Americanized shtetl-living never really disappeared — it just moved uptown.
The squalid conditions are gone, replaced by a more hygienic region that lures thousands of young Jewish professionals each year. It’s a neighborhood where the youthful and the Modern Orthodox go to find mates. But more often than not, they just end up finding one awkward dating situation after another.
“It’s like high school all over again,” said Lucy Cohen, 25, an assistant editor. Cohen grew up on the Upper West Side, but she made a conscious choice to stay out of the local dating scene. Cohen moved south, to Greenwich Village, as soon as the opportunity arose, and recently she married a British man she met through a friend.
“But the stakes are higher,” she continued. “It’s a small, insulated world, so everyone knows everyone, and ends up dating everyone. But in high school, no one’s looking to get serious, whereas on the Upper West Side, everyone is looking to get serious. And that ends up being anxiety provoking for everyone.”
Indeed, most Modern Orthodox Jews on the Upper West Side know each other, or at least know of each other, since they attend the same synagogues, live in the same buildings and often end up at the same parties.
This situation is, to some extent, ideal, because it makes checking up on someone really easy. An enterprising suitor or suitee can usually get a person’s entire back-story in just two or three phone calls. It’s somewhat less than ideal, however, when a first date becomes a last, or when a couple breaks up.
One woman I spoke with lives down the hall from her ex-boyfriend, who happens to also be the ex-boyfriend of one of her best friends. Another got set up with a guy the same week one of her good friends was asked out by that same guy.
The Upper West Side is rife with these kinds of thorny, semi-embarrassing tales, which are told at the Shabbos table each week.
“I choose to stay out of the fray, because the atmosphere’s crazy,” said Rosy Zion, 27, a lawyer from Brooklyn who’s been living on the Upper West Side for two years. “It’s like survival of the fittest up here. Girls are going after limited resources — the nice Jewish boys,” she said with a laugh.
Unlike Zion, most people up here find themselves enmeshed in the area and all it offers, and simply hope that each slightly sticky dating situation will turn out to be but a mere pothole along the seemingly endless road to happy coupledom.
In fact, after the aforementioned Weiss realized middate that he’d already set up another date with the girl’s cousin, he thought he’d blown things completely and found himself more relaxed in her presence.
“I figured there was no chance I could really go out with her again,” he said, “so I kind of lost those normal nerves that occur on a first date.”
They ended up going out for two months.
That girl’s married to someone else now.
Someone she met on the Upper West Side.
Someone I used to date.
Leah Hochbaum is a freelance writer living in New York.