For many young Jewish singles around the country, the quest to find a nice Jewish girl or guy has come to center on New York, specifically Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The neighborhood is increasingly known as the place to be if you’re 20-something and dreaming of being discovered by a potential mate.
On any given evening, the Upper West Side is host to more singles events than one person could possibly attend. For some, the venue of choice is a university dive bar for happy hour. For others, it is a Torah study offered by a famous rebbetzin. For many, it is both. This is the unique flavor of the Upper West Side, and one of the reasons why it is a draw for so many young singles from all corners of the Jewish world.
But with each passing year, as new batches of young singles move into “the scene,” as it has come to be called, the Upper West Side has become an increasingly difficult place to meet one’s match. The growing number of options in people and activities has served not to help young Jewish singles to date and marry, but rather to date, and date, and date… and remain single.
“Something is seriously wrong in the dating world today,” a Jewish matchmaker remarked to me recently. It is a sentiment frequently shared, not just among the matchmakers who married in the 1970s and 1980s and recall their own dating days with fondness, but also among the young bachelors and bachelorettes themselves. Frustration and disappointment are now common experiences for those who invest time and money, not to mention emotional energy, in dates that rarely produce a relationship with any potential.
This failed-dating syndrome has affected young women much more than their male counterparts. Even for the community’s most attractive and accomplished young women, it can be hard to get a decent guy on a date, let alone into a relationship. The gender disparity is a product of several factors, including traditional dating logic. While the dating pool grows for men as they get older, and often continue to date younger women, the choices shrink for women, who often prefer to date men their own age or older.
The situation is further skewed by the fact that many young men spend their 20s focusing on their careers and basking in the frivolities of bachelorhood before undertaking to date “seriously” in their 30s. At that point, the 30-something man will pass over women in his own age group in favor of significantly younger girls. It is no longer uncommon to find an educated and accomplished man in his mid-30s dating, and even marrying, a 20-year-old college student.
The evidence is also apparent in the demographics. A growing number of the women who moved to the Upper West Side five or 10 years ago as edgy 20-somethings now find themselves in their mid-30s with significantly fewer prospects. Men of the same age, on the other hand, seem to have a reasonably easy time finding younger women who are possibly cuter, probably less jaded and definitely more likely to, ahem, bear children more readily and for a significantly longer period of time.
It would be one thing if this were a readily acknowledged problem, one that community leaders were at least attempting to correct. But many of the Upper West Side’s community leaders are men — no few of them single men — who have surprisingly little understanding or sympathy for the situation they themselves have helped to foster.
It is a sad situation that has become all too commonplace in one of the most vibrant, young Jewish communities in the country. Where dating was once a process that brought two people together, it has instead become a long-term lifestyle institutionalized by a no-holds-barred singles culture.
As a result, the dream of Mr. or Mrs. Right is quickly being replaced by the convenience of Mr. or Mrs. Right Now — and so far it seems that young Jewish women are on the losing end of the bargain.
Lauren Gottlieb, a Washington-based writer, is a former resident of the Upper West Side and remains actively involved in New York’s Jewish singles community.