Despite the ease with which men and women connect using phones, social media and the Internet, lasting relationships seem to be harder than ever to obtain. When it comes to Millennials, there are serious obstacles in finding compatible members of the opposite sex online or in person. The popularity of reality TV shows like “The Bachelor” seems to reinforce this challenge.
The irony is that connecting has never been easier. Yet those online connections are often unsatisfying because they take place in an artificial environment. Many of my Millennial students tell me that meeting on a dating site can be stressful, what with having to find the most flattering photos and choose the right lines to make the best impressions.
There’s no substitute for a personal meet up, of course, but that, too, can be nerve-wracking. The dating scene today is not working the way it once did because technology has made us accustomed to quick results which do not translate well into the realm of feelings and emotions. Potential couples who meet online also complain that their first date turns out to be the last one because their expectations — derived from the information they acquired online — are unrealistically high.
At the Manhattan Jewish Experience (MJE), we have gained some insight into this complex phenomenon after eighteen years working with young people. Most of them fit the profile of teachers, social workers, physicians and people in finance or law who want to attain a real relationship that could possibly lead to marriage. We focus on professionals interested in learning more about their Jewish heritage, so those who come to our events already share a common interest without the pressure to impress or perform.
Since people are coming not only to meet someone, but also to learn and grow spiritually, the energy and environment is more conducive to establishing deeper relationships. Many of the programs provide multiple opportunities to meet in different settings, whether in a classroom, on the sports field or enjoying a Shabbat dinner. 279 couples have met and later married through MJE. Although our main objective was never to become matchmakers, the relaxed community feel is really the best environment for creating matches. Chats beat apps every time.
Borscht Belt hotels (like Grossingers, which I absolutely loved as a child) continue to be the butt of many jokes, but they did bring people together in a natural and relaxed setting; consider “Dirty Dancing,” which takes place in a Catskills hotel — a friendly and relaxed destination for eligible men and women to interact.
We need to find ways and opportunities for people to meet in low-pressure environments that don’t focus only on the search for the perfect match — educational events rather than a cocktail party, sports and outdoor activities rather than a happy hour, shared experiences rather than the artificialness of an app.
Guidance by teachers and mentor — not readily available on dating websites or at singles events — is also critically important to help young people navigate the thorny issues of relationship building. Evan Hershenson, who met his wife Kim at MJE, explained that it wasn’t just meeting that was the challenge. “MJE was not just how I met my wife, but the key ingredients which helped lead our relationship to marriage was the nurturing and personal guidance of teachers,” he told me. “We met at a Shabbat dinner in which MJE specifically arranges the tables to have an even mixture of men and women. This is how we met, but it was the mentorship and friendship of the MJE teachers and mentors which gave our relationship meaning.”
If we want to develop deep and long-lasting relationships, then the way we meet also needs to be deeper. Making those changes will make a big difference.
Rabbi Mark Wildes is the Founder and Director of Manhattan Jewish Experience, an events and educational organization for Jewish Millennials.