By Sandra Hurtes
Samantha Small, a 34-year-old nurse, wanted to make changes in her life. One goal was to meet her soul mate. During her quest she not only met her basherte (destined one), she says, "I discovered what great options there are for happiness and how to move through the world in meaningful ways."
For many, finding Mr. or Ms. Right means taking action. Whether it's evaluating yourself and your relationships, doing what you love or signing up with an Internet dating service, a shift in behavior or attitude seems key.
Small's progression involved moving from steps A to B to C. "I lived in Westchester, where I was comfortable, but I wasn't meeting single men," she says. "To get where I wanted to be, I needed to live in a lively, vibrant singles community." Moving to Manhattan's Upper East Side, she began looking for a synagogue with a friendly atmosphere where she could connect with like-minded people who were interested in spiritual development. While her mother pushed her to be more aggressive in her search for a mate, pointing out events like DateBait (three-minute rotational dating) at the 92nd Street Y, Small says, "I was looking for activities where meeting men wasn't the sole focus."
For relaxation and renewal, she planned a weekend at Elat Chayyim, a Jewish spiritual center in the Catskills. While there, she participated in Basherte, a workshop founded by Rosalie and Efraim Eisen that brings Jewish singles together—to meet, have fun and learn about themselves and the essential elements of a lasting relationship. The Eisens estimate that at least 50 marriages have stemmed from the 90-some workshops they've conducted in the United States, Canada and Israel.
"I went thinking, 'I'm not going to meet anybody, but there will be this great soul work to do,'" Small says. "While there, I had a lot of unexpected anxiety because of the singles focus. I kept finding myself standing next to the same man. I wasn't aware of an attraction, only that I didn't have that dissonance near him." When she returned home, she received an email from him asking if she would like to get together for coffee. Small remembers thinking, "'He's observant and I'm not. He's not for me.' But then I realized, he's an interesting person, and I said yes. We ended up talking so much, they kicked us out of Starbucks." Within two months, she knew she wanted to spend her life with him. They married this June.
The concept of singles coming together to work on personal growth isn't new. Part of what makes Basherte unique is its combination of psychology and Jewish spirituality. Along with looking at relationship patterns, participants define individual places of spiritual nurturance that have their roots in the Torah. "Our ancestors met by the well," says Eisen, who is a psychologist and spiritual leader. "We ask people, 'Have you identified your wells—the places that feed you in a deep way?' Our work is about teaching you how to shine up your soul."
Small would agree that going to one of her "wells" allowed her to see and let in her basherte so that she said yes, instead of no, to that initial coffee date. "The workshop also taught me that one or two dates were not necessarily the mapping of an entire future," she explains. "They were an opportunity to know him and myself better."
Looking at our patterns in and out of relationships is also helpful, especially as we become older and more comfortable in behaviors that might not be leading us in the right direction. "I tell my clients to put themselves in unfamiliar territory and get out of their comfort zones," says Helena Hacker Rosenberg, a Los Angelesbased relationship coach and author of How to Get Married After 35: A Game Plan for Love (HarperCollins, 1998). "It may be easier to stay home, watch television and eat Chinese food, but easier isn't going to change their romantic luck or marital status."
Rosenberg's outlook was born from experience. She wanted to marry and have a child but kept getting involved with men who weren't marriage-minded. After ending a relationship with a man who "looked good on paper but couldn't give me what I needed day to day," she made a commitment to make her personal life her priority. "I arrived at work 15 minutes early and did one thing every morning in the service of my goals," she says. "Maybe it was calling a dating service or a friend who'd mentioned setting me up. That kept me optimistic." Two months later, that attitude led her to her husband.
"One year, instead of going to the synagogue where I always observed Rosh Hashanah, I went to a learning center by myself," explains Rosenberg, who was then 43. "I was walking up the steps, and this very lovely guy walking up at the same time introduced himself to me. We chatted and made plans to break fast together on Yom Kippur." She's now married to that "very lovely guy" and they're the parents of a seven-year-old daughter.
Currently finishing up her training as a psychotherapist, Rosenberg acknowledges that sometimes people have deeper issues, such as fear of intimacy, that may have to be addressed in therapy. In her coaching business, one of the most common impediments she encounters is the unrealistic expectations of others. "People are looking for their mirror image," she says. "Rather than adjust and look for someone who complements and expands them, they want the person most like them."
Alison Adler, a 28-year-old teacher in New York, was one of those people. While at a music festival in the Berkshires a year ago, she started talking with Scott, a man she had met there. "I was in a relationship that was ending, and I went away to have a good time, not to look for anyone," she says. "I was being myself, and he accepted me for who I am." When she returned home, she and her boyfriend officially broke up. Soon after, Scott called and they began dating. They've been together ever since. Each has had to make adjustments. "I grew up with a more affluent lifestyle than Scott and had expected to be with someone who had a similar background," Adler says. "But being able to laugh with him and know that he's there for me in the worst of times, I realize those are my values."
Robin Gorman Newman
Adler and her ex-boyfriend had recognized that their relationship wasn't working and took steps to end it. But sometimes people get stuck in bad situations and can't leave. Eisen calls those "better than nothing" relationships—people cling to them out of fear they won't find someone else. That fear is unfounded, says Robin Gorman Newman, love coach and author of How to Meet a Mensch in New York (City & Company, 1996).
"I was an active single," she says. "I went to singles dances, tennis parties, Club Med, Club Getaway and tried personals ads. I recognized the importance of being out there. It's not going to just happen." Twelve years ago, after a business trip fell through at the last minute, she signed up with Jewish Singles Vacations for a two-week trip to London and Paris that coincided with her thirtieth birthday. She had no trepidations until arriving at the airport. "The plane was delayed and I thought, 'What am I doing here by myself?' I started talking to a guy on the trip whom I asked to watch my bags while I made a phone call. He seemed like a mensch. At the least, I thought, 'Here's someone I can hang out with. This trip won't be so bad.' " Now married to that fellow traveler for 10 years, Newman advises her clients, "Try new things even if you're not sure you'll like them. Put yourself where the odds will be in your favor, and don't be afraid to go it alone."
For some, singles events such as parties or lectures are a great place to look for a partner, since there's no pretext about why anyone is there. But even though our culture encourages people to find a relationship, many feel a stigma attached to being so candid about looking. And their preconceived notions about the people they'll meet aren't high.
Sue Darmon, 38, who took a trip with Jewish Singles Vacations two years ago, says, "I went because I wanted to go to Italy and didn't want to go alone. I didn't expect to meet the kind of guy I wanted on a singles trip. Those guys were either my father's age or nerds."
Just before leaving for Italy, she registered with JewishMatch.com, an Internet dating service, because "meeting men got harder as I got older," she says. "I had few single friends left, and I worked in marketing, which is very female-oriented."
She left for vacation without seeing whether anyone had responded to her Internet ad. A few days into her vacation, she became friendly with an attractive man on the same trip who told her that he'd seen her photo online and had emailed her. Living in France, he was on his second trip with Jewish Singles Vacations, which he found was "a good way to travel and meet Jewish women."
They married last September. "Had I not gone on that trip," says Darmon, who moved to France from Connecticut, "I would never have met Alain, even after receiving his email. Once I saw that he lived in France, I would've deleted him."
Sam Schlossberg, the president of Jewish Singles Vacations, started his company to provide Jewish singles with a comfortable way to travel with their peers. His trips have taken people throughout North America and Europe—and also set the stage for treks down the aisle. "I've been invited to nine weddings," he says.
For professionals who work long hours and don't have the time or inclination to travel or attend singles events, or for those who live in remote areas where the population of Jewish singles is small, the Internet can be ideal. But "e-dating" can also be a numbers game, where the tendency to think there are "a lot of fish in the sea" keeps some people from giving the person at hand a fair shot. And there's the chance that people misrepresent themselves. Perseverance is often the key to weeding out those who don't jibe with their online description.
Just ask Renee, 26, who works for a nonprofit in Washington, D.C. After trying to meet Mr. Right by joining Single Volunteers and trying "speed dating," her mother urged her to sign with JDate, a Jewish Internet dating service that has 500,000 subscribers. Her first date, with a man named Steve, went like this: "He talked about his job as a dentist for an hour. By then, I felt as if I could successfully perform a root canal. Then he asked me, 'Can I see your teeth?' " That was the end of Steve, but Renee was determined. Fast-forward 40 dates: "I'm at home on a Tuesday night, kind of bored, so I log on to JDate," she says. "There's this kind-looking man in a picture with his sister, who is in her wedding gown. He's cute, so I shoot him a tease, 'I like your profile, what do you think of mine?' Three months later, I've met his whole meshpucha, and he's met mine."
Like Renee, Michelle*, a 30-year-old art consultant, didn't give up. Living in Denver, where the pool of eligible Jewish men was limited, she was on JDate for four years. "I was about to cancel my membership," she says, "when my aunt said, 'My daughter met her husband online. Go back and look one more time.' I did, and there was a man my age whose profile was so sincere. He had just moved to town and joined JDate to meet people. I wrote him, and his response told me that he was interested in pursing a relationship." They are getting married this summer.
If you use online dating services, it's good to remember that "whether you have a good or bad experience, and whether people aren't all they appear to be, is going to be similar to real life," says Gail Laguna, vice president of corporate communications for MatchNet, the parent company of JDate. One plus of Internet dating, she says, is that if you're shy and not the sort to walk up to someone, you can make that initial contact by email. Most online services offer live customer service 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It's okay to call and ask, "How do I start that first conversation?" Since its launch in 1997, JDate has received thousands of letters from people newly in love, living with someone or married.
Although the Internet helps widen the pool of eligible people, it still gets harder to meet the right person as you get older. "What I wanted in my thirties is different from what I wanted in my forties," says Bonnie Gurwicz, an account executive in New York, who married for the first time at 49. "Love isn't enough. You ask yourself, 'What will last for the long haul?'" She and John met at an outdoor swing-dancing lunchtime event in Manhattan. "I was talking to my friends and I saw John. I asked someone, 'Who's that?' Then he asked me to dance," she says. "We had a date that weekend."
While dancing is only one of the passions they share, Gurwicz attributes a large part of her relationship's success to maturity. "After having had many relationships that hadn't worked, I stopped looking and worked on me," she explains. "I knew that if I felt good about myself, I would attract someone who felt good about himself. John and I saw that we could give each other the life we wanted."
If you're an SJF or an MLM (single Jewish female or male looking for marriage), you know there's no magic formula for finding your soul mate, but there are people to meet and experiences to savor. Efraim Eisen paraphrases an old proverb: "'Do everything as if it depends on your effort, and pray as if it depends on God.'"
Sandra Hurtes is a writer who lives in New York City.
*Name has been changed
From Unwanted to Wanted
Michael Dolich, a 33-year-old mediator in Philadelphia, says that he was on a journey, trying to figure out who I was when he attended his first Basherte workshop in Israel. I yearned for a relationship, but I learned that I wasnt ready. I wouldnt have recognized my basherte if I found her.
A year and a half later, living in the Midwest at the time, he went to Basherte again. That time it was to do the work, not to hook up. Part of the work involved writing an unwanted ad—a fun way of looking at the qualities theyd been searching for and why it hadnt worked out. I couldnt think of anything negative about the women Id been with, Dolich says. I realized the problem was me, not them. My unwanted ad said, Im a single Jewish man seeking a woman who will center her whole life around me. That got a lot of laughs. But, seriously, realizing that I was the one preventing myself from finding my basherte opened the space to find her.
Two years later, in January 2003, he met her at a silent meditation at Elat Chayyim, a Jewish spiritual center that he identifies as one of his wells. The two were married this June.