The brave, new world of dating

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by Meredith Jacobs
Managing Editor

Yenta the matchmaker has gone virtual with websites like JDate.com and JMom.com . But how’s a nice Jewish girl (be she the daughter of Tevye the Milkman, or a 40-something divorced mom of two) to navigate this brave new dating world?


We reached out to the experts to learn the new rules.

A little nudge

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Our first call was to Erika Ettin, founder of ALittleNudge.com. (Don’t make the same mistake I did — it’s pronounced “nud-ge” as in, to push, not “nood-ge” as in, annoying person.)

Ettin, 31, studied economics at Cornell University before joining Fanny Mae. As a young, single girl, she used online dating to meet people. “All my friends came up to me and said, you go on all these dates, can you help me?” she said. After helping friends write their online profiles, choose photos and even draft emails to potential suitors, she realized a career move was in order.


“I’m not really a matchmaker, I’m a personal marketer,” she said. “You could be a fabulous person, but that may not come across online.” Ettin helps clients with “personal branding,” using photos and information in the online profile to showcase her clients.

She also helps her clients save time by screening potential dates via their online profiles. “I look for objective things — education, religion, common interests. Patty Stanger [Bravo TV’s Millionaire Matchmaker] says to have a handful of non-negotiables — education, religion, smoking, children. Any more than that and you narrow the field too much. If I said I want someone who loves Broadway musicals and has dark hair, who am I going to find? Is it a preference? Sure. But it’s not a non-negotiable.

“When you meet someone at a bar, you don’t know their education level. A deal breaker for me was I wanted someone who was really, really smart. Religion was also important to me.” Having every credential identified in the profile is a double-edged sword. “There are studies out there that say when we give people too many choices, they’re not as happy. But the benefits of online dating exceed the costs.”

Ettin believes online dating facilitates a lot more dates. It gives access to people you wouldn’t necessarily cross paths with in day-to-day life. “For example,” she said, “I work from home or a coffee shop. I’m not meeting people at work.”

Online dating sites also allow you to hone in more easily on what you want.

Ettin, who writes advise columns for JDate and Gather the Jews, sees no difference in working with men or women. “Both have the same goal — meeting someone. If someone is a good writer and can express themselves in a way that’s appealing, there’s no difference.”

Her rules? “I don’t care for rules. In this day and age, anyone can make the first move.” She suggests to both her male and female clients that they email those who interest them. “You’re not losing the upper hand by contacting someone first.”

For that first email, she teaches her clients to write something that indicates they’ve read the profile they are interested. “Don’t make it generic. People are smarter than that.”

Her average client is 41 with over-50s making up the fastest growing segment. “If you’re newly single, online dating is a good place to start,” she said. “You can access more people and, it’s easy — you can email people in your pajamas.” As to not knowing if the person online is telling the truth and is truly single, “It’s not better or worse than meeting in person. If you go to a supermarket, you don’t know who’s single.”

She suggests not having more than two back and forth emails or texts before going out. Someone could be a great via text message but a dud in person (or the opposite). Better to get to know the real person sooner than later.

And, while she believes it’s now the norm for either party to be the first to send an email, she does think the guy should still be the one to ask for the first date and pay for that date. If he’s taking too long, said Ettin, the woman can. If he says yes, great. If not, move on.

For the first date Ettin suggests just meeting for drinks or coffee. If you’re having an incredible time and want to extend the date for a meal, great. If not, it’s only coffee.

She tells her female clients to send a thank you text the next day and believes that if he answers that text, it’s a good sign. “If not, cut your losses — he’s not into you.”

For those on Facebook, Ettin does not recommend “friending” any dates until you know it is leading to something. “The worst thing to do is friend you date and then see all the photos of the ex.” Staying away from the too-soon Facebook connection allows her clients to “leave some mystery.”

Then there’s the big conversation. No, not about marriage. The big conversation in today’s dating world is when to pull down your online dating profile. It’s essentially a conversation about DTR (defining the relationship. Same for the conversation about updating your Facebook status (“in a relationship”). Remember that once you go public on your social media networks, everyone is “in your business.” Ettin and her boyfriend of three years (whom she met online) didn’t post about their relationship for the first six months.

Her final piece of advice for singles, “Go into every new date with a positive attitude. People can tell if you’re jaded (or JDaded). End things on a nice note. D.C. is small. You’ll run into that person again, so be nice.”

Not your mother’s rules

Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider were impressed when they heard the story of how my parents met.

My dad, who is originally from Baltimore but was living and working in Philadelphia, was back in Baltimore to be best man at a friend’s wedding. My uncle served as chazzan at the wedding and during the wedding reception, my dad spoke with my aunt and uncle and was given my mom’s number. He called her on a Saturday afternoon for that night. She told him she had plans (she didn’t). His mother made him call her again.

They went out and my dad told her he would be back in Baltimore in six weeks for a fraternity reunion and asked if she would go with him. She agreed.

The weekend was nearing. My mom had not heard from my dad. She sent him a letter telling him that since she hadn’t heard from him, she made other plans (she hadn’t. She would be sitting alone at home). My grandmother made her add the line, “Please call me the next time you’re in town” (Grandma was obviously not a “rules girl.”)

He called her right away and asked her for the night before (hoping to talk her into still going.) She didn’t back down for Saturday but agreed to Sunday.

They became engaged on their third date, married five months later and this August will celebrate their 47th anniversary.

“How did your mom know to do this? This is what we’re trying to give the world,” said Fein. “We thought about what our mother would do, what your mother would do. We’re trying to give the world the wisdom that your mom knew. Your father didn’t know what your mother was doing — he didn’t know she was sitting at home. That’s why he asked her out again and proposed on the third date.”

This is not Fein and Schneider’s first book of rules. They have five: The Rules, The Rules II, The Rules for Marriage, The Rules for Online Dating and now Not Your Mother’s Rules (Grand Central). They are dating consultants who offer private consultations, seminars and oversee therulesbook.com. Both are married with children and this book was written with their daughters in mind.

These days, says Schneider, “Girls are sexting guys. Girls are very aggressive.” They believe this is, in part, the fault of movies that romanticize the girls as pursuer. “We have a course evaluating the movies. These things would never happen in real life. The movie glorifies chasing guys because it’s more interesting.”

She continues: “Guys and girls are not the same in the relationship world. If you ask the guy out, they’ll go out, but there’s no challenge. All guys. In every country. We have clients all over the world — 26 countries. They are all the same. Men love a challenge.”

Fein and Schneider believe that if a guy is attracted to you, he’ll figure out a way to ask you out. Physical attraction is paramount to the relationship. Each guy has an idea of his perfect woman. He may like your personality and may even go out with you for a long time, but if you’re not his “look” he’s just biding his time until that woman comes along.

Which means, no matter how many excuses you come up with to “run into him” or get him to go out with you, you are simply wasting your time. Ultimately, he’s just not that into you.

And while each guy has a different ideal, Fein and Schneider stress that long hair is a must if you want to date. In fact, long, shiny, swingy hair, big gold hoop earrings and big gold watch, short skirt, high heels and tasteful makeup (eyeliner, mascara, light lip gloss) should be your go-to outfit.

Before you get judgmental (I know, you’re already there), what they are essentially saying is look pretty. And they stress that mothers should teach their daughters to dress and apply makeup so that it is pretty and appropriate. If not, they caution, the daughters will learn from pop culture.

And if you trash them, the Rules’ girls can handle it. There advice is based on 20 years of experience and counseling.

So, when they tell you to wait four hours before responding to a suitor’s text, you will wait four hours.

“We mean what we say,” said Schneider. “It’s like a recipe. If you loosen the guidelines, you don’t get the cake.”

“We’re trying to slow down everything,” said Fein. “You have to pretend you lost your phone. He’ll actually gain interest if you wait. Four hours is not a big deal.”

And finally, “These girls think nothing of tricking a guy into getting them pregnant but they think it’s a game to wait four hours!”

“They’re lucky we’re letting them text back,” said Schneider, who used to advise women not to call back.

They talk about women in their 50s who are texting all night with a man and don’t know why they’re not getting asked out. “If he’s not asking you out, there’s no point in texting back,” exclaims Schneider. “Women are writing back to nonsense. Ask me out and then I’ll text you back.”

And keep it brief. Women, they explain, tend to respond to a man’s text with an unnecessary diatribe. A casual “What’s up?” is answered with a minute-by-minute recount of her day. What’s left to talk about in person?

Be certain to respond with fewer words than his original text. “What’s up?” can be answered with “Busy.”

If you follow the rules, you get dates. “We’ve had clients meet and marry on Match.com, on JDate, at singles events. You have to be in it to win it,” said Schneider.

When it comes to Facebook, make yourself as invisible as possible. Just as he should speak to you first and he should ask you out, he should be the one to “Friend request” on Facebook.

“Now we’re all on the cover of Life and Style,” said Fein about modern social networking habits. “Stay off his [Facebook] page — stay off his life. He’s going to lose interest in you in five seconds if you start friending his mother on Facebook and posting on his wall.”

Adds Schneider, “Writing on his wall is like sitting in a car in front of his house watching him take out other women and saying, ‘Hi! I’m here!’ ”

“If you want that guy, sit back and let him pursue you.”

Advice from the guys

According to Nick Savoy, “master pickup artist” and author of the new book It’s Your Move: How to Play the Game and Win the Man You Want (Grand Central), Fein and Schneider are right when it comes to hair. Long. Even if you look super cute in short hair, Savoy says you’ll look even better with long. So, unless you’re from a subculture that likes short hair (and here he’s talking about groups like punk rockers), grow your hair if you want a date.

He also agrees with their advice on heels. Just make certain you can walk in them, as he says that nothing is more annoying than having to walk two miles an hour because your date can’t walk in her 5-inch heels.

But unlike the Rules girls, Savoy, who counsels thousands of men through his “Love Systems” dating boot camps, he suggests that sometimes men need a little encouragement (or dare we say, “nudge”).

This could be as simple as a smile when he looks in your direction. However, like Fein and Schneider, Savoy advises that men should still be the pursuer. “By the way, when I ay ‘do nothing,’ I mean do nothing to make him feel like you are specifically trying to initiate contact,” he writes. “Don’t call him, don’t text him, don’t add him or message him on Facebook, and so on. … If after a week there’s been no contact and you’re not likely to run into him anytime soon any other way, then get in touch with him if you want. It’s not likely to make a difference — if he was into you, he would have gotten in touch.”

His “rules” for phoning or texting are as follows:

  • Don’t answer the phone every time he calls.
  • Return missed phone calls only once in a while (wait a day or two to see if he calls you again first).
  • End most but not all conversations first.
  • Take at least as long to reply to his text as he does to reply to yours.
  • Don’t invest more than he does.
  • Don’t send two texts in a row.
  • Ignore any of the above tips if and when they conflict with common sense (example, you have plans with him at 8 p.m. and he calls you at 6 p.m., answer the phone.)

His approach is to think about what appeals to you. Confident men, who aren’t falling in love with you after five minutes and who lead an active, interesting life, are appealing to women.

Be confident. Let him do the work. And date other men until you decide he’s the one.

And when you go out, go out with a group of attractive girlfriends. Being surrounded by other men is not only a turnoff, it’s a deterrent. And, as terrible as this sounds, if he’s at a bar, he’s more likely to approach if you’re with cute friends for his friends.

Advice from someone who has been there, done that (and is now engaged to a great guy)

Andi Kay of Gaithersburg found herself separated in July 2002 with three children ages 1, 6 and 9. “I was thrown into the dating world with three little kids trying to work and raise them and it was very strange. No one thinks they’re going to date with three little kids.” She was 34 at the time and very much on the dating scene, “I didn’t go to bars, but if anyone asked if I was interested in meeting someone, I said yes.”

Her friends couldn’t wait to have lunch with her to hear stories about how, as shes said, “it’s a whole different ball game at this age — everyone with their issues.”

Kay’s father died when he was 44 and her mother remarried two years later at age 43. After five years, they divorced and her mother was single for 10 years. “Then she married the best guy ever in the whole wide world,” says Kay of her mother’s husband. Between mother and daughter, they had enough stories to fill a book, so they did, with Kiss and Tell Tales by a Mother and Daughter (available on Amazon.com).

Kay recently became engaged to a wonderful man she met through a mutual friend. “The truth is, I never had rules. I did what I thought was right. I think it’s about what people are looking for. If you’re just looking to have fun, then do whatever you want — if you want to text back, you should text back.

“I feel like the people who date and play games, like if the guy doesn’t call right away and then he calls, they don’t call him back for a week or they pretend they have plans. I think that’s a lot of nonsense and wasted time. And this comes from someone who played the games and it caused me so much stress. I worried I should have done something else and should have said something else. I ouldn’t get it out of my head and it caused me more stress than anything else.”

This process, she said, wasn’t getting her anywhere close to finding the right one.

“Some guys are all about the chase,” Kay concludes. “But these are the players. The good, solid guys that you want for a husband are not about the chase.”

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1 COMMENT

  1. Yes, online dating has to be a part of your overall dating plan with 30% of all marriages comes from online dating. I believe that the person needs to be involved in the process although it’s good to get some help. I find with my clients that when they learn to connect through their core relationship values and make sure that their dating and relationship goals are aligned, it makes the process much easier and palatable. Also, keep open to the process and let the adventurer in you take you forward. Amy Schoen of http://www.motivatedtomarry.com.

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