With its size and sizzle, New York is a singles paradise. Here, grazing your shoulder on the packed 1 train; there, peering at you from behind a folded Times in line at the Angelika, a soul mate calls. Multiply that close encounter by — what? — a million. A gambler — or a single guy or gal — would take those odds.
With its eight million strangers and Hopper-esque shadows, New York is a singles hell. You can feel the loneliness here in your bones, like the wind off the Hudson. So many chances, so few connections. A short seller on Wall Street would take those odds.
Land of singles harvest. Land of singles drought.
Singles in New York live inside that cruel paradox. They walk arm and arm with it, a collar turned up to the cold and damp. They take it for coffee, to a Saturday matinee, to hear Elie Wiesel at the 92nd Street Y. All it takes is one, they remind themselves, knowing that hope is a muscle that you have to flex.
In the stories that follow about being Jewish and single in New York, we tried to steer clear of the sizable “business” of single life — online dating sites, matchmakers, outreach groups that plan mixers. We also did an end run around seeing the life of singles through a broad communal lens — the “shidduch” crisis in the Orthodox community, Jewish dating as a hedge against intermarriage.
Both approaches seemed demeaning to singles. Instead, we focus on human stories of singles living their lives in a society geared toward marrieds and families. We spoke to rabbis looking for love, who know that tending a flock — and tending a mate — is a skill no amount of theological training can prepare you for; and to young Orthodox divorcées dipping a foot in the dating pool, who know that to their suitors the baggage of their sweet children might simply be too much to bear. We spoke to single moms by choice whose searches for fathers for their children, and husbands for themselves, are too often heartbreaking; and to singles of a certain age who cherish their independence but fear a long life alone, one that stretches before them like an empty highway.
We tried to have fun, too. We identified some cool places to go on a first date, and surveyed the comic/serious road traveled by four women playwrights courageous enough to turn their own dating misadventures into Off-Broadway works. And we tried to bust the myth that the Promised Land of the Upper West Side is the only place for Jewish singles. There is Jewish life for singles east (and west) of Eden, after all.
When the “speed dating for kohens” session (seriously, there was such an event in November) has ended, when the mixer on the shul roof has wound down, when the matchmaker has dispensed her sage advice, too many singles head home to sleep single in a double bed, to quote a classic lyric from Nashville. It’s rough out there, singles tell us. And sure, there are singles who live very full, very contented lives, the search for a mate taking a back seat to other pursuits. But they seem to be in the minority. For the others, sometimes they must feel like George and Lennie, the two drifters in a world of searing loneliness in Steinbeck’s California. “Guys like us,” George says, “they ain’t got nobody in the worl’ who gives a hoot in hell about ‘em.”
More than making pronouncements about a crisis in our midst, the Jewish community needs to make singles feel as if they aren’t simply drifters here, that they have a seat at the communal table, that we all give a hoot in hell about them. Beyond that, there’s the hard-won lesson that singles know all too well — that hope is a muscle, and all it takes is one.