December 3. 1999

Matchmaker, Matchmaker

By Teresa Strasser

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I had occasion to peer into two almost antithetical worlds of matchmaking. The first: a do-it-yourself option courtesy of a Jewish dating service on the Internet. The second: "Old School" Jewish Matchmaking like a picture postcard sent through time from Anatevka.

"It's easy," says my friend who frequents one of several huge Jewish Internet dating web sites, "you just type in your requirements and a list of eligible candidates, complete with photos, pops up."

In his case, there are more than 80 women that meet his criteria. Next to their photo is a one-word description of their body type, from "cuddly" to "athletic," and a rundown of their marital history and hobbies. As he showed me, you just click on a face you like for more information about her history and fork over a few bucks for the privilege of sending your top choice an introductory e-mail. She may or may not respond. Than again, she may or may not be much like the cyber-self she has created.

"Hey, I know her!" I yelled, pointing at the familiar face of a former classmate I never much liked. We took a look at her profile and I must say I found she was quite generous in her description of herself, leaving out key details a potential mate might find pertinent. Where was "still receives a monthly green hand shake from mom and dad" and "hasn't eaten in front of others since 1982"?

And that, says Orthodox matchmaker Patricia Brownstein, is one of the perils of Internet dating today. In fact, says the French-born Brownstein, you really never know much about anyone you meet these days.

As one of a handful of such matchmakers in Los Angeles, she personally interviews hundreds of religious and non-religious Jewish singles and even checks personal and rabbinic references. Though she gets 30-40 phone calls a day and has been responsible for several marriages, Brownstein charges nothing for her services. In case you're interested, here is the number of the special matchmaking line she recently had installed in her home: (310) 286-9947.

With her first large-scale singles mingler (exclusively for Conservative, Modern Orthodox and Orthodox) scheduled for December 12, I had occasion to speak to Brownstein, whose lush Parisian accent and maternal tone make you feel comfortable right away.

"If you go to a party, you might not meet one person you're attracted to," she explains. "You may go to several parties before you meet someone, and then it turns out he's divorced, over 50, with four kids and that isn't right for you. With me, at least you know the match is suitable for you. After that, it's just a question of chemistry."

Brownstein's work doesn't end with the initial match, which is crafted from her personal interviews, forms the singles fill out and a gut feeling she gets through good listening and prayer. The 39-year-old matchmaker talks to people throughout the dating process, advising and coaxing and nurturing what could be a potential marriage.

"I would never have gone to a shadchan myself, so I understand why people are nervous as I would have been. It's difficult to talk to a stranger about personal things, especially for non-religious people who come and they see that I cover my hair and they feel out of place because they aren't observant," she says.

"It takes about 15 minutes just to put people at ease," Brownstein tells. "After that, they open up like a flower, little by little. It's a beautiful feeling."

Having spoken to more than 700 single Jews, from the Valley to San Diego, Brownstein says the biggest mistake people make is that they become discouraged by the search for a mate and let it show.

"People get very depressed. There's such pressure, even in the non-religious world, that people get unhappy and begin to see themselves in a negative way if they aren't married. I understand how painful it is, which is why I do what I do, but it's a big mistake when people aren't joyful. If you're happy, that attracts people to you," she says.

Welcome to Dating Paradox 101. When you're looking at New Year's Eve 2000 with no plans other than ordering in a carton of sweet n'sour self-pity for one, you're not exactly exuding the confidence and joie de vivre that attracts suitors. I guess that's where dating assistance can come in handy, whether it's the newfangled point-and-click or the hand-crafted variety.

Teresa Strasser is a twentysomething contributing writer for the Jewish Journal