TIME Love

Meet the Jewish Matchmaker of Your Mother’s Dreams

Erin Davis The logo for Shabbatness is a Challah-shaped heart.

Inspired by her grandmother's Holocaust survival, Erin Davis wants to set up Jewish singles — without anyone having to swipe left or right

I’m sitting in a Manhattan apartment watching the sun set with 11 of New York’s most eligible Jewish singles. It’s Friday night and the table is a traditional Shabbat setting—a Kiddush cup filled with red wine, freshly-blessed candles and challah bread that’s been ripped apart and passed around the table. The crowd is hushed as Erin Davis a 30-year-old, waif-like blond, our host for the night, announces it’s time for ice breakers, where we’ll read funny and ironic facts about each other and guess who it could be.

Later I’ll leave after arranging a date with an adorable man handpicked by Davis whom my mother would kvell—ahem, gush—over. This is “Shabatness,” an invite-only service that sets up young Jewish professionals over Shabbat dinners.

Davis is quite rare, a matchmaker who does things the artisanal way, setting up singles through dinner parties, not apps or algorithms. She started hosting at least one Shabbat dinner a month in 2013. “I felt there was a void in the Jewish community of Shabbat dinners in intimate homes,” she says. “ And I realized it was an ideal environment for singles to meet each other.”

She interviews singles and promises those selected for the dinner a potential partner, a night of unlimited alcohol and a meal, at her apartment or one of the guests’ who chooses to host, all for just $36—a division of 18, or chai in Hebrew, a lucky number in Judasim—The idea became a business when Davis applied and received a fellowship through PresenTense, a social entrepreneurial program with a focus on the Jewish community. Davis got access to mentors, donors and business classes to put her vision in place.

Labe Eden, a committee member at PresenTense who has attended a few Shabbatness dinners, says he was struck by Davis and her idea from the get go. He explains it as a more wholesome experience than dating at a bar. “You don’t have to necessarily impress anybody. You get to be you,” he says.

The idea could seem old school—but each dinner has its own special twist. One dinner was called Bourbon and Beatbox, where American Idol contestant and special guest Jay Stone beatboxed the Shema, a prayer from the Torah. One night it was Magic and Macarons, where a Jewish magician performed and macarons were served for dessert. Another called Shabbat in the Sky was held in a 52nd-floor penthouse in New York’s financial district. And her next one will feature only male homosexual couples.

Even with modern traditions, the core of the evening is Judaism. Davis’ inspiration comes from her own grandmother, Rose Goldberg, who survived the holocaust in hiding after being sent to the ghettos of Wladimir Wolynsk in Poland. “I used to think she was just this old-school sweet Polish lady,” Davis says. But after traveling Europe and researching the genocide, she felt it a strong pull toward preserving Jewish heritage and rituals.

And it’s a heritage that’s getting diluted. A 2013 PEW study revealed that the percentage of U.S. adults who say they are Jewish when asked about their religion has been cut by about half since the late 1950s. And more than half of Jewish Americans have married a non-Jewish spouse.

“The studies disturb me, and there are small things to do to keep the tradition alive but make it our own,” she says. And the recent rise of anti-Semitism across Europe is especially troubling to her, even thought it’s not prevalent in New York.

“It’s a huge passion of mine to take a direct role in stopping [anti-Semitism,]” she says. “A lot of it goes back to my grandma’s story. It’s inspired me to do whatever I can to continue the tradition and to modernize Shabbats to make them for the times today.

Davis incorporates bits of tradition into each dinner she hosts, whether it’s a group of modern Orthodox Jews or, what’s more common, a group of Secular ones. (At the dinner I attended, fewer than half the group could read Hebrew.)

There are small touches of Jewish customs like her logo, a heart-shaped Challah bread, and the business’ name, “Shabbatness.” Nes means miracle in Hebrew, Davis says. “So my mom said: ‘What about the miracle of Shabbat?’”

A handful of miracle couples have come out of her dinners—and one marriage is on the way. My own experience after Shabatness resulted in a handful of dates, a very classic courtship, and a typical falling out of disinterest by both parties—but it was a better match for me than any tech-assisted dating I’ve tried. Apps have taken dating and turned it into a giant game of hot-or-not, where choices are endless and real relationships are few and far between.

Sure, JDate is popular and apps like Tinder and Hinge are growing, but that has consequences.

“The larger a pool of potential dates you have, the more the paradox of choice causes people to freeze up,” says Ori Neidich, one of Davis’ PresenTense mentors. “Erin has tapped into a need, you still have to meet people in person no matter what because that kind of chemistry can never be imitated by technology.”

Old-school matchmaking is making inroads onto the scene for the crowd of those sick of swiping their phones to no end. Aside from Davis’ Shabbat model, there are others trying to reinvent the process. Train Spottings uses matchmakers, known as ‘conductors,’ who scope the New York City Subway scene for singles to match with clients. And San-Francisco-based Dating Ring, available in multiple cities, assigns users with personal matchmakers, only syncing up matches with permission from both users. There’s also Married at First Sight, a reality series about couples who agree to marry a complete stranger selected ‘scientifically.’

Patti Stanger, whose 8th season of Bravo’s Millionaire Matchmaker premiered in December thinks that Davis is on to something as “religion is the number one deal breaker” in relationships.

“You don’t just have to do it for Shabbat, there can be Christian dinners, Muslim dinners,” Stanger says. “There are ways to do this for any type of common interest.”

Davis has a long way to go before the company is truly ringing in a profit. Her goal is to make it a 501(c)(3), a nonprofit and tax-exempt organization similar to the Birthright Israel Foundation.

“I’ve seen the passion behind birthright donors and the sustenance of Jewish practice and the formation of Jewish couples,” Davis says.

Davis’ grandparents, who met in hiding from the Nazis, were married for more than 40 years until her grandfather’s death in 1990.

“As I got older and moved to New York, I started getting closer to [my grandmother,]” Davis says, noting that all Grandma Roza wants is for her children and their children to marry Jewish people and continue the traditions.

“There are seven grandkids and seven great grandkids, which she wants many more of as soon as possible!” Davis says, laughing. “My last Shabbatness was called “Shabubbe,” she explains her play on the word Bubbe, Yiddish for grandmother. The group of singles honored Grandma Roza’s 90th birthday by eating Polish food with pictures of her all around. “It was very sentimental.”

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MONEY online dating

Over 30? Tinder Will Cost You More Money

Online dating app Tinder's new subscription service costs more for older users: The price is double if you're over 30.

TIME Dating

Here’s Proof That Everyone Will Be Online Dating This Valentine’s Day

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Looking for love at first swipe this Valentine's Day? You're not alone

The lonely hearts club will be raging on the Internet this weekend.

If you’re worried that going on dating sites and apps on Valentine’s Day is a faux pas, then let these statistics assuage your fears and enable your swiping. The leading purveyors of digital courtship confirm that, for the most part, Valentine’s Day sees a spike in user activity. (On JDate, instant messaging has gone up 150% on the holiday). See what happens on your favorite site under the pressure of Cupid’s arrow.

OKCupid

Considering that the site’s mascot is the symbol of Valentine’s Day, it shouldn’t be a surprise users celebrate accordingly. This week traditionally garners a 5% gain in the number of users who log in and an approximate 10% gain in messages. “This is fairly significant as traffic does not normally change this much in such a short period,” CTO Mike Maxim tells TIME via email.

And there’s more. OKCupid says sign-ups increase on the holiday, with 10% more men creating accounts and 35% more women.

The week after, things slow to normal, which could mean the connections were taken offline.

JDate & Christian Mingle

“This is without a doubt our busiest time of year,” Laura Seldon, the managing editor JDate and Christian Mingle parent company Spark Networks, says. After looking at statistics on Valentine’s Day compared with a four-week average from mid-October, she found:

JDate’s page views increased by 50%, its unique visitors surged up 100%, and user interaction spiked a whopping 150%.

Christian Mingle also experienced increases of 50% for page views and visitors and 30% in user interaction.

“We are very happy to see is that the spike in activity is not just passive browsing,” Seldon says, adding that activity picks up even more on the 15th when users look to reignite their love lives.

Match

Match’s peak season is from Dec. 26 to Feb. 14 when the site sees a 38% jump in new members. But a spokesperson says that this particular Valentine’s Day weekend will be particularly active, thanks to President’s Day making it a double holiday weekend. On Monday, it expects a 20% spike in communication compared to last week.

Coffee Meets Bagel

February is usually a slow month for the dating site, primarily because of the large spike January brings. (Gotta love New Year resolutions). That said, Valentine’s Day is the outlier. In 2014, Coffee Meets Bagel experienced a 62% jump in mobile sign ups versus the same day the week before.

Hinge

User activity on the dating app doesn’t spike or drop on the holiday. “From what we’ve noticed, our users don’t obsess about Valentine’s day,” marketing director Karen Fein tell TIME. “It’s just a day like any other.”

Tinder

Last year Tinder saw a huge saw a huge spike in downloads and usage — but that might be less about the holiday and more about Olympics gold medalist Jamie Anderson’s pre-Valentine’s Day interview in which she revealed that “Tinder in the Olympic village is next level.”

Tinder tells TIME that it has been seeing an increase in messaging in the last week-and-a-half—and Wednesday marked the app’s biggest daily usage ever, up 6.4% from last month. Whether that’s do to Valentine’s Day or just a result of Tinder’s growth (there are one million new users on Tinder each week), is one big shrug emoji.

TIME women

What I Experienced From Online Dating as a Black Woman

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xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

The majority of the messages I received, mostly from white men, fetishized my appearance and sexualized me based solely on my race

xojane

I try to remind myself that no one ever said online dating would be a wholly pleasant experience. There is an inherent awkwardness that comes with entering the world of swipes and algorithms, and it’s simply unavoidable.

I grew up and into an era during which the Internet has basically informed much of my identity and sparked many of my most important relationships — I’ve met some of my closest friends via sites like LiveJournal and Tumblr. And today, there’s no twentysomething I know who hasn’t met a bae or a jump off via some app or online service. So there’s no real sense of the taboo when it comes to dating online.

I created my first online profile in 2013 on OkCupid, a tiny baby step into unfamiliar territory with no real set goal in mind. All I knew was that as someone painfully shy around men, dating in the real world, in New York City, felt downright impossible. If anything, this was a way for me to gauge my own interest, and to date in a way that felt a bit more intentional, a bit more on my own terms.

And because I had girlfriends who told me about their escapades on the site, the good and the bad, the inevitable creeps and trolls, I felt relatively prepared for an imperfect if interesting experience.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the horror story that is online dating as a black woman.

Recently, OkCupid released data on race and attraction amongst its users, which revealed messed up but unsurprising realities about how people navigated the site.

Compiled by the site’s cofounder Christian Rudder, the data showed that black people and Asian men were least likely to get a date on the site. Black women specifically, the research showed, were at the very bottom of the barrel, receiving the fewest messages and likes from all races of men, and the least amount of responses to outgoing messages. Latina and Asian women, overwhelmingly, got the most likes and responses.

Rudder’s take on the data was pretty vague. “Beauty is a cultural idea as much as a physical one, and the standard is of course set by the dominant culture,” he said. “I believe that’s what you see in the data here.”

The narrative about black women and dating, about our lack of desirability and dateability, has been one I’ve actively tried to unlearn, despite a constant, nagging feeling that the reason I couldn’t get a date was because of the so-called stigma. But in my first major foray into the world of online dating, what struck me wasn’t so much this idea of not being wanted, but the kind of men who apparently wanted me.

A few creeps and trolls I could handle just fine. But from day one, I got tons of messages, many of them one or two word lines like, “Hey sexy,” and a larger majority of them reading, “Hey chocolate.” These weren’t worth the energy it took to respond.

The chocolate thing, though, kept coming up. Gradually, I began to notice a theme — the majority of the messages I received, mostly from white men, fetishized my appearance and sexualized me based solely on my race.

There have been so many ridiculous and offensive messages, too many to count or read. Many I’m not even comfortable sharing in this essay.

“Do you taste like chocolate?”

“Is it true what they say about black girls?”

“I’d love to slap dat big juicy booty.”

Once a guy was good enough to message me just to tell me that I look like “something you find in the zoo.” Another man, after luring me into a false sense of security by opening with a pleasant enough conversation about one of my favorite TV shows abruptly changed the subject to pose the question: “Do you act black?”

I asked him what exactly he meant by that.

He replied, “I like black women minus the attitude. Why is that wrong to ask? Haha.”

Haha, indeed.

In the three years I’ve been on OkCupid, I’ve only met up with a handful of people, mostly because it’s been impossible to meet anyone who doesn’t open or end conversations with offensive, racist, sexually aggressive language. A brief sojourn into Tinder world marked the worst of it — someone called me the n-word when I said I didn’t want to meet with him. I automatically deleted the app and haven’t been there since.

I know that I don’t represent every black girl’s time spent in the online dating world. I have black girlfriends who’ve had relatively decent, pleasant interactions, which is wonderful. But I also know my experiences aren’t unique. I do still wonder who else out there has put up with this kind of unwanted attention. The OkCupid data suggested Latinas and Asian women get the most attention on the site, but I can only imagine what kind of attention they’re getting — creepy fetishizing, no doubt.

It hasn’t all been bad, of course. In the past year I’ve met a few guys online who have been fun to hang out with, and a couple whom I’ve actually really liked. But I’m taking an indefinite break from the online dating world. Partly because I want to experience different forms of dating, but mostly because the energy of weeding through hundreds of gross and racist messages from strangers is, to me, the very opposite of self-care.

Last year, some important conversations were sparked surrounding the kind of street harassment women face on a daily basis. There needs to be, I think, a similar conversation about online harassment. Because it’s not just the dating sites where women are subjected to this kind of behavior.

On my Tumblr blog I’ve gotten creepy messages, and had my personal photos posted on ebony fetish blogs. Some might say that the solution to avoiding this kind behavior is to delete my blog or my profile, to block the guys I don’t like and focus on the ones I do.

I say that I shouldn’t have to do that to begin with.

Zeba Blay is a writer in New York. This article originally appeared on xoJane.com.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Dating

So Online Dating King Sam Yagan Has Never Been on an Online Date

2013 Time 100 Gala - Arrivals
Jennifer Graylock—Getty Images Chief Executive Officer of Match Sam Yagan attends the 2013 Time 100 Gala at Frederick P. Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center on April 23, 2013 in New York City.

We're talking about the entrepreneur who cofounded OkCupid and now heads up the company that owns Tinder

Sam Yagan, the CEO of online dating juggernaut Match Group (which owns Tinder and Match.com), and the cofounder of OkCupid, revealed during a Reddit AMA session on Monday that he has never been on an online date.

Yagan, who was listed in the 2013 TIME 100, admitted that the other three co-founders of OkCupid (OkC) had never been on an online date, either.

He explained: “We were all dating our future wives when we started OkC. And before that, we were basically in college where online dating wasn’t really pervasive.”

Dissatisfied with this answer, one Redditor quipped: “Sounds like a ringing endorsement!”

Nonetheless, Yagan reiterated his belief that online dating was “the most effective tool ever created” for finding “affection or companionship.” He also offered guidance to one frustrated Redditor, going by the name “Warlizard,” who wondered why he had yet to find “true love” on an online dating site.

Yagan ventured: “Maybe have a more inviting username than ‘warlizard’? :).”

The king of the “swipe right” universe declined to confirm if a paid version of Tinder was in the works, nor was he able to satisfy everyone with a question to ask in the limited time available.

As one put it: “So, just like on OkCupid, you respond a couple times and disappear?”

TIME apps

Hinge Secures $12 Million of Funding to Help Steal Tinder’s Crown

Hinge

Wants to be the Facebook to Tinder's MySpace

In the world of dating apps, Tinder has long ruled the scene. But its smaller competitor, Hinge, has been working hard in the last year to steal Tinder’s “cool kid” stature.

In fact, the company — which just announced a $12 million investment round with Shasta Ventures Thursday — thinks that it has the power to be seen as the equivalent of Facebook to Tinder’s MySpace.

“Hinge’s trust and transparency are changing the landscape of the dating industry in much the same way Facebook did to social networking in the age of MySpace,” Shasta partner Tod Francis said in a statement. Shasta’s contribution adds to $8.6 million that has been raised previously.

But how do Hinge and Tinder differ?

Rather than showing users virtually any unscreened member of the opposite sex within a five mile radius, Hinge shows users a smaller selection of potential suitors every day at noon that is curated from friends of friends (and friends of friends of friends). Hinge users also get to see matches’ full name, college, and other information culled from Facebook.

When being interviewed about the weird world of app dating last year, McLeod told TIME, “We are trying to harness this feeling of a house party — you go, you see people in your world, friends of friends, that’s the dynamic we’re trying to create.”

Tinder, in comparison, is more of a 10-story club that’s at capacity.

Hinge told TIME that when it polled 500 people who actively use both apps, 59% think Hinge is “a tool to meet people” vs. 16% on Tinder. Furthermore, 64% think Tinder is “a game to play with” vs. 14% on Hinge.

In the last year, Hinge’s undisclosed user base has grown five-fold, and the app has launched in 24 new markets. Although it still has a ways to go before it competes with Tinder’s 600% growth in 2014.

TIME online dating

A New Dating App Grades Profiles and Expels Failing Users

Users who score an "F" on The Grade get banned

To meet your prince in online dating, you have to kiss a lot of frogs — unless one app gets its way.

As its name suggests, The Grade algorithmically assigns a letter grades to users based on their popularity (how often their profiles are liked), the quality of their messages (considering at grammar and tastefulness) and how responsive they are. Those who get an F grade are expelled, and any user who falls below a C grade receives tips on how to stop being such a terrible suitor.

The Grade purports to be the first app of its kind to ban users who don’t cut it in the classroom of singledom. The appmakers say the concept was shaped by “substantial market research” that revealed women who used dating apps were “unhappy with the quality of low-quality daters and the frequency of inappropriate, hostile and sexually suggestive messages.”

Instead of “substantial market research,” the appmakers could also have just asked any woman who tried online dating, ever.

TIME Dating

OkCupid Rolling Out New Gender and Sexual Orientation Options

OkCupid manipulierte Nutzer
Maja Hitij—dpa/AP

The new feature isn't yet available to all users

Dating site OkCupid is granting select users additional options for listing gender identity and sexual orientation in their profiles.

“You’re part of a select group with access to this feature,” reads a message some users have reported seeing, according to pop culture site NewNowNext. “Keep in mind as we continue to work on this feature: For now, editing your gender and orientation is only supported on the desktop site.”

Users were previously only able to identify their genders as male or female and their sexual orientations as gay, straight or bisexual. Included in the new sexual orientation options are asexual, queer, questioning, pansexual, and sapiosexual (where intelligence is the most important factor in attraction). For gender, new options include cis men and women, transgender men and women, genderqueer, genderfluid, gender nonconforming, intersex and others.

It is unknown when these options will be available for all users.

[NewNowNext]

TIME apps

Soon You Will Be Able to Undo Your Accidental Left Swipe on Tinder

App Tinder
Franziska Kraufmann—picture-alliance/dpa/AP Tinder App

It could be love at second swipe

Remember the pain you felt deep in your chest when you unconsciously left-swiped that would-be bae-of-your-dreams away while feverishly perusing Tinder? Remember how you hoped and prayed that somehow that special Tinderoni would reappear, all in vain?

Well, apparently you weren’t alone. A back-button is the “most requested feature” among Tinder users, according to co-founder Sean Rad, in a recent interview published by Tech Crunch on Tuesday (the same day Rad announced he would step down as CEO of the company but stay on as president and board member).

Soon the folks at Tinder will unveil a paid version of the dating app that will allow users to “undo” left swipes, TechCrunch reports. With the new version—called “Tinder Plus”—users can also search for matches outside of their region. Tinder Plus will be available soon for select users in the UK, Brazil and Germany.

So, that feeling of deep loneliness you felt when you missed out on The One may soon be nothing more than a distant memory. Of course, there’s still no guarantee your almost-missed-match won’t turn out like this.

[TechCrunch]

TIME Crime

Woman Gets Trapped in Chimney Allegedly Stalking Her Online Date

Mary Poppins would not approve.

A woman rescued from a chimney was arrested and charged with allegedly using the chimney to try and break into the home of a man she had met online.

The Ventura County Fire Department was called to a Thousand Oaks, California, home early Sunday morning, when it was reported that a woman was stuck in a chimney.

Firefighters used a jackhammer to break apart the chimney and lubricated the flue with dish soap in order to lift the woman out of the chimney. She was then placed in a basket and lifted off the roof by a ladder truck, according to Ventura County Fire Department Capt. Mike Lindbery’s tweets regarding the incident.

The woman, who remained conscious during the misadventure, was taken to the hospital for examination. Her condition was not immediately known, according to KTLA.

The so-called “entrapment patient” was later identified as Genoveva Nunez-Figueroa, 30, and the home’s resident, who did not wish to be identified, said he met Nunez-Figueroa online and had gone on several dates with her, but had recently ended the relationship, according to the local ABC news affiliate.

The woman’s “intent was unclear,” according to police, but as Christmas is still months away, she was probably not playing Santa Claus or chimney sweep, as this is the second time Nunez-Figueroa was found on the man’s roof. Two weeks ago, she was spotted, but disappeared when police were called.

Nunez-Figueroa was arrested for allegedly illegally entering a residence and providing false information to a peace officer, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department stated in a news release.

The home’s resident wanted other online daters to learn from his cautionary tale. “Before you have somebody come in your house really check them out … really give it some time before you let somebody in, because they might want to stay,” he told KTLA.

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