Experienced shadchanim and relationship experts reflect on this new era of matchmaking and dating
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit North America back in March, every venue for in-person social networking and dating—from restaurants to Shabbat meals, college campuses to shul kiddushim— shut down. Much of the frum dating world turned on a dime, moving almost entirely online.
1. From your perspective, how did things first shift after the lockdown began in March?
Marjorie Glatt: We consulted with medical experts and Yeshiva University rabbanim, who advised online dating only, at least through June. Couples set up by our connectors began dating on Zoom, and we created group events called “Zoom with Whom?” with ten to twelve people each. Zoom dating became the vanguard of the new dating world, a game-changer for singles who feared their dating lives would be on hold for who knew how long. Even now, people are still asking: When is it worth possible Covid exposure for an in-person date?
Marc Goldmann: After Pesach, when we knew the pandemic would be with us for a long time, there seemed to be a greater openness in the Yeshivish and wider frum community to try online dating for the first time. We saw this in increased signups on SawYouAtSinai and the response through a new Zoom dating module we set up for both our own matchmakers and our partners, including YUConnects, Adopt a Shadchan, Chabad and JLIConnections, OU-JLIC’s online dating platform.
Lisa Elefant: Many singles felt isolated and trapped in time, and were left wondering “What’s going to be with shidduchim?” Their parents were worried, too. Almost overnight, the reality of corona quarantine pushed people to get comfortable online, even if they had never considered it before. Zoom was something when there was nothing else.
2. Can you elaborate on Covid-era approach?
Aleeza Ben Shalom: It was important not to let the corona quarantine become a shidduch shutdown. I continued working in tandem with shadchanim, coaching singles on dating and relationship management. I also began offering free ninety-minute webinars instead of my large in-person events, delving into topics like “The Art of Commitment” and “Tips for the Anxious Dater.”
Marjorie: Under the guidance of Dr. Efrat Sobolofsky, director of YUConnects, we expanded the resources we offer, tailoring them for Zoom dating. For example, we created a guide to fun virtual activities, tips on Zoom room lighting, and a PDF of venues open for in-person dates in various communities. Additionally, we have been hosting online “Meet the Matchmaker” events and popular webinars like “How to Build Wealth during the Pandemic,” which move participants into Zoom breakout rooms where discussions are facilitated by a shadchan. It has been wonderful to see couples meet this way.
Lisa: From the beginning of lockdown, I wanted to offer a model that was different from the typical one-on-one shidduch date. So I organized Zoom rooms of five men and five women, all the same age range and religious background. Later, I went big, setting up multiple rooms together with other shadchanim, which allowed us to expand the number of singles meeting one another to fifty or sixty a week. We hosted speakers, ran game nights as well as events that focused on dating skills, and moderated low-pressure, roundtable discussions. Thank God, dates and relationships followed. We have one couple married already, three engaged and others dating seriously.
3. What are some of the silver linings of Zoom dating?
Marjorie: Expanded possibilities. Singles from around the globe can connect without leaving home. They get a good sense of one another through Zoom before deciding whether to take it to the next level and meet in person.
Marc: Zoom room events provide a middle ground between big in-person mingling activities and a one-on-one date, which means there is a chance to meet people you might not have met otherwise but with less pressure. In addition, the shadchan moderators are there to follow-up, which helps move a match forward. Even now, with more in-person dating becoming possible, many couples are still Zooming first.
Ilana Brown: In the current Zoom dating culture, many singles are now embracing the you-never-know! philosophy of dating. They are more trusting of the process, schmoozing and listening to one another in Zoom groups, and saying yes to dates with people they would have rejected on the basis of a resume.
We asked participants to commit to a twenty-to-forty-minute follow-up Zoom call with one person he or she met during an event (it could be more than one person as well!). A Zoom call is less pressure and less of a time investment than a usual date, which could run three or more hours. We found singles to be more open to suggestions they may have previously felt weren’t an exact fit in terms of age, background or personality. Some of them have said to me, “What do I have to lose? I’m already trying something new by dating on Zoom.”
Lisa: I’ve watched Zoom room groups become small communities. Friendships have developed. Some of the men have become roommates. Several of the women have traveled together. They help one another find jobs and try to make matches with friends outside the group. For those singles who grew up in a very sheltered religious environment, this atmosphere also gives them the chance to learn how to communicate in a healthy, comfortable way with members of the opposite gender.
Aleeza: Lockdown has reminded us how important it is to create a culture that helps couples find one another. Dating and matchmaking are not static, and we have to take advantage of all the tools available to us at any given time. Many singles—even those who were apprehensive about online dating—have told me how grateful they are that Zoom has kept the shidduch world going during the pandemic.
4. How would you describe the limitations and challenges of Zoom dating?
Aleeza: The biggest hurdle—how to meet the right person—has remained the same. The Covid situation has only changed the options and deepened the desire not to be alone, especially while sheltering in place.
Marc: Most of the challenges are the same as they are for in-person events. You need a good moderator who can bring together compatible singles and track who is interested in whom in order not to lose match opportunities. And, regardless of the forum, you need to create an event where singles leave feeling good about having participated.
We have seen more engagements during the pandemic than we did this same period last year. It’s not a coincidence.
Ilana: Zoom offers a great way to start a relationship. But it is hard for a couple to establish real closeness or test the mettle of their chemistry online. When they finally meet in person, they may have to reset before they can move forward. Rarely can they pick up where the last Zoom call left off.
Marjorie: FaceTime and Zoom don’t always capture the nuances of facial expressions or the power of a live smile. In long-distance relationships, sometimes a phone call is just as engaging. The biggest challenge now is that people are feeling “Zoomed out” and prefer meeting offline as soon as feasible.
5. Has the dating mindset shifted during the pandemic?
Marc: Many singles have reprioritized finding a spouse. Some went home to their parents at the height of quarantine, where seeing family life underscored the benefits of building their own families. Others remained in their apartments, where they were lonely without the distractions of their usual social lives, Shabbat meals with friends, and so on. I wouldn’t say there has been a sudden sense of urgency, but the realities of quarantine have certainly struck a chord.
Aleeza: The shutdown meant fewer distractions. Other commitments—career, school, friends, hobbies—were shifted out of the top spot. In our physically isolated world, finding a soulmate has become the number-one priority for most singles.
One of the single men I know described how isolated he felt when he suddenly began working from home. It motivated him to focus on finding his bashert by meeting people online. A single woman who moved back to her parents’ home during the pandemic told me that as much as she loves her parents, she needs her own space. She’d rather be in lockdown with a marriage partner than alone or with her family.
6. Will frum dating return to the way it was before Covid once the pandemic is over?
Marc: There is nothing like an in-person date. But even in a non-Covid world, Zoom dating has its place. Singles can meet five or six new faces a night on two separate events from the comfort of home. Zoom also offers flexibility to those who travel or work late, which makes it hard for them to attend weeknight in-person events. They can always take an hour off while at their desks to participate online.
Marjorie: I believe that the genuine focus on committing to a relationship and settling down to build a life with another person will stick. Similarly, I think singles will remain more open-minded about who they are willing to go out with. We have seen more engagements during the pandemic than we did during this same period last year. It’s not a coincidence.
Almost overnight, the reality of corona quarantine pushed people to get comfortable online, even if they had never considered it before. Zoom was something when there was nothing else.
Ilana: Even though groups and organizations here in Canada are still relying on Zoom, most individual shadchanim have returned to setting people up on individual dates. I am still open to planning Zoom-speed dating events in the future, especially for singles living in out-of-town communities.
Aleeza: I expect Zoom dating will remain an option. The benefit is that couples have a more “tachlis” mindset long before they meet in person, asking themselves the hard questions from the beginning of the process: Do we have a future together? Are you my person?
And there have been quite a few successes. One couple who met over Zoom is still dating between continents (the US and Europe). Both sides said they would never had considered such a long distance relationship. They dated much longer than expected via Zoom due to travel restrictions, and finally met in person. Thank goodness, they like each other even more in person than via Zoom. While they don’t want to rush into making a wedding, they know travel will be complicated so they are working out those details right now.
They are so relieved to finally have met and have confirmation that what they felt virtually worked in person as well.
Another couple has been dating since May. They started off on Zoom and gradually made in-person dates too. Now they alternate between Zoom and in-person dates. While they haven’t gotten engaged yet, they are committed to one another and are headed in that direction.
Merri Ukraincik is a writer who has written for the Forward, the New York Jewish Week, Hevria, the Wisdom Daily, Tablet and other publications, including Jewish Action. She is the author of I Live. Send Help, a history of the Joint Distribution Committee.