When I was a kid, I fancied myself a yenta. I had watched “Fiddler on the Roof” too many times. I was mildly tone deaf, but I could belt “Matchmaker” with the best of them.
A traditional Jewish yenta was the village busybody/gossip-monger/dating coach. She fixed up couples, arranged dowries, and married off dozens of young couples for a handshake and a small fee.
Back then, back when I was an awkward kid with a ponytail and braces, I used to gossip. My favorite form of communication was the note—a piece of looseleaf covered in secrets and folded into its own tight envelope, passed among friends through enemy territory. Eventually, I learned that notes to girls were easily intercepted by boys. But what if I had planned for the boys to read the notes? What if I could plant the seeds of ideas in their heads with a carefully fashioned line, like: “I think Tim is kinda cute, but I like Josh more.” Suddenly, Tim was paying attention to girls he would otherwise never have picked for his kickball team.
Eventually, the content of the notes escalated. There were quizzes and crude pictures. There was “If you like Tim, check YES, NO, or MAYBE.” I passed notes for Liz and I passed notes for Lauren. I read notes, made additions, and accidentally dropped them in prime classroom real estate where I knew they would wind up in the desk of my friends’ crushes.
I fixed up a lot of good couples back in middle school. The boys didn’t know what hit them. The girls invited me to VIP pool parties. Brandy the yenta never had it so good.
I grew up and slowed my matchmaking ways. Well, I turned them inward. I decided to match-make for myself, and spent years flirting around, dating around, and finally moving in with my current boyfriend.
All that yenta nonsense paid off. My boyfriend and I have a great relationship, though I have noticed we have started doing that thing serious couples do: We have a lot of couple-friends, and refer to them as pairs. We’re going out this week with Hana and Jay, and next week we’re cooking with Scott and Heather. Or was it John and Karen?
But we have single friends. We have a lot of them! As I live in New York, my single female friends who are looking to settle down severely outnumber the guys I know. Now, I’m not sure if it’s the long-term relationship that’s gotten to me, or our obnoxious propensity for surrounding ourselves with other couples. But the yenta in me is back in full force. And it cannot be stopped.
“I know this really great guy,” I tell my unsuspecting single friends. “Let me fix you up! Let me set you up!” Not that they need to be fixed; they’re not broken. And now that I think about it, the term “set-up” sounds like a trick, or a robbery.
Some of them blow me off. We’re not in middle school, and most independent women don’t need a yenta. The ones who take me up on my offer quickly realize that my seasoned matchmaking charms are no match for New York’s lopsided dating ratio.
But when we had our friend Amanda over for dinner last week, she was set on being matched. My boyfriend took one look at me and rolled his eyes. I was chomping at the bit. I put the laptop on the kitchen table and got to work creating dating profiles for my friend. I wrote her personal essays and filled out witty answers. We scrolled through lists of men, “starring” and “winking” at the ones with potential. My boyfriend silently refilled our wine glasses as we giggled through the process. Romance is a important issue, but online dating is difficult to take too seriously.
And then it hit me. Online dating is just like middle school! Here we were, giggling like kids and writing up notes for boys to “find” on the Internet! Finally, the days of being a yenta were back and more relevant than ever.
After Amanda left that evening, I stayed on OK Cupid and Match.com to respond to some flirtatious messages. She had designated me her dating community manager, a role I accepted with gusto and more wine.
Actually, I spent the whole week sending “winks” and updating her profile. I was caught up in the letters and the drama. Amanda was happy about the attention, and I relished the act of innocent flirting-by-looseleaf. Or in this case, by e-mail. I had also signed her up for eHarmony and Plenty of Fish. Using Amanda’s avatar, I innocently responded to two perfectly nice guys on Craigslist. I sent her briefs about divorcees and a particular gentleman who may or may not have had a criminal record.
Amanda called me the following week to say she had met a nice guy through a friend. Anyway, she admitted, the whole internet dating scene wasn’t for her. She didn’t seem to be finding the right guys, and she preferred meeting them in public.
“Okay!” I said. “No worries!” I lied. I was crushed. I told my boyfriend.
He put his head on my shoulder, reading a farewell message to a potential suitor. “Hey, you were pretty good at this,” he said. He sounded impressed.
“Oh, what’s the use! I think it’s time to retire my matchmaking skills once and for all.”
I knew what I had to do. I closed all of Amanda’s dating accounts and joined my boyfriend on the couch. And then I forced him to sit through all three hours of “Fiddler on the Roof.”
At least I found myself a find. At least I caught myself a catch.