A few years ago, as online dating started to catch on, a new dating site emerged for a relatively niche demographic: Young people who wanted their Jewish mothers to set them up on dates. Though it seemed a bit like a bizarre piece of performance art, JMom got a fair bit of media attention when it was launched in 2010 by a pair of Jewish siblings and their programmer friend. Alas, on May 1 the site will officially shutter its doors. "As our families and lives have changed, and funding for the site is no longer feasible, we must move on to new ventures," the founders said in a statement posted to their website. "As always, we wish you the best in finding your child love."
JMom's quirky innovation was that you don't create your profile, send messages, or respond to potential suitors: Your mother does all that, meaning moms message each other and set up the dates. It's Fiddler on the Roof meets OkCupid, and I couldn't let the site die without giving it a test drive—with my own mother at the wheel, of course.
Admittedly, my mother and I do not have a lot in common. We have completely different tastes in the things moms tend to bond over with their daughters: clothing, movies, music, men. Just last week, we got into a heated argument because I, a grown-ass woman, told her I wanted to get a haircut. After 20 minutes of going back and forth on this, she was somehow able to conclude that me having shorter hair would be the reason I end up a childless spinster.
I've never told her about the guys I've dated, knowing she would not approve. They either had too many tattoos, didn't make enough money, or they weren't Jewish. Often all three. Then again, I never really gave her a chance, so I was curious to see what would happen if I had her use JMom. Would she actually choose men for me that I would like? Or would she only choose men that she liked?
We started by filling out my profile on JMom. Our conversation went like this:
Me: What do you think I'm looking for in a significant other?
Mom: Funny, humorous guy. Educated. Easy-going. Likes to watch movies, read books. Jewish.
Me: This is a Jewish site. They're all going to be Jewish. Is that it?
Mom: Oh, and from a good family.
Me: From a good family? What does that mean?
Mom: You know, like he comes from a good foundation. Good base. From the base you can tell how the person will run his life.
Me: OK, sure.
Mom: And eats healthy.
Me: He has to eat healthy?
Mom: Yeah. Good nutrition.
The fact that my mom is so adamant about his being Jewish is rather hypocritical considering she married my father, an Irish-Italian raised in a Christian household. When I pointed out this hypocrisy, she said "and that's why we got divorced," which is logic that I can't argue with.
After filling out my profile, we looked at some of her potential sons-in-law.
Me: This is David.
Mom: [Scanning the profile] UCLA, that's good. Social worker? Let me see his picture. This is him?
Mom: Oh. He's handsome.
Me: I don't think he's handsome.
Mom: What, why?
Me: No, not my type. Would you message his mom to try and set me up with him?
Me: Here's the next profile. Jeremy.
Mom: That guy? He's bald already?
Me: I think he's purposely bald.
Mom: Yeah, maybe you'll like this guy.
Me: You think I would like this guy?
Mom: Who is this guy?
Mom: He's not going to want you. Look at him.
Me: What does that mean?
Mom: He probably wants those model ones. Be realistic. He's looking good.
Me: You think I like this guy? I would never date this guy.
Mom: Oh, come on! Look at his muscles. I would date him.
Me: So you don't think he'd like me?
Mom: No. He's the type that likes slim, tall, blonde girls.
To summarize, the one person she would not set me up with is Nikolas, and it was because she didn't think he would like me.
I found it interesting that my mother cited what are widely considered non-Jewish features as the kind she thought Nikolas would want in a woman: tall, thin, and blonde. Most of the Jewish women I have encountered in my life have been some combination of dark-haired, short, and wide-hipped. My mom had basically told me that Nikolas desires what a lot of younger Jewish men desire: a non-Jewish woman. I wondered if other JMom users had a similar experience. As badly as some mom's want their sons to find a Jewish girl, a lot of the single Jewish men are not ready to let go of that shiksa fantasy.
On that note, Jewish girls aren't really a "type." We're not sexualized the way women of other ethnic and cultural backgrounds are. Personally, I consider this a relief, but at the same time I've always wondered why. It probably has a lot to do with the stereotypes built around us: We're bossy, we complain too much, we're needy, we're overbearing.
Growing up, I thought of my mother this way. I was embarrassed of her always being so mouthy. Today, I admire her for being headstrong (even though we still fight constantly). Not only that, but I see how I'm turning into her despite myself. Like her, I no longer act dismissive when I'm cut in line. I tell that person who cut me, that they just cut me. If I'm overcharged for shampoo, I go back to the store and tell them they charged me too much for that shampoo. The way I see it, all these negative descriptors are thrown at us to cover up the fact that we tend to stick up for ourselves and say what's on our mind. That's why I now choose to embrace these words. I view them as failed attempts to try and shut me up, the way I wanted my mother to shut up. Like her, I won't shut up. You shut up.
Moving on, we found the profile of a man named Colin, an attorney in Beverly Hills.
Mom: Colin is your type.
Me: You think I would date him?
Mom: He's an attorney.
Me: See, that's not attractive to me. I tend to not really like the types that are in business, or law, or anything like that.
Mom: Yeah, of course, what do you want? The type who will have no money? Alison. You're not realistic. You be the artist and someone else will bring the bread and butter. OK? You don't need another artist. Two artists?
Me: If we both make money doing it, why would you be against that?
Mom: You live in la-la land, you know that?
Me: Why is that "la-la land"?
Mom: You need to find a guy that will give you stability.
I don't care to find a man who will be a good provider. I want to provide for myself. My mom and I do not see eye-to-eye at all when it comes to not only the kind of men I see myself with, but also the kind of life I want to lead.
After looking at 15 different profiles, I realized that no matter how much my mom wanted to set me up, this was not going to work. Perhaps 20 or 30 years ago, a service like JMom would prove a lot more successful. But the modern North American Jew is less religious, and more inclusive. In fact, I asked a few of my Jewish friends what they thought about the idea of their mothers running their dating lives. Most of their answers were similar to mine. They told me that they couldn't see their mom being able to dissociate what they personally want versus what their child wants.
My friend Hana said, "They'd most likely be a wealthy Jew with zero personality." Another friend, Tal, told me, "Every time my mom thinks a young man is cute, he usually happens to be gay." Interestingly enough, most of the guys I asked were slightly more upbeat. For instance, my friend Jonathan said, "I'd be cautiously optimistic. Not expecting much but open to meeting someone she thought I'd like." It's probably boys like him who kept the site going as long as it did.
Mom, you can argue with me about haircuts all you want, but when it comes to my dating life, you're going to have to face the facts: Your opinion will not be a deciding factor. For better or for worse. I have already mentally prepared myself for the mountain of passive-aggressive voicemails.
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