For JDaters, Caribbean's a sea of love

JDaters could unwind long enough for substantial conversations, not to mention fun.

Staying on a small resort on a small island, entertained by life-size Jenga games when it rained and a larger-than-life trapeze when it didn't, dozens of JDaters experienced the leisure of unhurried life off line. The idyllic environment of a Caribbean vacation at Club Med became an ideal setting for coming together. Take Alicia 36, of Atlanta, and Alex, 39, of Los Angeles, who became an item the first night of the trip. Apparently the excitement hasn't faded: A few weeks after JDate's Caribbean adventure in late December, the couple is about to reconnect on a ski trip. "I m so excited to see him that I could pop!" Alicia wrote in a group e-mail to her friends. Alicia and Alex - not their real names - were among 166 JDaters who made the excursion to Turks and Caicos. Most were in the 37- to 42-year-old range. The trip, which cost about $3,000 per person, furthered the online Jewish dating service's increasing use of offline ventures. JDate is launching targeted events like yoga classes in its major markets in addition to exotic vacations like this one. For Michael, 47, from a Washington suburb, the reality of meeting face-to-face was better than the virtual reality of online dating. "I do better meeting people in person," he said, while marveling at the success of some participants whose net worth "is greater than some small Latin American countries." Online, Michael solicits only those women who don't post photos. Since they're less likely to garner attention, Michael thinks he improves his chances. But he admits he hasn't had much success. Michael also pays attention to a woman's grammar. "You know how many people get the word 'compliment' wrong?" he asks. At the Turks and Caicos Club Med, where brightly colored buildings contrast with exuberant flowers before a front lawn of white sand and clear water, relaxation came easy. So did alcohol - and, often, sex. It all helped create an atmosphere where the JDaters could unwind long enough for substantial conversations, not to mention fun. In Bari's case, it was an opportunity to refresh her JDate profile with new photos. "You got a tan, you gotta work it," said the 36-year-old graphic designer from New York City, who avoids men who don't post photos in their JDate profiles, assuming they must be married. The JDaters generally joined the general Club Med routine - dancing, playing sports, sunning and gorging - though they were given their own section in the dining hall and blue wristbands instead of the club's standard turquoise. Even the taciturn joined in after dinner by the bar when Club Med staffers led hand-raising, hip-shaking line dances. But there were some exclusive features, like an online-dating expert who offered tutorials each afternoon. Professional dating coach Evan Marc Katz, 34, started as a JDate customer service agent in Los Angeles while he pursued screenwriting. In one exercise, Katz offered sensitivity training for men: To better understand the opposite sex, they were ogled by the women. It didn't work, he said: The men enjoyed the ogling. Katz, who also uses JDate, told his comrades "not to justify your appearance" when corresponding with prospects, but to simply "make them smile." He recommended outlandishly facetious e-mails to show wit and confidence, the qualities ranked most important by both men and women in a mate, he said. Some - like Susan, 41, a newly divorced New Jersey lawyer - felt inspired by the lessons. Katz said the search for a compatible mate can be arduous. By looking for a quick match, she said, "I probably wasn't approaching it with the right attitude." But she saw little alternative to JDate. "If I drop off JDate, I'm not going to date," said Susan, not her real name. That sentiment underscored the current sensibility that if you're single and Jewish, you're probably on JDate or know someone who is. People spoke of a household in New York in which every member supposedly was on JDate, including the 90-something grandmother who lied about her age by 20 years and had her grandson - who JDated my friend - handle her correspondence. In Internet dating in general, women lie about their weight by an average of 20 pounds, and men and women typically add an inch to their height, Katz said. Still, JDate receives 30 to 40 letters each month from members who have met someone special or married because of the site. The site boasts 675,000 active members, 375,000 of them in America, including 120,000 in New York. While some on the trip considered it a serious shot at romance, most followed the less-pressured "Why not?" approach offered by Kimberly, the North American brand manager for Durex condoms, who distributed a stash of giveaways to the group. Kimberly, 38, calls the JDate vacations a "blast," giving her circle of friends a collection of inside jokes. For Wendy, 43, who works in research and development for Pringles - yes, the job includes taste testing - the vacations open up her personality and social life. A JDate vacation two years ago gave her "attention like I never got back home" in Cincinnati, said Wendy, who won the Club Med tennis tournament on this trip. It's "so good for my ego," she said. "I'm out of my shell."