Goodbye Traditional Dating

‘Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match’ takes on a wholenew meaning in today’s world of fast-track and hi-tech romance.

Date 370 (photo credit: courtesy)
Date 370
(photo credit: courtesy)
‘Come here often?” – the conventional pickup line – apparently doesn’t cut it anymore.
An avant-garde subculture known as the pickup artist industry has emerged in Israel, namely in its singles shrine, Tel Aviv. Starting in online message boards in the ’90s where men invented and traded successful seduction techniques, this semi-veiled community has propelled onto the mainstream stage. Today nearly every major city has a community of pickup artists, widely known as PUAs.
Nearly a decade since the launch of Israel’s first seduction company – teaching men the secrets of picking up women – a highly competitive field has surfaced, servicing Israeli men who want to improve their skills with women. From seminars to consultations to “boot camp”-style training with a dating coach, these services can cost thousands of shekels.
Nikolas Gershkovich, founder of the Don Juan website, believes “there’s a communication problem between men and women today.” That’s why he founded Don Juan, a company that “teaches interpersonal communication and helps men develop and find love and intimacy, and create an opening to a more successful life.”
“We have a variety of products to help men become successful with women,” he tells The Jerusalem Post Magazine at a quaint café in Tel Aviv, citing workshops on charisma, improvisation, fashion and body language, as well as personal training with dating coaches.
Don Juan’s slogan is “Your Success with Women,” and most men come to the school because of problems in that area. But picking up women is only a “derivative” of a much larger picture: “When we get a client, we consider all aspects of life and improve them.
Once they solve their problems in life, then issues with women are automatically resolved.”
“To guarantee results, we need to see what we’re dealing with,” says Gershkovich. “We first meet with a potential client and decide if he fits. Once we know that we can help him reach his goals, we’ll accept him to the program.”
The school has eight instructors in courses spanning three to six months, at a cost of NIS 3,000 to NIS 6,000. Between 10 and 20 students a month are enrolled in the programs, consisting of personal training and weekly one-on-one sessions, individually suited to a client’s lifestyle. “If someone likes going to bars, we’ll go to a bar. If it’s a 40-year-old wanting to get married, we’ll go to speed dating or on a singles trip.”
In “the field,” meaning a bar, the beach, the mall or wherever the client wants to go out, the teacher goes up to a woman to start a conversation as the student looks on. Then the student follows suit and when he returns, they review.
Gershkovich is very involved with the pickup community abroad. He teaches workshops in the US and finds lecturers to speak in Israel on topics such as self-confidence, creating attraction and secrets to a first date. The lectures are open to the public for NIS 50 and attract dozens of people, including women.
While the industry is “relatively young” and the media are “pretty much destroying it all the time” with negative publicity, the 25-year-old dating coach sees it as “a mitzva. If it wasn’t for this field, it’s very likely that I wouldn’t be able to talk to girls today. Or ever.”
In response to critics who charge that pickup artistry manipulates and uses women, he asserts that “girls are smart. I don’t think there are tricks that can fool them. When a guy says something that isn’t authentic or real, she observes that. We teach things like how to make a good first impression, which has to do with body language, tone and the internal state of the person – if he’s connected to himself.”
And Gershkovich isn’t the only one defending his line of work against the somewhat dubious connotation the pickup world evokes. Alex Zenevich of the Pickup Action website, whose slogan is “Real-Time Success with Women,” says, “It isn’t pickup or seduction as in manipulation; it’s much harder work. We build an inner reality for the client [who pays NIS 4,400 for a 16-session course] and the tools to be confident in that reality.”
Pickup Action launched in 2012 as “a solution to a growing need for men to improve their lives when it comes to relationships,” according to the site. Whether it involves issues with insecurity or inexperience, divorcees who after years of marriage can feel stuck, or simply those interested in honing their social skills, it’s a difficult process, Zenevich explains. Even though “people have a hard time dealing with rejection and we live in a society where we’re measured by our accomplishments, encountering a lot of refusals gives you mental strength.”
A COMPANY that seems to be shunning the pickup culture is mySod (My Secret), founded in 2009 as “a center for empowering and advancing communication skills for men.” Its flagship program, The Process, began a year and a half ago in cooperation with Bar-Ilan University, where founder Stas Segin completed his master’s in psychology.
Segin, who has been giving lectures, seminars and workshops on how to meet women since 2005, “changed the DNA” of his teachings, as he explained to the Magazine at his office in Ramat Gan’s Diamond Exchange district: “We’re looking for a balance.
Once, we used to teach the exterior: how to dress, how to talk, what to say, what to do. Now, we started working on the interior, so that the internal change will lead to an external one.”
While the main goal used to be going out to a bar and talking to as many women as possible, now “we say to go with a good friend and ignore the bar’s surroundings, because when a women sees you’re a person who is interested in your friend, it’s more attractive.”
Using a plastic cup as a symbol of one’s “well-being,” Segin tries to illustrate this “more holistic” approach: Before the conceptual change, “we taught that to feel good about yourself you had to get women and phone numbers. Today, you first need to fill the cup,” he gestures, as he pours water into an empty cup in stages. This symbolizes filling your life with activities like meeting friends, exercising and hobbies – until it is full. Instead of feeding off and taking from the other person, as he sees traditional pickup techniques, you give.
The NIS 2,200, three-month course “is a process. After the first weekend there are meetings every other week, and afterward we stay in contact with the students,” says Segin. “We give a different perception of one’s identity: to simply appreciate yourself. Then you’ll feel more attractive and other people will be drawn to you naturally.”
IN A MOVEMENT that sees many companies rise and fall, there are dozens of coaches and training programs vying to stay profitable and relevant, especially since they face enormous competition from the $3 billion industry known as online dating. With over 125 million users, 4,000 dating sites worldwide, and one in five relationships now estimated to start in cyberspace, Internet dating has become the second most popular way of finding a mate, after meeting through mutual friends.
Since 1990, couples meeting on the Web rose from none to over 20 percent today. Spark Networks owns and operates over 30 online communities, including ChristianMingle and the leading Jewish dating service, JDate, which has 750,000 active members worldwide – more than a third of whom are in Israel. JDate membership is NIS 129 a month or NIS 69 a month for a half-year subscription.
Daniella Perlstein of JDate Israel and Europe, who started her career as a strategy consultant in New York after receiving her MBA at Columbia University, says there are over a million singles looking for love in Israel, and every month thousands of people join JDate. A special survey conducted last year by the dating site found that out of Israel’s singles, 80% are searching for a relationship online.
“People are meeting online,” she says, citing another poll that found one in three marriages in the US now start on the Internet. “All aspects of life are now online – banking, shopping, Netflix. Everyone’s there. It’s a part of life.”
With the management skills she learned “from project to project” in the New York corporate world as well as at Google Israel, Perlstein is constantly upgrading JDate’s services. At the beginning of the year, for instance, she launched a new program called Jexperts: a team of specialists who facilitate dating with a variety of programs. For instance, in a NIS 1,200-private session, a professional stylist advises how to dress on a date and improve one’s looks; a shoot with a professional photographer costs NIS 290.
Perlstein mulls over how to “leverage technology to our needs” and she oversees innovative services that help filter the search for a perfect match. JMeter is a psychological questionnaire that matches users according to their level of preparedness for a relationship; Click enables you to choose a person’s profile, and if the recipient is interested he or she will click you back; and other programs take you on virtual dates or to private chat rooms.
“JDate is very user friendly,” concludes Perlstein. “If we can change people’s lives, especially when they work so hard in such a demanding life, I’m happy.”
FOR THOSE whose sole purpose is marriage, Doo-Lev (Two-Hearts) is a dating service aimed at tying the knot. With the first office opening in Beersheba in 1991, today there are chapters across the country, in Jerusalem, Ashdod and most recently, Tel Aviv. Harella Ishai, who runs this empire, started fixing up her college students when she taught economics and accounting at the Technological College of Beersheba.
“The demand has risen in recent years because people are tired of the Internet,” she avers, adding that many want a personal and not a virtual matchmaker. At Doo-Lev, “every client is checked to the very last detail and goes through a filtering process, versus the sea of proposals on the Web. I send their handwriting to a graphologist to analyze their personality and who they would be compatible with. We factor in hobbies, personality traits and technical facts like education, finances and social status. I ask each client what’s most important to them in a relationship, what they won’t budge on and what constitutes a perfect match. With this data I cross-check between candidates to see who could fit.”
However, this traditional matchmaking service is something of a gamble. It costs a hefty NIS 10,000, and if you don’t find a mate your money is lost. On the other hand, if you do marry it’s a dual “jackpot,” you come away with a spouse and the company gets another NIS 10,000! In the past, Doo-Lev’s clients were mostly religious, but over the last decade it has attracted a growing number of secular people. “In fact, today we have more secular clients than religious ones,” says Ishai. “People are amazed when they hear that.
They think matchmakers are the territory of religious people alone.”
A problem that has surfaced in recent years is pickiness. “When I am unsuccessful in marrying people, it’s normally because expectations don’t meet reality,” Ishai continues. “People come with a shopping list and every year the lists get more and more detailed, which makes it harder to match. If 10 years ago someone wanted a mate with light hair, today they demand long or short hair, straight or curly.” She calls this the “serial selectiveness syndrome” and warns that people can “miss out on a perfect relationship over a little stupidity.”
The marriage age in Israel is rising fast. Today, single men aged 25-29 make up 65% of the population, compared to 28% in the 1970s; single women in that age group total 46%, up from just 13% nearly 40 years ago. The Central Bureau of Statistics also found that in general married couples are happier than singles.
That may be why people are abandoning conventional dating for either ultra-modern or ultra-traditional ways of finding Mr. or Mrs. Right – namely, the Internet or a Jewish matchmaker.
“I once had a client who was a successful soccer player,” Ishai recounted. “He said that just as he has a trainer, an agent and a tax consultant, I am his consultant for finding love.”