2006 New York City: Not the Best Place for Singles
Chananya Weissman
September 29, 2006, The New York Blueprint

New York City is often perceived as "The Place To Be" for singles. This perception is so strong that singles continually flock to NYC from near and far for the express goal of finding a shidduch. They go so far as to uproot themselves from stable and comfortable surroundings, and assume great personal hardships and loneliness, because they believe that their best chance — perhaps even their only realistic chance — of finding a spouse is to move to NYC.

I believe that the perceived advantages for singles in NYC are mostly mythical, and are predicated almost entirely on the fact that there are more Jewish singles concentrated in this small area than perhaps anywhere else in the world. The thinking goes that more singles = more and better dates = greater chance of finding the right person.

Similarly, singles flock to the dating sites, singles events, and shadchanim that boast the greatest numbers of fellow singles. They don't ask themselves why these venues perpetually produce miserable results, but assume that bigger means better odds.

What people fail to realize is that the mere geographical proximity of more singles doesn't make NYC a singles paradise. If that were the case, singles in NYC would be finding the road to marriage far swifter and more pleasant — and we can all scoff at that notion. On the contrary, singles in NYC are probably more jaded, cynical, frustrated, and unhappy than singles elsewhere, and haven't found the existence of many thousands of fellow singles right down the block to be of much personal benefit.

Consequently, I have advised singles considering moving to NYC primarily for shidduch purposes to reconsider what they're giving up and what they expect to be getting in return. Furthermore, singles currently living in NYC would do well to consider the "necessity" of remaining there if life and opportunity beckon elsewhere.

I would not advise Jewish singles to move to Antarctica, but one only needs to find one person (or have one person find him), and that does not necessitate living in a place overflowing with singles.

In fact, living in such a place might even be seriously counter-productive. One can easily become overwhelmed, lost in the crowd, burned out, and depressed; these are just a few of the negative effects of being let down when this singles paradise turns out to be a well-attended singles hell.

New research backs me up. The July 17, 2006 issue of New York Magazine has a feature article by Jennifer Senior about the science of happiness. Here are two paragraphs that are strikingly relevant to dating trends in the Jewish community:

"My favorite study in [Barry] Schwartz's book ["The Paradox of Choice"] was about jam. One weekend, a Columbia University researcher named Sheena Iyengar set out six different kinds in a high-end gourmet store. She invited people to try them, promising them a dollar off any jar they liked. The next weekend, she did the same, but laid out 24 different kinds. More people tried the jam the weekend there were 24, but only 3 percent of the samplers bought any. The weekend there were six jars, by contrast, 30 percent of the samplers bought some.

"As I read this, it was hard not to think of New York City dating life. Everyone comes here for the jam. But no one buys it. Then I discover than Iyengar has examined speed dating, too, and similarly found that women who sat at smaller tables of potential mates were inclined to go on second dates 50 percent of the time, but if the group got bigger, they followed up on only a third of the candidates (though the men, curiously, remained content to follow up on 50 percent no matter how big the sample)."

Fascinating — but not surprising. It's beneficial for people to have more than one choice, but too many choices leads to an inability to select any option and, as the article notes elsewhere, a greater likelihood of second-guessing and regret if a choice is made.

Still think it's a great idea for singles to flock to the West Side instead of a more balanced geographical location? Still think finding the right shidduch is primarily a numbers game?

Singles need to inculcate the notion that they are looking for one person to marry, and the biggest department store is not always the best place to shop. Singles who are serious about getting married must make it a top priority in their lives, but hishtadlus does not necessitate irrational, unproductive behavior that leads to misery. Living outside NYC often makes the most sense in terms of finances, family life, community life, job opportunities, and mental health. I urge singles currently living in NYC and considering moving there to seriously consider what they may be sacrificing for the illusions of happiness and better marriage potential that NYC frequently turns out to be.

Chananya Weissman is the founder of EndTheMadness (www.endthemadness.org), and can be contacted at admin@endthemadness.org.