Advice to the Unsuspecting Lovelorn

The train rambled along — somewhere between Washington and Philadelphia, northern Maryland probably — when the stranger and I started talking. The overpriced, but delicious, chocolate-chip cookie from the cafe car broke the ice.

She admired the treat, but declined my offer when I broke off a piece for her. Then we began chatting. "Laura" was a married woman on her way home after a weekend in Washington. She had children my age, including a son who would be returning the next day from a military tour of duty in Iraq.

After a few minutes, the inevitable question came: "Are you married?"

"No," I said.

"Why? Divorced or you're just not interested?"

"Neither. I just haven't met the right girl yet. I specialize in relationships with deranged or immature women," I replied.

"Funny, my daughter says the same thing," she remarked. "I'll tell you the same thing I told her — something someone told me — 'If you're looking for filet mignon, don't go to McDonald's.' "

Feigning understanding, I nodded in agreement. Was she saying that Omaha Steaks is the new avenue to meet singles?

Okay, I knew what she meant. But I thought I was going to the right places to meet the right kind of girl.

It seems like other people, mostly married folks, have all the answers for how singles can meet other singles. Many married people I know look at my "lifestyle" with a mixture of scorn, derision, yet sometimes jealousy.

My married friend Cody relishes how he told me years ago not to let my girlfriend, Lea, slip away. Yet he also likes to live vicariously through my life, not realizing that I sometimes go weeks or months without even the prospect of a date, much less the other amenities of a relationship.

The media — television, movies, glossy magazines, society pages, advice columnists and chick-lit books — create the myth of the singles lifestyle. For those of us not living in hip, urbane New York City or Los Angeles, being single is not all clubbing, coffee, cosmos and random hook-ups.

On top of that, if you have certain requirements, such as dating only within your faith, the pool is even shallower. That means that even if I had some sort of freak encounter at a place like Starbucks, what are the chances that this rare encounter would be with a Nice Jewish Girl?

Trite to the Absurd

This brings me back to the underlying anecdote: What is it about not being married that gives even total strangers the impetus to dispense unsolicited advice? Complete strangers are not giving me tips on investments, health care or clothing.

Dating advice from people who are no longer dating because they are married usually ranges from the trite to the absurd. Here are some of my favorites:

· "Have you thought about online dating?" I wish I had a dollar for every married person who "heard great things about [insert your favorite online dating site]." Lots of people know someone who knows someone else who met a spouse online. I only know one person who met her husband online, and I helped write her essays.

I suspect there are only a handful of couples out there who met via the Internet, and those people are just one or two degrees away from everyone else. Hence, the urban myth of successful connections via online dating services.

· "You should go to a bookstore." I like books and bookstores, especially antiquarian and used-book stores. Bookstores have a reputation as great places for people to meet — the modern equivalent of the 70s-era singles bar. On paper, it sounds great: meet an interesting, erudite person among the books.

The truth is, I don't know anyone who met at a bookstore.

· "Join a synagogue." After freeloading Shabbat services at a nice one for more than a year, I joined last year. If I had children in Hebrew or nursery school, it would be great. But there are few things quite as uncomfortable as standing alone at an Oneg. I met a wonderful friend there, but a sizable age gap foreclosed anything deeper.

The social scene at a synagogue hinges on geography. In big cities, there are great synagogues where singles do congregate. In the suburbs or smaller cities, it's a different story, unless you're in a Bar Mitzvah or senior-citizens group.

· "Go to singles events at the JCC." Few Jewish community centers across the country offer singles programming anymore, even in major metropolitan areas.

· "Take a class." Who actually has the time to do that? I've thought about taking a karate class, but do I really need to meet a woman who can drop me with a sidekick?

· "Join a group." Yes, I will take up quilting, scrapbooking or yoga. If I'm looking for a woman whose diet mainly consists of applesauce and calcium-fortified protein drinks, I'm there!

Maybe the best words I've heard lately are this: "Keep trying. Don't get discouraged."

Sure, it's easy to scoff at such unsolicited advice, but if it makes sense at all, I'll still listen.

Roy S. Gutterman is a Syracuse, N.Y.-based writer. To contact him, visit:



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