Saturday, May 26, 2018
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Match made in heaven? Some dating apps keep faith at their core

When it comes to her love life, Emily Harel isn’t short on parental advice.

“I’ve always been told that I need to find a nice Jewish boy,” she said. “An NJB.”

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She says it with a laugh, but, really, she doesn’t see it as a punchline. Like many religiously affiliated singles, the 25-year-old Springfield Township resident would prefer to ultimately settle down with someone who understands and shares the traditions that she considers an integral part of her identity. And, someday, maybe, raise a family the same sort of way.

“At this point I’m still willing to meet and date people who are not Jewish,” she said. “It’s just preferred because if things do get serious, I don’t want to have to choose between the person and how I was brought up.”

Enter JSwipe, a dating app that caters to Jews looking for Jews. It’s among a growing crop of religiously specialized dating apps that tech-savvy users such as Emily see as natural ways to navigate a dating pool that is limited, in preference or priority, by faith.

While each app functions a little differently, a typical interface presents users with a photo profile of an eligible bachelor or bachelorette. A tap of the screen expands that profile to show hobbies, interests, and the like, as well as religiously relevant information like branch, sect, or denomination and an indication of just how strictly the user actually observes.

(Does he or she keep kosher? Pray five times a day? How often does he or she go to church?)

Swipe left on profiles that don’t make the cut, right on those that do. And, if your right-swipe swipes right on you, then it’s a “match made in heaven,” as Collide, a Christian app, likes to call it.

JDate joins JSwipe on the Jewish app market. Muslims can swipe left or right on apps like Muzmatch, Minder, or Ishqr. For Christians, numerous options include Collide, Christian Slide, Christian Mingle, and CatholicMatch.

Religious dating apps fall under a broader category of “niche” dating apps, said cyber-dating expert Julie Spira. Among myriad other examples are apps catered to vegetarians, to those who favor an athletic lifestyle and, in the case Bristlr, to those with a thing for beards.

While Ms. Spira recommends that app-using singles tap into more mainstream platforms too, because they tend to have a broader user base, she said niche apps can make a lot of sense.

“When finding a partner, it’s important to have similar backgrounds and interests,” she said.

Faith can be a significant consideration within that, as Jeff Green of Sylvania Township can attest. He met his wife, Tamara, through JDate shortly after the dating platform launched as a website and well before it introduced its app in 2014.

The couple married in 2006 and, today, are parents to three young children.

“Through JDate, we had that common bond in Judaism,” Jeff said. “And the traditions that we had growing up, we’re able to pass on to our kids.”

A religiously like-minded partner is more than a preference for Sarah, who explained that her religion, Islam, instructs women to marry within the faith. Drawing on about a year’s on-and-off experience on dating apps and websites, she said specifically religious apps like Muzmatch and Minder can be a convenient resource for those who are looking to date within those guidelines.

Within Muslim communities, she explained, there’s really no culture of casual dating. So matches facilitated on these apps tend to be more serious than those on, say, Tinder, a widely used secular app that hasn’t quite shed its early reputation for hookups.

Conversations start through in-app messages and might evolve into phone calls or video chats. Sarah said it wouldn’t be uncommon for users to travel hours for a first date, since, typically, apps like Minder and Muzmatch are not geography-based; they pull up potential matches from all over the country.

It might mean relocating if a relationship does work out. But it’s also a way to deal with an obstacle that some singles encounter, in the real world as much as in the digital world: When you add in a faith filter, Toledo’s pool of eligible singles can start to feel pretty shallow.

“There are not a lot of Muslims,” Sarah said. “I grew up in Toledo. I know everyone in Toledo.”

When Melanie, 23, of Toledo logged onto geography-based JSwipe about a year ago, she recalled flipping through maybe three profiles before the app told her that she’d run through the users in her area. Emily had a similar experience, quickly finding out that she would have to significantly expand the geographic range for potential matches in order to connect with anyone.

Both women signed on to non-religious dating apps too. Melanie, who describes herself as more culturally than religiously Jewish and who had initially opted for JSwipe over a secular app on the thought it would be nice to find a partner who shared her culture and traditions, ultimately connected with her boyfriend on one of these secular apps.

He’s not Jewish, but, for her, that’s OK.

“It would be a cool perk if I didn’t have to explain everything for every holiday,” she said, “but as long as somebody is willing to learn and accepting of my religion, that’s what I care about.”

Sandy Mercurio, an active Catholic who is divorced, found herself in largely the same situation as Sarah, Melanie, and Emily in her 60s: Her faith is a significant part of her life, so, in considering a potential partner, she hoped to find someone with whom she could share that.

“I’m not going to hang out in a bar somewhere to meet somebody,” she said. “And there aren’t a lot of programs that address single older parishioners [in the church] that allow you an opportunity to meet single Catholics.”

So she too decided to try her luck online. She opted for the website-based version of two religious dating sites, Christian Mingle and CatholicMatch, where she perused profiles rather than swiped left or right. Her experience, admittedly, was a “mixed bag”; she recalled at least one questionable interaction when a fellow user questioned her Catholic bona fides based on the responses she gave to doctrine-related profile questions.

She ultimately met her beau, who is Catholic, on a secular dating website for older adults.

For the religiously minded singles who are still looking for their match, romance could be just a swipe away. Emily, for her part, hasn’t given up.

“If anyone’s looking for a nice Jewish girl ...” she said, trailing off with a laugh.

Contact Nicki Gorny at ngorny@theblade.com or 419-724-6133.

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