Almost 55 years ago, my husband of 54 years took one look at a young woman who pushed ahead of him in the cafeteria of the Weizmann Institute and said to himself “This is the one.” What made me think of that time is the new Netflix miniseries The One, which is built on the idea that every person has one perfect match who is guaranteed to make them instantly forever in love and have the most perfect relationship “till death do they part”. This is not an entirely new idea. Until the 20th century in Judaism, and since then in some Jewish circles, there is the concept of BASHERT, meaning the one designated for you by G-D before you were even born. And matchmakers try to convince parents that they’ve found the Bashert for their children. The idiom “a match made in heaven” is familiar to every English speaker. The meaning of the phrase is that two people are perfect for each other, two people so well suited to each other that their marriage is sure to be happy and successful, or simply that the combination of that particular pair is perfect in every way. This phrase is based on the belief that divine forces have a hand in making two compatible people meet and pair up. There is even a popular series of books by Susan Wales and Ann Platz called “A Match Made in Heaven” and the promo says: “Featuring married couples from all ages and walks of life, this book of inspirational love stories offers hope, exhortation, and biblical values, reinforcing the truth that God cares about every aspect of our lives… including marriage.” In contemplating the subject of “the one” I came across this lovely story: Chaim has a neurological condition and developmental disability. Tamar has Down syndrome. What a wonderful match! Chaim is over 6 feet tall and Tamar barely reaches his shoulders. They met and courted at their day program’s weekly get-togethers. Chaim, a shy and reserved person, found in Tamar a compassionate and natural listener. With her kindness and patience, she made him open up and share his sense of humor. If ever there was a match made in heaven, this is the one. Perhaps that is what Jewish sages may have meant when they said that since the creation of the world, G‑d has been busy matchmaking.
The idea of a matchmaking god exists also in ancient Chinese tradition, and is carried over to our modern times in interesting ways. While a piece of red string might not ordinarily have any particular significance, in Chinese tradition it symbolizes one’s destiny. Derived from a popular Chinese folktale about a love deity named Yue Lao who ties a silken red cord around the ankles of two people who are meant for each other – consequently intertwining their paths in life – the red thread is said to represent fate.
In South Korea, as in Japan, marriages are seldom if ever arranged these days, but the practice of hiring a matchmaker to handle the process of making introductions – seon – is fairly common among educated, well-to-do families. But in Korea, the jung-me’s job is even more complicated than in Japan. Not only must the candidates’ bloodlines, finances, and education levels be compatible, so too, a couple’s “four pillars” must line up as well; the year, month, day, and hour of their births must be in synchrony. Astrological charts are examined in order to find out compatibility. Sometimes the jung-me even hires a mudung, or Korean shaman, to consult the spirits of the ancestors to assure that the match is a good one. But even with all of those, you never really know if you’re going to be compatible with the people you’ve been matched with. That’s why, to strive for something a little more certain, a popular matchmaking company Nozze, is offering a new service that matches people based on DNA. Since opening in January of 2021, it became so popular that hundreds of people have been applying every month. In fact, the company just held its first ever DNA Matching Party in Tokyo’s Ginza neighborhood last month, to try to match 26 men and women.
To join the service, applicants must pay 32,400 yen (approximately US$300), plus 54,000 yen for DNA testing. DNA is extracted from their saliva, and scientists specifically examine the HLA gene complex for matches, or rather, differences, among participants. HLA genes, which have to do with the immune system, have about 16,000 variations, which apparently can make up key differences in perceived attractiveness among humans. Nozze uses the genetic information provided by Shinagawa Medical Lab to give a numerical value to a couple’s compatibility; for example, a couple is 100 percent compatible if 0 percent of their HLA alleles match. In this way, the company offers an alternative criterion to find a suitable partner, rather than factors like profession, income, or looks.
For those who are too shy to go out and meet people the traditional way or too fed up with meeting people online, or who just can’t wait to meet “The One,” this could be a quick way to find true love, even if it’s designed by biology, and not by fate. The catch is that the only ones you can be matched with are those who submit their DNA to the company. This is the same problem everyone faces with the other applications of DNA testing. For the past decade 3 or 4 big companies have been offering DNA testing in order to find out your particular makeup, your origin, and ancestral connections. A good friend who is into genealogy convinced me to submit my saliva for a DNA test with Family Tree DNA, which she felt was the best company for me. I received my results, and a list of approximately 20,000 second to fifth cousins! Not one of the 2nd or 3rd cousins I checked had a familiar name, and the one who had the closest match could be a 3rd cousin from my paternal grandmother’s side. Neither of us showed great interest in meeting. A year later my husband, who is much more interested in genealogy, decided to test his DNA as well. He had even more matches than me, and also recognized very few. The reason that we have not found any familiar family names among the closest relatives listed is very simple. Only those who test with the same company can be matched. But the real surprise was that I appeared as a fifth cousin on my husband’s matches! Perhaps there is something to it after all, since we have stayed together lovingly for almost 55 years.
It is no surprise that Netflix has latched on to the DNA matching idea and created “The One” which launched last Friday. We could not resist, and watched 2 episodes last Saturday night. It is actually a thriller, full of surprises and frightening to see how the idea that there could be a “one” out there makes people doubt their perfectly good current relationships. I will not spoil your pleasure of watching it, but it teaches many lessons about greed, need of connection and cravings for intimacy and love. Ultimately it all depends on how you believe The One can be found: a match made in heaven, by DNA, or by chance meeting. No matter how, hard work and joint care and love help you endure the rough spots and enjoy the happy ones together. Ultimately, as they say in Yiddish, “medarf hoeben mazel” – a bit of luck helps, too.