My girlfriend hates me. Really, she hated me at summer camp. Actually, she didn’t really know me at summer camp, but when you’re an angsty high school graduate responsible for fifteen-year-olds, your default feeling might be less than head-over-heels adoration.
Leah (the girlfriend) hates when I tell our couple genesis myth like this. I always lead with eighteen-year-old her scorning the friendship of nineteen-year-old me as we worked together at Camp Ramah in Canada in the boondocks of Ontario. Now, suddenly, the universe has fixed us in a cosmic shidduch in Brooklyn through the Internet. I like the origin story better this way. It explains some of why I fell for her so hard, why I think we fit together. We share this unshakable experience, the same fingerprints that have molded us into who we are today. We share Jewish summer camp, and I love her all the more for it.
Leah and I worked on Magshimim staff (the fifteen-year-olds) back in 2010. Somehow, our division head paired us together for almost every activity. Shabbat preparation, discussion moderation, outdoor team captains — whatever it was, we were side by side. And somehow, she didn’t go for me. I don’t blame her for not liking me. I mean, I didn’t like me either. I sported massive sideburns, had the social skills of a slice of meatloaf, and wore cargo shorts ninety percent of the summer. What did I need to keep in all those pockets? Maps? Lanyard materials? I still don’t know.
But there was the glimmer of who I am now in that sideburned doofus, a shine that was slowly buffing its way out. I was learning, succeeding, failing, and reapplying so much knowledge at camp, my head spun. Leah, sleeping on the girls’ hill on the other side of camp, was doing the same.
A year ago, I’m scrolling through OKCupid, scrolling through pithy usernames and carefully selected profile pictures like I’m looking for an IKEA chair to buy. But then I see her, a familiar face who rebuffed my friendship so many summers ago. I don’t remember exactly what I messaged her, but it was close to “The Internet and dating and love are so weird, am I right?” I am still that sideburned doofus.
But she messages me back, and after some more messages, we meet up for drinks. As we talk, I feel that summer flooding back. It’s not the grit of dirt I feel or the Friday night chicken I taste, but a sense of remembering. I had done this before — cracking bad jokes to make her laugh, listening to the plateaus of her diluted Ohio accent. We weren’t in a warmly lit bar off the subway anymore; we sat at the edge of a sprawling field, warming our forearms and calves in the August sun, wasting the lazy hours together before Shabbat lunch. For a moment, we were back at camp together, as if we could magic that place back to those woods in Ontario.
Months into our relationship, my inbox pinged from an e-mail from RamahDate. Pairing with JDate, our national camp network wanted to get former campers together to fall in love and have future Camp Ramah babies. This is ridiculous, I thought, and proceeded to text all the Jews I know (that’s a lot of Jews) screencaps of the e-mail captioned with “Matchmaker, Matchmaker.” As I got past the initial flurry of singing Fiddler on the Roof to myself, I thought about my own relationship. We weren’t pulling up old memories together and calling it love, but calling back to where we both came from as a foundation for something else.
What you felt when you were fourteen trying to get a walk-back up the girls’ hill doesn’t really apply when you’re living in a big city and trying to make it big, or big enough to survive. But there are still the ingredients that we care about, and that we can connect to. The breeze off the East River on a warm night could be wind whipping through pines and the lake in the dark; the walk through Prospect Park might remind you of the shaded areas behind cabins. We can remember a time when these moments were urgent, thrilling, and deep. We buzz with feelings we didn’t remember that we still had outside of two summer months.
We are living with the same excitement we had as campers: the passion and joy of the summer; the thrill, excitement, and even fear of getting that kiss. The universe helped fix up my Ramah match. Maybe RamahDate can set scores of camp graduates up with the angsty teenagers from their past, and they will love each other more for it.