Mr. Write

Reporter Matt Katz figured the best way to get a girl was to start a dating column. Three years later, he's South Jersey's Carrie Bradshaw.

Back in February 2003, news reporter Matt Katz had just taken a job at the Camden Courier Post and was slaving away on an assignment about alleged police brutality in connection with a Camden murder. Recalls Katz, “I went to my desk to procrastinate and check my Hotmail account and saw an ad for match.com.”

That’s when Katz got the idea of writing a Valentine’s Day story about dating: He would sign up for three dating websites and write about the experience. Earlier that week the managing editor had been bemoaning the fact that newspapers were struggling to draw younger readers. The dating story, Katz figured, would make the managing editor happy—and be a way for the young reporter, then very single, to meet women.

“Dating websites are not a refuge for the pathetic,” he would wind up writing for the piece. “They are used by a cross-section of South Jerseyans, from divorcees to college students. They’re also used by a single 24-year-old reporter looking for a good story. And a date in time for Valentine’s Day.”

The crime story garnered just one e-mail. The dating piece, however, sparked a flood. The Courier Post followed up by plastering his face on three billboards with the slogan “Get Matt Katz to take you on a date.”

Katz’s ploy to find romance turned into a weekly column, now known as “Gender Lines,” which explores how men and women interact; the column also has appeared in 50 papers around the country, including the Asbury Park Press, the Daily Record, the Home News Tribune and the Islander in New Jersey. He still does hard-news reporting and writing, which he considers more important, but it’s the column that draws the most attention.

“It helped my dating situation more than anything I could have done,” says Katz. He’s not the hunky cover-model type, but he is an affable, well-dressed guy-next-door with the kind of charm that keeps women tuning in to Scrubs and The Office to swoon over Zach Braff and John Krasinski. He’s the guy who will actually call you back, which he did when women called or e-mailed him after reading his column.

It worked. Over the last four years he’s met a lot of women, and his experiences have given him a wealth of material for the column. He hired a professional “wing woman,” an outgoing type who helps men pick up women by starting a conversation. On one date, he took a religious woman to a drag show. He wrote about dating a college student and about his strange attraction to Martha Stewart (“I started to become intoxicated with this tall, blond, blue-eyed vixen who just happens to be old enough to be my grandmother”). He even signed up for an imaginary girlfriend who, it turned out, was also a journalist and writing a story about him. He’s quick to admit his faults, and instead of being a Mr. Lonelyhearts dispensing advice, he’s the everyman caught in the fray.

“When you find out your prom date is experiencing new milestones—and you have yet to spend two consecutive New Year’s Eves with the same woman—it makes you wonder what came of your life,” he wrote in a column about how he was dumped at a prom, and how the dumper had already married and divorced.

He reads feminist blogs and tracks gender-related research and is now delving into feminist literature from the 1970s. He considers whether men can wear pink (yes, but he doesn’t recommend wearing a pink shirt that proclaims “tough guys wear pink” on it); what it’s like when the woman makes more money (“Women can be whatever men can be, and they should earn as much, and even more, than we do. At least that’s what I kept telling myself”); couple dates (“I need couple friends as a facade, so I can keep up the lie that I’m still young and cool, and didn’t spend last Friday night watching Brokeback Mountain with my girlfriend and our cat”); the female obsession with celebrity gossip (“Now, this isn’t to say men don’t waste time on things that have nothing to do with real life. Enter fantasy sports”); and the difference between the male and female brain (“Women use both sides of the brain to respond to emotion, understand nonverbal expressions and remember both fights and romance. Men, meanwhile, use one side of the brain and don’t know why the hell you’re crying”). He also writes about couples who combine their last names when they marry (“If my girlfriend and I were to combine, we could take the last two letters of both of our names: ‘tz.’ Our new last name would be ‘Tz.’ My name would be Matt Tz—which would not only take care of the equity thing, but for fun, I’d correct people who mispronounced it. After all, isn’t that what last names are all about?”).

Even if his stunts are sometimes embarrassing—like when the wingwoman confirmed that such beautiful women would never have talked to him without her help —Katz maintains his sense of humor, and he keeps trying new things in the name of research because he’s fascinated by the differences between men and women, and by the new rules of dating, which essentially are that there aren’t any rules.
“Nobody really knows exactly what they’re doing,” he says. “Things are different now. In our grandparents’ time, you met her at the USO dance, you had ice cream, and you got married.”

The column has gone through three name changes, and it’s evolved and matured over four years, as has Katz. These days he’s single only in the technical sense, and he says a lot of inspiration now comes from his girlfriend, Deborah Hurwitz, or “Deb” as she’s known in “Gender Lines.” The two have been together for almost two years, and even though Katz met a lot of women through his column, he met Hurwitz, 25, in a more traditional way: through a friend.

“I had been dating a lot for a while, and she was very different,” he says. “I met her and it was over.”

Of course, he wrote about her, explaining how the opposite sex constantly slotted him in the “just friends” category, which was where Hurwitz put him at first.

“In 10th grade, I fell in love with Emmy Abrahams and spent the entire year in English class in a Shakespeare-induced obsession,” he wrote. “That started an unhealthy pattern. Matt meets girl he thinks is cute. Matt endears himself to said girl by talking to her about the boy she likes. Girl, therefore, sees Matt as a friend/girlfriend/sister/mother, rather than boyfriend/lover/booty call.”

The column was a slight hurdle to their getting together too. “I didn’t want to get in the way of his career,” says Hurwitz. “We had been friends for a long time, so if we were going to start dating, it was going to be serious. I said, ‘Your career is to be single. I don’t want to be the one to end that.’ ”

Fortunately, Katz was able to leap from the bachelor pad without giving up the column. His columns now are less about “my crazy adventure from last night” and more philosophical in nature, though Katz sometimes still pulls a stunt, like going to a party dressed in drag to see what women go through. “I was more self-conscious than I’ve ever been clothed—and it had nothing to do with the pink bows on my high heels,” he wrote. “My pot belly, to the dismay of all party-goers, was on full view below my midriff shirt. And that’s why women’s clothing makes one male hobby, sprawling out on the couch, nearly impossible… Apparently when you put your feet up, your skirt actually goes up and up and—uh-oh!”

Katz is, as far as he knows, a lone ranger—a man writing about gender issues without taking a cave man “here’s how to get her into bed” approach. “We’re the first generation to grow up in an environment, at least on paper, where women are equal to men,” he says. “You never hear men talk about what they think about gender relations, and you rarely hear regular men talk about the aftermath of feminism,” says Katz as he eats a portobello mushroom salad at PJ Whelihan’s in Westmont. It’s a popular singles spot, but Katz’s back is to the crowd. He is, after all, spoken for.

By far, the question Katz hears most from his readers is when he’ll get down on one knee and ask Hurwitz to marry him. As it turns out, this is something Katz has been considering seriously in recent months, because he wants to pop the question in a way he can share with his readers. When a writer called to interview him for a magazine story—this story—it hit him: Why not propose marriage in New Jersey Monthly?

The Dating Guy says he is ready to settle down. Hurwitz will read the proposal here first. “I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Deborah, will you marry me?”

The Answer Is…

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