Q & A: Finding a Mensch Mate

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Not long ago, a mensch was the kind of guy your mother wanted you to marry. A devoted and kind Jewish son, no doubt, but someone with as much zing as a glass of warm, flat, seltzer. But what a difference a few pop cultural references make. Menschiness has suddenly become cool. Desperate husband Carlos on Desperate Housewives described his parole officer as one, while the term came up in an episode of the generally un-menschy ďJake in Progress.Ē John Lithgow was just singing about them on Broadway in ďDirty Rotten Scoundrels.Ē And a guest on Oprah even described her as ďMensch of the YearĒ last month for admitting her mistake in initially defending fact-challenged best-selling author James Frey. Just in time for Valentineís Day, TIME Correspondent Wendy Cole spoke to Mensch expert Robin Gorman Newman about her new book How to Marry a Mensch.

TIME: Whatís the story with so many mensch mentions these days?

NEWMAN: Itís become hip. The definition has changed. When I wrote my first book on mensches in 1994, a lot of people didnít even know what it meant, and if they did, they thought it meant someone was a nerd or a bore. As a dating consultant, I met women who would specifically say they didnít want to meet a mensch.

TIME: How do you know so much about mensches?

NEWMAN: I like to think I am one, and my husband is even more of one than I am. Heís very loyal, dependable, and big-hearted. He does things for people and he doesnít expect anything in return. Heís a CPA, and he actually enjoys it, which is a menschy thing right there. A real mensch doesnít need to get a lot of pats on the back.

TIME: Are mensches better for dating or as marriage material?

NEWMAN: Both. But it takes takes awhile to know f you have a real mensch. A mensch will stand the test of time. You canít know it right away. A lot of them are mensches in wolfís clothing. Brad Pitt probably thought he was one. But he sure fooled us, and especially Jennifer. Bill Clinton is another mensch in wolfís clothing. You canít be a mensch on demand, it's got to be a consistent part of your character.

TIME: Can you become a mensch if it doesnít come naturally?

NEWMAN: You can work at it. It does have a lot to do with how you were raised. It helps if you have mensch role models. One thing that gets overlooked sometimes is that you have to be a mensch to yourself before you can become one to others. If youíre not good to yourself , thatís a turnoff. An uber-mensch might have the inclination to save the world, but if youíre tired or stressed you canít spend your time doing favors for others. You have to strike a balance.

TIME: Where do you meet mensches?

NEWMAN: Doing volunteer work is good. It attracts those with a big heart. But you have to trust your gut. They donít play games with you. Iím a fan of Internet dating, but you have to be more astute to find a mensch that way. Itís tricky to find a mensch online.

TIME: Once a mensch, always a mensch?

NEWMAN: Always. Your character doesnít change. If itís in your heart and soul, it doesnít go away. There can be times when youíre busy and canít be there for everyone all the time. Thatís when itís most challenging to be a mensch. Your menschiness might have to take a back seat for awhile, but thatís okay.

TIME: You have a two year old son. how are you helping him to be a mensch?

NEWMAN: Weíre very conscious of his manners. We remind him to say please and thank you. Heís already good at saying heís sorry. But he needs more practice socializing with other children. Heís still a little territorial.

TIME: Any downsides to being a mensch?

NEWMAN: You can get dragged though the mud and taken advantage of. You could burn out. It is hard work to be a true mensch. Thatís why Iím a little concerned that the word is being tossed around so casually these days. We have to preserve the integrity of the word.

TIME: How would a classic mensch celebrate Valentimeís Day?

NEWMAN: Everyday is Valentineís Day for a mensch. You donít need a holiday to show your affection. Whatever you do on Valentineís Day is just icing on the cake.