A co-worker of mine has asked for help finding someone to date. I'm a married man around her age, and we're both Jewish, so I understand why she'd turn to me, but I really don't like her and don't want to get involved in her personal life. How do I say no without making things uncomfortable at work?
Set Up in Cubicle 3
Dear Set Up,
She asked you to do her a favor, and it is well within your rights as a casual acquaintance at work to turn down her request. Since you don't like her, you don't have a lot to lose, but it's always better to be nice than rude. Normally, I'd say it's also better to be honest than to lie, but I think it's just fine to tell a small lie here to spare both of you a lot of discomfort. Actually, you don't have to lie. What you said in your letter is perfect: "I prefer not to mix work life and personal life."
If, however, you hang out socially with other co-workers and this woman knows that, you'll have to decide which sort of lie you prefer. You could say, "I'll let you know if I think of anyone," and then, if she follows up, you can keep putting her off with, "I'll keep you posted." This potentially prolongs the conversation, though, and it gives her a reason to keep talking to you, so I'm guessing you'll go a different direction. You could also try, "Sorry, but I don't know anyone who would be good for you." This has the advantage of being direct, but it might hurt her feelings, or, depending on her level of social awareness, cause her to ask you why you consider her unmatchable. You don't want to end up stammering on the wrong end of that conversation.
You could still be friendly and suggest that she sign up for one of any number of Jewish online dating sites. (Don't say, "Have you tried online dating?" It is 2013, after all. Go with something like, "A good friend of mine just met his fiance on J-Date. It could be worth a try.") If the two of you are in the ambiguous "young professional" category, you could also recommend that she check out the vibrant Jewish young professionals scene in Philly.
Just to throw something out there, if you're like most humans, you probably know more than one unpartnered person who you don't like. There's a divine justice in seeing two really annoying (or really socially awkward, or really mean) individuals find each other. Certainly, you're not going to want to introduce your co-worker to a friend of yours, but you might want to set her up with someone you don't like with the idea that they may be perfect for each other. This potentially enmeshes you in her life in just the way that you want to avoid, but if you're not invested in the happiness of either party, you may be able to score some simple karma points while ridding the singles scene of a couple of oddballs.