Alex, my boyfriend, is Jewish. I am not. We couldn't have been raised more differently. Thankfully, those differences keep things interesting (and to be fair, we do share a TON in common, too: a very strange sense of humor, the desire to travel to crazy places, wine, you get the picture.) At the beginning, I assumed that religion might makes things a little trickier, but boy is that an understatement - especially if one of you (him) comes from an extremely religiously observant background. In light of the compromises, weird conversations, and awkward moments we've been through in the last two years - and there have been many - I'm dropping a few truths on you, in the case you find yourself at a bar/on Match.com/being set up/accidentally falling in love with someone who doesn't share your religion.
1. Your parents may be more (or less) okay with it than you think. When I mentioned I was seriously dating a Jew, my father was skeptical and chose to dance around the issue, making his opinion known through silence that eventually turned into reluctant acceptance. My mother, on the other hand, was mostly delighted that I finally found someone who challenged me, kept up with me. He could've been an alien from the Planet CrazyAssBoyfriend and she still would've loved him, accepted him - and more importantly, accepted us. Alex's parents, on the other hand, wouldn't meet me for a year, but that's another blog post.
2. Prepare to answer the hard questions early. The ones that you don't even touch until 3, maybe 4 months into the relationship out of fear of looking like a psychopath? Yeah. We got those bad boys out of the way on our second date. Alex: Would you ever convert? Me: How do you feel about Christmas? We both drew our lines in the sand early on - and yes, it was uncomfortable - but we both knew if this relationship ever had a fighting chance, we needed to see if we could agree on The Important Things. Thankfully, for the most part, we did.
3. One of you thought it was a fling. About a year into the relationship, Alex revealed he never thought this relationship would work long-term - our differences were simply too jarring - and that he planned to break it off when he moved back to Israel to finish medical school. That is, until he realized he physically couldn't. He loved me too much. (Sorry to embarrass you, dear!) I, on the other hand, pushed any uncertainties to the back of my mind, opting to romanticize us as star-crossed lovers, because I've seen waaaaay too many rom-coms.
4. One of you will backpedal on the aforementioned Important Things. Remember when I said that Alex and I agreed on the important stuff for the most part? Well, know that it's far easier to make concessions (Yes, my love, I am totally open to keeping kosher) when you're in the heat of the courtship, lusting after each other so damn hard it makes you feel dizzy. You feel like you would do anything for this person - until you wouldn't. Until you're a bit more comfortable and suddenly, wait a second, this keeping kosher thing is really, freaking hard and I feel like I'm compromising more than you are and HOLY HELL, WE HAVE OPENED PANDORA'S BOX. Takeaway: People in love say a lot of things they don't mean. Wait a year, wait two, and give each other time to become comfortable with the decisions you're proposing for your future. Expectations and realities will inevitably shift - and will continue to shift - as you merge two lives that were brought up very, very differently.
5. Say sayonara to your dream wedding. The thought of having a wedding involving both my and Alex's families makes me break out in hives. The customs! The kosher caterer! The mixed dancing! At this point, I'm more inclined to make a visit to the Justice of the Peace to eventually make it official, but then I think: Hey, wait a minute, why do I have to give up MY childhood wedding dreams just because our families might be super-weird together? Sigh. I waver.
6. You'll be forced to confront your own prejudices. Before I met Alex, I'm ashamed to admit my ignorance resulted in a few off-color Jewish jokes; the same goes for him and Catholics. But we're both much more sensitive now and quicker to call others outright on racist and anti-semitic remarks disguised as "humor". How quickly things become less funny and more personal when there's a face behind the caricature.
7. Guilt will bring you together. As Alex always reminds me: The Jews invented guilt, the Catholics perfected it. A part of me will forever feel as though I'm not being true to my roots (even though I had given up on Catholicism in high school). And part of me understands that by making the choice to be with Alex, I'm making it more difficult for my family, my future children, myself. (How do you explain to your kids that their cousins don't have to learn Hebrew or keep the TV off on Saturdays or fast on the high holidays?) I struggle with the fact that the most right decision I've ever made in my life is also, arguably, the most selfish. (And yet, unselfish at the same time? I'm the one converting, not him.) But I'm not alone in these feelings. Alex has the same trepidations. We talk about them. Sometimes we yell. But we always find a common ground in the end.
To share the advice his cousin gave me (and completely distort a famous Jewish story): Have faith in each other. The rest is commentary.
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Read more from Andrea Zimmerman on her personal blog, Angiecat.com