So, honey,” my mom starts, “have you been seeing anyone? Going on any dates?”
“Yes, I have, but,” I reply
“But what?” She responds
“But he is not Jewish,” I say.
There it is, that big Jewish “but” of dating.
This conversation is nothing new. My parents frequently ask if I am seeing anyone, or going on dates, hoping I will be the next JSWIPE or JDATE success story. My typical response to their dating question is, “no I am not,” which typically halts the conversation, and I quickly refocus their attention on something more exciting than my non-existent dating life.
Ok, so it is not nonexistent. I’ll admit I have used JSWIPE in the past, and begrudgingly at my parent’s request, subscribed to JDATE. I’ve been on a few dates and met some nice Jewish boys, but never felt that spark, or true connection. The conversations always felt forced, and you cannot even imagine the response when I mentioned that I kept Kosher.
“Wait, so you’re telling me you have never had bacon?!” They would exclaim.
“Yes. That is one of the core tenants of keeping Kosher, no pork,” I responded.
“And you have never wanted to try it? And you never will try it?” they would ask,
“Correct. I think it’s gross and smells bad,” I would say. And they gasped as if they were a child finding out the truth about Santa Claus.
One of those first dates turned into a few more; surprisingly a nice Jewish boy could look past my Kashrut-tainted past. Unfortunately, that ended after a few weeks due to major lifestyle differences, although I always wondered if I was trying to make it work because of his qualities: nice, Jewish, and boy, instead of true compatibility.
Shortly after this happened, I met a nice guy – let’s call him Luke. Luke is kind, caring and sweet, but Luke is not Jewish. There it is again, that pesky Jewish “but”.
Why is it that when I describe Luke and all of his wonderful qualities, I add the caveat “but he’s not Jewish?” Luke did not gasp or scoff when I told him I kept Kosher. Luke asked “what does it mean? Why do you do it? Tell me more.” When I asked Luke where he wanted to go for dinner he told me he was trying to figure it out but was having difficulty finding a Kosher restaurant. He was doing research! For me! This was more effort than any recent date had put forth. I told him that while I appreciated the effort, a kosher restaurant was not a requirement, and I would happily dine anywhere, with the exception of a steakhouse or Fogo de Chao.
So why do I still feel the need to use this negative word “but” when describing him?
As I thought about this “Big Jewish But,” I wondered: Could I swap out the “But” for an “And”? Can I talk about Luke in a way that represents his genuine curiosity and desire to learn more?
Luke is kind, caring and sweet, AND he is interested in learning about Judaism.
Oftentimes “but” is associated with negativity or shame. Did I feel shame for not dating someone Jewish?
Growing up, dating someone out of the tribe was never a question. I always assumed I would meet a nice Jewish boy and get married and live the same life my parents lived. But this is not how the real world works. We meet people at different points in our lives for different reasons. I believe the world brings people together for a specific purpose, even if that purpose is unbeknownst to us. I want to meet a nice Jewish boy, and provide my children and family with the same love for Judaism and appreciation for my culture and community that I had growing up.
I recognize that I need to shift my expectations. I do have a couple of non-starters: I want to continue to keep a Kosher house, raise my kids Jewish, send them to Jewish summer camps and Hebrew school. I want to marry someone who is Jewish. But maybe that person is not Jewish yet. Maybe they are curious. And maybe curiosity is enough right now for me.
I do not know what the future holds. Maybe another nice Jewish boy will stumble into my life in the future. What I do know now, is that Luke is a great human. Our future may hold nothing more than what we have right now or it may hold more, but I know that I need to shift my thinking, and to shift my thinking I need to shift my speaking.
Instead of associating my dating a non-MOT with a negative “but,” can I associate it with a positive “and.”
“Yes I am seeing someone right now, and yes they are caring, and yes they are kind, and even better, they are curious.”