To begin with, it’s always impossible to fairly compare two relationships. It’s so much easier to find fault with someone current, and to minimize the problems of the past love, as they take on a nostalgic glow. So I’d tread carefully with that.
But regarding the more general issue of comparing these two scenarios, I’ll offer this: ALL marriages are intermarriages. No two people approach faith (or politics, or family, or psychology, or anything else) in precisely the same manner. So, on some level, we all have to evaluate relationships the very same way: by asking ourselves how well we respect our differences.
How respected do you feel by your current love, when it comes to these matters? Do you think he sees your faith as valid? I’m guessing you don’t want to raise kids with someone who sneers at your beliefs, and feels a right to do so, in part because his own grandparents shared that culture. Is that the case here?
Likewise, how much do you respect his perspective? Do you feel his views teach you things, help you broaden and grow? Are you open to the validity of his atheism? If, at your core, you don’t respect each other, no amount of shared lineage, or kugel, will help.
If your Christian ex is a true believer, you may find the same sort of dissonance in that relationship. But if you share a mutually pluralistic interest in faith, and love of ritual, it might, in fact, be easier.
I will say this, from my own personal experience: I was surprised and delighted when my Catholic in-laws were supportive of my need to raise my kids Jewish. And when my husband, though he’d turned away from his own faith, did the same. They all saw faith itself as important, and were willing to set aside their own preferences because of a more general belief in religion.
It would have been nice to share my traditions with someone who knew them already, where Judaism was a bond that strengthened our marriage. But it’s an equally special thing to watch my partner show interest — and respect — in my faith, despite the fact that it’s unfamiliar.
Laurel Snyder is the author of books like “Bigger than a Bread Box” and “Baxter, the Pig Who Wanted To Be Kosher” and Project Manager for Atlanta at InterfaithFamily. Find her online at laurelsnyder.com or on Twitter @laurelsnyder.