I’m No Virgin When It Comes to Non-Jewish Women
The Seesaw is a new kind of advice column in which a broad range of columnists will address the real life issues faced by interfaith couples and families. Read the discussion and vote below for what you think is the best response to this particular quandary. You can email your own questions, which will remain anonymous, to: [email protected]
Seesaw, I am a 28-year-old guy who has been dating a woman that is serious wife material for five months now. We were both raised on the observant side of the Conservative movement. During my 20s, I became less observant and had a serious relationship with a non-Jewish woman who I almost married. When we ended things, it was not because she wasn’t Jewish. During my current girlfriend’s 20s she actually became more observant, and is now a very active member of an independent minyan.
So the question is, when should I tell her the full truth about my dating history? She knows I dated a non-Jew, but has no idea how serious we were. I hesitate to tell her now because I think it will push her to question my commitment to Judaism (which is how I present it) and therefore question me. Should I wait a little while and prove that I want a life that is very similar to the one she wants? Or does it make me a bad guy to withhold this any longer? —Nervous in New York
Are You Really Sure You Want the Same Life?
REBECCA LEHRER: I’m so happy you’ve found someone you think is so great. And at such a young age! My question for you is DO you want a life that is very similar to the one she wants? If you do, then you should have nothing to worry about. Be present in this moment, get to know your new girlfriend and participate in her Jewish life with her. Live the life that you say you want to have and the values that you believe that you share.
I am an advocate for transparency in relationships but you have to learn how to communicate in a way that someone can hear you. While you say that you and your ex-girlfriend ended things for reasons other than her not being Jewish, are you sure that didn’t play a role? You have ended up in a relationship with someone who is observant and you say is “wife material” and who you believe you share values with, so perhaps it does play a role. Or maybe in that period of your life, Jewish observance didn’t matter to you and now it does more. I hope that she would be open and welcoming and excited that you were reinvigorating your relationship to Judaism, and that you have been so thoughtful about your path.
That all being said: if you DON’T want a life that is similar to the one she wants and you aren’t interested in being observant, than you need to say that straight up. You are stringing her along and wasting her time and that is very unkind.
Figure out what you want. Learn how to communicate it well. The rest should fall in line.
Rebecca Lehrer is the Co-Founder and CEO of The Mash-Up Americans, a website and consultancy representing the hybrid culture and new face of America. The Mash-Up Americans is exploring Spanglish, kimchi + more, just not on Shabbos.
Secrets Are Bad for Relationships, Especially Marriages
LAUREL SNYDER: First, I think secrets like this are bad for relationships, because they’re built on fear. If you aren’t prepared to handle the conflict you might create before you’re married, you won’t be prepared for the conflicts of being married. Your relationship has to be strong enough to handle pressure like that. Trust me, there will be more (and bigger) issues down the road. So to begin with, I’d say come clean about the ex. If you can’t face this situation, you probably don’t really want to head into this marriage.
But secondly, I’ll ask to set aside your ex for a minute and consider whether you really know what your commitment to Judaism is? If you genuinely share your girlfriend’s passion, that’s great. But the way you’ve presented this, it almost feels like you’re just willing to go along with whatever she wants.
That’s actually fine, but she has a right to know that she’ll be in the driver’s seat. Because “I love you so much, and what makes you happy makes me happy, so I plan to support you in this,” is a different statement from, “I’m so glad we share this deep commitment to our mutual faith and can’t wait to get started.”
Marriages can work in different ways, and no matter what, you won’t always be on the same page. Maybe your girlfriend takes the lead on Jewish life, and you’re the guy who handles financial decisions, or education. That’s a fine model. But she has a right to know about it.
In the end, every marriage is an intermarriage, full of compromise. But in order for two people to find an equitable middle ground, they both need to know where they’re starting from.
Laurel Snyder is the author of books like “Bigger than a Bread Box” and “Baxter, the Pig Who Wanted To Be Kosher.” Find her online at laurelsnyder.com or on Twitter @laurelsnyder.
You Need Someone With Whom You Can Ask Questions
JAMES PONET: There is a voice in the back of your mind that says sneeringly, “You were ready not long ago to give up your people and your religion. Now you pretend to be a committed Jew. Who are you really?” The best answer to that question, even were it to come at you stingingly from your girlfriend, is simple: “I do not know.”
For there is a lot you do not know right now and that is perfectly okay. You do not really know why you broke up with your previous girlfriend. Oh, you have your explanation of course, but how relationships form and why they fracture is always murky, mysterious. And you do not know yet whether your growing affection for your current girlfriend will be strong enough for you to commit to an actively observant Jewish life. It’s not about proving to her that you’re a proper Jewish partner, though in time you may do that. It’s really about finding out for yourself where you stand. Will your reconnection to Judaism be a burden you choose to suffer for love or a gift you’re delighted to receive? It will take you time to find out. You’re not a bad guy because you do not know.
Imagine how sweet it will be when finally you feel free to explore these questions with your girlfriend, confident that she will not spurn you. I trust you will know when and how to begin that conversation.
James Ponet is the Howard M. Holtzmann Jewish Chaplain at Yale where he also is a visiting lecturer at the Law School. Fortunately he has been married over 40 years to Elana Ponet with whom he has 4 children and 5 grandchildren.