First of all, I just want to say I greatly admire you for choosing your own path instead of the one dictated to you by your family and upbringing. It takes a fair amount of bravery to do so, which is one of the things I respect most about Jeremy (my fiancé). As someone whose relationship has become completely intertwined with politics, I can understand your trepidation. It’s hard to enjoy new love with all that angry noise in the background, so I think your initial instinct to keep this quiet might be the best course of action at the moment. Six weeks is not a long time to know someone, and without being patronizing, I would just say at your age, infatuation is often mistaken for love. Time will tell if this is the real thing, so best to avoid drama for now; at least until your relationship matures a little.
That being said, if/when it becomes clear you’re both serious about a life together, by all means, tell your family. Loving someone regardless of heritage, race, color, culture or religion is something every human on this earth should be capable of doing, and I find it incomprehensible why that concept is alien to so many people. You should feel proud of being strong enough to choose your own partner and stand up in your way for the possibility of a world you believe in — one in which accidents of birth don’t dictate your future. Consider yourself lucky you’re not trapped in a reality constructed by others.
BUT — and this is a big one — you need to understand that just because something is true and right doesn’t mean it will be heard or accepted, even by those you love. I’m sure your family is made up of good people who mean well. I imagine they would much prefer to see you comfortably settled in their community and the life they want for you. After all, what parent doesn’t? Unfortunately, all the good intentions in the world have very little effect on the blindness that comes with ignorance and lack of exposure to the “others” — that is, people who aren’t like them, who don’t pray like them, speak like them, or think the world should look the same way they do. I wish with all my heart I could tell you that spending time with your girlfriend, who must be pretty fantastic judging by your enthusiasm, will bring your family around. I hope very much that will be the case, but all I can offer is my personal experience. I’ve never met anyone in Jeremy’s family, because they won’t come near me. I can expect to see his side of our wedding venue painfully empty. For some reason, they would rather see him married to a Jew and miserable than to an Arab and happy. I can’t explain it, I don’t understand it, but I can’t change it, either. Don’t be surprised if nothing changes your family’s opinion of her, and be prepared for the pain it will cause her to know she’s being rejected because she’s not who they want her to be. Certainly you should discuss this with her frankly and explain the situation so she can ready herself for the backlash. Unfortunately, you also have to accept the fact that it will be her decision whether or not she wants to open herself up to being hurt by people who should be welcoming her into their lives.
But if she’s on board, then you shouldn’t let your family’s reaction stop you from trying to open their minds to the possibility of empathy, of recognition that the “others” are just as human and important as they are. It won’t be easy or fun — for you or for your girlfriend — but my advice is that you shouldn’t ever stop trying. I hope to someday have the opportunity to try making Jeremy’s family see me as a person. Trying is the only chance we have for change.
Sulome Anderson is a half-Lebanese journalist based between Beirut and New York City. She writes for “The Atlantic,” “New York” magazine, “VICE” News and “Foreign Policy.” Sulome is engaged to Jeremy, an ex-Orthodox Jew, and their photo went viral in the summer of 2014 during a campaign called Jews and Arabs Refuse to Be Enemies, which was started in the wake of the last Gaza War.