2011 is off to a good start, and although I’m not superstitious, I’m wary putting my achievements down in writing, so allow me to leave out some details. After close to four years at my job, I’m moving on. When I moved back to NYC after my divorce four years ago, the job was a godsend, and provided me with much needed stability in the midst of a lot of uncertainty. I also began my relationship with my ex-cub then too, as well as my novel, and both those things are now behind me. The job was the one remnant of that transitional period of my life, and my departure marks a true new start.
A friend who congratulated me on my new job, as well as on an essay of mine that’s been published in an anthology – my first time in print - remarked that good things come in threes, and that I’m due for one more. But I think that third thing already happened: my new relationship. This is my first time in what feels like a mature, balanced and loving relationship that is developing on a healthy course. But unlike the new job, and my published piece, this third “thing” is not a thing. It is a living and ever changing dynamic between two people whose form can shift – or evaporate – on a dime.
There’s a big difference between setting goals that are dependent and manifest themselves in tangible form, like the goal to write a book, get a new job, or purchase a new home. It’s entirely another when it involves another person, with their own hopes, dreams, needs and quirks. And making plans and decisions for a potential future with that person poses an even larger challenge, and requires a different set of introspective tools.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my new boyfriend is not only not Jewish, but he is a practicing Christian. I’m not surprised, nor should I be, that as the relationship progresses down a path towards the future, this potential hurdle comes into view. On a regular day, as I inhabit the micro-bubble of my life, at work and dinner with friends and spending time with him, I can remain blissfully unaware of what looms in front of us. But when I step out of my little world and go home to see my family, for example, our differences become more prominent.
I went home to see my parents, sisters, and my nieces and nephew for Shabbat dinner this weekend. They all know about my new man, and are happy that I’m happy. But I can tell that my mother is worried, as is my brother-in-law who is a Rabbi. My last boyfriend wasn’t Jewish either, but he fell into the atheist category –he didn’t observe or feel a connection to his religion and would have probably taken my lead should we have had a family together. This guy, is clearly different. It’s also what I love about him. His values, his sense of family and spirituality, and the importance he places on living a life of meaning, echo my own. But I suspect (since we haven’t discussed it yet) that he is going to want to include certain practices in his life when he has a family. But will I? What compromises am I willing to make, and what, if any, will he? What if he wants to baptize his children, go to church, and have a Christmas tree in the house? I’ve never been in this position before, and if I were to peer at my life from the outside, I’d say that once again, I’m being tested. Or perhaps it’s my Jewish identity- my faith- that I’m being forced to confront, at a critical juncture in my adult life.
I already married the Jewish guy, whose upbringing was almost identical to mine. Sure, it made a lot of things easy, but being able to check those boxes on the “good match” list didn’t override all the other mismatched qualities. Now, for the first time, I feel as if I met someone who fits, by virtue of all the tiny intangible things that connect us. Is religion a deal breaker for me? Am I being forced to figure this out now, having gotten away with not having had to before? Perhaps this man has come into my life for this purpose. Perhaps I have some unfinished J business to tend to.
I told Mom about a producer who is taking over my job, who has a Jewish name. “Is she Jewish?” Mom asked. “Yes,” I said. “She’s not only Jewish, she speaks Hebrew. And she’s a lesbian.” I paused then asked, only half joking: “Who would you rather I bring home for Shabbat dinner, a Jewish lesbian, or a non-Jewish guy?” The long silence that followed this question, answered it.
I was also told that what I think I want now will change when I have kids. I don’t contest that fact. It’s true that even though I don’t observe or practice any Jewish rituals on my own, I might decide that I want to when I have a family. But what if I decide that l don’t? My biggest lesson, and my new philosophy in life, born out of having made a lot of poor decisions under pressure or based on others expectations – is that I cannot make decisions today based on hypotheticals - based on what I might feel two or ten years from now. That kind of thinking has led me astray in the past, and I don’t trust it.
When I came back into the city after being immersed in cultural observances and my family’s expectations, I noticed a faint anxiety had emerged in my stomach. It was difficult to discern whether a legitimate concern had cropped up for me after being with my family, because of my beliefs, or whether I had contracted my family’s concerns. At 38 years old, worrying about what your family thinks and allowing it to cloud your judgment is concern enough.
But I’m not surprised. I’m taking solace in the fact that at least I am registering all of these things honestly, with my eyes wide open. It’s all I can do.
So am I due for a third bit of good news, or have I already received it? My relationship is a work in progress, and I have no idea how things are going to play out from here. I guess I just have to go with it. What do you guys think?