It didn’t sting this time. Watching Meet the Parents, that is. I watched part of it with my husband and father-in-law after Thanksgiving dinner, and it’s actually a pretty funny movie.
I first saw it in a Texas theater 12 years ago. A new college graduate, I had recently moved to Austin to intern for a campaign. Some interns went to the movies one night, and I spent the whole time squirming. The story of a New York girl who brings home a boyfriend with a different religion and an underwhelming career (at least in the eyes of the future father-in-law) mirrored my life too closely.
Amidst my cross-country move, I had stumbled into a relationship with a man that 21-year-old Me found witty and emotionally intelligent. We met at a birthday party that summer. We talked music, literature, and the Bible (my college major). Our subsequent relationship was light and fun . . . until he told me he loved me on Election Night.
Nearly no one “back East” approved of this relationship, with my family perched high atop that list. Initially, I thought everyone was overreacting. I had gone on dates with non-Jews before. But the more I learned about this particular guy, the more I realized how wrong my initial assumptions had been.
Growing up in New York, I mostly knew Santa Claus Christians. The only people I knew who fussed about intermarriage–at least in my presence–were Jews. So when I met this Evangelical preacher’s kid, I didn’t know what to look or listen for and didn’t realize I was dating a frum Christian. (Of course, it did help explain why he could quote the Hebrew Bible so ably.)
His family also disapproved, but they were very Southern about it. His parents were polite to my face and complained about our relationship only after I’d left.
All of this would be a dating history footnote, if it hadn’t been for our break-up trigger. He had just turned 25; by his community’s standards, it was tick-tock for his single life. So, he asked me to seriously consider what a joint future could look like, including children. I had never given it much thought, so it was a useful exercise in general, and imperative for us.
I read. And I read. The more I read about intermarried families and how they made things work, the less I saw myself in the descriptions of melded holiday calendars and blended life cycle events. I didn’t want Jesus referenced in my home as anything other than a Nice Jewish Boy. I felt anguished imagining myself as an old lady sitting at the back of a church, the non-believer who had sacrificed her previous life for love, only to find that what she really missed–beyond her family–was the Jewish religion and community that were so central to her being. I thought, that can never be me.
On our scheduled phone call, he spoke first. He wanted us to keep a kosher kitchen, since he knew kashrut was important to me. That was a generous concession, since he liked to cook. However, he was also committed to teaching our children that Christ was their Savior.
And with that red line, our relationship ended. It was arguably amidst that spectacular implosion that I became a Jewish mother.
That was a painful split, but all these years later, I’m grateful. Our religious differences were the first of many reasons we would have been terribly matched long-term.
Our experiment helped clarify how important Judaism was, and is, to me. After that, I dated only men who wanted to raise Jewish children. That led me to my wonderful husband–a much better fit in countless ways; he is my best friend and someone I knew I could grow with Jewishly and otherwise.
By contrast, my would-have-been mother-in-law complained to her son that I was “too smart, too pretty, and too ambitious.” Thankfully, I married into a family that thinks those “flaws” are positives, and I don’t need a polygraph to know that they would never want me to change.