The other day, as my kindergartner and I were walking down the street toward our library, we crossed paths with two moms, who were holding their young child’s hand.
“Wow,” Sammy said, looking back as we walked past the family. “That’s so weird!”
“What do you mean?!” I snapped.
“That kid was wearing one rain boot and one shoe!” he exclaimed.
“Oh, good,” I breathed a sigh of relief. “I thought you meant something else.”
“What did you think I was talking about?”
“I was worried that you were saying it was weird that the kid had two moms.”
“Lots of kids have two moms, mom,” he explained, “It’s no big deal.”
I was relieved at my child’s response, and in retrospect, not entirely surprised. Our social world includes children and adults with diverse family formations and backgrounds; Sammy’s best friend has two moms. And I’ve tried to impart my own beliefs to him, including the notion that love makes a family, that all family forms and compositions are beautiful, and that we will only thrive in a society in which everyone is recognized and valued for who they are.
But as I reflected on my disposition, and considered my own values, progressive and a tad self-congratulatory, I recognized that I had a critical and urgent gap in my own thinking.
I had expected that I would end up with a Jewish man. I had been socialized, somehow, to believe this.
More than merely internalizing this message, I actively bought into it. I believed that this was the only option, the desired outcome, the path, and the reward.
I did try that. I did admirably, at times. Even, and perhaps especially, after I became a parent, it seemed that there were no shortage of Jewish academics and physicians and soccer coaches who wanted to date me. And I wanted to date them. “What the hell,” I thought, “This guy is smart and attractive and interesting, and Jewish, so why not?”
But as my Yiddish-speaking forebears would have said: “Mentsch trakht un Gott lakht” or in English: man plans and God laughs.
Over the years, almost every relationship I attempted with a Jewish guy was a failure—sometimes even an epic mismatch. I could relate, in many cases so well, but something always fell short. There was always an immediate connection; which gave way to an expectation of mutual understanding. Yet, there was always a gulf, a sea, a great and ungovernable chasm that could not be bridged.
I don’t know why that was the case, but it was. I expected things to work because of shared religious and cultural identity. And it didn’t. It was not a function of Judaism, or Jewish cultural identity, but the one of the great mysteries of life: the specific interpersonal dynamics at play between two people.
Nevertheless, I persisted in my expectation that I would end up, had to end up, with a Jewish man. It was simple, and seemed inevitable. It was part of a narrative I’d constructed about the shape and direction of my life. And so I oriented myself accordingly, even when it didn’t make sense to do so. I trudged onward, even when I didn’t understand why.
As a single parent by choice in Sammy’s earliest years of life, I dug my heels in even further: I had limited emotional resources and no time to waste. So I couldn’t involve myself, even casually, with anyone who didn’t seem possessed of long-term potential. It was unfair perhaps, but I understood Jewishness as a sort of vernacular, a shorthand signifying progressive politics, a shared cultural orientation, and mutual values. For a man to make sense, I thought that only a Jewish man could make sense. I could have dated every single Jewish man between 25-45 from here to the Dead Sea, but it never worked.
Finally, after years of enmeshing myself with bad matches, I let it all go. I wasn’t opposed to dating Jewish men, but it no longer weighed on me as a prerequisite or need. Frankly, I was exhausted by the pressure and not really interested in dating, anyway.
And somewhere along that time is when I connected with an old and adored acquaintance who was bright-eyed and brilliant, successful and goyish.
We made a plan to meet for a drink after a long hiatus, and out of nowhere, I was nervous. Was it a platonic social outing? A date? I had no idea.
We met and I was no longer nervous, just excited. Occasionally I glanced at something else (his hands, my drink, his mouth) but for the better part of three hours I did not take my eyes from his.
“You know it’s 11,” he said, and I had a hard time believing that time had passed so quickly. And as we walked outside into the cold night and stood near one another, it was clear that we were teetering at an edge. He said he was sorry that he kept me so long. Emboldened by wine, I said that I wasn’t. “Still,” he said, “It’s late, it’s a Wednesday.” And I said I knew, and I did.
He leaned in and kissed me, and I was not surprised at all but totally stunned, and pleased. I did not think about the fact that he wasn’t Jewish; I kissed him back. I put my hands on the handsome man’s face and leaned in.
It wasn’t clear at that point what, if anything would come of it. But as things continued unfold, it reminded me: I thought that there was one way of doing things, of finding things, of being. And there wasn’t. Love comes in all forms, all shapes and sizes. It is ubiquitous, and altogether rare, and we must seize it where we find it.