Dating Advice #73 - Compromising Values
She wants a Jewish family, but she's fallen for a non-Jewish guy. Now it's time to make the big decision.
Dear Rosie & Sherry,
I am a single, Jewish female in my late 20s. Although I do not consider myself to be religious, I feel very strongly that my children, should I ever have any, should be raised as Jewish. My parents are adamant about my winding up with a man who is Jewish, and there is no compromising with them about it. In fact, they have in the past, when I have dated non-Jews, been very vocal about their disapproval and about the impending doom that our relationship would surely face if we got married.
On account of all these things, I ended a very serious courtship with a Catholic guy a few years ago because he wanted to get married. It was one of the most painful experiences of my life. I got over it, and have since been trying to date only Jews to avoid further heartbreak and torment. However, things happen in this life that you have no control over. Recently, I started dating a guy who is Catholic. We had been attracted to each other for some time, but never acted on it because he was aware of my issues with dating non-Jews. Finally, when we couldn't stand it anymore, a courtship blossomed.
This has quickly become the most beautiful dating experience that I have ever been a part of. This man is amazing. He is someone that I could easily spend a lifetime with, were it not for my concern about our religious differences. He is everything that I have ever wanted in a partner, except for one thing (his religion). This one thing is something that we have no control over either.
My dilemma is this: I cannot ever see my family accepting him willingly. In fact, they do not even know about our involvement because I am afraid of telling them. I know they will be disapproving and that they will try to do everything in their power to dissuade me from continuing to date him.
I can understand where they are coming from, because I too want to be able to bring up my children a certain way. And I do not think I would be able to have my kids also celebrating Catholic holidays and be comfortable with it.I have discussed all of these concerns with the man I’m dating, and he seems willing to compromise, but not convert.
My question is: Do you think it's worth going against my family's wishes to continue dating this man? Or should I just end it now before we are in too deep? I can argue both sides of the issue. I think I just need to hear the opinion of somebody completely impartial (not a friend or family member) on this matter.
Is love enough to make it work between two people of different faiths? I am completely tormented. The thought of letting this man go is killing me, yet I fear that I may just have to.
We're going to be very honest with you, and part of that honesty is having you understand that we are not as objective about this situation as you might like us to be. That is because we feel very strongly about Jews marrying Jews. According to Jewish law, it is forbidden for a Jew to marry a non-Jew, as is clear from the Bible, Deut. 7:3. Not because Judaism is racist (clearly not since any human being can convert to Judaism), but because we believe that the Jewish people are a precious species that offers deep dividends. The values that the civilized world takes for granted -- monotheism, love your neighbor, peace on earth, justice for all, universal education, all men are created equal, dignity of the individual, the preciousness of life -- are all from the Torah. This is an enormous impact and we accomplished it under the most adverse conditions.
This doesn't mean that we are any less sympathetic about your predicament. In fact, we believe this enables us to be more empathetic, because we understand how torn you are between your desire to have a Jewish home and your attraction to a non-Jewish man.
Neither of us believes that "love conquers all." Years of experience as a therapist and as a divorce attorney have reinforced this belief. We have seen, time and time again, that one of the unifying forces in a marriage is the commonality of a couple's goals. Couples who do not share similar goals start out with one major strike against them, and over time their differences generally become more pronounced. You want to raise your children as Jews. The man you love does not share this goal, and while he is willing to make some concessions, you two are still very far apart.
We advocate negotiation and compromise as a way of resolving most of the dilemmas that couples face. That's because most of the issues that can be compromised are either minor ones, or major ones in which one partner doesn't feel as strongly as the other and can make concessions without feeling he has betrayed his own values. Or, in the case of a couple who has been married for a while, the give and take between them on a major matter can be a way each of them says, "Our marriage is our priority."
However, we don't encourage a person who is contemplating marriage to begin a life together by compromising one or more of their basic values -- for instance a goal as important and central to an individual as religion and the way in which she wants to raise her children. She will never be happy with her decision, and in most cases it will eat away at her sense of personal integrity as well as the relationship with her spouse.
Esther Perel, a therapist who counsels inter-faith couples, says in New York Magazine: "The difference isn't just between Moses and Christ. You're dealing with issues of money, sex, education, child-rearing practices, food, family relationships, styles of emotional expressiveness, issues of autonomy -- all of these are culturally embedded."
Nor is this tension fair to your future children, as you seem to intuit. Psychologists report that many "dual-religion" children express a great deal of anger at their parents for putting them in the middle of an issue that the parents themselves could not resolve. When a person has to choose one religion over the other, there is always the unconscious sense of choosing one parent over another.
It seems to us that this is why you and this man are at such an impasse. Neither of you is willing to make a significant compromise in your basic values. And neither of you should. Please believe us when we say that time and time again we have seen that when people try it, in the long term it doesn't work.
As a rule, we don't like to tell our readers what to do. They ask us for advice, and we try to give them the information and support they need to make their own decisions. We think you should endure the pain of a break-up now, before you have invested anything more in this courtship. We aren't saying this simply because we don't want to see you marrying a non-Jew. We say this based on our experience working in the realm of marriages and divorces, for the reasons we've already stated.
If you decide to stop dating him, we know it will be very difficult and painful for you, and that it will take you some time to get over. It sounds trite to say that life isn't always easy. We hope that, in the long term, you will be happy with that decision and that you are able to move forward to a rewarding marriage with a Jewish man.
We'd like to say one more thing before closing, and we hope that you don't take it the wrong way. In the beginning of your letter you spoke about not being able to control certain aspects of your life. In all likelihood, the initial attraction you felt toward this man was beyond your control. However, you made a choice to act on your feelings and begin a courtship. We understand how difficult it was for you to come to that decision, but the fact is that no matter how torn you were between dating a non-Jew and acting on your feelings, it was a conscious decision. Unfortunately, because your feelings have deepened over time, you undoubtedly feel more torn now than you did before the two of you gave in to your feelings.
We're not saying this to make you feel bad, or to blame you for your situation. However, we believe that it is important to acknowledge that your predicament didn't simply "happen." Once you do, you will feel more capable of guiding your own decisions in the future.
Rosie & Sherry