My friends and family were a bit taken aback when I announced that I was dating a Jewish guy from Long Island, given that my past serious relationships had been with men of African descent.Steve was short, funny (funnier than anyone I’d ever met) and extremely ambitious, and sometimes, when he grew animated, he’d adopt a Brooklyn accent, learned from his father and perhaps leftover from his first few years as a boy in that borough.I remember early on in our courtship a friend remarking that Jewish guys were great “because they really know how to treat a woman well.” I learned that they were also stereotypically regarded as ‘mama’s boys.’ I became fascinated by the all of the ways in which Jewish culture is characterized and defined—especially since some secular Jews offhandedly dismiss the religious component.
Since I’m not a practicing Catholic, the two of us on the religious fence somehow seems more manageable than one or both of us strongly devout.
Eventually, as the relationship progressed—that first meeting of the parents behind us—we began speaking in earnest about our future. I assumed I knew the answer to the last question—no—since my partner’s belief in a higher power is more muddled than my own fluid thoughts on the subject, but when we got to discussing how a non-denominational ceremony would affect our parents, he nonchalantly told me that on the day his sister had married her husband, who was raised Catholic like me, his mother had said, “Well, he’ll never be one of us.” His mother, tiny and chatty and sweet, but not effusively so, could also, apparently, be quite cutting. I reasoned that converting to Judaism was a moot point for me—for us—unless we decided to have kids, and neither of us wants children.
It had been clear early on that the relationship had legs, and as we both wanted to get married eventually, I started pressing him about what that would mean for us, a Jewish boy and a Catholic girl: What kind of ceremony would we have? I had spent little time with my partner’s family, but I hadn’t sensed anything odd or off about his brother-in-law’s interactions with the Jewish family he’d married into. In my few visits to Florida, I’d never received the cold shoulder from his mother, but neither had I gotten a sense that she was interested in me all that much either.
The first time my partner asked me to come home with him to meet the parents, I couldn’t have been happier.
A relationship milestone so soon after we’d started dating held such promise.
Plus, I had it on good authority that his previous girlfriend, whom he’d dated on and on-and-off for nearly two years, had never had the pleasure.
So, when we packed our bags for that first Thanksgiving in Florida, I felt far more excited than nervous. Except this time, it occurred to me, I already had one strike against me: I wasn’t Jewish.
When my partner and I began dating, I was only vaguely aware of his Jewish background.
Unless the name ended in “Stein” or “Berg,” I didn’t have a clue.
I’d grown up in a suburb of Buffalo, NY and I simply didn’t have a lot of exposure to Jewish people.
Of course, it didn’t help that I’d attended Catholic schools from kindergarten through twelfth grade.