Busted Halo

Monica Rozenfeld moves to Brooklyn with two roommates — a Catholic and an observant Jew — and they each seek understanding of what it means to be religious.

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January 1st, 2011

Can I Really Date a Guy Who Doesn’t Wear a Yarmulke?


no-yarmulke-largeThey say opposites attract.  For example, in the play “Can I Really Date a Guy Who Wears a Yarmulke?” the protagonists are two people with very different religious views.  According to the play’s website “Eleanor is a smart, savvy, New Yorker, whose secular brand of Judaism might include the occasional latke but definitely does not include God. Aaron is Dr. Right – he’s got the brains, the looks, the wit…but wait! He’s also got a serious case of religion. Can Eleanor see past his yarmulke to find love?”

While the two characters struggle, ultimately they go for the happily ever after. That’s all well and good for fiction, but what about real life? I’m, for all intents and purposes, an observant modern Orthodox Jew (a Neo-Chassid, if you will). But my boyfriend (yes, boyfriend) is an atheist. So maybe opposites really do attract. I have a strong belief in G-d and he’s a science guy. I have faith in a higher power, and he says that he is jealous of those who do but he wasn’t raised with the notion of G-d.

We’ve been together for almost 3 months. From the start of our courtship it has been obvious that our differences would prove to be difficult. We’ve had conversations about where I see my life headed and what I want for my future family, and what he’s willing to compromise on. Apparently “compromise” is necessary for every relationship, but what happens when one partner strives to live her life with the presence of G-d in every moment and the other can’t see past religion as a derivative of some ancient need to explain why things happen in the world?

We went to see the play Monday night, interested mainly because we saw much of our relationship in the premise of the story. Yet it wasn’t the conversation-starter I hoped it to be. While Eleanor is the atheist in the story, I saw more of myself in her than in Aaron, the pick-and-choose observant Jew. Throughout their relationship, Eleanor is the one who shows her neurotic tendencies in her struggle to figure out just how much she can compromise on to make it work, while Aaron is happy to float along as long as he can be with her. See, what struck a chord with me is a scene where Eleanor freaks out when she realizes how religious Aaron is. Desperate for Eleanor to give their relationship a real shot he tells her that his faith isn’t all of who he is and doesn’t define him. From that moment I knew I couldn’t identify with Aaron simply because while my faith is also not all of who I am, it still plays a huge part of my life in every mundane to magical thing I do.

I have struggled with the issue of our religious differences from the very beginning. The practical, rational side of me thinks I should have nipped it in the bud before we had the opportunity to get too attached, because as the saying goes “sometimes love just isn’t enough.” The emotional side of me can’t ignore the butterflies in my chest when we’re together. But then there’s another practical side of me that recognizes how difficult it is to meet someone with whom you connect on so many levels and can actually envision a life together. So where do we go from here? I obviously don’t have any of the answers. If I did I wouldn’t be turning to a play to step in as a crystal ball in order to see my future.

I know couples who resemble my current situation, with one partner who has a strong belief and practice while the other would always look for opportunities to argue against it. They, somehow, make it work. But this is the exception, not the rule. And I wonder how many things my boyfriend would be able to compromise on before resentment rears its ugly head.

This whole week I have been so impatient to just know where my relationship is headed and where my life is headed. But something I read in Rabbi DovBer Pinson’s “Energy of the Week” has once again given me an “aha” moment. He says:

We live in a time of instant gratification. With the proliferation of modern technology providing instant results and information, we have forgotten that sometimes we need to wait for the good stuff.

As instant as so much of our communication is, there are still many things that will require patience and trust. Waiting periods in which we don’t see the immediate results and perhaps feel that our best efforts have been in vain…

…This week is a period of trustful waiting. A time of observing and sitting, and believing.

*              *              *

I have to try this “trustful waiting.” So instead of hoping for that crystal ball to give me a window to my future, I’m going to sit back and enjoy the ride…until I turn into neurotic Eleanor again and question everything.

Originally published November 26, 2010.

The Author : Farrah Fidler
Farrah Fidler is a publicist and social media consultant. A native New Yorker, and recent transplant to Brooklyn, she has always been a soul searcher and is constantly looking for new ways to connect with G-d.
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  • Farrah Fidler

    Jairo – I totally agree with you. I find my head spinning from all of our instant communication.

    Paul – thanks for your support; keep reading :)

    Andy – in my earlier comment, he is halachically Jewish. No need for a conversion.

    Brendan – you are an shining example of the exception to the rule. I’m so happy that you and your wife have still been able to respect each others beliefs and continue to grow together. Thanks for sharing your story and advice with us.

  • brendan

    I’ve been there, but on the other side of the coin.
    I am an atheist and my wife is deeply religious.
    It hasn’t always been easy–we have had our misunderstandings, our fits of paranoia, our occasional fights–but on balance I wouldn’t trade any of it.
    I absolutely love my wife for being the spiritual, compassionate person that she is. I think the essential thing is that you treat each other with love and respect. The spiritual experience is always, at best, a shared mystery. Who would I be to “instruct” my wife what the Ultimate Reality is, and her own experience of it should be? And who would she be to presume the same? Treating G-d as an active concept embodying
    all of the good that is possible and inherent in the universe, I do not think that G-d would be very impressed at our claim to limit His agency to any small and exclusive definition– for me to say that I know all that is good, and that good can only precede from my own small knowledge, is clearly very foolish.
    Of course we have our discussions about what we fundamentally value, and I’ve found myself defining things I believe-in for her, because she asks me: “What does G-d mean to you?”and I reply something like, “Religion is about how we belong to the world, and to each other. G-d is the word we use, to mean belonging…”
    So anyways, good luck to the both of you–again, just treat each other with love and respect, and take it one day at a time.

  • andy

    Jacab waited 7 years for Rachel. Please don`t marry him unless he converts first. I married outside the faith and its broken both our hearts.

  • Paul

    I wish you luck with the relationship.
    I enjoy reading your blog and always look forward to it at bustedhalo.

  • Jairo

    I have to agree with your Rabbi. Or society has forgotten how to wait.
    Years ago relationships took time to cultivate. Threre were no phones, text messages….etc. We had to write letters and then wait for a response.

  • Annie

    This is the post we’ve all been waiting for you to write! So incredibly honest and relatable. I think you will figure out all the answers in time, but meanwhile you’re headed in the right direction in realizing you have to sit and be patient and see how God intends for everything to unfold, very similar to Rabbi DovBer Pinson‚Äôs quote:

    “We live in a time of instant gratification. With the proliferation of modern technology providing instant results and information, we have forgotten that sometimes we need to wait for the good stuff.”

    Good luck with your “trustful waiting” and you don’t ever come across as neurotic Eleanor!

  • Farrah Fidler

    Curtis! I will always love you and your red hair. It’s part of what makes you who you are.

    Thank you for adding your perspective and your insight. I think it’s easier said than done to just let go and not think about it. The more you try to not think about something then it becomes the only thing. But I realize life happens regardless and – sometimes – floating through it is okay, even more so because it’s difficult for me. Another challenge to add to the list.

    Joe – I have a feeling we could have a loooooong conversation sometime. We are probably more similar than I know. I remember sitting at a Rosh Hashana dinner and people were making fun of the “sudden” blessing people in general have started to give, asking for clarity (“what does that even mean??”). But I always ask for a sign and some guidance. Stay tuned!

    Libba! Thanks for reading and offering fantastic advice when I was in LA. I find your relationship to be remarkable and I look to you as an example.

    Last, but not least, Monica – thanks for being so supportive and listening to me during my Eleanor moments.

  • Libba

    “While the two characters struggle, ultimately they go for the happily ever after.” The ending is never quite as perfect in real life, but I believe that there are at least a few different levels (or madregot) of “happily ever after,” and what ultimately works for some couples may not work for others. For now, I think you’re right to sit back and enjoy the ride. As with any relationship, only time will tell whether it’s right for you.

  • joe

    Hey, this was a really great post. And some really insightful comments from everyone – what a fantastic discussion. My favorite line you wrote was that God and religion “plays a huge part of my life in every mundane to magical thing I do.” That is exactly where we should find God, in the small and the grand, but most of all to live each day with God, to always remember and never forget. My best advice is while u practice this patience ahead, just continue to pray about it, and pray for assistance and guidance. You do not have to figure it out on your own.¬†

  • Curt

    Farrah, I liked your post. Patience is a virtue, but it can be really hard to achieve. Don’t put pressure on things. They will work out.

    I think part of the reason you didn’t quite identify with the religious character in the play, beyond his a la carte approach to Judaism, is that he is a man, and gender roles can trump religious connections.

    I recently saw a statistic that 75% of divorces and breakups are initiated by women because men are comfortable floating along – even in really unpleasant situations.

    We men go with the flow, which makes us more stable. But it also means we aren’t as in tune to the problems each partner is having.

    That is exactly why you shouldn’t worry so much. I doubt {boyfriend} gives the religion thing much thought, and he probably won’t as long as it doesn’t get in the way of what he wants, which is to spend time with you. The more you make it an issue for discussion, the bigger potential problem it will be.

    We are all sensitive to things we see as central to our identity. For some people it is their appearance. For others it is their culture or race. Still others strongly identify themselves by their faith.

    For me it is my red hair, fair complexion and proclivity for turning bright red. Red might not be the most attractive hair color on a man, and being pale is never a good thing. Both were the source of ridicule when I was a child, and I still get made fun of for blushing a lot, but I will never dye my hair because it would be selling out a part of who I am (and I can’t tan because I just burn). I choose not to make my hair color or paleness an issue in my relationships with others, but it is always in the back of my mind that people are judging me for it. Most people would say that such strong feelings are ridiculous or petty because for them my hair color and paleness are not an issue.

    For an old roommate of mine it was being black. He was instrumental in opening my eyes to the prejudices he perceived in society directed at his race. But I did not see those prejudices, and for me his race just wasn’t an issue.

    For you, a big part of who you are is your faith. The same may not be true for {boyfriend}. For him religion might just be something to pay a little attention to on the sabbath (or maybe just on major holidays). If he is like me, he might be willing to participate in church/temple in part to get along with people to whom it is more important.

    Just like you don’t care what color my hair is, and I don’t care what race my old roommate was, {boyfriend} probably does not care what faith you are.

    {Boyfriend} should be comfortable with your religion, but it doesn’t have to be his favorite thing about you, and he certainly does not have to share your beliefs to date you or even marry you. The more you make your religion an issue in {boyfriend’s} life and not just your own the bigger issue it will become.

    Have patience and let it be.

  • Monica

    Thanks for being so honest. I sympathize. And I do believe sometimes there’s nothing else to do but let G-d figure it out for you.

  • Farrah Fidler

    Thanks Chaviva. I appreciate your honesty. Like I said, the practical side said run while the human emotions love to feel love. There is no easy answer, so I find it hashgacha pratit that Rabbi Pinson’s Energy of the Week is all about patience and emunah. I need more of that in my life.

  • Chaviva

    When my now-husband contacted me on Jdate, I said in one of our first exchanges that I was Orthodox, at least — I was heading in that direction — and if he wasn’t, then I wasn’t going to waste his time and he wasn’t going to waste mine. He was interested, and we both took an in-tandem journey, with me teaching him a lot that he didn’t pick up in his Jewish day school education. It worked.

    Some people are willing to wait for it to make sense. I wasn’t. You have to know what you want, and you have to stick to it. Small variations make sense, but this one? I don’t know if it does.

    There’s no one person for everyone (I’m convinced), but different people at different points in time that make sense. Right people, wrong time, is what comes to mind.

    *hugggs* and bravo for being so open on this.

  • Farrah Fidler

    Ruvy – yes, he is halachically Jewish and yes, you did meet him.

    Arie – I always appreciate your support :)

  • Arie

    Glad to see you’ve found Zen (if only temporarily).

  • Ruvym

    I’m assuming this guy (I think I’ve met him), even while he calls himself an “athiest,” actually comes from a Jewish family?

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