They 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.
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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.