September 21, 2000
When Mr. Perfect Isn’t Jewish
Lydia does not scoff at the notion that her current boyfriend might very well be an act of revenge. On the other hand, "I've tried my best and it got me nowhere," she says. "Maybe my priorities have changed. Mark treats me like a queen, and he's someone I can trust. That matters to me."
Lydia has dated Mark for three months and characterizes their relationship as "still being in that blissful, lovey-dovey phase." There's only one problem. He's not Jewish.
For this reason alone, most of Lydia's friends and all of her family remain unaware of his existence. Furthermore, his blond hair and Northern European features make it difficult for him to "pass." For Lydia's comfort, they spend most of their time downtown and assiduously avoid frequenting locales in her Upper West Side neighborhood.
"Mark is understanding of all this... for now," says Lydia. "Eventually, something has to change."
A 30-year-old graphic designer and painter from a traditional Jewish background, Lydia spent her 20's as a nice Jewish girl who never imagined becoming part of the "evil statistic." She kept a kosher home and became a member of a thriving Conservative synagogue, an act that led to several new friendships and two boyfriends. For two years, she dated the second boyfriend, a rabbinical student who dreamed of traveling the world with the woman he loved. At that point, they went away for a weekend at a secluded beach, where he got down on one knee and proposed. They scheduled the wedding for seven months down the road. Lydia neglected to factor in the possibility that her fiancé might call the whole thing off four months later.
"He met someone else in rabbinical school. He told me he kept denying the fact that he was in love with her," Lydia states flatly.
For about nine months, Lydia lived in a state of mourning. Dragged one Satur-day night to a party by well-meaning friends, she met Mark.
"The connection was instant," she recalls. "He has these beautiful blue eyes and I couldn't stop looking at them. We talked for two hours... I didn't think twice about giving him my number."
Lydia did start to think twice after their third date.
"We had so much in common. There seemed to be so much potential. It seemed so unfair that just because he's not Jewish I was supposed to immediately forget about him and the possibility that we could have an amazing relationship," she says. "Sure, his not being Jewish is an obstacle, but all relationships have their share of obstacles."
Lydia concedes she's still harboring anger toward the rabbinical student and, indirectly, toward all Jewish men "who have burned my friends and other Jewish women. Maybe it's unfair to blame this all on Jewish men, but if those are the only men you're allowed to date, it's understandable," she muses. "When my engagement broke off, I felt like I couldn't even be attracted any more to Jewish men."
On the flip side, Lydia does not consider Mark a casual fling or even a "rebound" relationship. He's 32, a lawyer who likes his work and an art lover who supports what she does. On their second date, he demonstrated his willingness to plan ahead by inviting her to a concert that would take place a month later. Their telephone conversations last for hours. He knows that she never dated a Protestant before.
"We have chemistry, stability and honest communication," Lydia observes. "These are hard things to give up."
Currently, the relationship perches at a critical juncture. If they continue to date, Lydia knows she has to tell her family and risk estrangement. She has to learn how to hold hands with her boyfriend on the Upper West Side and not flinch if someone from synagogue spots her. She needs to initiate discussions about the importance of her raising Jewish children, practicing rituals she'll never give up and that the idea of celebrating Christmas makes her squeamish.
"It would be so much easier if we broke up," Lydia says. "But somehow, I feel that would be even a greater loss."
Lydia still attends synagogue, though not as frequently as in the past. During services, she includes her own silent prayers to God.
"Yes, I do feel guilty, but I don't think what I'm doing is evil," she says. "I want to find my soulmate, and at this point in my life, I'm wondering if he's even Jew-ish. What if he isn't? Is that possible?"
Regarding important lessons in life, Lydia has learned that it can take more than three months to really get to know someone. She's waiting for the day that she and Mark exit "the lovey-dovey" phase of the relationship.
"When it stops being perfect, that's when you really can start making big decisions," she says. "If it's no longer perfect and Mark and I are still going strong... I'll be making the biggest decision of my life."