The Religion Factor in a Twentysomethings Relationship

"Because at this point, religion does kinda matter, ya know? We had to talk about it, and turns out, we're on very different pages. So I ended it. I didn't realize I actually cared..."

I didn't realize either, I said to myself, walking a little too close to the petite corporate working girl venting on the phone on a deserted sidewalk. I couldn't believe the conversation she was having at that moment was the same one I had been having with myself for almost a year.

Even though I'm a Jewish girl who went to Hebrew school twice a week for countless years, had a Bat Mitzvah in a Conservative synagogue, went to sleepaway camp, experienced Birthright and joined a Jewish sorority in college, I still never really considered myself religious. The term in itself had a negative connotation in my mind.

Oh, she's weird, she's religious. He's way too religious to ever date. Her parents are seriously religious.

The whole, "Grow up and marry a nice Jewish boy" has never been my family's motto. (Though they certainly aren't against it.) In fact, religion viewed as a priority in the way in which one chooses a husband was far from my understanding. The way I saw it, love, kindness, patience and, of course, a sense of humor all came before religion.

This is probably why my last relationship was with a non-Jew, a goy, as my grandparents would have said. We had been dating for years without a change of heart until a sudden conversation over a glass of sangria threw us off course.

They'd be Jewish, of course. Right? The kids are always what the mother is, I said.

Who told you that? My kids aren't going to be Jewish.

Oh, um, my Dad. I mean, what else would they be?

And that's how the bickering began -- and the first time I even really had marriage on the brain.

After a night of tears and arguing and getting defensive over a religion I had thought I had very little connection to, I did the only thing I could think of. I immediately went to my trusted pal, Google.

How do you raise kids with two religions? Enter.

How to marry someone who doesn't practice your religion? Enter.

What is the success rate of inter-faith couples? Enter.

Scrolling through endless essays and studies and mostly negative comments on the matter, I felt stunned at the volume of threads on a topic I had only just begun to wonder myself. I also felt silly. I didn't know if I was going to marry this guy. Should I really consider breaking up over religion?

And then the little things started to hit me slowly, but ever-so poignantly. Lighting the Shabbat candles Friday night as a kid and sitting down for dinner, no matter how casual. Watching my cousin's husband stomp his foot down on the symbolic glass under a Chuppah on their wedding day. Making latkes with my Mom on Chanukah. I started to get a tingling feeling under my rib cage, in my gut. Was that something I could give up?

Then I started to think about what I would be missing out on if I just up and ended things with the non-Jew. Camping out to marathon old seasons of shows until we were all caught up. Getting into a carefully made, half-tucked, half-untucked bed on the nights I stayed over. Listening to him read a short story aloud because "it's good for our memories." Never feeling embarrassed about asking where Bulgaria is on the map or eating unhealthy amounts of popcorn. Knowing that he could pinpoint my emotions based on a slight facial expression.

Was that something I could give up? For religion?

People say love fades eventually and religion is the foundation that makes things easier for a family. But what if in my case, love didn't fade and was instead the force behind a wonderful home? What if raising kids without a structured religion allowed them to grow up in a world where the guilt from their family (or the culture they were raised in) never burdened them from being with the one they loved?

Whether or not I end up with a Christmas tree-lover, I don't think I'll ever close my heart to anyone. Call me an utter optimist, or a sinner, but I choose to believe that kindness should always be the winning point on a pro/con list.

And anyway, he can always learn the Hora.