The People I’m Dating Are Ignorant or Hostile About Judaism — Help!

How do other Jews deal with similar kinds of negativity towards their religious or cultural practices?

Hello and welcome back to Hey Alma’s advice column on all things Jewish life — check out what our Instagram audience had to say about this week’s issue, read on for advice from our resident deputy managing editor/bossy Capricorn Jew, and submit your own dilemmas anonymously here.

Hey, Hey Alma,

I’m a “casually observant” (attend Shabbat services every once in a while, love celebrating holidays, Shabbat dinners once or twice a month) liberal Jew dating in a large East Coast city. I’ve encountered a lot of pushback and discomfort from potential romantic partners in response to my practice of both the religious and cultural aspects of Judaism. I want to believe this pushback stems from confusion about what “being Jewish” really means or religious trauma at the hands of Christianity. I also don’t want to restrict my dating pool to only Jews. How do other Jews deal with similar kinds of ignorance, negativity or hostility towards their religious or cultural practices?

Hi, friend.

I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this. I want to start by acknowledging that dating, regardless of your religion or your city or any of the other details, is simply tough. Meeting a stranger, awkwardly sharing a beverage or a walk or a meal, hoping both of the best versions of yourselves have some chemistry, wondering if you’re going to kiss or have sex at the end of it all… this is not an activity for the faint of heart! Yes, at it’s best dating can be fun, but it’s also genuinely quite challenging. So I really empathize with your problem, and I also just want to say, you’re not alone!

Now, onto your question… and, I’ll admit, quite a few questions that you didn’t actually ask but that I think you should be asking. Sorry, I’m a Capricorn eldest daughter — I quite literally cannot help myself when it comes to unsolicited advice that I think is good for you!

How do we as Jews deal with ignorance, negativity or hostility towards our culture and religion when dating?

So your actual question. Hoo boy, how do we deal with this! I for one am a big fan of therapy, complaining to friends and making little self-effacing jokes to mask my hurt and dismay that then lead me to wonder if I’ve missed my calling as a stand-up comedian. I’m kidding — kind of.

I think the truth is, there’s no one way to deal with this, and while there are many options, there’s also really no great way to deal with this. It sucks. Sometimes it feels like a microaggression and sometimes it feels like a pretty large macroaggression! Sometimes we’ll want to invest some energy into educating someone who misunderstands us and our religion and/or culture, and sometimes we’ll want to say, OK, don’t let the door hit ya on the way out! It depends on the situation and the circumstance.

If you’ve been dating someone for three months and they make a weird comment about you hosting a Shabbat dinner, you might feel generous enough to inquire what exactly they mean. It may even lead to a fruitful conversation, where yes, perhaps you’ll encounter some unprocessed trauma that comes from their own religious upbringing, and maybe you’ll both decide together that it’s worth it to do the work to keep seeing each other (as long as everyone can respect each other). But if you’re on the very first date with someone and you mention that you like to go to synagogue every so often and they respond in a way that is rude, alarmed or inappropriate, it’s highly likely that you may decide to call it a night and never see them again. It’s a case by case scenario, like almost all things are when it comes to dating.

In my opinion, it matters less how “we as Jews” are dealing with these reactions and more how you, as an individual Jew, want to experience dating and connect (or disconnect!) with the people you’re choosing to date. With that in mind, here are some thoughts about some questions you didn’t ask, but that I think are worthwhile to sit with.

What are you personally looking for when dating?

It makes sense to me that you don’t want to limit your dating pool to only Jews. But I think a good question to ask yourself is what are you looking for when dating? You don’t need a hard and fast list, but some general big picture questions can be really clarifying. Here are some that I think are helpful:

  • Are you dating for fun, or would you like a more serious relationship to evolve?
  • What would you like your date to be passionate about?
  • Is it important to you that your date eventually participate in Judaism with you?
  • Are you open to participating in religious rituals outside of Judaism with your date?
  • What character traits are most important to you when relating to another person? For example, honesty, curiosity and playfulness are three of mine.

Do you have dealbreakers?

You say you’ve received pushback and discomfort from dates when it comes to your Jewish practices — not to go all Carrie Bradshaw on you, but as I was pondering your question, I couldn’t help wonder… what causes you discomfort when dating someone? Are there moments when you might want to push back?

Again, I don’t think you need a list that never budges — sometimes something feels like a dealbreaker until it isn’t, and I support being flexible and open to change — but it’s a good exercise to ask ourselves: Never mind what someone else finds problematic about me and my personality/customs/behavior/passions… what the hell do I find problematic about them and their personality/customs/behavior/passions?!?! I’m kidding, sort of — I don’t really think looking for someone else’s flaws is the ideal way to date. But far too often I see friends of mine put up with total bullshit because they’re making allowances that I wish they wouldn’t.

You deserve to be treated with respect. You deserve to be treated with care. You deserve to be loved (this one grows with time, of course, but you deserve to be treated lovingly even before you’re in love). That goes for everyone.

But maybe for you, a dealbreaker is also that a date has to accept Judaism, and maybe even show some curiosity about your specific practice. I do believe when a right person (I don’t think there’s only one right person) shows up, they will be so into you that they will be curious about all the things that make you your individual self — including your casually observant Judaism.

How do you introduce your dates to your religious and cultural practices?

Speaking of your specific practice, let’s take a moment to consider how you introduce your dates to your Judaism. Everyone does this differently, and there’s no right or wrong way. Some of our Instagram commenters mentioned that they include their Judaism in their online dating profiles so it’s clear right from the first message. Some suggested going slowly, and showing your dates your customs as they come up rather than explaining your entire practice at the first coffee shop meet.

Again, this is really up to you. If you want to weed out anyone who will have a negative reaction to Judaism right away, maybe you disclose immediately. If you’re open to helping your dates work through what may be trauma related to their own religion or just ignorance, maybe you move more slowly. There are merits for each method, but it might help you feel more in control to make an active choice about how you’re going to proceed.

What do you do when you encounter pushback or discomfort?

Sometimes, a script is the most helpful thing in the world. Experiencing pushback and discomfort about our religion from someone we’re being intimate with or are growing close to can feel extremely destabilizing. Having a plan for what you’ll do may help you feel like the situation, if it arises, is easier to manage. I’d make a few literal scripts depending on what happens.

Are you open to helping people expand their outlooks? Maybe when a date expresses discomfort with you hosting a Shabbat dinner, you can say something like, “It’s kind of hurtful to me that you would push back against my religious practice so much. My Judaism is casual, but it’s very important to me. Are you open to talking through why it brings up such a strong negative reaction for you?”

Or are you tired of acting as a teacher for your dates, and are more interested in setting a boundary? Maybe in the same situation you can say something like, “Hey, it actually really hurts my feelings when you push back on my Shabbat dinners. My Judaism is casual, but it’s very important to me. If you aren’t open to being respectful and curious, I won’t be able to spend Friday nights with you, because this is my priority.”

Alternatively, if you’re looking for ways to break things off with a date who is expressing pushback and discomfort, the boundary could be stronger, like this: “I need to talk to you. The way you respond to my Judaism makes me sad and uncomfortable, and ultimately has made me realize we’re not the right fit for each other. I can’t date someone who is so negative about Judaism.” This can obviously open up a larger conversation, but it makes your intention clear.

In conclusion!

You deserve to date someone (or multiple people) who are very into you — all of you! That includes your casually observant Judaism. I hope you find that dreamy person sooner than later; but in the meanwhile, I hope you feel empowered to cut ties with anyone who doesn’t fit that criteria. I want to conclude with a perfect comment from our incredible Instagram community (thank you, @shekhiynah, for this wisdom):

“Best thing I learned was to go where you are wanted, loved and cared for. People who aren’t at the least bit curious about something so important to you or intrinsic to your identity don’t really care about you. You deserve to be loved and cared for. Whether you end up with a Jew or a non Jew.”

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