Dating debates with the boys upstairs.

Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe

Here’s my latest column for the Jewish Advocate.  I struggled to write this one for some reason – it was hard to conquer such a touchy subject.  But, hopefully I did a sufficient job.  My next column is due tomorrow, so I think I’ll be writing about JDate etiquette until the wee small hours tonight!  Enjoy:

I have a confession to make. I’m one of those people who actually likes dating. I like stepping into the ambiance of a dim bar, arriving a few minutes after the predetermined time to keep him on his toes. I like looking about for the person I’m there to meet, and conquering the first, inevitably awkward moments of a date.

I like balancing precariously on my bar stool and poring over the drink menu, even though I’m almost always going to order a glass of Pinot Grigio, unless it has been a long day, or I’m not in the mood to be chatty – then I’ll order a glass of Malbec. I like the choreography of it all. It’s not because I’m particularly confident or enjoy the attention. Not because I like stressing out over what to wear. And not because it could bring me a step closer to finding my mate.

I like it because it’s a sort of litmus test, a way for me to figure out what is important to me. Dating helps me better understand myself, what I value, the kind of people I want to be around and the kind of person with whom I’d eventually like to settle down.

While this idea of casual dating scares a lot of my peers, I welcome its challenges. Ten extra points for the guy who asks me probing questions that I haven’t heard before, that make me think and question myself and my beliefs. Fifteen for the fellow who can respectfully disagree with my opinions and make me laugh, all over the course of one round.

Casual dating offers a degree of freedom that generally comes only when you’re young, curious and unburdened by filial and financial considerations. I like that I can date someone who’s a bit older than I am, who’s not Jewish or perhaps of a different race. Who cares? At this point, I find it more important to connect with people – any people – than to find someone who matches a particular checklist.

However, I can’t pretend that I’m completely oblivious to the future. At my wedding, I’d love to be able to tell a charming story about the first date with my husband, how I walked out of the bar where we met knowing that “this was it.” But I have a feeling it often doesn’t happen that way. So usually when I’m walking into the unknown of another social engagement, I tell myself that it’s another opportunity to make a connection and it’s another chance for me to polish the person I want to present to the world.

Yes, I know I talk a big game. At the end of the day, I do want to settle down with a Jewish man. I want my kids to be able to read Hebrew, and I want them to have Shabbat dinner with my parents and my brother and their cousins each week. I know this to be true, even if I’m not even sure I can tell you why.

This steadfast determination to marry a Jew and make Jewish babies has been so ingrained in me that I’ve never really questioned it. Recently it came up in a conversation my roommate, Mieka, and I had with neighbors in our building: a trio of bachelors, Jason, Nick, and Ben, who are in their early 30s, wear matching pairs of Ray Bans (indoors and out) and aren’t shy about sharing their opinions.

Jason and Nick, childhood buddies from Western Massachusetts, are Italian Catholics with conservative views and an extensive collection of Van Morrison albums that they play, ad nauseam, whenever they have company. Ben, a Jew from New York and a real estate broker, is out every night of the week, rubbing elbows with his ever-growing Rolodex of friends and fans. Our unlikely friendship with “the boys upstairs” was somewhat accidental, but Mieka and I have come to appreciate it.

A few weeks ago when I got home from a dance class, Mieka texted me to join her and the boys upstairs. I found them seated on bar stools gathered around the kitchen island, discussing religion and egging Mieka on to sample a glass of Jack Daniels. I slid onto an empty stool and started doodling on a napkin.

“Jul, settle this for us,” Mieka said. “Would you ever marry a non-Jew?”

I kept my eyes trained on my artwork. “Absolutely not.”

“What?” the boys exclaimed.

“See! I told you,” Mieka said to them.

Jason, fiddling with his Ray Bans and flashing a toothy grin at Mieka’s delight in predicting my response, looked at me and said, “So you’re saying that you wouldn’t even date a non-Jew?”

I shrugged. “I would, but not seriously. I just can’t go there with someone, knowing there isn’t a real future.”

Shortly later, Ben walked in and told us a colorful story about his date that night with a Chinese girl. When he was asked how he felt about dating and marrying Jews, Ben replied, “I like all women.” Somehow he always gets away with saying things like that.

The following morning, I went upstairs to have coffee and bagels with Nick and Jason while my laundry was in the dryer. Jason, who is known for his persistence, pressed me again about why I was so sure I wouldn’t marry a non-Jew. I just shrugged and said I didn’t really know.

And, you know, it doesn’t bother me that I don’t have a ready explanation. In fact, I think my certainty about marriage allows me to be more present, more honest and more open in the stage I’m in now. It’s why I can stroll into a bar or a restaurant, free of the worry about whether finally this guy will be the one.

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