(April 30, 2012 / JNS) When I was a little girl, I began compiling a list of qualities I was looking for in a man. I don’t know what happened to that list, but if I still had the paper, it would have crinkles, cross-outs, highlighter streaks and tear stains.
The attributes we desire in a partner change as we mature and reassess what really matters (such that I no longer seek a blue-eyed, French-speaking, caged-bird-freeing, Jewish guitarist with an aching desire to compose Grammy-worthy songs about me). Our priorities also change as we reflect on one failed romantic relationship after another. So how do we figure out what we want and what we need, and is the distinction between desire and necessity significant?
A friend once asked me, “If your boyfriend were your son, would you be proud of him?” This reflection can clarify your values—though envisioning your partner as your child is admittedly creepy in an Oedipal sense, and I don’t suggest you bring it up as you leap into bed together.
To some Jews looking for a relationship with another Jew, the level of religiosity doesn’t matter—anyone who is circumcised and knows when to utter L’chaim can be a contender. This is often the case if your identification with Judaism is secular, and more rooted in culture and philosophy than based on a strict interpretation of Jewish law. If you fall for someone whose religious beliefs and traditions don’t align with yours, perhaps you can “keep calm and carry on,” as the hackneyed but still useful World War II saying goes. You might still have a satisfying relationship if both of you are respectful (as in interested and supportive) of one another’s tenets.
For those who not only observe the High Holy Days and Shabbat, but also keep kosher, follow the sacred texts closely and attend synagogue regularly, not any Jew will do. If leading an organized religious lifeis fundamental to your identity, it’s natural to want a partner who shares your beliefs and customs. This is especially true if you intend to raise children, as compatible ideologies will strengthen the core of your family. (Is it too much of a stretch to compare it to the Kardashians, who are bonded in their belief in the power of makeup and cosmetic surgery?)
In addition to evaluating what aspects of your Jewish identity matter in your relationship, be honest about your personality traits and their compatibilities. Sometimes counterbalancing traits can lead to a more fulfilling relationship.
For example, two timid people can hold each other back, but if one is outgoing, they can teach each other how to be both social and introspective. Similarly, a talker will feel most cherished by a listener, a stubborn person will be happiest with someone flexible, and so on. It’s not that opposites always attract (in fact, in terms of intelligence and morals, they shouldn’t), but rather that how the pieces fit together matters more to the puzzle than the pieces themselves. That being said, humor, as well as a consistent willingness to make one another happy, is essential to every loving relationship.
You will have to consider how you generate and prioritize your criteria. It might seem counterproductive to question whether or not you know what’s best for yourself, but be open to refining and expanding your criteria.
Start by thinking about the specific people in your life who make you feel happy, loved, and secure––family, friends, and mentors. What do they do to bring you delight and contentment? Remember that you might not get everything on your wish list, but there are many gefilte fish in the sea.
Sasha Ingber is a freelance writer whose work focuses on relationships, travel and dance. She is currently a graduate student in Johns Hopkins University’s writing program.