How to Make Joint Decisions as Newlyweds

  
Foster dog

Becca, the dog of my dreams

Note: Zach and I worked on this blog post together, to make sure it’s a fair representation of what happened and what we both learned.

Zach and I have been married for a few months now, and one of the things that has surprised me most? We don’t have a dog yet! Our friends know we’ve been talking about fostering dogs for a while, but with the wedding we never had the time. We went through the screening and training, but when it came down to it, we were never around enough on the weekends to commit to caring for a foster, let alone our own dog. We both agreed that this dream would have to wait until after the wedding.

Fast forward to a weekend in October, where we have almost nothing going on—a blessing after a whirlwind preparation year, wedding and honeymoon (all of which were wonderful, but still). I received an email from our rescue organization of choice, Lucky Dog Animal Rescue, about fostering, and I opened it to look through some of the photos. I found a beauty and fell in love. Her name was Becca, and she was a 1-2-year-old Feist, muscular and small. Perfect for apartment living. Her big brown eyes begged me to take her home.

I told my co-workers about my newfound love, and most of them fawned over Becca with me. Here is where I learned my first lesson on marriage: Just because your co-workers agree with you, doesn’t mean your partner will. My co-workers advised me to really talk with Zach about it seriously, and (here comes my downfall) assured me that he would understand. I mean, that face!

My emotional attachment to Becca caught Zach by surprise. I was already ready to take this dog in permanently, and Zach was looking forward to doing more short-term fostering before adopting. He was concerned about how having a dog would fit into our lives, while I was ready to jump in and make it work.

One big mistake was starting this conversation a few minutes before we had planned to go out with friends. Our fraught emotional state really made for a, shall we say, tense Friday night on the town.

That night, it dawned on me that I was never again going to make big decisions on my own. This was something that affected both of us (in a big way), and so we both needed to be ready for it, no matter how much Becca’s eyes drew me in. Zach was not accusing me of not knowing what I wanted or being unwilling to take on this responsibility. He was coming to me as a partner saying he wasn’t sure he was ready, and he wanted us to take our time and go into it together, slowly and thoughtfully.

My personal faith encouraged me to slow down, take some deep breaths and really be open to the growth that this encounter offered. I’ve read a few books by a Jesuit priest named Father James Martin, S.J. (Jesuits are an order of Catholic priests that live in community and serve in various ways, as opposed to diocesan priests who mainly serve parish communities). He often emphasizes the Jesuit idea of “meeting people where they are.” In this small way, I needed to meet Zach where he was as opposed to dragging him to wherever I was.

Place cards

Our place cards at our friends’ wedding in Mexico: a reminder of our new family unit

photo of couple in formal wear with the beach and palm trees in the background

Zach and me at our friends’ wedding in Riviera Maya, Mexico. One of the many trips that make getting a dog difficult…

The solution was finding the sweet spot between comfort and compromise. We decided not to adopt Becca, but we committed to block out some time to foster, to see if this is really what we want to do. Zach saw more of my deep desire to care for our own dog, and my frustration that we keep putting it off because it never fits neatly into our existing schedule. And I learned how seriously Zach takes pet ownership and how both of our feelings and perspectives matter in making decisions as a family.

Becca is adopted now, and I hope she’s happy with some other family. I’m happy in mine, growing in understanding and partnership with my new husband. And still looking forward to getting a dog one of these days—maybe after we stop traveling every weekend.

While it’s been exhausting to be so busy after a year of wedding planning, our travels have been for good reason. This month we went to Mexico to celebrate the wedding of two friends. Their wedding was also interfaith—the bride and her family are Hindi, and the groom and his family are Jewish. There was a fun multicultural element as well: The bride’s family is Indian and resides in Brazil, while the groom’s family is American. Needless to say, the food was delicious and the party was bumpin’. They chose to do two ceremonies, with an American Jewish ceremony on the beach on Thursday night, and a Hindu ceremony (condensed to an hour from the four hour version) on Saturday afternoon.

I was interested to see how they chose to express their religions differently than ours—namely, with two different ceremonies, while we did one combined ceremony. While I wouldn’t have changed anything about our wedding, I saw that they way they chose to do things allowed them to go more in depth with the traditions associated with each religion. You could tell that they didn’t feel truly married until after the second ceremony, and in that way we were similar: We couldn’t imagine not including both religions.

A Tale of Two Kitchens

  

Nataliya and her fiance

“We’re not doing this!” Andy was visibly upset. “I won’t do it!”

It was a year into our relationship and we were in his car heading to his dad’s house in the middle of nowhere.

Driving

On the drive to Andy’s dad’s house

The topic that inspired this reaction was none other than kashrut, a set of Jewish dietary laws that I happen to follow. While I am not incredibly strict and will go out to non-kosher restaurants, I will only eat vegetarian, dairy and halakhically (by the law) approved fish.

Andy knew that I kept kosher from the very beginning of our relationship but because I still went out to restaurants, he never thought much about it. As we became more serious and talked about moving in together, he finally began to understand how dating a traditional Jew would affect him. I had explained to him that if we were to move in together, our kitchen, and everything in it, would need to be kashered.

Kashering is the rather intensive process of making a kitchen kosher and it was not up for negotiation. Andy was not particularly pleased when I explained to him what it would involve, and in particular, what he would have to sacrifice.

His protests were valid and I completely understood where he was coming from.

Food is a significant part of life and kashrut not only dictates the kind of food we can eat, but also its preparation, storage, separation of dishes, utensils and pretty much anything in the kitchen that touches food.

For a Catholic-raised atheist who is not Jewish and was not used to food restrictions, it was quite jarring for him to suddenly be told that he would have to abide by them.

Thankfully, a year later as we were preparing to move in together, we were able to talk it out and eventually, negotiations were made where we agreed to set up two ‘kitchens’ in our apartment.

We dubbed them: Kosher Kitchen and Catholic Corner.

Kosher Kitchen is the main kitchen in our home. It’s where the majority of the cooking is done. The dishes in our apartment are all his. We rekashered his dishes in a local mikveh so that they could become our dishes. He even participated in reciting the prayers and dunking all of his utensils, pots, pans and well, pretty much everything kitchen related, into the mikveh pool.

“Can you kasher our kitchen every day?!” he had said incredulously as he watched me pour boiling water all over our counters, making them especially clean.

I had separated out everything into meat and milk items and he has been doing a decent job keeping up the separation, with a mishap every once in a while. It’s hard to be mad at him when it happens because of the guilty and horrified look on his face when he realizes that the fork that he has been using to eat his chicken is actually for dairy.

However, when he wants to avoid these situations, he always has the option of using his own kitchen space.

Catholic Corner is a corner by our front window which has a convection oven and a hot plate. Andy has a separate set of pots, dishes and utensils and even a separate sponge at our shared sink for those times when he eats non-kosher food.

Originally, he had a separate fridge as well but I felt like that was overkill. As long he wrapped everything up and it was well contained within its packaging, there would not be a problem about cross contamination and in the two-and-a-half years that we have been living together, it has never been an issue for me.

It may seem unfair that Andy cannot cook non-kosher food in the main kitchen, but I am the one that does the majority of the cooking for both of us. I am also the one who brought my beliefs to the table from the very beginning.

Andy realizes how important my religious and cultural traditions are to me and since that fateful conversation in the car four years ago, he is my number one supporter and now practically an expert on kashrut.

Keeping kosher is not always easy but not because Andy isn’t Jewish. It’s because we have a fairly small kitchen and having two of everything means our space is extremely limited.

Thankfully, together, we make it work.

A Roze(nsky) By Any Other Name

  
family wedding photos

A collection of wedding photos from Jordyn’s family.

In 2011, TheKnot.com surveyed almost 20,000 newlywed women. They found that only 8 percent kept their last names. Of the remaining 92 percent, 86 percent took their partner’s last name. Six percent hyphenated or created a new last name.

While I’ve seen other studies that show the percentage of women who keep their last names at closer to 20 percent, the fact remains: Changing your name after marriage is the “normal” thing to do.

Changing my name has never felt like the right move for me—my last name is the one on my degrees, it’s part of the name of my photography business, it’s the name I’ve written under, and, it’s the name I’ve used my entire life. I’ve given this some serious thought. I support a person’s right to choose the name that feels like the best fit for them, and I understand the idea that a unified last name presents a unified team.

But, for me, changing my name just doesn’t feel right.

(It also should be noted, that Justin isn’t up for changing his last name either. My last name is hard to spell, and he’s spent too long building his brand to change his name to something else. I don’t think this is a conversation only half of a couple should be having—if name changes are on the table, they should be on the table for everyone.)

It wasn’t until recently, when concepts like name changes shifted from hypothetical to reality, did something click for me. Changing my last name would mean separating my name from my family’s name—and taking a step away from my Jewish identity.

I know that marrying Justin, who isn’t Jewish, won’t make me any less Jewish.

It won’t make our home any less Jewish; it won’t invalidate the mezuzah hanging on the door, or make my observance of holidays any less meaningful.

It won’t make my work any less Jewish; it won’t tarnish my past community organizing, nor will it make my work with Keshet and commitment to full LGBTQ inclusion in the Jewish community less authentic.

Taking Justin’s last name wouldn’t make me any less Jewish… but it feels that way.

Jordyn's grandparent's celebrating a wedding anniversary.

Jordyn’s grandparents celebrating a wedding anniversary.

As an Ashkenazi Jew, with a very classically Ashkenazi Jewish last name, my name is a calling card. Rozensky, with its “rozen” and its “sky,” shouts Jewish. I can trace its Jewish history. My name comes with a connection to my people—not just in the sense of “the chosen people,” but also in the way it connects me to previous generations of Rozenskys. I’m not ready to step away from that tradition.

There will be plenty of compromises made in our marriage; after all, meeting each other halfway is an important part of keeping a relationship working. But when it comes to our names—which hold such important aspects of our identities—compromise doesn’t seem like the best bet.