Jake Miller is a pseudonym for a Conservative Jew by upbringing who sporadically attends synagogue, alternating between a gay and lesbian synagogue in Washington, DC., and a Reconstructionist shul in Bethesda, Maryland.
The Ocean Between Us
Over lunch with my friend Anjali the other afternoon, a few teardrops rolled down my cheek and splashed their salt onto my black bean burger. She was telling me the story of how she and Maggie, her partner of twenty-three years, fell in love. "Imagine," she said. "Me from India, and she from a small town in Pennsylvania, and we met at Catholic University here in the United States and were friends for years. But when school ended and the prospect of returning to India arose, we both knew we couldn't live without each other. As scary as the thought of confronting our sexuality was back in the early 80s, even scarier was the thought of losing this woman that I loved so deeply."
Unlike a married or engaged heterosexual couple, as a same-sex couple not recognized by the government, Maggie could not sponsor Anjali for a green card to stay in the country. For years, they worried about visas, deportation, finances, and future plans. After thousands of dollars in attorney fees, Anjali finally achieved permanent residency. Today, they have two wonderful children and are more in love than ever.
"I believe it was my destiny to be with her, to have children with her," Anjali said. "It was meant to be."
Truth be told, it wasn't the star-crossed element of their relationship that had me in tears. It was the realization I had at that exact moment that I, at age thirty, had parted ways with the most romantic notion ever--the notion of bashert (soul mate). The idea of a soul mate was always attractive to me, given my youthful predilection for great love stories and the fanciful idea of happily ever after. But after a failed relationship with the person I had planned to spend the rest of my life with, I'm not sure that bashert is a part of my psychological repertoire.
When I was younger and imagined my bashert, I generally imagined that he was either Jewish or someone who would fully embrace the beauty of Judaism and enjoy sharing Jewish ritual and the accompanying spiritual nourishment with me.
My former partner wasn't Jewish, and much as he tried, he could not welcome Judaism when he himself was struggling to find a spiritual path. It is an inexact equation that led to the demise of our relationship; somewhere in there, however, spiritual disconnect played its part.
Now, I am single. I have been back in the dating pool for more than a year. This summer, I finally relinquished a small piece of my heart to someone new. I became involved with someone significantly younger than myself--still in college, no less. Much as I resisted getting involved with someone with so much less life experience, Steven and I were deeply drawn to each other. Great, I thought. I finally find one who's Jewish, and he's definitely too young for me.
We resisted becoming involved because of the age difference, but finally threw caution to the wind and began a romantic relationship. As our emotional connection deepened, my heart softened (just a bit). I was reading a book about the Zohar at the time. Of the authentic soul-mate relationship, the book noted, the sages taught that a man's soul mate must travel across an ocean to reach him. "The expanse to be crossed may be one of language, social class, or physical distance, but obstacles are part of the experience of soul-mate bonding."
As I reveled in Steven's sweetness, sincerity, passion for knowledge, and generosity of spirit, I flirted with the notion that he could be my bashert, and our "ocean" was the decade of years that separate us.
I ended our romantic relationship when I realized that he was already traveling across that divide, but I was not willing to make the same trip. Despite my feelings for him, I knew I would not relinquish my heart to someone in such a different place in his life. I knew that my compelling need for an equal would doom a relationship with someone who possessed so much less life experience.
"Men are like buses," I have been known to tell single friends in need of a pep talk. "If you miss this one, another one will pull right up before too long." Taking my own advice, I trudged onward.
Recently, I began communicating online with two different men who had captivated my interest. I enjoyed my conversations with both, and was excited to meet them in person. On paper, David and I seemed to share a lot in common. In fact, the only actual demerit seemed to be the fact that he is not Jewish.
The other gentleman, Peter, is the quintessential nice Jewish boy--and a law student to boot! With both I shared enjoyable email banter and intelligent written conversation. Finally, the Big Meetings. David and I connected immediately. The conversation was easy; delightful. The energy between us palpable. We've gone out several times and are enjoying spending time together.
My date with Peter, on the other hand, was somewhat painful. Over dinner, we grasped for conversation, and grasped for our respective water glasses during the awkward pauses.
During this all, I wondered, when it comes to dating, should the notion of bashert even come into play? After all, isn't it important for me just to be out there, meeting people, and enjoying meals and plays and conversations and the time away from The Time with Just Me Alone? Despite the religious and spiritual disconnection experienced in my relationship with my ex-partner, can I really say for certain that I couldn't have a complete spiritual connection with someone who isn't Jewish? If I have a bashert, is my bashert definitely Jewish? Even if he is, does that mean I can't enjoy the company of men who are not Jewish while I wait for us to find each other?
Unlike my former partner, whose spiritual life was a work in progress and whose feelings towards religion were tepid at best, David understands and appreciates the role religion can play in fostering a sense of spirituality and community in one's life. David attends a progressive Methodist Church. Coming from Evangelical parents, he simply gets it.
But does it even matter if he's Jewish when, at this early stage, our next date could be our last? Or am I fooling myself when each date might be one date closer to heartbreak?
It's all so tiring. I could ponder these questions like a good neurotic Jew until my brain is mush, but I choose not to devote serious time to them. I am finally old enough to know that I have no absolute answers. I truly believe that just as each day is as unique as the last and the next, so is each new life experience, and each new chance encounter. Just as I guarded my heart so deeply with Steven, knowing that I did not want to cross the ocean of age, so, too, will I surely guard my heart each time I contemplate letting someone feel some of its sensitive, hopeful, war-torn vibrations. My greatest hope at this point may not be that I actually have a bashert out there, but rather that if my bashert does find me, I will be willing to recognize the ocean to be spanned, especially if it's an ocean close to my closely guarded heart.