A few years ago, my family traveled to Washington for a short vacation. One of my dearest friends, Patty, who works for a U.S. Senator, had arranged for us to take a tour of the U.S. Capitol building. We visited her at her office prior to the tour. Shortly before our guide arrived, Patty grabbed my hand and told me that there was someone I just had to meet.
We entered a small office. Sitting at a desk, surrounded by stacks of paper, was a young woman in her late twenties, pecking away at her computer.
“Shelly, meet Sue,” said Patty. (Disclaimer: Sue is a fictional name used to protect the woman’s privacy).
After exchanging salutations, shaking hands and muttering vague pleasantries, Patty added, “You guys have a lot in common. Sue is also in a mixed marriage.”
My ears perked up. At the time, I was on the board of an independent Hebrew school in the Boston suburbs, an organization whose membership was primarily comprised of interfaith families. I was eager to meet others like me to shares the joys, trials and tribulations of living in an interfaith relationship.
I pondered the usual thoughts shared by many of us who meet a fellow member of an interfaith family. Which route were they going? Did they pick one religion, are they doing a combination of the two, or neither? Was either spouse considering conversion? Did they belong to a temple or congregation?
Before I could sift through the queries bombarding my brain to muster a response, Patty dropped the bomb.
“Sue’s a rabid Red Sox fan and her husband loves the Yankees,” she smiled.
I was totally floored.
Although Patty’s statement was meant as a joke and made me laugh at the time, it became a defining moment, forever coloring my view of interfaith relationships. It has really made me think about the core issues surrounding interfaith marriage. Those of us who have chosen this path share many of the same issues as those folks from any sort of different background–partners must negotiate and show respect for their differences, develop trust and mutual understanding, and simultaneously carve out and maintain separate identities.
Patty’s statement up-ended every notion, misconception and stereotype I ever had about mixed marriages. It isn’t a pejorative term which applies just to those from different religious backgrounds. It also describes the union of two people from differing races, regions, countries or continents. In each of those scenarios, the task remains the same. Two individuals wish to make a cohesive, single unit, but bring two different sets of morals, social mores, cultural norms and expectations to the table.
“Mixed” match-ups have long raised serious questions and conflicts. For centuries, people have been disowned by their families, shunned by their neighbors and even threatened with their lives for marrying out of “their kind.”
What about those in the most unholy alliance of all: a Red Sox/Yankees marriage? Is this the penultimate, worst case scenario within the realm of interfaith marriage?
The rivalry between these two teams is legendary. Fans on both sides are maniacally devoted, sworn enemies whose mutual hatred has bordered on murderous for close to a century. Sure, it might be hard to tell your folks about your intention to marry someone who does not share your faith, but can you imagine telling your Yankee-loving mom and dad that your beloved roots for the Sox?
I often wonder how Sue and her husband have made it work. What happens during baseball season? Do they sit side by side on the sofa, wearing their respective team jerseys, rooting on their favorite teams? What happens when the teams play each other? Is there a sore loser? Do tempers flare during the American League playoffs? How does one keep the peace if one team makes it over the other, to the World Series? Or, God forbid, wins?
What about the kids? Which team cap or jersey does baby wear? Who decides which team the kids will route for–or will they let their children decide for themselves when they grow up? Will there be hard feelings if one of the kids switches sides?
Does the family spend the playoffs with just one side of the family? Or split games between the two?
After meeting Sue I have come to realize that interfaith families can teach a lot to those not only in Red Sox/Yankees marriages, but to those involved in any type of relationship. We know firsthand that tolerance, compassion, empathy, cooperation and communication are the ingredients of any happy marriage, mixed or not.