Register Monday | December 5 | 2022

Not All at Face Value

When Reality Gets in the Way of Your Relationship

Several months ago, I was out dancing with some friends. There was good crowd, the drinks were strong and cheap, Beyoncé was crazyinlove and I was having a fabulous time. I was introduced to a guy who was good friends with my best friend Jess, but somehow we had never met. I could tell she really thought a lot of this guy. A laugher, a dancer, a photographer—what’s not to like? He was what every girl dreams of: the guy your best gal has tucked away.

Jess saw the sparks flying and took me aside. “Look, he is lovely, but he is not the guy for you for two reasons. First, he is going away on an extended trip in a month or so.” Not so bad, I thought; I’d expected to hear he was a louse, a lady’s man or maybe that he was gay. “And second, he is super Jewish.” (I later found out the trip was a one-way ticket to Israel.)

He wasn’t for me; I had been warned. But it was just a fun dance, wasn’t it? Well, then a couple of dances led to a couple of kisses and the kisses to these magical moments, and all of a sudden I found myself falling for the guy who had come out of nowhere. Only he hadn’t come out of nowhere—as he told me when he ended the romance two weeks later. He was coming from 2000 years of religious belief. He was coming on weekend visits to my place from his, in Ville St-Laurent, but only after sundown on Saturdays.

Things couldn’t work out. And while I really wanted it to succeed, for him it was simply impossible. Despite the fantastic connection we shared, there were much bigger things at stake. My friends consoled me: “In the end you would have been unhappy,” they said. “You couldn’t have dates on Friday nights and you couldn’t even eat together.” (He had a strict kosher diet.) Meeting him meant a lot to me, but so did food and Fridays. In the end, I had to admit that it really—sigh—wasn’t meant to be.

It was, in its own way, very hard to deal with. Suddenly I had to face the idea of not fitting a mold. “It is not about you,” he said, when he broke it off. But it was. Or maybe it was about what I wasn’t. Our values were different, certainly, but these values weren’t something mutable, or something that could be worked on together.

When I used to read personal ads calling out for someone with “similar values,” I used to shrug. Didn’t that just mean a decent, tolerant person? I was looking for a sense of humour, a sense of reality, and, sure, cuteness (can’t hurt, right?). But values? It wasn’t that I didn’t have any; it was more like they were a prerequisite. Any guy who I would even sit through dinner with would have the basic goods.

But suddenly my friends and I are at this certain age—a marriageable age, I guess—and things that didn’t seem to be important have suddenly become deal breakers. Or at least big cranberry-coloured flags. A friend of mine said that she would end it no matter what if she learned that a guy never wanted kids. “You just can’t compromise on some things. It can actually ruin your life.” The scary thing is, you don’t always see these things coming, especially if you don’t want to. In the heydays of a relationship there is a buoyancy, a laissez-faire attitude, a hesitancy to breach bigger, harder issues. Who wants to ruin the vibe? Who wants to scare a new and lovely person off by asking them about that thing called the future?

Yet in most relationships we want the future to play a big part. My best friend, Jess, fell in love last year with a great guy. He is social and charismatic and has charmed all her friends. But what is best about Jess and her boyfriend is that they get each other. This is a rare find. When you get it, you hold on to it. As with any relationship, there have been obstacles for these two, but it is those concerning values that keep resurfacing. She is Hindu and he is a Muslim (though both non-practicing). Despite the fact that Jess grew up in Vancouver with open, cosmopolitan parents, when she brought her boyfriend home age-old rivalries reared their heads. Jess is old enough to do as she pleases, of course, but there is a perpetual cold front surrounding her relationship. In fact, her parents show that they don’t accept the relationship by refusing to address that it exists. This disinterest in one of the most important parts of Jess’s life has been extremely hard for her. Needless to say, there have yet to be any cozy Thanksgiving dinners.

Her parents told her that it is a question of values; values that may not seem to be an issue now, but in the future may cause her great unhappiness. They had her grandmother from India call her to convince her of this. Jess stuck by her own values: she defended her man and her relationship outright. “He is not even religious!” What devout Muslim do you know who works at nightclubs and is known for handing out flaming Sambucca shots? This didn’t sell them either.

Then the boyfriend’s mom moved to town. And while the two ladies get along very well, Jess is starting to get worried about just how well everyone is getting on. Her boyfriend seems to be sliding into a world of maternal dependence, so much so that he suggested that they move in with his mother. For Jess this could never happen. This is not the life she wants, and it would make her miserable. Her boyfriend doesn’t see why she is being so uncompromising about the idea, but for her it is something she just won’t consider. What makes matters worse is that the “move-in-with-mom” scenario was exactly what her parents had predicted. Which means all the more that it can never, ever, happen.

Perhaps the idea was just a whim of her boyfriend’s. Maybe he just really likes the new place his mother just bought, with its lovely breakfast nook and adjacent basement apartment. Maybe it isn’t a question of irreconcilable differences, but just a great way to save on rent for a year. Of course people with different backgrounds can have relationships together. This is Canada; this is 2004. But suffice it to say that a relationship does not exist in a vacuum.

It is not that young people are unaware of the difficulties of dating someone with differing values—or dating anyone, for that matter—but you never really think these big problems are going to happen to you. You think you are prepared to make smart choices and you are willing to bend a bit so that things can work out. But suddenly you feel as though your life is an after-school special or a Sassy magazine column titled “It Happened To Me.” And when outside realities come raining down on your cloud nine, it can come as a surprise that you have no cover.

Emma Appleby is a fabulous force on the Montreal scene. Read more recent columns by Emma Appleby.