The first time I told a boy I couldn't go out with him because he was not Jewish I was 14 years old and I didn't know what I was saying. I was being courted by a charming, refreshingly tall rugby player, also 14 years old, who I just didn't fancy. So, instead of hurting his feelings, I decided to play the Jewish card. He seemed to move on pretty quickly, as 14-year-olds tend to do.
The next time I told a young man I couldn't see him because he wasn't Jewish, I was 23 and things were not quite as simple. In my mind, it wasn't serious - he was moving abroad at the end of the year and I was in my early 20s with little thought of marriage, so I didn't think it would cause much harm.
I was wrong. A few months into the relationship, I made a half-joke about how he would never meet my mother. He probed, I struggled to explain and he didn't find it funny. He was so hurt that I wouldn't even consider taking our relationship further because of a religion I haphazardly observed. There followed a few weeks of squabbles and tears before a phone call that concluded: "The day you mentioned the Jewish thing. That was the end of it for me." From that point on, I decided it was unfair for me even to casually date someone who wasn't Jewish. I didn't want to hurt anyone like that again.
"The Jewish thing." How many times have I had to explain "the Jewish thing"? And how many times have I failed so miserably? I have been trying to explain for a decade and I still struggle to find the right words. A colleague with a proclivity for numbers once calculated the percentage of the British population that I would permit myself to date - "0.025 per cent", he announced, throwing me a quizzical and pitiful look.
I often find myself being the token Jew in the room. And although I know we are not a perfect people and I am far from a perfect Jew, I take great pride in my Jewish identity. This is what I try to convey when I explain to friends who struggle to understand why I won't even consider a relationship with someone outside the faith.
My friends struggle to understand my reasons
They invariably ask "but do you not think if someone loved you enough they would get that and do the Jewish thing for you?" At which point I try to explain that doing "the Jewish thing" is not so simple.
"It's cultural," I tell friends over drinks and not quite so kosher meals on a Friday night. Naturally, they stare at me bemused. How can I belong to such a vastly different culture when I behave just like them? "Erm yes, well er…" This conversation does not bring out my articulate side. Once, I told a friend that when I do get married and they attend my Jewish wedding they would understand. As though on witnessing the shafta mayim dance all would suddenly become clear.
"I want to bring up my children the same way I was raised," I try, which firstly baffles those who cannot comprehend why I should concern myself with the lifestyle of my unborn babies at this stage. And then the more fundamental issue: trying to justify why you seem to think your childhood was better than theirs. Never easy.
A few years ago, I had a heated debate with a friend about this. I tried to explain that it was about where I had come from and wanting to find someone who shared those values. "Yeah, but that's like saying because I come from Stoke, I can only go out with people from Stoke," he responded. I squirmed. The rest of the conversation did not go well. I got so exasperated that I fumbled a mention of the Holocaust and it all ended in tears (mine). It wasn't my finest moment.
It is both baffling and depressing that I cannot articulate a decent argument on an issue that I so firmly believe in. But perhaps it is difficult to define because it is beyond logical reason. For me, and I know for many others, being Jewish is intrinsic. Our Judaism may not be as explicit as the more observant members of our community, but that does not mean it is any less important to us and our identities. It is a part of my soul. Therefore my soulmate needs to share it.
And I suppose that is worth putting up with the raised eyebrows and judgment of others who think I am being at best silly and at worst, a little bit racist. Even if that does mean I only have 0.025 per cent of the population to date.