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Mixing and Matching

Tuesday, February 29, 2000
   


Both fans and foes of interfaith dating took Emily's Jewish-Gentile commentary to heart in sharing their views on the controversial subject. While many readers relate to Emily's experiences in mixing love and religion, others say they would never venture down that path of temptation. Read on for some reactions to the question of mixed-religion events and relationships:


I am Irish Catholic and although I always knew I would marry another Catholic, I never made that a requirement when I was dating in my 20s. I met and enjoyed the company of men of many faiths, and found that next to Catholics, I seemed to make the best spiritual connection with Jewish men. There is a sense of ritual and tradition that is so strong in both religions, as well as a "lifestyle" that is attached to them, that I was more comfortable relating to Jewish men on that level than even other Christians. Perhaps the ability to devote yourself to a belief is enough to bring people together.

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I'm a twenty-something Midwestern girl who was raised Catholic. Shortly after moving to the DC area, I started dating a Jewish gentleman who couldn't have been sweeter. The relationship seemed to be going well, but I quickly learned that he had no intention of ever introducing me to his family. I was being kept a secret while he went back to "visit family" on weekends and, as I learned later, date a nice Jewish girl whom his family expected him to marry. For all his talk about my religious affiliation not making a difference to him, apparently it did. Jewish girls needn't worry about me. I understand very clearly now not to get involved with Jewish men. I prefer to find a man, and a family, where I will be accepted whether I intend to convert or not.

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Noam Chomsky lecture? Ralph Nader for President headquarters? Sheesh! Give Jewish men some credit. Some of us actually have sensible political opinions, and have more understanding of the world than mindless PC hangers-on! If all you're looking for is a left-wing nitwit, they come in all religions and ethnicity (though Jews are unfortunately over-represented).

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Your story made me laugh–and cringe. I'm the unusual Jewish woman who has a case of what in men is called "shiksa disease." I was married for many years to a WASP, and am now amiably divorced and engaged to marry another! My daughter goes to Hebrew school but resolutely defines herself as a half-and-half, out of loyalty to both sides of her family.

Oddly enough, I do think intermarriage is a threat to the continuation of the Jewish tradition, but I also believe that Jewish parents lose more than they gain by trying to shove a Jews-only policy down their children's throats. Having been raised in a traditional environment, I took the first opportunity to mingle with non-Jews and escape the ghetto in which I was raised. A rather famous Jewish writer, who was raised Orthodox and graduated from a prominent Yeshivah, once explained his marriage to a Muslim woman as his fascination with "the other." There's much truth in that.

And there's a grain of truth in the stereotypes, too. Jewish men do seem to be more tolerant of forthright, outspoken women–but non-Jewish men are sometimes intrigued by women who don't fulfill the old-fashioned, demure, "here's-your-martini-dear" ideal. Why are the handsome, macho, sexy guys in the movies always goyishe (Harrison Ford must be the paradigm) and the Jewish guys the funny little comic relief? And for the opposite syndrome, for all you youngsters who don't remember the movie, rent "The Heartbreak Kid" in which the Jewish hero leaves his whining JAP bride for a shiksa goddess (Cybill Shephard, I think.)

The bottom line is you fall in love with whom you fall in love with, and adventurous, curious people will always find someone different to complement their own backgrounds. There may not be any Jews left in a couple of generations, other than the ultra-Orthodox, but if that's the case then perhaps the ethnic self-definition will have outlived its usefulness.

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This article made me laugh. I am a 15-year-old girl, and already I am never even attracted to anyone but Jewish boys. Even if they aren't practicing, the parenting and the link creates something that just isn't there with other boys. Every single boy I've ever dated or found attractive my entire life has been at least half Jewish, and of course, any time I'm going to be seeing a new boy, I make sure the first thing I tell my parents is "Yes, he's a nice Jewish boy." My parents (my Jewish father and my Southern Methodist-raised mother) always ask this jokingly, but I know deep down my father wants me to marry Jewish, as do my grandparents and other Jewish relatives. I find it amusing that even in high school the automatic attraction between Jews already exists, and even my gentile girlfriends want the Jewish boys.

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I'm a Jewish woman and I think it's about time we have a say in this discussion. Now I know why it's so hard to find a kind Jewish man to date. It's true! They're all dating non-Jews! Personally, I don't recall ever meeting the type of Jewish man you all talk about, and I've met a lot of them, let me tell you. There are nice guys and jerks in every ethnic group and faith. Perhaps, non-Jews like to date Jews so much because it's a touch of the exotic.

Personally, I feel like it would be weird to date a Jewish man now. I'd wonder if he was dating me solely because I'm Jewish, from the family pressures, or whether it had to do with me. The whole issue cuts both ways.

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First, the background: I was born in the Midwest and was raised as a Catholic. One Yom Kippur, a friend of mine was whining about having to fast, so I volunteered to do it with him and to go to services. I began to see Reform Judaism as a much better fit than Catholicism and it allows me to study and choose the right level of observance for me.

The conversion process typically takes about a year, depending on the speed at which the student and rabbi go. I've been going really slowly, but I still fully intend to see the conversion through. But part of me is a little hesitant because of the dating situation. I've become a little scared of Jewish mothers over the past year or so. I had a bad experience with one boyfriend whose mom slipped him the phone numbers of "real Jewish girls" behind my back while being sweet as can be to my face. This, despite the fact that I went to temple more often than he did. Being made to feel second-class was an awful experience. It was also a wake-up call.

If none of the good stuff about me matters as much to a boyfriend (or his mother) as the fact that I wasn't born Jewish, well then, those aren't people I want in my life. For any individual to base their opinion of another person solely on a factor that person cannot control (skin color, religion, etc.)–that is racism. You can dress it up as preservation of a culture or whatever and use funny foreign words to describe it, but it's still racism. And it's not a trait I care to pass on to my kids.

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I have dated a number of Jewish women and I even went so far as to date an Israeli woman when I was in college. I find Jewish people in general to be intellectual, and by that, I mean, intellectually curious–a rarity in others. They also tend to be highly educated, have similar political and social interests to mine, and are mighty attractive, when it all comes down to it.

It is sad and funny to me that the ideal Jew for me, Woody Allen, is now dating outside the faith and inside his own family.

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I have the reverse problem that you do. I always end up meeting gentile girls (like you, I guess). Last night on yet another date with a goy, she asked, "Really, you're Jewish? I thought you were Scotch or something." Ah well. E-mail me back. We sound like we're perfect for each other.

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My Jewish boyfriend told me that the motto at his Jewish fraternity in college was, "Shiksas are for practice." Despite his denial that he thinks this way, the comment did not go over too well.

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Why would you want to date members of such a tightly knit religious/ethnic group unless they were in the process of cutting themselves off from it? That would be suffocating. I dated a Jewish guy in high school, and his parents couldn't stand me–not so much because I wasn't Jewish (conversion was an option) but because they asked me how many children I wanted (great question for a high school girl, eh?), and I told them none. I wasn't feminine and domestic enough for their boy, who was going to be a great scientist someday and needed a good woman for moral support (i.e. unpaid domestic work) behind him.

I still have a great affection for him, but we were never in love, and I could never have stood that kind of pressure from his family to conform to their definition of "a good wife." (Instead, I married a non-Jewish atheist whose parents couldn't care less what he believed or what his wife was like, as long as she loved him.) Well, 15 years later, my old boyfriend is a scientist, and we're still great friends. And he does his own laundry and cooking. He says he's a bachelor for life. His mother's tactics backfired altogether.

I believe that to worship and believe as you please is an unalienable American right, but the guilt and manipulation and pressure that goes on within conservative religious groups in the name of preserving culture and faith undermines that basic right. And I'm not sure it's all about preserving cultural or religious values–I think it's more about preserving parental control way past its expiration date. Any man who has to marry a good Jewish girl or a good Catholic or Baptist girl or whatever to please Mama is a wimp and a jellyfish. I prefer vertebrates, thank you very much, like my old boyfriend. If he ever changes his mind about marriage, he'll make some lucky woman a wonderful partner.

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When you marry a Jew you marry the entire family. When you marry a goy you marry the entire trailer park.

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I am astonished at the willingness with which some people accept the stereotype of the Jewish male. No doubt there are cultural influences that attend religious faith, but the characteristics you describe are derived from a bogus mythology. You see in Jewish guys what you want to see. Some of them have the qualities that you describe, others do not, but this is obvious. Would you so readily cast such a broad generalization on African- American men? On Latinos? Is your next generalization that Jewish men are better money managers? The presumptions underlying these descriptions are truly offensive.

My male Jewish friends are the first to admit, sorry to disappoint those who buy into these myths, that these stereotypes are fiction. Basically, most share ambitions as diverse and eclectic as the rest of us guys. Some have these qualities you describe, others don't. But the attributes you apply to them are just as prevalent in guys of other faiths. The notion that if you weren't brought up Jewish, you don't have certain thought processes, would be laughable if it weren't so repugnant.

Although the topic of interfaith dating is certainly interesting, it is a shame that it is presented in such a close-minded way.

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The essay states as fact a number of stereotypes about Jews, which, although positive, are stereotypes nonetheless, and therefore quite offensive. I think we would all be shocked if a similar essay appeared extolling, say, the virtues of white men dating black women ("so much more willing to do stuff around the house," perhaps). It is no less acceptable to single out Jews, even in a purportedly positive light.

Positive stereotypes are often turned on their heads: from "those people are good with money" to "those people have all the money and run the world." While I understand that the Web site is in many ways separate from the print Washington Post, it is nevertheless a part of your distinguished newspaper, of which I have been a faithful reader for several years. And I, for one, was shocked to see this piece presented on your Web site. There are intelligent, interesting ways to address some of the important questions related to interethnic dating: issues of combining cultures, family opposition to relationships, etc. An argument that men (or women) of a particular ethnic group should be targeted because of a set of stereotyped images is offensive not just to members of that ethnic group, but to all thinking human beings. The Post, and the author of this piece, who hides behind a pseudonym, owes us all an apology.

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I just read your column regarding dating/loving Jewish men. I can't imagine being so shallow as to love someone for a particular trait ("he has blue eyes -- he must be mine!"). Not all Jewish men are the things you mention/quote in your article.

I was raised in a Protestant home and, after some major life obstacles, began searching for alternative spiritual answers. Three years ago, I started dating a Jewish man (now my fiancÚ) who opened my eyes to the history, beauty, tradition and intelligence of Judaism. But HE didn't do anything. When we started to get serious, he asked me if I'd ever consider converting. I thought long and hard, then began studying. Now, after two years of practicing and learning, I am ready to convert. I am making this choice because it makes sense to ME. I want to be Jewish for myself and for my (future) children, not for my fiancÚ or his family (his mother converted, too). He never pressured me, nor has he been actively involved with any of my studies. We go to synagogue, practice in-home rituals and keep kosher, but I am certainly more observant and spiritual than he is. I intend to be the religious arbiter in our home (taking the kids to Hebrew school, etc.).

But the fact of the matter is that I did not fall in love with my fiancÚ because of his Jewishness. He is not the stereotypical American Jew you portray in your article (and believe me, non-American Jews are MUCH different!), and I am glad for that. I love him for exactly who he is. I'm glad he's Jewish because I have found myself in the religion as well, but I would still love him if he were Mormon or Buddhist. And, truth be told, I would not convert to any other religion. I am thrilled with my decision and look forward to being an active participant in the Jewish community (which is something my fiancÚ does not care that much about!). So things worked out for us, but not all interfaith marriages work out so well, especially where they try to keep two religions and raise kids.

I think it's more important to be open to ALL people to discover the traits you desire in a mate. Not all Jewish men are neurotic and/or open-minded, for example. I don't agree with excluding anyone from the dating pool! You have to decide what traits you absolutely cannot live with (neat-freak, selfish, whatever) and be open to all other possibilities. You may be surprised where you find your true love!

By the way, my fiancÚ and I met at work. I didn't even like him at first!

P.S. I question your use of the word "shiksa"– quite a nasty bit of Yiddish, that is!

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Loved your column about dating out of the faith. I was raised Catholic, but having grown up in New York, Jews were everywhere. Due to all the reasons in your column (and more), I adore Jewish boys. They treat their women well. I have entered several interfaith relationships, which have all ended with "you're not Jewish" on the list! I wish there were more nice Jewish boys in D.C. who were willing to date out of the faith and be serious about it!

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Interesting article. Had to laugh about the social justice and caring about humanity part of the "values that set Jews apart". My husband's Long Island Jewish parents care more about their neighbor's Lexus than they do about their neighbors.

I'm a Catholic from the Midwest, and we've talked a lot about the differences in our religions as they relate to social justice and service to others. My Catholic upbringing reinforced that regularly, as does my parish here in Virginia. However, for him and his community, there is no external focus. That ended at 13 with the bar mitzvah presents.

This said, we're happily married. We fell in love with each other–not a Jew and a Catholic. Both sets of parents have welcomed us with open arms and there has been minimal religious interference.

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As a Jewish guy in his early thirties, I read your article and found it to be very funny and quite flattering. It confirms what my experience has been in dating non-Jewish women, and I always find it surprising and slightly humorous. Would you believe many Asian women find Jewish men very attractive? Once I met a slimy fellow in a night club in Japan who actually lied to women telling them he was Jewish so he could pick them up. One of the big reasons I think goyim find Jewish men attractive is that we are very pro-feminist. This might sound really goofy, but the fact of the matter is that all the Jewish women in my life are extremely independent, strong-willed people, and I find such women to be very attractive. In other words, most Jewish guys are not intimidated by intellectual or professional women and actually seek them out. It is part of our culture. On the other hand, I think many Christians find Jewish women to be very bossy and/or loud for many of the same reasons.

I would recommend that your readers check out the Web site Judaism 101 to find a nice discussion on how non-Jews are perceived by many Jews. It is also an excellent Web site to learn about Jewish beliefs in general. Contrary to popular belief, Judaism does not maintain that Jews are better than other people. However, I know for a fact that Jewish women are extremely hostile to non-Jewish women dating Jewish men (understandably). Hence the Yiddish word "shiksa" for such women, which means something like loathsome. I of course do not subscribe to this view.

I personally have dated several wonderful Christian women, but as I have gotten older I must admit I prefer to date Jewish women simply because I have found there is a certain kinship and because I would like to raise my children Jewish. If I met a Christian woman who was open to these things, I think that would be a big plus. However I think it would be hard for me to live in a Christian or agnostic household. Judaism is more than a culture.

I would be more than happy to discuss this more if you wish.

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I was brought up Presbyterian, and my first serious relationship was with a Jewish woman. We parted amicably enough for her to set me up with a Jewish friend of hers. Of all my ex-girlfriends, I only keep in touch with these two. The initial attraction was clearly that they were intelligent, witty, fiery young women who wanted what I wanted out of life (fun now, no kids until after they had secured a middle class life). The stumbling block for long-term plans in college, or short-term planning in their mid twenties, was their desire to raise kids in a Jewish home. Period. It didn't really help much in the final analysis that I picked up a lot of Yiddish, or that I was open to sending them to Yeshiva or whatever. I just didn't have the cultural credentials, especially according to her family. Nice guy, good job, treats you well, OK for a boyfriend in college, not husband material.

One woman's grandmother, when told I was a goy with no plans to convert, responded with "Ach, such a waste!" And she really liked me. I'm sure other family members were less, ah, generous. I'm 38 now, and separated, so once again I expect that Jewish women will figure prominently in my social life. After they have already raised their children Jewish, or are well on their way, I may be seen as less of a threat as a boyfriend or second husband. We'll see...

P.S. Love the column, even though I'm a geezer next to you twenty-somethings, it's still relevant most of the time.

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I'm about as WASPy as they come (raised Southern Baptist, which is why I'm an atheist now). In grad school, I met a guy who was Jewish. Of course, I didn't know he was Jewish. I'm not so isolated that I've never met a Jew before–it's just that unless someone tells me, I don't pick up on these things. With the exception of Bible-thumping Baptists, I really can't discern much about a person's religious beliefs from his daily life. I don't have a list of last names that are "Jewish" anymore than I have a list that are gentile.

So, I'm blundering along, in what I assumed to be that awkward pre-dating stage, where you hang out together, but no one's made a move yet. It began to drag on, longer even than usual. We were hanging out too much to be "casual friends," but still no overt show of interest from him. I consulted with friends. Am I not seeing the signs? Is he too shy? Should I make the first move? The general consensus was that he had to be gay. So, as a last ditch effort, I invited him to join a large group of friends on an outing so the gang could scope him out. My best friend almost burst out laughing when she saw him, and could hardly keep a straight face when he introduced himself. She dragged me off to one of those endless girl pow-wows in the ladies room. There, she broke up. "He's Jewish!" she informed me, as if this answered all my questions. Wha-? I don't recall any vow of celibacy mentioned in my comparative religions course in college. What difference does that make? Finally, she explained, from her personal experience in fruitless pursuit, that Jews aren't allowed to date outside the faith. Apparently, their mothers threaten suicide if they bring home gentile girls.

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Boy, could I relate to that story. I dated a Moroccan-Jewish guy for a few years, and his parents couldn't bear the thought that he was serious with me. The fact that I am American was just as horrifying to them. They actually told him they would buy him a new convertible if he dumped me. We finally ended it because he decided he had to marry someone of his own faith. I remember his friends used to say that it's great to date non-Jews, but they all said the woman they married had to be Jewish. Now that I think back, my best boyfriends were Jewish. hmmm...

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Roughly half my significant male connections have been Jewish, and I'm a Scots-Presbyterian who grew up in Southeast Asia. I don't know what it is, but a smart, funny Jewish guy, from the New York area, almost automatically gets my attention. Some ex-boyfriends have gone on to marry Jewish women, and I'm happy for them in the sense that there is something important about preserving this particular gestalt. And I sympathize with the organizers of Jewish singles events who are annoyed when non-Jews show up. I have felt the same way in going to university alumni singles events when people attend to get to mingle with graduates of selected places. There's something icky about it if you're not a member of the group. On the other hand, I don't admit to myself that I go to alumni singles events to meet somebody from my same general background.

So where does that leave us romantic shiksas? I would say along with everybody else facing a high degree of ambiguity in relationships. I am glad that I was born in a time and lived in places in which I could pursue my Jewish male friends. In the next life it will be automatic that we all help to support each others' traditions. We will be "dual citizens" of religions just as we are now dual citizens of countries, and raise our children to be respectful of one or more ways of life that represent their connection to humanity.

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Wow!! This article totally addresses the religion issue that I am going through right now. My boyfriend is Jewish and I happen to be the shiksa that he loves. I met one side of his family over our winter break from law school– the side of the family that would really prefer my boyfriend to date and marry within his faith. The question always is, "Why can't he find a nice, Jewish girl?" So anyway after meeting my boyfriend's grandmother, aunt, uncle, and cousin, they told him that they loved everything about me and then asked if I would be willing to convert. My boyfriend is fine with the non-Jewish part of me and I don't think he will dump me because I don't have the right 'credentials' (as it has been termed) or because I'm not a part of the 'tribe', but I do know that if we decide to marry, the fact that I am a shiksa will always be in the back of their minds. The things you deal with for love...

Sidenote: I am absolutely in agreement about the Jewish guy qualities. He is my first Jewish boyfriend but he is the best yet with all the qualities I have been looking for in a guy.

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I just find it easier to date within my religion. I am a fervent Roman Catholic and it is definitely great to be able to share my faith with my significant other. I have tried dating outside of my religion (even non Christians) and it has always been a problem.

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Forget it. I'll never do it. I'm willing to date any branch of Christianity, but I'll never date Jewish. I don't want any potential children having to deal with the issues that occur with that mess.

You can be sure that I wouldn't back down on what holiday to celebrate, and I wouldn't accept celebrating both. This is one of those things that I would never back down on. So, it would end up a mess.

And I'm not some born again way out there type, either. Those people annoy me. I'm all for freedom of religion. That includes the right of Jewish people to only half correct.

Also, I was shocked at the "we Jews are superior" attitude I heard from the man you quoted at the beginning of the article. Substitute Christian or Muslim in there and you'd be hearing a lot of cries of anti-Semitism.

Besides, he's full of it. There are a lot of charities that are run by non-Jews. Ever hear of the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, and so on? And last time I checked, Mother Theresa wasn't Jewish.

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My problem with intermarriage/dating among Jews is that it's lopsided by gender. Jewish men are much more interested in romance with non-Jews than Jewish women are. That leaves Jewish women with a smaller pool of men to pick from. I think Jewish mens' fascination with shiksas is perpetuated by Hollywood–just look at all the Jewish guys on TV who are married to blondes. Why? I don't know, but it begs the question of whether Jewish women are unappealing to Jewish men–less glamorous or exotic, perhaps? Anyway, if perpetuating the Jewish race/culture/religion is important, the offspring of Jewish men and non-Jewish women will not be Jewish, unless those women choose to convert.

I guess it comes down to whether you think people should have first pick from their own ethnic group. I would feel guilty, for example, dating black men, given the small pool available to black women.

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I just wanted you to know that your column struck a chord with me. I'm an African-American female and 95 percent of my friends are Jewish. I always end up falling for Jewish men (half the time I don't even know they are Jewish). At this point, I'm at my wits end. I've always been aware of why my Jewish male friends don't see dating potential in me, but it still hurts. The thing that gets me is that my female Jewish friends have no problem dating outside the religion. I wonder why that is? Any thoughts?

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You know, this is actually very offensive. If a white woman (or man) wrote an essay about how s(h)e prefers to date black men (or women), I can only imagine the uproar. Aside from the fact that this essay stereotypes Jews (and a positive stereotype is still a stereotype, folks, and can easily turn negative, like the old line that Jews are good with money), there is only one acceptable reason to want to date somebody of a particular ethnic group: if one is a part of that ethnic group, and hopes to maintain the same traditions in one's future family. I suppose you could be of another group and want those traditions, but in the case of Judaism, there's an easy solution to that one–convert. A lot of people go the other way and want to date someone who's NOT like them, but then it seems odd to limit it to just one group. Non-Jews seeking out Jews just seems weird and a little creepy. I don't think I'd want to date someone whose primary reason for liking me is that they're into my ethnic background. Would you?

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I'm not sure many interfaith relationships work. Once the relationship gets intense, 95 percent of the time the guy pressures the woman to convert, and often tries to cut her off from her own family to prevent "corrupting" influences of outside traditions. A really good friend of mine just went through this in a worst-case scenario situation with a Jewish guy. At first, he was tolerant (he's not even a "practicing" Jew), but after about a year he started to maniuplate her. She's Swedish, and anything having to do with her culture (even visiting her family during the holidays with or without him) was completely unacceptable. She tried so hard to accept him, and even tried to convert, but in the end, she couldn't give up her own family and Swedish heritage just to please him. Religion sometimes brings out the worst intolerance in people.

Me, I'll only date agnostics. Most agnostics still celebrate religion-associated holidays (like Christmas or Hanukah) with their families, which is great for me. I like any excuse for a celebration. However, being Jewish, Muslim, Christian, or Hindu is a cultural aspect I associate with my boyfriend, not a religious one.

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I know I am responding off the cuff (in a huff), so I might not even be addressing the question properly. But I had an experience years ago with a co-worker who was an adorable Jewish boy–tall, attractive (although HE didn't think he was–his mother had done a number on him about his "funny nose," which in my white-bread opinion wasn't funny at all), smart, funny, vulnerable, emotionally stable, financially set. I wanted to enjoy his company for outings after work, and the occasional Shakespeare at Carter Barron or 9:30 Club gig. He seized the opportunity to "take me home to Mom and Dad" for his very first rebellion.

The killer came a few months later, after I was already emotionally attached, when he decided to end our relationship because he needed to be putting more effort into finding a nice Jewish girl–not that there was one in the wings yet, though, he assured me. That was OK with me, because in my heart, I knew I needed to find a nice Christian boy anyway.

So, maybe the interfaith thing wasn't the entire issue since we were still co-workers and I still had to see him everyday. This was bittersweet for me, at least, until I noticed he was flirting with someone else in the office who worked in a different department. She was not Jewish, either, but her name sort of sounded Jewish, and he thought he could get away with it (he told me this later after a major blowup) with his parents. It appeared he was giving HER the relationship he wouldn't give me.

I've NEVER been so insulted in all my life. Basically he was telling me that I was genetically inferior for a long-term relationship, but that I owed it to him to give him some life experience so that he wouldn't sully women in his own gene pool.

My vote is if you're not a Jewish woman, NEVER NEVER NEVER be tempted to date a Jewish man, particularly if he's the least bit loyal to his faith (even if they aren't "religious," the racial mindset is probably there). You'll only be disappointed. Of course, it will be hard. They can be SO attractive!

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Read Emily Matewell's original piece.


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