I realized sometime in 2012 that, to that point, I’d only dated lapsed Catholics. This was prior to Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation and Pope Francis’ appointment, and I found a place with these people who had become disillusioned with the conservative bent of the church in which they’d been raised. Our progressive politics had solace in our combined disillusionment with conservative religion and it made it easier to connect.
But the fact is that faith, in many situations, plays a deeply important role in many people’s lives – mine included. Of the people I’ve gone on dates with, the ones I felt most connected to were the ones who understood the kind of faith I have – the ones who made comments about liberation theology and didn’t go “huh?” when I said “evangelical.” By virtue of my career and the work that I do within and for the Church, my faith often becomes a barrier to further intimacy because we’re not nearly on the same page.
Emmy, being a seminarian and a pastoral candidate, will surely have more to say on this topic than I, but I do have a few ideas for how to approach the topic of faith in a dating relationship.
Respect needs to be at the forefront of any relationship – friendship, family, romantic, or otherwise. If you don’t respect a person because they believe in a deity, you should not be dating them. Beliefs are such a deeply important part of a person’s life and their being that disrespecting beliefs is akin to disrespecting their very selves. If you don’t respect a person’s beliefs, you don’t respect them.
Interfaith couples can and do work – it depends on the compromise the people involved can make. If your significant other lampoons your faith every time you bring it up, agreeing, “not to talk about it” isn’t a compromise – it’s suppression. What true compromise looks like is two people able to talk openly and honestly about their beliefs with the reassurance that differences will continue to be respected. I, for example, could never date a conservative complementarian who believes liberation theology is prima facie problematic. But I can (and have) dated atheists who respect my spirituality and what I choose to believe in and treated it as an important part of me.
Recognition of Limits
When I say I could never date a conservative complementarian, that isn’t me disrespecting their beliefs or disrespecting them – it’s me saying I know my own limits when it comes to who I will be intimate with. Knowing your own limits is important when it comes to dating, especially in matters of faith. If you are a person who is saving yourself for marriage because of your faith, it’s probably for the best that you limit yourself to people who share that same belief (rather than attempting to persuade someone into being celibate with you). It’s not mean or bad to recognize that you will limit yourself to dating people who believe Y things or that you cannot date people who believe X things. This is how dating works. People will sometimes try to make us feel guilty for who we choose to spend time with, but that’s bull.
The thing about dating is that it simultaneously asks that you know who you are and provides you with opportunities to learn about yourself. I learned pretty quickly that I couldn't date someone who was anti-theist (as opposed to merely atheist). I also learned I can't date people who wear their faith on their political sleeve. There are limits to my generosity when it comes to relationships, and that's okay. We don't have to give someone who denigrates who we are a "second chance." We don't have to go on that blind date.
Dating allows us to be more confident in limiting who we will let be in our spaces as we learn and figure out who we are. It gives us room to make mistakes, to test our limits, and to grow as human beings. Learning how to date as a person of faith is a tricky task, but it is one of those things that gets easier with practice.
[Photo by Liz West on Flickr]