Interfaith Dating During the Holidays

Margot Carmichael Lester has a article about interfaith relationships at the MSN Dating & Personals website.

She offers the following pieces of advice (all expanded upon in the article) to those who wish to avoid religious conflicts around the holiday season:

  • Start a dialogue
  • Practice acceptance
  • Manage expectations
  • Spread the good word
  • Give a little

Not surprising advice. But good advice, nonetheless.

I especially like the “spread the good word” bit:

“The person that you are dating may understand very well that you are of a different faith, but many of his friends and family just don’t get it,” says Elaine Bloom of Maplewood, NJ. “For instance, they may assume you will want to go to church with the family and participate in the service and don’t understand when you are reluctant or just don’t want to do it. They may ask about your Christmas tree and when you open presents and that kind of thing. If it’s not your holiday, it can be very awkward.” So either have your date fill in his or her friends and family in advance, or come up with a way of communicating this that feels comfortable—“Oh, actually I don’t celebrate Christmas; I’m (fill in your religion here)” can work well.

I get quoted in the article as well. (Because, you know, I’m a relationship expert :))

“It’s important to compromise without forcing the other person to give up his or her beliefs,” says Hemant Mehta, author of I Sold My Soul on eBay. An atheist, he dated a Catholic woman for a couple of years. “While we didn’t go to church, I don’t think that would have been a problem for me if it meant a lot for her to go.” Sometimes there are ways you can join in the other person’s celebration that won’t compromise your faith (or lack thereof), and vice-versa. It should be a matter of each partner finding a way to support the other.

I don’t know if other atheists would be willing to say the same thing.

Depending on the level of religiosity of the other person, I’m not sure how much of a compromise I’d be willing to make anymore, either. It’s tough to do a faith/no-faith relationship.

But I’ve gotten used to thinking that most people I’ll be interested in won’t have the same level of “enthusiasm” about atheism that I do. There’s going to have to be compromise somewhere.


[tags]atheist, atheism, love, dating[/tags]

  • http://godlesswasatch.blogspot.com John Moeller

    I’m actually married to a Pagan. We have philosophical differences, but it’s a matter of concentrating on the common stuff, like our shared fear of clowns. :-p

    In all seriousness, I’ve discussed this with her before. I’ve stated that if she became a conservative evangelical, the marriage would be over. She bristled at this a little bit, claiming that I should support her in every way. This was until I explained that such a change would require her to alter her personality so much that she wouldn’t be the same person that I married. I think that there are philosophies that just don’t blend.

    As for church, I always hated going. My wife liked the ritualistic part of Catholicism, but I prefer a “separate worlds” approach. I of course attend (and dress up for) important ceremonies, usually at a Catholic church, because my wife’s parents are Catholic, and so is my sister’s husband.

  • http://www.individualsovereigntist.com/ John Scott

    Why is it hard to do a “faith/no faith” relationship? Unless you’re one of those fundies who can’t stand other people having differing opinion, I don’t see the problem.

  • http://thewayward1.blogspot.com/ Brett

    I’m not sure I could date a religious person. My standards now are such that I require the skeptical mindset in order for a woman to be personally attractive to me. Some people prefer blondes, I prefer freethinkers.

  • Claire

    Why is it hard to do a “faith/no faith” relationship?

    Some people are so submerged in their faith that they can’t go for 15 minutes without saying something about it or in some way alluding to it. This would drive me nuts. Not so much what they believed, but that they just kept going on about it.

    On the flip side, if I believed in hell, it would be hard for me to be involved with someone I thought was going there.

    Plus, as Brett pointed out, there’s the whole personality thing. I don’t choose my friends (or dates) because of their beliefs, but somehow I only rarely find a new friend among the conservatively religious.

  • Stephen

    I’ve dated a Christian girl before, but she wasn’t actually, y’know, all that Christian. She was pretty much Christian in name, agnostic in practice, as far as I could tell. I suspect she was only reluctant to shed her Christian trappings because of her family. But my point is that her religious beliefs almost never seemed to affect her thinking or her opinion on matters, so it never got in the way of our relationship. So I have no idea what it’s like to date a devout Christian, but I suspect I wouldn’t like it so much because of what Claire said:

    Some people are so submerged in their faith that they can’t go for 15 minutes without saying something about it or in some way alluding to it.

    That’s very true. My parents are like this, though naturally I love them anyway. As an example, my stepdad and I were on the way to the movie theater once when his engine overheated and we had to turn around and go home. Afterwards, he theorized that God had made his engine overheat because if we had continued to the movie theater, we might have gotten into a fatal accident or something.

    Sigh. There’s no way I could spend my life with a person who draws connections like that.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    “Why is it hard to do a “faith/no faith” relationship? Unless you’re one of those fundies who can’t stand other people having differing opinion, I don’t see the problem.”

    I would actually have a very hard time being in a serious relationship with a religious believer… for much the same reason I’d have a hard time being in a serious relationship with a Republican. I want to be involved with someone who shares my core values; and there are too many things about both religion and Republicanism that go against my core values.

    And I don’t think this is intolerant. I can stand other people having differing opinions. But “being okay with other people having opinions I deeply object to” is a very different animal from “being involved in the most important, most intimate relationship of my life with someone whose opinions I deeply object to.”

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Probably the most difficult aspect of an inter-faith relationship (I’m speaking mainly of marriage) is how to raise the kids. Do you raise them in a church or outside of a church? The odds are, whatever a child is raised as, (s)he will believe at least starting out. In my case, I successfully avoided church until my first child was about 9 years old. At that time my wife really wanted us to join a church that one of her best friends had joined. I agreed. Interestingly, my 9 year-old immediately concluded (all on his own) that all this God stuff was just make believe. His younger brother, though, being only around 4, was much more susceptible to the Sunday school teachers. He is now very confused about God. It will be interesting to see how he turns out.

    Oh, when I think back to my single days… If I had a nickel for every girl who wouldn’t go out with me just because I was an atheist, well I would have perhaps 50 cents ;) Fortunately, I found that 11th girl.

  • http://blog.lib.umn.edu/fole0091/epistaxis/ Epistaxis

    Some people are so submerged in their faith that they can’t go for 15 minutes without saying something about it or in some way alluding to it.

    It’s not only the believer who could make a faith/no-faith relationship impossible. I pick at things. Sooner or later, I wouldn’t be able to help myself. One of us would have to convert or leave. I don’t think I could even put up with a non-vegetarian forever.

  • The Unbrainwashed

    Stephen said:

    That’s very true. My parents are like this, though naturally I love them anyway. As an example, my stepdad and I were on the way to the movie theater once when his engine overheated and we had to turn around and go home. Afterwards, he theorized that God had made his engine overheat because if we had continued to the movie theater, we might have gotten into a fatal accident or something.

    Sigh. There’s no way I could spend my life with a person who draws connections like that.

    This is an interesting situation. You say you couldn’t handle having a romantic relationship with a religious individual. Yet, you love your parents despite their religious inclinations. I’m in a similar situation although the religious fervor is undoubtedly less. The strongest area of dissent is in topics regarding supernatural and religiously based politics.

    Sorry I digress. I often wonder why I would never disown my parents despite their irrationality, yet I hold a future mate to higher standards. Anyone have thoughts?

  • kevin

    Easy, respect the person, not the believe. Point out the contradictions. Point out the stupidness and the how immoral and iki dogma and faith are. But don’t be aggressive just place doubt and let it grow.

    I’ve been chipping away at my girl friend’s theism slowly but surly for the past two years. As an engineering student she was already very sceptically aggressive to nonsense like astrology so all I did was put all her religious clams in the same pot and I think it has worked.
    Two years ago she said something like this: “Well people have proves for god’s existence and proves for his nonexistences so…”
    Two weeks ago she said something like this in response to her mother claiming that physicists are the most religious: “As the person here who has done the most physics, I can easily say that the claims of religion and physics are not compatible…”

  • http://daybydayhsing.blogspot.com Dawn

    [Hermant, The Friendly Atheist, has a post on interfaith dating. While it's good it's the comments that really interested me...]

  • Viggo the Carpathian

    I think that the problem arises with the degree of religiosity. Most of my family are very religious and I could not live with someone like that. For example, we had a family reunion on Thanksgiving and some distant relations came. None of my immediate family had ever met them. My uncle who is a religious nutter walks up to one of the new arrivals and and the first thing out of his mouth was “what church do you go to?” and the second was “What is your theology?” I was very glad I was tied to the kitchen cooking at this point because I was so tempted to just burn bridges and leave. He wasn’t even addressing me but it pissed me off that he would accost a person right off that way.

    I could not be married to someone with that mind set.

  • Pingback: Friendly Atheist » Questions for Atheists: Mixed Atheist/Christian Relationships

  • http://www.sophisticatedrelationships.com/blog Lexi

    I started reading your blog a few weeks ago, and it is now my favorite thing to read! It is amazing hwo you post so many thoughtful articles a day!

    I think it is easier to be an atheist or agnostic female when it comes to dating, I’ve found there to be many men and not as many women, that are atheist or agnostic.

    When I realized that I wanted to have children and a family, I stopped dating people who are not atheist or agnostic . . . because of the “how to raise the kids” issue. While I think religion does have some valuable things to teach, I think it can all be done without religion. I’d also begun ‘cringing’ when guys I’d go out on dates with suggested my sign had any relevance to our relationship or life, or a comment about how something sounds like the devil’s talk etc . . . I don’t mind the colloquialisms of “oh god” . . . or, GD, but the internal cringing I experience when dates talk about their religious beliefs, means I can’t date them. Friends, sure no problem.

    I’m agnostic/atheist. Essentially, I don’t claim to know, but I also don’t believe, nor have evidence for doing so and I’m very comfortable in my not-knowing.

    On the other hand, my best friend is Muslim, her husband is Mormon and their kids are very cute Morslims. They try and combine the best aspects of each religion to teach their children.

  • http://youtube.com/user/healthyaddict healthyaddict

    But I’ve gotten used to thinking that most people I’ll be interested in won’t have the same level of “enthusiasm” about atheism that I do. There’s going to have to be compromise somewhere.

    Ditto on that….

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    “slowly but surly”

    I realize this was a typo, Kevin — but I love it. I am totally going to steal it.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    “You say you couldn’t handle having a romantic relationship with a religious individual. Yet, you love your parents despite their religious inclinations… I often wonder why I would never disown my parents despite their irrationality, yet I hold a future mate to higher standards. Anyone have thoughts?”

    Well, you love your parents for different reasons, and in different ways, than you love your mate.

    You don’t get to choose your parents, for one thing. Plus you’ve almost certainly known them longer than you’ve known anybody, and in a unique, unreplicable way. And unless they were abusive or something, you owe them big time. So you put up with stuff from your parents that you wouldn’t put up with from even casual acquaintances, much less life partners. You can find another mate if things aren’t working; you can’t find other parents.

    But… well, speaking for myself, my partner is by far the most important other person in my life. Blood family is important, of course, but it doesn’t even come close. I share more with her, and trust her more, and am closer to her, than I have been with anyone in my life. She’s my partner in life. I don’t want a partner in life who I’m rolling my eyes about behind their back, whose opinions and core values I put up with for the sake of peace and quiet. (Except for the whole inexplicable early-’80s pop music fetish… but then, she puts up with my Sinatra fetish, so that’s fair.) I want a partner in life whose core values I share, and whose opinions I respect — even when I disagree with them.

    And we did/do get to choose each other.

    So (a) you can be selective about your mate, and (b) your mate is probably more important to you… or at least, important in a different way.

  • http://www.mydailyrant.com Andre

    I’m an atheist (strong atheist if you like the tag) and I’ve been in a relationship with a nice Pentecostal girl for almost three and a half years. We met in college (she was a housemate of a friend of mine and we used to play Shadowrun at his house, how geeky is that) and we’ve continued dating since I finished college and moved about 3 hours away.

    We had to come to terms with the religious differences between us fairly early on in the relationship. She’s pretty religious and at the beginning it was difficult for her to really see us going anywhere. It wasn’t that she didn’t think I was a good guy or anything like that, it was more that she knew the difficulties of having a relationship where one person is very religious on a personal level (as in, she doesn’t go around trying to convert or anything) and the other is, well, not religious at all. Part of the reason why things still work out is we’re very respectful of each other’s beliefs. I don’t berate her religion (or religions in general) and she doesn’t insult me or harass me for my lack thereof.

    Since we’ve been together so long we’ve had to come to terms with respect to various differences and if/when we get married and have kids how things will proceed. We’ve negotiated if the kids would go to church (they would, I wouldn’t, but my lack of going is not an excuse for them not to go) and how we’d support each other.

    I think one of the reasons we work well together is because we’re both adults and met later in our mid 20′s, so we weren’t stupid teenagers or moronic freshmen (we couldn’t have dated earlier in our lives). She knows I have no interest in going to church (she’s sad about it, but doesn’t really have a problem with it) and I’ve no interest in trying to get her to recant her beliefs.

    We did hide the fact from her parents for a very long time though since they’re way more religious than she is, but they finally accepted my position, although her father was very disappointed that I wasn’t a christian.

    Relationships can work out well between those who have faith and those who don’t as long both people are willing to compromise and be adults.

  • http://jimloomisphotography.com Jimmy

    Ya know, I’m an atheist in an all Christian family, and I rather enjoy Christmas. The gift exchange and family get together seems mostly ritualistic, and doesn’t have any religious overtones. I participate whole-heartedly in every affair, I just don’t pray. Most of my family doesn’t know that I’m atheist, which is fine with me. I’m sure my family would have a hard time if they found out, but for now, I’m happy with my situation. Maybe I’m lucky?

    I’m not a conflict hunting person, and many of you might say that i should be “accepted for who I am”, yet I’m content with the fact that my being atheist does not define me. I’m a happy, humorous, fun, intelligent, easy-going guy. Regardless of religion (or lack thereof), I’m still myself.

    I hope you all enjoy your time with your family, and don’t dwell on the crap that makes religion so useless anyway; conflict.


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