Finding the right person to date can be hard enough—we want someone we’re attracted to, both physically and in terms of his or her personality. Plenty of factors, variables, personal desires, and deal-breakers go into that. But then some of us add another crucial element into the mix: spirituality.
There’s a reason why dating websites tend to include search options for religion, or why there are specialized apps and websites for members of specific religions.
“Someone I’m dating is potentially someone I’d marry,” said Chaya, who is Jewish. “And someone I’m marrying is someone I need to share a lot in common with in terms of values and goals. Marriage can be hard. There can be difficult decisions involved. I need to trust my partner that we’re on the same page about what is important, including religion.”
To get a better idea of the pros and cons of trying to date within one’s own religion, I talked to dozens of people from a handful of faiths, and even a few who subscribe to no religious affiliation at all. I found a few themes from our conversations:
Limiting Your Options Can Make It Easier or More Difficult
Looking for a partner from a specific religion immediately narrows the field of candidates. You can go to religious services, events or social groups, look around and flirt away. You also can click a button on a website or download a religion-specific app and dating becomes like playing the “Guess Who?” board game— suddenly you’re able to ignore a bunch of people who won’t be the right choice.
For some, that shallower pool still has enough fish in the sea (to mix metaphors for a moment). They may belong to a religion that is prevalent. And even if their religion is less common, they may still live in a neighborhood, a city or a state that has plenty of others who share the same faith.
“My wife and I met at orientation before college. I knew I would only date a Catholic; Christian would have been acceptable too, provided everything else worked out,” said Travis. “I was attracted to her at first, but I wouldn’t really consider dating a non-Catholic. When she came to Mass the first weekend, you can imagine I was a bit surprised and overjoyed.”
Not everyone is that fortunate.
“I’m from Oklahoma, and the Latter-day Saints population out here is pretty sparse,” said Kyle, whose high school had three Mormon students—him, his sister and one other person. Another nearby school had perhaps 20 Mormon girls, he recalled, and there are even fewer at his college. Only one of his four girlfriends has been of his own religion.
“We’re definitely encouraged to date fellow Mormons, but it’s tough outside of Utah or Idaho, where the demographics are skewed toward a higher LDS population,” he said.
“Many, even most Orthodox Jews of marriageable age either live in the New York City area or expect to spend time there for dates, even if they have no intention of living there in the long run,” Aviva said. “For someone who chooses not to do that, it can be even harder to meet like-minded people.”
But technology and tenacity can make a big difference.
“I’m not in Utah or anywhere else where there’s a ton of Mormons, so I used the internet,” said Scott, who went on a website specifically catering to people of his faith. “I met three women on there, two of whom lived literally 1,000 miles away from me. I flew out and met one of them, but there was no significant connection. I kept trying and then met a woman who lived six hours away. We talked for a month or so online, then met halfway for a date, and that was it. Instant chemistry.”
The reason that someone like Scott was willing to go as far as he did to find a mate—and the reason that so many limit themselves to someone of their faith even when it makes things more difficult—is because they believe that dating and any subsequent relationship will be easier, and that they will be happier.
“I want someone who can help me grow in my faith, holds to the same moral values that I do, and would help me raise my children in a good Catholic home,” Josh said. “Obviously there’s more I’d like, but these are the things I desire that come specifically from [being with] a Catholic woman.”
“I only date Jews. I do this for a lot of reasons, many to do with cultural and religious understanding,” said Rachel. “Mainly because there is always the possibility that I could marry the person I am dating, and I want to raise my kids entirely Jewish.”
Gabrielle, meanwhile, found the right fit in being with a fellow atheist, as her partner of four years is. She was raised Roman Catholic, while he was formerly a Christian who grew up in the Bible Belt.
“I couldn’t imagine dating someone who didn’t share my beliefs on religion and science,” she said. “Being able to openly discuss our religious upbringings and why we left religion tied us closer together. The fact that I chose to think rationally about religion and made the decision that I didn’t believe in God is a vital piece of who I am today. Someone who didn’t share this same experience would not be able to understand who I really am.”
But for those who are religious, and particularly those of certain religions, dating can be difficult if you’re not with someone who doesn’t understand or respect why you don’t drink or why you’ll hold off on “doing it” until you both say “I do.”
“Usually abstaining from sex before marriage would be an issue,” said Fred, a member of the Baha’i Faith who is now married. “Some considered alcohol consumption an important aspect of their lives for some odd reason. Other issues regarding the laws of the Baha’i Faith would conflict with the women I wanted to date, which made it difficult to connect at a higher, more spiritual level. In the end, I realized that marrying someone of my own religion was easier for me.”
“A faithful Mormon lifestyle differs in many respects from the typical American’s,” said Luke. “For example, we attend church weekly and don’t drink. Dating someone of my own faith means I don’t have to compromise my beliefs for someone else. Mormons also don’t believe in premarital sex, so dating other Mormons means we both enter the relationship with similar expectations of what will and won’t happen.”
Still, being with someone of the same religion doesn’t guarantee that two people will align when it comes to their lifestyles or agree when it comes to major life choices.
“The best thing about dating someone who shares a religion is that while there are going to be differences you’ll need to sort out, the actual distance between you on those issues will generally be a lot less if you are both sincere in your faith,” said Meredith, who is Catholic. “Something to be aware of, too, is that … being members of a religion doesn’t necessarily mean you think the same about things like sex, birth control, extended family, church involvement outside mass, politics, etc.”
“I had a phase where I tried to date just Catholic guys,” she said. “But eventually I realized that belonging to the same religion doesn’t mean they’re going to be a good person, so it’s less important to me to both be Catholic than to hold similar attitudes about some issues and to have a great deal of respect for one another’s beliefs when we differ.”
Sharing a religion has become less important to Meredith than it used to be—and less than it is for others. It depends on the person, as well as the person they end up with.
Put simply: If it works, it works.
It’s working for Zachary, who converted to Mormonism as an adult but whose partner is an atheist.
“As long as I found someone I wanted to share my life with, and could be myself around, that was all that mattered,” he said. “It is of course important to me to be in a relationship with someone who understands and supports my beliefs. My partner … respects my beliefs and is happy for me to continue in them. Without this mutual respect, I don’t think we could ever have entered into a relationship together.”
“We have had long conversations about how we will raise our children, and have reached a happy compromise,” he said. “This is not the easiest conversation to have, and I suspect this is one of the reasons why many choose not to date outside of their own faith.”