They say love is blind but is it also agnostic? In my work as a dating coach, I'm hearing more and more clients say that they are open to dating someone of another ethnicity or religion. However, I have also been seeing more relationships break up years down the road when the couple realizes that they have a difference in core values that even love cannot reconcile.
Having one parent who is white and another who is black, one Christian and the other Jewish, December's Hanu-Kwanzaa-Mas caused some confusion for me. Luckily, supportive parents with a strong moral compass kept me on the straight and narrow, but their relationship couldn't weather certain storms. Like when my mother joined the board of a Jewish group in our area who brought in a guest speaker to talk about keeping the religion "pure" and making sure the congregation's kids didn't marry outside of the faith. Or when my father and I were guilted into taking the body of Christ at my sister's Catholic wedding.
But that was decades ago and now we're living in modern times. Times when there's a public outcry over a Cheerios ad featuring an interracial couple. Or when a white father is followed home and challenged to identify himself as the Dad of his biological brown children. Regardless, the numbers don't lie. Census reports show that interracial dating is on the rise with Latino and White mixes leading the pack.
Skin color is just the product packaging, but what happens when it's what's inside that is completely different? There's so much talk lately about interracial unions, but few people are talking about what happens when you marry someone who believes something different happens to you when you die, or that women have another role in society than the one you've known them to fill your whole life, or that days you held sacred and holy don't even exist on their calendar.
One of my Jewish clients is dating a Christian man for the first time. She had a conversation with her boyfriend that shook me. He said that he wanted his children to know about the things he grew up with -- Santa Claus for example. She replied, "My children can know about Santa Claus. They will know him as a man that brings Christian kids toys on Christmas." Which makes sense in a bubble, but when you have to consider the alternate beliefs and traditions of your partner, is it fair to essentially negate their entire religious existence if it's in conflict with yours?
If you really love someone, you have to be open to some level of compromise. Here are four steps to take if you fear your interfaith relationship may have lost its way.
1. Ask yourself why you believe what you believe? If the answer is "because that's what my parents taught me to believe in," it might be time to do some self-study.
2. Figure out how you both can be right. Most religions stand on some common ground, so search for similarities rather than dwelling on the differences.
3. Don't try to change them. If your partner wants to convert, let it come from their desire to do so rather than nagging, forcing, or giving ultimatums.
4. Keep your extended family out of it. In modern American society most of us have the ability to marry for love, so while you should be respectful of your family and your culture, if you've exercised your right to choose a spouse, you should make your boundaries with family clear. What happens behind closed sanctuary doors is not their business.
If you think the days of religious persecution are behind us, look no further than Myanmar where last week Buddhist leaders proposed a law banning Buddhist women from marrying men of another faith in order to preserve nationality and religion. This controversial legislation stems from a deadly and divisive movement initiated by a Buddhist monk, Ashin Wirathu, whose "969" campaign has caused a wave of anti-Muslim violence that has allegedly led to over 40 deaths in Myanmar since March. With so much segregation and conflict in the world surrounding faith, it seems that we may never understand one another until we start letting love do the talking.
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