The holidays can be a really fun time to spend together if you’re dating someone you like. Cozy nights spent hanging out by the tree. Sharing a warm hot chocolate after ice skating. Family gatherings. All the food. However, what if you and your date are different religions? How does that work?
(Fortunately) we live in a world that isn’t homogeneous. If you’re dating in North America (or elsewhere), there’s always the chance that you’ll meet and potentially fall for someone who doesn’t share the same religious beliefs or cultural practices. Navigating these differences (especially during the holiday season) can be a bit tricky at first – but definitely not impossible.
Here’s a few things you should know about dating someone who is a different religion.
You celebrate different holidays and traditions.
I know what you’re thinking, “well, duh.” If you’re dating someone who is a different religion, this is the perfect time to learn about these differences and find out a) what traditions they practice and b) which (if any) of these traditions you feel comfortable sharing together.
For example, if your partner celebrates Hanukkah does that mean you have to buy them multiple presents? How would they feel if you invited them to help you decorate your Christmas tree? Are they fasting during Ramadan? How will that affect your social life together? Is it cool if you cook bacon in the morning?! These are all things that you should discuss, so that you can make the most of the holiday time you have together.
There might be differences even where you don’t think there will be differences.
Even if you’re both technically “Christian” it’s important that you’re aware that there might be differences in how you celebrate holidays. For example, years ago I dated a man whose family was Mennonite. I was raised in a not very religious Catholic household, so I falsely assumed that because he didn’t speak much about his faith, that he was by default not very religious. I also assumed that because both of our faiths fell under the banner of Christianity and we were both from similar cultural stock (Russian/German) that there wouldn’t be that many differences. However, I was completely wrong.
When it came time for my own family’s tradition of playing music and dancing at Christmas time, he stayed seated with an awkward expression on his face. He’d mentioned before in casual conversation that he “didn’t really dance,” so, I (once again) assumed his lack of enthusiasm was because of dance-floor jitters. But, later, after having a more in depth conversation, I learned that it wasn’t that he didn’t like to dance, he couldn’t dance. In his faith, dancing just wasn’t something that was done. I had no idea, because I never asked. The lesson here: when it comes to interfaith dating, don’t assume anything. When in doubt, always ask.
Talk about your concerns before you celebrate with each other’s family.
Avrum Nadigel is a Toronto based family therapist and author of the book, Learning to Commit: the best time to work on your marriage is when you’re single. As he explains, “during holiday celebrations, it’s too late to soothe your anxiety about differences at the Christmas table. These discussions need to happen, ideally, a few months, or at best weeks, before the dinner.” Inter-faith relationships can bring up anxiety and fear – real and imagined – for certain family members, explains Nadigel. “If possible, discuss with your partner who is most sensitive/reactive to the relationship. And then strategize how you want to handle any comments or reactions BEFORE the family gathering” he says.
Don’t have time to get into an in depth discussion with your partner before you hit a family celebration together? Nadigel suggests, “it might be a wise strategy to practice “biting your tongue” during heated debates – particularly if this is not your blood relatives.” Whether your partner’s family brings up the conflict in Israel & Palestine or Donald Trump’s hair – it’s always best to avoid hot button topics, regardless of your faith.
Your parents may be more (or less) OK with you dating someone who is a different religion.
For better or for worse, your parents may surprise you. While your family may be totally OK with you dating someone of a different faith, your partner’s may not (or vice versa.) Either way, your relationship may be under more family scrutiny than you’re typically used to. If you think this may be an issue, talk about it before you meet each other’s families so that both know what to expect.
Respect each other’s traditions and beliefs. Be open-minded.
Dating someone who is a different religion all comes down to one thing: respect. You are going to have different traditions and beliefs. There’s no way around that.
You know how people often say, “I don’t mind vegetarians….as long as they don’t try and convert me.” Yeah, the same applies to religion.
Whether it’s eating more lentils or celebrating Christmas, trying to sway your partner over to “your side” isn’t cool. Attempting to change someone’s mind about their faith isn’t just futile, it’s disrespectful. Keep in mind that no one’s beliefs are “better” or “worse” or “weird” – they’re just different. Instead, respect that you’re going to have these differences and that’s totally OK. Go into the dating experience with an open mind; and take it as an opportunity to learn as much as possible about someone else’s traditions and faith.