Dating Outside My Faith Changed Me

And, yeah, I feel closer to God because of it.

Faith has been at the forefront of most of my relationships, though it never seemed to be a deal-breaker. I’ve become romantically entangled (dating or not) with individuals across the spectrum: Catholic, Evangelical, Secular Jew, Conservative Jew, Sunni Muslim, Agnostic — you name it.

Had you asked me a year ago about this, I probably would’ve pulled a Peter, and denied this string of encounters. Part of this denial stems from the purity culture I grew up in, where dating ‘dirtied yourself,’ unless of course, you married that particular partner (God forbid you do more than hold hands).

Another prominent factor is the shame I felt for dating individuals ‘outside of my circle.’ Somehow it felt dirty — like I was doing something very, very wrong. I grew up heavily involved in ‘the ministry,’ so it practically influenced every part of my life. Anything that was not Christian was immoral, even those passionately in love with God, though knowing him by another name. Alas, I continued dating individuals outside my own circle, but I couldn’t quite figure out why.

In the relationships I had with Christians; for some reason, faith was not discussed very much. I tried often, but I suppose we felt we were united in these common Christian principles. These assumptions are also the things that lead to our demise and ushered us into decisions neither of us really wanted to make.

In the relationships I had with ‘non-believers’ the case was the opposite. We spoke intentionally about our beliefs and why we believed them. We were intrigued and convicted. We prayed together. We allocated time to reflect on our walks with God. We asked many questions.

I tried to find answers to some of these questions. Upon looking more closely to The Word, I found inconsistencies between what I was taught growing up and what is actually addressed in the Bible.

For example, no New Testament text specifically talks about marrying individuals of other faiths. Sure, there are plenty of verses that reference not marrying ‘internationals’ or those from ‘pagan lands,’ but sanctions against a Jew or (clearly) a Muslim don’t exist (albeit for obvious practical reasons). In fact, much of Christian history is marked by the “compromise ethos” which favors human connection over such ‘frivolous’ ideas about how you eat or dress. Interpret it as you may, one could make an argument against dating a Venezualan or Egyptian by using these verses as a benchmark. [ Genesis 24:3, Exodus 34:16, Deuteronomy 7:3, Judges 3:6, 1 Kings 11:2]

Another issue I ran into is that of sex, specifically premarital sex. This is a conversation I still wrestle internally, though I have indeed stayed ‘pure’ thus far in my life (not that it's been easy). If we factor the economic powers at play in Biblical times (or up until recently, actually) the verses I used to attribute to the purity argument take on a new meaning.

Take for instance, “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). Growing up, I was told that this commandment referenced the beautiful union of marriage and how one must not break these ties.

As I got older I realized the Old Testament, in particular, has no sanctions against polygamous marriage and intercourse with concubines and prostitutes. It’s 100% accepted by Jewish law and biblically valid.

Traditionally speaking, Jewish law spoke primarily to men, since they were the ones performing most of the religious rituals while women raise children and maintain the house (though there are some exceptions). Within this paradigm, this mitzvot is likely is speaking to men sleeping with their peer’s wife — an assault on his property, rather than blossoming love.

Similar verbiage related to sex all points to the same principles. Women having sex with a man before marriage is, indeed, fine, as long as he can ‘buy them,’ bring them into his possession and provide for her. If he doesn’t do that, he’s an asshole. She would likely become a prostitute because her ‘goods have been spoiled’ and she becomes a defunct product — not to mention the complications of paternal lineage. It’s not so much moral as it is practical.

Sex in the Bible, though yes, is beautiful, and yes, was created for love, connection, and all these fantastic things become largely an economic concept as humanity ‘civilizes.’ Just like all commodities, it needed to be controlled and regulated to minimize potential conflict.

My understanding of both of these concepts, that of interfaith relationships and that of sex, has not necessarily been that which my partners grew up in — though, most of the time, it was. By identifying by a specific word (Jew, Christian, Muslim), we created invisible barriers which limited us from genuine conversations about these topics across faiths. We weren’t able to see where we put blinders up.

Having conversations such as these with those abiding by different beliefs built my relationship with them and my relationship with my Creator. It forced me to ask real questions, think critically, and reaffirm my belief in many — though not all — of the values I was raised with. It also taught me how to say, “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure” instead of blindly validating traditional, inherited beliefs from my community. Love can teach you to do that.

It’s given me a deep affection for other faiths and the individuals that follow these faiths. It’s made me curious. It’s made me a better, more understanding person. Above all, it’s shown me how little I understand in the grand scheme of things.

This isn’t to say that the individuals I dated were ‘guinea pigs’ or some weird sort of science experiment. It is to admit that yes they were different than me, but we are all human. It’s to highlight how diverse perspectives can be used to amplify our curiosity and love for Creation.

I’ve made mistakes in each of these relationships, but beginning them in the first place simply isn’t one of them. Becoming romantically involved with someone who was raised differently isn’t one of them.

Allison J. van Tilborgh

Written by

Writing at the intersection of religion, food, film, and feminism.

Interfaith Now

Stories about faith, spirituality, and religion to bridge gaps, expand perspectives, and unify humanity.

Allison J. van Tilborgh

Written by

Writing at the intersection of religion, food, film, and feminism.

Interfaith Now

Stories about faith, spirituality, and religion to bridge gaps, expand perspectives, and unify humanity.

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