Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

Can I Date Someone With A Different Religion?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I have a rather sensitive question. What is your advice on inter Religious relationships? As a Christian, I’ve met a lot of nice women, although they are usually of different faiths than me (usually atheist or agnostic). Is it worth pursuing relationships with girls of different belief systems in the long run, or should I stick to my faith?

 A Humble Pilgrim

DEAR A HUMBLE PILGRIM: Religion can be a tricky matter when it comes to relationships. It’s deeply and intensely personal, but it is frequently intended to be projected outwards. It’s supposed to be a source of comfort, community and strength, but all too often it’s divisive and exclusionary, and the cause of conflict and anxiety.

And then when you mix two distinctly different ones… hoo boy. If you’re not careful, you end up with a lovely volatile mixture, the emotional equivalent of a Coke bottle full of nitro glycerine.

But it doesn’t have to be.

In general, the more strictly traditional and orthodox the branch of the religion, the more exclusionary it tends to be when it comes to dating and marriage; Orthodox and Hassidic Jews aren’t supposed to date or marry outside of the faith, for example, while traditional Muslim women aren’t supposed to marry non-Muslim men.

In Christianity, the idea of not marrying outside the faith predominantly comes from 2 Corinthians 6:14 — “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers; for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?”. This is a metaphorical reference to a passage in Deuteronomy; certain animals should not be yoked together, because together they cannot plow a straight furrow. The implication is that the unbeliever will inevitably pull the believer off the path of righteousness and into sin with him or her.

In less spiritual terms: the implication is that a non-Christian is inherently incompatible with a Christian and that such relationships are doomed to failure anyway.

Leaving aside my feelings about Paul and his place on the development of Christianity, I, personally, find the idea that you can only be compatible with people of your own religion to be absurd. Just being Christian isn’t going to guarantee the success of a relationship, nor will an interfaith relationship ensure it’s eventual failure. That line of thinking never leads anywhere good, and when you follow it to it’s logical extreme, then you inevitably come to the conclusion that you should never date outside of your own very narrow community.

Sure, you both may be Christian… but when one of you is Catholic and the other is a 7th Day Adventist, you’re going to run into just as many complications if one of you is Mormon and the other is Muslim.

The secret to keeping a difference in spiritual beliefs from wrecking a relationship is a matter of respect. You may not share your partner’s belief – or lack thereof – but you should at least respect that they have it. As long as one partner’s belief isn’t a matter of practical difficulty – she doesn’t believe in going to doctors and only relies on crystals and homeopathic remedies, he refuses to touch his partner during her “unclean” times until she’s completely re-sanctified herself – then you have the responsibility of being respectful.

This doesn’t mean you can’t disagree – far from it, I’m a firm believer in the idea that you should be able to have a reasonable disagreement on the subject – but at the same time you shouldn’t actively disrespect it or otherwise antagonize it. If she’s a Jew who keeps kosher, you don’t want to taunt her about the salami sandwich you just had. If he’s Christian, you shouldn’t be telling him about how “cute” it is that a grown-ass man still has his invisible friend from childhood.

Similarly, you have an obligation not to try to press your religion – or, again, lack thereof – on your partner. A relationship is not an open-ended invitation to proselytize. Be willing to answer questions, sure. Explain the tenets of your faith and why you feel they are correct. But unless he or she specifically expresses interest in conversion, your best choice is to leave it well enough alone. Leading by example is far more persuasive than constantly explaining to someone that if they don’t believe exactly as your Invisible Sky-Daddy said you should, they’re going to be condemned to Hell and you’d feel horrible about it if they were.

In your case, AHP, you’re meeting girls who’re attractive and interesting… but aren’t Christian. I don’t think that this has to be a deal-breaker; in fact, I think you may be missing out on relationships that you may find make your life richer and more rewarding. As long as you’re willing to be respectful of their beliefs and they’re willing to afford you the same courtesy, there’s no reason why things couldn’t work out.

And if you’re terribly worried about the Bible forbidding you from interfaith relationships, I’ll point you towards 1 Corinthans 7:12-14 : ” If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband.”

Good luck.

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: There’s a nerd guy in my social circle (we see each other mostly at gatherings that are commenced by a couple of our mutual friends, as well as on a couple of different Interned platforms through which we follow/friend/circle each other).

I’ve been interested in him for several months now. I know he likes me as a person, but I haven’t had any vibes that he reciprocates my romantic feelings. All of our mutual friends have confirmed to me that he is, in general, very socially awkward and that it takes quite a while to get to know him. I did once see him at a party with a girl who he was briefly dating, and he looked very comfortable with her and treated her respectfully, so I know that he’s not completely inept at dealing with women or anything like that. 

Months ago, before we actually met in person, I ended an email by saying, “I’d like to meet you. We should grab a drink sometime,” hoping that he’d pick up on that and say sure, but he never acknowledged that I said it. I realize that was a really open-ended way to put it, I could have asked him to do something specific, but again, I hadn’t met him yet, and my real goal was to bring the social media connection into the real world. So, you see the frustration I’m dealing with here!

That said, it’s been really difficult for me to gauge whether he’s not into me, or just not the type to make the first move. I’m heeding your advice about how many nerd guys are shy and women need to club them with a clue-by-four. I’ve wielded the clue-by-four in the past with other nerd guys with varying degrees of success, but I’m nervous about doing it this time, because the last time I did it the guy insisted that he just wanted to be friends (and that was particularly painful, because I thought he was the love of my life and just too shy to put the moves on me…and things got ugly and now we’re not even friends anymore).

So now I’m basically waiting for the right moment to say something to this guy, and I’m getting impatient. I drop subtleties here and there, but he doesn’t pick up on them (or perhaps he’s giving me the brush-off… there’s no real way to tell). 

So I’m looking for creative solutions. I’m interested in hearing about times you and your nerd-guy readers have been approached (or perhaps clubbed) by women, and what those women said/did that made you feel comfortable and amorous enough to respond positively to her advances. Any tips you can provide on communicating with this nerd, and all adorable nerds in general, is much appreciated!

– Clue By Four

DEAR CLUE BY FOUR: You’re overthinking things, Clue.

I can’t blame you for being a little gun-shy considering you’ve had being the aggressor go badly, but let’s face it, everybody has had a bad experience asking someone out, men and women. If we let that put us off dating… well, it means I get a lot more business, but it also means that there’ll be a lot of really frustrated single people out there, wondering why nobody does them the favor of asking them out.

So you’ve tried to get him to go out in a more round-about way and he hasn’t said anything and you’re trying to figure out whether that means anything.

I hate to say it, but it sounds like you’re starting to hit “reading the tea leaves” territory: you’re trying to find meaning in what he does and doesn’t do in order to get a clue as to whether he’s just missing your subtle clues that you like him or whether he’s deliberately missing them.

The odds are that he got it. It’s just that that he’s not interested.

No answer IS an answer, nine times out of ten. It just means “no”. Some folks will play dumb in order to avoid what they worry may be an uncomfortable scene. “Missing the hint” or playing dumb is a way of giving a soft “no”, in order to turn someone down without having to say the words directly. If your guy is uncomfortable with confrontation or isn’t most assertive soul, it’s likely that he’s trying to take the less-direct route to turning you down in order to avoid making things weird.

On the other hand, you know he’s a little socially awkward and some folks are just bad at picking up signs. This is, admittedly, one of the reasons why people find dating so frustrating – half the time we’re not sure whether the signals we think we’re sending are the ones everybody else is picking up.

Back in college I had one woman who got annoyed with me because I didn’t realize she was amenable to my making a move by playing a specific song on her stereo; how the hell was I supposed to pick THAT up, especially when I was too busy trying to figure out whether or not she liked me liked me in the first place?

Quit beating around the bush and quit waiting for the “right” moment. There is no “right” moment except the one you make. So ask him out on a date point blank – no hedging, no “maybes” or “sometimes”. Just “I like you and I want to go on a date with you. Why don’t we get together this Saturday at 8? How do you feel about bowling?”

You might get your date. You may get shot down. Either way, at least you’ll know for sure instead of playing “what-if ” games in your head over it.

Good luck.

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