Religious leaders’ love advice
Father Albert Cutié, president of Miami-based PAX Catholic Communications and author of Real Life, Real Love: Seven Paths to a Strong and Lasting Relationship
Ameena Jandali, a founding member of the Islamic Networks Group
Rabbi Sue Laikin Shifron, the executive director of the Hillel Center at Indiana University
Here’s their surprisingly consistent dating advice:
Q. How is faith-based dating different from typical social dating?
Father Albert: Choosing someone to date is usually directed, for Christians, toward a long-term relationship. Even as you’re just getting to know someone through dating, you always have in the back of your mind, “Is this the one? Is this my soul mate?” In a society where anything goes, it is important to have a sense of your values, such as abstaining from sex before marriage, to know what is acceptable to you and what is not.
Rabbi Sue: You date to find your beshert, your soul mate.
Ameena: The endgame of social dating tends to be physical intimacy, and Islam teaches that you should avoid anything that might lead to sex outside of marriage. If you’re a practicing Muslim, you try to avoid situations that may lead to intimacy, such as being totally alone with your date. While I suspect that many Muslim young people aren’t following these boundaries, conservative Muslims might be uncomfortable even sitting [alone] and talking to a date. You can interact with someone to get to know them and to consider them for marriage, but Islam’s view is that it’s better done in the company of others, much like it was once customary here in the West to be accompanied by a chaperone when courting. You are looking for some attraction and a complementary nature, and in some ways, you put your trust in God from there. The concept is called naseeb, which means destiny.
Q. Dating advice in scripture: Is there such a thing?!
Ameena: The Qu’ran and hadith both actually have a lot to say about marriage. A well-known prophetic saying gives four common reasons for marriage: beauty, wealth, family status, and religious life. It goes on to say that you should marry the religious person, because beauty, wealth, and even family can change. But a common dedication to moral ethics and values—that can you hold you together through good times and bad.
Rabbi Sue: One of the best-known Jewish teachings about what to look for in a wife is known as Eschet Chayil, which translates as ‘woman of valor.’ In modern times, you can interpret it for either spouse: A spouse who cares about you, your family, and your home is said to be more valuable than jewels.
Q. What qualities should you look for in The One?
Ameena: Look for a person who will bring tranquility, love, and mercy into your life. What is most valuable in a mate is the character of that person, not just a profession. If you are looking for someone in the mindset of “slim, fair-skinned medical doctor seeks attractive, outgoing MD,” that is too superficial. Islam teaches that you should seek out someone who is compatible with you. A person’s character will hold a relationship together or tear it apart.
Father Albert: What are the things you like to see in yourself? What are the things you want to see in someone you are seriously thinking of spending time — and possibly your life — with? A lot of couples waste time in the first stage of dating by not really getting to know each other. Find out: Do you share the same values, the same traditions, similar backgrounds? Do you have certain pet peeves? Are there traditions your partner must respect and honor? How do they view themselves? Do they meet your expectations professionally, socio-economically, educationally? Is this someone who shares your basic ideas about life and what is important in it? These things are visible early in dating. If you don’t have a sense of these things in a person early on, you won’t change them later.
Rabbi Sue: Choose someone who will respect and value you.
Q. What dating advice do you have for interfaith relationships?
Ameena: Putting a man and a woman together in a relationship is plenty challenging, and that is only exacerbated when you mix faiths. Be honest about your expectations, and talk about possible conflicts: How will your families feel about each other? If you have children, what faith will they follow? How stable are you in your faith practice? Also recognize that when one person becomes more religious in time, problems often arise.
Rabbi Sue: Think about what you both want in your future. Love does not conquer all, and it is important to work through the questions and to understand where your partner is coming from. What does it mean to each of you to create a Jewish home? Is it important to you to celebrate certain holidays? If the non-Jewish partner really wants a Christmas tree, how does the Jewish partner feel about that? What are the beliefs that will shape your life together? That’s important for any couple to answer, and especially so if the two of you are from different faiths.
Father Albert: Get to know what’s in your date’s heart. Open up to different traditions, values, and worldviews. Some people are very good at being open, and others are intolerant. People of different faith backgrounds can be OK together if both of you are open and tolerant.
Jennifer Derryberry Mann is a freelance writer and editor in Minneapolis. She writes about spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being for Spirituality & Health. She is the former editor of Science & Spirit.