Interfaith Dating: It Ain’t Just For NoMos Anymore

On a recent first date, I found myself discussing, with the suitor in question, the topic of previous relationships. We established that we both have a history of dating people for three or four months on average, before one party or the other decides it’s not working and everyone moves on (though rarely so undramatically as I’ve just summarized it); I suggested this happens because three months is about how long it takes to determine whether a thing has the grip to go long-term. He responded – and of course I paraphrase – “Well, at least if you’re both LDS, at least you already know you agree about all the important things.”

My impulse was to immediately slap down a list of all the deadly heresies I embrace, philosophies of bloggers I espouse, and orthopractical compromises I revel in. I didn’t, partially just because I’ve never actually inventoried them all and it would have been an awkward break in the dinner conversation to start cataloging my heterodoxy on the napkins, and anyway, less dramatic than if I really could just whip the list out of my wallet the way I whip out my Blockbuster card; also, an extemporaneous monologue on Why We Disagree About Everything seemed likely to preclude the possibility of a second date. But with that in mind, I had to feel a little duplicitous for not immediately disabusing him of the notion that we agree about everything important. God exists? Check. God is running the Church? Kinda check. God thinks women are too floridly spiritual to preside? Not so check. God will be enforcing gender roles in heaven? Let me tell you where you can stick that check. So what exactly counts as important?

I’ve had plenty of occasion to reflect back on that moment as the suitor and I have discussed, on subsequent dates and in later conversations, issues such as gender roles, prophetic fallibility, R-rated movies, patriarchy, the church and the Republican party, getting really mad at God, the merits of swearing and dirty jokes, intellectualizing the gospel, and a dozen other topics that relate in whole or in part to the church we both belong to. These are issues that come up with every guy I’ve dated, as they should; as committed Mormons, we probably want to know what the church means to each other before we can decide what each other means to us. And while sometimes this stuff has been a big deal, other times it’s floated by in the conversational current between favorite colors of car and feelings about dentists. But more often than not, there’s been at least one moment when the guy I’m dating has discovered some seed of small apostasy in my cafeteria of faith, and has reacted as if betrayed: I’m not the Mormon he thought I was. I’m not, perhaps, entirely what he thinks of as Mormon. And looking back over what can be summarized as ten years, minus a mission, of failed relationships, disagreement over religious topics has played a part in not a few of those failures.

If I were dating a devout Catholic – or a Baptist or a Hare Krishna or a neo-Pagan or whatever — we would have to assume that we didn’t agree in matters relating to religion. We’d have to remember that we needed to ask and find out what the other thought, and then respect their point of view, even if we disagreed with every fiber of our respective beings. And in this way at least, I actually think dating non-Mormons might be easier (though I say so having never dated anything but Mormons in my whole life, so I’m probably full of crap), having it on the table to begin with that our faith is not the same, and not having to apologize for believing differently about the most important things. It would be lovely to look for the unexpected ways that we agree, rather than being stressed out by the ways we don’t; it would be nice to have conversations about religion without always wondering on some level if this one will be the straw that broke the RM’s back, the final incompatibility that finally breaks us up. If I could just think of dating Mormons as dating outside my own faith — and convince them  that they’re dating outside of theirs — all manner of dating ills could be vaccinated away. If you remember that no two people’s faith is identical, then all dating, really, is interfaith dating


  1. If you remember that no two people’s faith is identical, then all dating, really, is interfaith dating.

    How very true. I wonder how many relationship dramas I could have avoided if I had thought about it like that. Maybe I’m just exhausted, but that seems profound. Especially when you’re dating as a fully formed, opinionated adult.
    Thanks. I found this encouraging.

  2. Very insightful perspective.

    I have on occasion reflected that were I in that position, dating Mormon women now could be much more awkward for me than it was when I was a BYU undergrad, as I have steadily grown more liberal in my religious views over time. Attending local single adult regional conferences would be a minefield for exactly the kinds of reasons you describe.

    When I was young I never would have considered dating outside the faith, but I think I would be much more open to such a thing these days.

    On the other hand, Mormonism entails a lot of built-in weirdnesses, and dating someone who is already Mormon would alleviate the need to constantly have to explain things that would be second nature to someone who is already Mormon.

    Love is a battlefield…

  3. It doesn’t change after marriage. I discovered *much* more about my wife’s faith after marriage than before. And we’d known each other for years and had discussed our take on Mormon issues in depth…

  4. This is a really good take on things. I suppose it all has to do with expectations. The lower you keep your expectations then the more likely you are to be pleased with the results. Expecting to have lots in common with a new date is a set up for failure no matter what you’re expecting to have in common.

  5. For me the take-home message of this is that in something as important as learning about someone you could end up marrying, you can’t afford to take anything for granted. Not that having lots of information can prevent all challenges (by any means!,) but the more you know, the better you’re prepared. I remember a variation of this advice in having been told, as a young woman (I think I heard this in a BYU Child Development class, of all places) that I shouldn’t just look for a returned missionary to marry, but that I should try to find out what that young man’s mission experience had been like and what kind of a missionary he’d been. (I ended up serving a mission myself and learned that some young men I was very attracted to I also wasn’t compatible with in missionary work. Or to be more blunt, there were young men I found attractive but lost respect for.)

  6. It’s good to figure out what parts of religious belief and practice are really important to a marriage. Adam-God? Not important. September 6? Not so much. Each other’s views of temple attendance? Kind of important.

  7. Great post. I agree. Of course, I feel like I keep having an interfaith relationship with myself, as my views shift from hour to hour and minute to minute. I do not believe exactly as I did eight years ago when I married.

    We’re all on a journey, and we’re bound to keep changing. Mutual respect is probably one of the best ways to go when picking out a partner to witness your spiritual journey.

  8. This is very interesting. I wonder if it has more to do with being conservative or growing up where Mormons are in the minority or both. I mean, if you’re liberal in Utah, you can’t help but know that not all Mormons think the same. Outside of Utah, though, you might not have enough casual contact with Mormons to be aware of the range of opinions and lifestyles.

  9. i feel like this post could have come straight out of my own brain…sometimes i want to shake the boys who seem to get skittish when I say I wouldn’t vote against marriage and say, “don’t you see! the fact that i have all these concerns and different viewpoints and yet here i am, attending the temple and wearing my g’s, shows my devotion every bit as much as agreeing with every bit of dogma?”

    anyway, thanks for helping me see I’m not the only girl looking for either a very specific kind of mormon boy, or no mormon boy at all.

  10. Great food for thought.My first DH was LDS and we should have had a lot in common, but the longer we were married the more our interpretations of LDS doctrine/practice diverged. After 29 years – divorce. THEN, i met new DH. He is a No Mo, and we share more common beliefs, values, and standards than I ever with X-DH. Amazing! I believe that because we were older when we married that we discussed many more things in depth than a younger couple might. In some respects perhaps our expectations were lower, i.e. we won’t be married in the temple, etc. yet our day to day life is wonderfully compatible. Our shared respect and understanding of each other transcends formal LDS doctrine. Neither of us has what I call “bad habits” – smoking, drinking, swearinfg, etc. so we stand on equal ground in that respect. After divorce I dutifully attended LDS single activities only to find the men very strange. I began looking outside LDS bounds and found my new DH at the library, of all places! Checked him out and never brought him back! Point being – good people are to be found in many places and simply both partners being LDS is absolutelt NO guarantee of a lasting relationship. BYU used to have a quite lengthy compatiblity “test” that we took. It was excellent and I recommend it to anyone serious in a relationship. Just my .02.

  11. My husband and I were more on the same page re the Church and religious beliefs when we were dating than we are now because in the intervening years my beliefs have changed. Our marriage is certainly stronger now than it ever was, but I don’t think the church has figured much into that, aside from discouraging us from getting divorced. Oh, and encouraging us to be less selfish people. Yeah, mostly that last one.

  12. As the previous comment demonstrates, the ability to find common ground is an element of all healthy relationships and is important even after marriage.

    I wonder why some of us insist so intently on a rigid and inflexible understanding of gender roles. As far as I can tell, the church has been moving away from that approach for a decade or so now, and most decent marriages include lots of give and take. People change, and situations change, and the ability to adapt quickly to the shifting ground seems to be a key to success. A marriage where a man won’t help get the children to bed or where a woman feels that her motherly hands will be soiled by the earning of a paycheck is a marriage in trouble.

    Come to think of it, I am aware of two, maybe three marriages which ended because of pornography. But I know of five or six which ended because the couple was unable to re-negotiate their roles and adapt to the changes which life threw at them. They were unable to see past their strict division of gendered tasks, and all parties thought that pitching in to help do what was pragtmatically necessary was metaphysically wrong, and against God’s will. Before they realized what was happening, their temple marriage went down in flames.

    I’m not ready, at least not yet, to picket the office of the First Presidency with a sign which says “Gender Roles — Worse Than Pornography!!!”. But if we are serious about fostering marriages and family life, I think we need to give some serious thought to the downside of our rhetoric.

    Thank you for this interesting and thoughtful post.

  13. Any more I am mostly a MINO. This was not the case when I married my husband almost twelve years ago. My faith has changed a LOT. But my husband, bless him, has not had a change in faith at all. He still believes we are married for eternity and that things will work out, perhaps in a way that neither of us expects.

    An eternal marriage is not something that is built in a ten-minute ceremony in an LDS temple. It’s not built by building barriers and issuing ultimatums and confining the person you love to a role or behaviors that they may not be able to manage. It’s built by honesty and respect and yes, compromise. My husband and I are different people. I don’t think the same way he does and I never have. And that’s OK.

    Great post. Oh, and Mark Brown – great comment. “Soil her motherly hands…” Dude, that’s poetry.

  14. Nice observations, Melyngoch.

    Several months ago I was in a Marriage and Family Relations Class in which the teacher posed a great question: what do spouses do when their faith journeys diverge? No will seemed very interested in exploring it, and I have to admit I was as reluctant as anyone, not knowing how much I trusted the other class participants, but I’d love to see more discussion in church of the ways spouses have different experiences and come to sometimes very different conclusions about matters of faith. I’d love to know how to start that conversation.

    I have a particular interest in this since my RM husband turned into an agnostic and then an atheist in relatively short order after our temple marriage. But I think my experience is just at one end of a spectrum of experiences. People constantly question, doubt, deconvert, or on the other hand discover new faith and strength and conversion without necessarily bringing their spouses along with them. I’d like to see an expansion of the active-inactive (or the Mormon-non-Mormon) dichotomy to explore the permutations I suspect many marriages go through–as, in our various ways, mine has, Ann’s has, and Rebecca’s and LucySophia’s have.

  15. My sister just sent me this site. This is amazing. I can count on my finger(s) the amount of people I have met in England who share such bold and open minded tussles and who are also members of this church. None of the aforementioned one and a half people are of the female variety.
    I recently went out with this girl who said she thought we were at different places and that I wasn’t reaching my full potential. Maybe it’s because I told her her grandfather was very very wrong (more or less…), without knowing he was her grandfather at the time. I felt this way because he refused to broker insurance to a bar/club because he didn’t like the feeling he got when he was at the place. He then proceeded to share this story as a spiritual experience in his talk.
    But anyway this has nothing to do with the topic at hand, I just wanted somewhere to vent (she got married a week later to someone she had just met) and give praise where it’s due.
    Janice Kapp Perry rules.
    Love Joe.

  16. Excellent post. This is a topic I have given a lot of thought to over the last few months. Eve, you might want to check out some thoughts from The Mormon Therapist. She has given some great advice for couples in which one spouse’s faith has changed.

    It seems to be an unfortunate trend in the church that some marry based on superficial likenesses (e.g. both being members) without finding out what exactly people’s views are. Mormons tend to conflate behavior (obeying Word of Wisdom, having the right number of earrings) with belief and assume that if behaviors are the same then so are beliefs, but that is not true at all. And as was rightly pointed out, it’s more important to agree on daily issues like Sabbath observance than it is to agree on less relevant stuff like the nature of the Holy Ghost.

  17. Great post, Melyngoch. (And nice to see you here!) I’ve thought about this dynamic in a number of situations. I was struck by your comment about that sense of betrayal that people can feel, when it turns out that being Mormon doesn’t mean to you exactly what it does to them. I wonder if that might underlie some of the more extreme reactions I encountered at BYU, when people found out there were apostates (e.g., Democrats) on campus–one might expect that out in the world, but here in our own community?

    Kind of bizarrely, I’ve sometimes found myself less likely to reveal my Church membership to other LDS than to non-Mormons–for the exact reason you describe. Non-members are going to assume at the outset that this is an inter-faith situation which will involve difference and require dialogue and mutual respect. With other members, it’s all too easy to make assumptions that we already know what they think.

    I was on a flight to Salt Lake recently, and the woman next to me was highlighting her Conference Ensign. She kept trying to engage me in conversation. And I was thinking to myself–if this comes up, do I tell her I’m LDS, so that she won’t feel any need to share the gospel–or would that just make the situation more awkward, if she found out what I really believed? Yet here I see my own assumptions at work–random LDS person in a plane highlighting a Conference Ensign=traditional Mormon who would be horrified by my beliefs. Which probably isn’t fair, either. But I must confess that I avoided conversation. (Of course, I’m a general curmudgeon when it comes to being on planes with strangers, regardless of their beliefs.)

  18. This post is very interesting to me, Melyngoch. I can definitely say that one of the things that keeps me and my husband from clashing on our finer disagreements is the fact that we already have an interfaith marriage. Here are some of our disagreements:

    ~ I refuse to attend evangelical churches which don’t ordain women. He thinks it would be nice if women had the priesthood, but believes wholeheartedly that the current LDS gender system is ordained by God.

    ~ I think that marriage should be an equal system with each party loving and submitting to the other and neither having the “final say.” He thinks that men should technically get the final say if it comes down to it, but since I’m not LDS and don’t accept the Proclamation on the Family or the hearken covenant, he doesn’t expect it from me.

    ~ He thinks the music at my church is irreverent. I think the music in sacrament meeting is dispassionate and boring.

    ~ I have many different translations of the Bible and refer to them frequently and want to buy more. He thinks different Bible translations are okay, but doesn’t get why I need so many of them when the KJV works just fine.

    I would certainly love it if he saw things my way on all of these issues, but what’s the point in arguing with him about them when I already have so many unbridgeable disagreements with him simply because he’s Mormon and I’m evangelical? Since I already accept him along with those differences, I’m willing to let these other differences go.

    OTOH, I could potentially have a horrible time being married to a complementarian, Calvinist, cessationist, paedobaptist evangelical, and there would be an expectation that we come to some kind of working agreement on all of those things and choose a church for the whole family to attend, and one of us would have to compromise on some of them. A reasonable compromise in most of those areas could probably be reached, but it could prove difficult.

    Likewise, I asked my husband once if he would rather have me as an evangelical or a liberal Mormon. He immediately responded, “Evangelical.” The response got a chuckle out of me. Apparently being married to someone who rejects the church entirely is better than being married to someone who believes it’s inspired at heart but grossly astray in some areas.

    Final anecdote: yesterday I was very excited by the news that the Assemblies of God has elected its first woman to the executive. I told my husband about it and he said, “That’s awesome. I’m very happy for you guys.” I asked why he was okay with it when his own church doesn’t allow women to be apostles or prophets, and he said, “Well, I already think you guys are wrong anyways; why shouldn’t I be happy for your church’s achievements?”

    So there you have it. I guess my point is, yes, differing theological positions among people of the same faith in a relationship can be pretty difficult to manage, but once you do accept someone from a whole different faith, those theological nuances really don’t matter so much.

  19. Thanks for sharing your experience, Jack–I was fascinated by a lot of the things you said. It made me wonder whether I’d find it easier to deal with someone who believed in traditional gender roles who wasn’t LDS–because there wouldn’t be quite the same assumption that I should share his beliefs on that (especially if he saw them as an explicitly religious ideal, rather than a more vague notion of “traditional values.”) That seems like it would be a deal-breaker for me regardless as far as dating, but I’d never really thought about it in that light.

    You also reminded me of a question I’ve often wondered–generally speaking, how do LDS who oppose female ordination in their own church see the practice in other faiths? Irrelevant? A bad move that potentially undermines traditional gender roles and is an example of how apostate those churches are? Or even potentially something good, since they increase opportunities for women, and don’t do so in a context where–from an LDS perspective–God hasn’t allowed it? One of my religion professors at BYU once made a comment that I have to admit I found rather bizarre, that lack of female ordination in other churches was simply a result of sexism–but in our case the situation was different, because we have the true priesthood. (!?)

    (Tangentially I’ve often wondered what effect it would have on the LDS church if the Catholics decided to ordain women. If nothing else, I suspect it would make the question more pressing–as it is, we’re one of several large churches that don’t, and therefore not particularly unique on that point–and maybe don’t feel as much social pressure to articulate our reasons.)

    Your comment also reminded me of something I’ve repeatedly been struck by in my own theological studies in a very interfaith environment which leans quite liberal. As a liberal Mormon, there are ways in which I feel like my conversations with my fellow students are actually less interfaith than conversations with my fellow Church members–we differ, sometimes a lot, on particular details and doctrines, but there’s a sense in which our most basic ways of approaching religion are quite similar. I honestly feel like I get as much practice at interfaith dialogue at church as at school–and I sometimes feel bad for not making more of an effort in the context of the former.

  20. I just want to give an example of how different people of the same faith can be. My dad and brother are both preachers in the church of Christ affiliation and have completely different beliefs on certain issues. This is a father/son relationship, much less trying to meet someone of a different family background.

  21. Jack, don’t know if you’re still reading, but thanks for your comments. I’ve been reading with great interest what you have to say about your interfaith marriage at various places around the Bloggernacle. It sounds as if you two have worked things out well for yourselves.

  22. Lynnette ~ how do LDS who oppose female ordination in their own church see the practice in other faiths?

    Broadly, I find that they fit in one of three categories:

    (1) They see it as a sign of other faiths caving in to feminism and “the spirit of this age;” I’ve even seen Mormons brag about the fact that the church refuses to ordain women in contrast to other some other churches (see here for an example).
    (2) They’re like my husband. They think such faiths are wrong about bigger things, so they don’t really care if they get it wrong on gender roles
    (3) They’re like your professor. When the LDS church does it, it’s not sexist because it’s from God. When other churches do it, it’s sexism, so they seem to feel that non-LDS churches ought to be ordaining women.

    You would think that the folks from option 3 would simply see churches which refuse to ordain women as preserving a portion of God’s truth in spite of being apostate, but I never said these were consistent positions.

    Tangentially I’ve often wondered what effect it would have on the LDS church if the Catholics decided to ordain women.

    So long as Catholics, Mormons, E. Orthodox, Jehovah’s Witnesses and complementarian evangelicals all refuse to ordain women, they’ll form a phalanx wherein they reinforce each other’s notions that such discrimination is “okay” because it’s from God. Some Mormons from category 1 above recognize that every church which switches to ordaining women will contribute to increasing public perception that such discrimination isn’t okay and make it harder for the church to maintain its policies, so they’re opposed to it for that reason.

    My own speculation: the LDS church will start softening some of its policies and giving women greater responsibilities, sort of like soft complementarian Mormonism, then eventually will give women the priesthood altogether. It just might not happen until you get some top leadership that was born in the 60s or 70s and have grown up with the expectation that women have equal opportunities.

    Eve ~ Thanks much. I really love the discussion here at ZD, though I often feel y’all are over my head. 🙂 But I do love to read.

    Time to go pack another moving box…

  23. We tend to think that intellectual religious beliefs and values are the same thing.

    It seems to me that marriages break up because of 1. selfishness 2. difference in values and 3. everything else.

    They say money breaks up a marriage- impossible. It’s just a tool. It’s that people VALUE different things and thus want to spend their money differently. They want different “things” literally and on a bigger scale they want different things.

    I just lived with an LDS family for a year and a half. We do NOT have the same values. We ARE the same religion. We go to the same church. We place different values on important things:

    respecting people who are “different”
    open discussion
    sharing of feelings
    appearance vs. reality
    time together
    spontaneous spirituality
    reasons to be obedient

    If I were to marry this family we would divorce in no time. We have totally different priorities. Our choices reflect that.
    We would struggle at every turn.

    I don’t need to find someone who thinks like I do. I’ve never met anyone who does. But when it comes to what is MOST important to me in life- I could not possibly marry someone that I did not see eye to eye with. How can we be a team if we are going different directions or even playing different sports? We each have our part and different gifts- but we’ve got to have the same goals or it will never work.

    So the question is- what is MOST important to you? If they are shallow things- you will never be happy in any marriage.
    So it’s probably best to not marry until you get that figured out.

    There are some things I will sacrifice- big house, my messy habits, certain foods, certain hobbies. Other things I will not- putting God first, loving, really loving, our children, a home that people feel welcome in, intellectual and spiritual conversations with my husband that challenge me, etc.

    Some people say I’m too picky and may never marry. But I’d rather be happy and stay close to the Lord than be unequally yoked. I know who I am. God knows who I am. He knows what my heart desires and what I really need. I need someone who is not just in my religion but also SHARES MY FAITH. I need both. But if I could only have one- it would be SHARES MY FAITH.

    However- I’m holding out for both. 🙂


Comments are closed.