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