Note: This story originally appeared Thursday, December 1, 2005
We all have dealbreakers. Maybe yours is "no smokers" or "no Democrats." I've heard "no redheads" and "no jocks."
But what happens when faith is the dealbreaker?
"He's gotta be Jewish."
"She must be Christian."
Or Muslim, or Wiccan, or whatever.
Know your dealbreakers, says David Steele, a marriage and family therapist based in California and author of Conscious Dating: Finding the Love of Your Life in Today's World.
Too often he counsels couples who thought they could overlook religious differences.
"When we get together with somebody, it's not just about sex and good feelings, it's about sharing a lifestyle with them," he says. "If we have a vision of going to church with our partner every Sunday and having our partner share our church community with us, and raising our kids in this church community together, we should follow that vision. There's no reason to settle for anything less than that."
Trying to make someone fit into a mold causes problems, and Steele said counseling can do little to change one's religious beliefs.
Being a part of any type of community helps singles deal with the hard times in dating as well as providing a venue to find someone with similar values. Whether it's an "urban tribe" of friends or a faith community, a support network is key. Faith in something is helpful, too.
"It seems to be necessary to let go of an attachment to a particular outcome," Steele says. "The more attached you are, the more desperate you are, the more self-sabotaging you end up doing. The side benefit of religion and really surrendering to God's will is that the law of attraction works for you once you surrender and allow it to happen."
To find out how single people in the Kansas City area are approaching the faith-testing world of premarital communications, we asked a few how they deal - with or without dealbreakers.
Sally Salah, 25, Kansas City Biology graduate student at Central Missouri State University Muslim
Q: How do you approach finding a partner?
A: Normally he wouldn't come straight to me. He would go through the family first ... We'd do sort of a background check on the family and stuff, then after that we communicate one way or the other. And of course, we're never alone in that sense. He would come to our house or telephone or e-mail communications probably. Our parents have to be aware of everything that's going on.
What sort of things are you looking for in someone?
You know because he has the same faith, you know all our morals, all our values are the same ... A lot of the big questions couples would have to normally go through, I don't even have to worry about that stuff. It's a given ... Personally, I don't like to think I'm a very picky person, although my mom would like to argue otherwise.
So there've been guys that you haven't liked but your parents have been more excited about?
Yeah, my dad has his own set of criteria who he thinks is the perfect person. My dad thinks he has to be Egyptian. He has to be a doctor. If he's a lawyer, he must have several other qualities to compensate. And something bizarre like being a fan of the same soccer team. But I imagine (Dad will) be flexible when it comes down to it.
Under any circumstances would you date someone of another faith?
No. My faith is my way of life. To marry someone who's out of my faith would just be (a) totally different direction in my life than I'm trying to head spiritually.
Ahmad Safi, 23, Kansas City Psychology student at UMKC Muslim
Q: How open are you to dating non-Muslims?
A: Personally I wouldn't do it because of the way I want to raise my kids.
When you're at the stage of getting to know a woman, what kinds of things do you do together?
Mostly dinners. And then we see each other at events, at social events. You take it slow and keep asking yourself, "Is it right?" In Afghanistan - well I grew up in America - but I've heard it's more traditional, the first time a boy and girl see each other is the night they get married, which is rough.
Where do you usually meet women you'd like to know?
With me, we have a Muslim Student Association, which you see a lot of people in there. It's also through family. You visit other people's houses that are Afghan or Muslim. At the Masjid (the mosque), we have all these different committees for youth, so through that I'm sure they have a lot of marriages.
John Kelley, 36, Kansas City Building safety official Catholic
Q: How do you bring up your religion to someone you're dating?
A: Because I'm so active in my church, it usually comes up that I'm Catholic. It's not something that's brought up, like this is a make-or-break situation, but it's something in passing more than anything else.
How much does a date's religion matter to you?
It's important they have some beliefs. I don't think I could date an atheist.
Would you become serious with someone who wasn't Catholic?
Oh yeah, it happens all the time. I know in the past, it was a taboo thing. I think today people are pretty open-minded ... I would say obviously, dating someone who's Catholic, it's easier to relate things from your past. You can share things that you both can nod and laugh about. Somebody who's a Methodist might go, "Why is that so funny?"
How does your faith influence your date activities?
It probably doesn't change a lot of what I do. I don't think it would affect what restaurant we go to, if we were going to a movie or something, I don't think it really hits that intrinsically. If somebody was of a faith that they didn't drink alcohol, it probably might be a little bit of a limitation. If you want to have wine with dinner, it puts a bummer on that.
Michelle Hammer, 28, Overland Park Special education teacher Jewish
Q. Does your faith influence your dating life?
A: I think as I get older, it has. When I was younger, I had boyfriends that were non-Jewish, but now, it's a big issue. It's the same values and same traditions.
And now, you're thinking more seriously about settling down or did you realize the interfaith relationship wouldn't work?
In the last couple years I (have wanted) to get married and have kids. And being a teacher, from watching some kids that have parents who are both Jewish and Christian, I realize it can be hard and confusing.
Have you ever had a relationship end because of spirituality issues?
I wouldn't say "end," but maybe it kind of gives an uneasy position for the other person, especially if you meet someone, you go out on a couple dates and they find out that you're Jewish. I don't want to say they're like (prejudiced), it's just the whole understanding of the religion ... I want to bring my kids up to be Jewish. I love the holidays, I love the traditions. My grandparents have passed on, and especially my mom's mom would definitely want me to marry someone Jewish, and that influences me more than anything.
Where do you meet your dates?
I've done jdate.com (an Internet dating site for Jewish singles). Internet dating, though, is still a hard thing for me to do. I want to get to know someone, I don't want to look at a photo. I'm involved with a group called JIF, it stands for Jew It Forward. We do happy hours, we're gong to be doing a Boulevard tour. It's a group of 20-somethings. They can be single or married.
Benjamin Avila, 23, Kansas City Student at UMKC Protestant, Assemblies of God
Q: How would you bring up your faith when you're dating someone?
A: I try to observe the person first from a distance. That's something I've learned to do over the years. Observing somebody will give you a chance to see someone in different situations, when they're around their friends. I prefer that way because by getting too close too quick, once you give something, you can't take it back.
Would you consider dating someone of another faith?
Basically, I don't see it working. The word of God says we are not to be put together with unbelievers, those that feel that Jesus is not the way. I'm at a point where if I see somebody and I want to date them, one of the first questions I'm asking in my mind is "Can I be married to them?" I can no longer look at somebody and frivolously date someone.
Did you ever date someone of another faith with the understanding it could never be serious?
Absolutely ... It's all a learning experience. I've gotten in a relationship before and it moved a little quicker than I wanted it to, then found out they're not for me. That's why now, I'm quick to observe and really see where they're coming from. The Bible says you will know someone by their fruits. That means you'll get to know someone pretty quick.
How does your faith help you when dating?
Really, it's all I stand on. The Lord has shown himself so real to me since I've just lived for him. I know I can trust him. I know that whatever comes, whatever tough times are happening, I know he sees the whole scope of things ... I just keep my eyes on him. If I feel peace about pursuing a young lady, then that's what I'll do.
Elizabeth Madeo, 26, Kearney Youth minister Catholic
Q: How much does your faith influence your dating life?
A: A lot. It influences who I date, but at the same time I date just like everybody else. My faith is a huge part of my life, but obviously I have other interests. My challenge is to find someone that is completely into his faith but can have a good time, relax, can see me as Elizabeth, other than just a youth minister.
It is important they also be Catholic?
The spiritual connection is more important to me. I have not always dated guys that are Catholic; however, when I do, there is something invaluable about being able to share my faith with them in a way they understand and they can challenge me and I can challenge them, hold each other accountable. But as I continue to date, I'm open to whoever God wants me to be with.
When you meet someone to date, obviously with your job, your faith comes up pretty quickly. Does he have preconceptions how you'll be?
Absolutely. I think it's difficult because they think that either I am judging them about how they should be or that's all I want to talk about. My faith absolutely defines me, but I do have other interests. I think they more get defensive of what I expect them to be. They may feel a little - I don't know if it's insecurity or what - they might think "I'm not good enough for her." I'm like, "No, I know we're all not perfect"... I'm not a youth minister to my friends.
I can imagine if you were a doctor and out on a date, people might do the same, saying "Don't yell at me" if they do something bad for their health.
But with doctors, there are so many of them, and there aren't many young adults in ministry. To have a ministry degree, to be working on a master's in theology, and to be 26 years old, I don't think guys know how to handle that ... I tell them what I'm doing and they go, "Whoa, so you're like really into this." I'm like "Yeah, God's a pretty cool guy, so I'm really into this, but there are lots of other things I can talk about."
Antoinette Brown, 32, Kansas City Registered nurse Christian
Q: How much does your faith influence how and whom you date?
A: Incredibly. In the sense that it has to be a person of like faith. I firmly believe that Christians should date Christians. Also, not as a casual thing. I think of it as meeting someone you would potentially want to marry, so it's not something I do haphazardly...
Have you always thought like that or did you ever in your life date casually?
Yeah. I'm a single mother. Before becoming a Christian, I dated just for recreation. Now what I believe strongly influences that. I want a guy who has the same beliefs and convictions I do.
When and how do you bring up to a date your spirituality?
Most people who meet me know already. It's my lifestyle. Everything, not only just my dating, is influenced ... It influences it in a good way for me. My faith puts parameters around my dating relationships and my heart in general. It keeps me from a broken heart.
Men's and women's relationships are emotional. If you don't have any set boundaries or guidelines to go by, you can set yourself up to be hurt. I know the Lord loves me, and he sets certain parameters to protect me.
Hayden Huggins, 24, Lenexa Teacher Protestant, United Church of Christ
Q: When do you bring up your religious perspective to a date?
A: I don't usually bring it up on a first date. It's not something I would address up front just because it's not a huge deal to me. It's definitely something that would be addressed eventually. There are definitely people (in my church) who are not as liberal as I am on a lot of issues, which could be a deciding factor on that.
How much does a date's faith matter to you?
There are some I would prefer over others, but I'm a very open person. So I'd like to think that that would not be the reason I would choose to not be with someone - because of their faith. Unless their views were so conflicting that it was a problem.
Do you want to raise your children in your same faith?
I would like to, yes, even in my same church. My grandparents have gone there, my mom has gone there since she was a child. I was baptized there, I still go there, so I would love to get married there and bring up my children in that church. At least in the same United Church of Christ faith, if nothing else.
Have you ever had anyone you were dating not accept your faith?
I dated a guy who was a lot more religious than I was and was pushing for that to be a bigger part of our relationship, which caused conflict somewhat just because we were of different religions.
Brenda Ridgnal, 44, Kansas City, Kan. Conference Coordinator Protestant, Baptist
Q: How does your faith influence your dating life?
A: I steer away from casual dating right now because invariably soul-ties are created with people, and then it's difficult to get those things uncoiled. Now I look from a spiritual aspect where you should court to marry ... When the strong, spiritual handsome (man) comes along, I will be ready. From a biblical perspective, it says, when a man finds the wife, he findeth the good thing. So it's up to me to prepare myself to be a "good thing." That's what I'm working on.
When and how would you bring up your spiritual perspective to someone you date?
Typically I surround myself with other believers, so it only takes a moment for people to know that I am spiritually inclined and I am a Christian. And the conversation comes up easily, "What church do you attend?" and then you're able to share that information with them ... You really don't have to bring it up if you're living the lifestyle of a Christian. People know it in the first couple of dates.
Under what circumstances would you date someone of another faith?
The Bible tells us not to be yoked together with nonbelievers, so if it's someone that doesn't have the same faith that you have - they don't have to have the same denomination. I'm Baptist, but I would go out with a Methodist because the basic principles are the same. Now years ago, when I tried to go out with a Jehovah's Witness, it was a totally different story.
Were your beliefs so different that you couldn't make it work?
He didn't share the same spiritual holidays that I did, and his concept of who Christ is was totally different from mine. So often we would go from romance to these debates. That's why it ended. He's probably one of the most lovely people I've ever met, even to this day. I find the same sincerity in Muslim men or Nation of Islam men. But I know I can't date them, because they're not going to convert me and I can't convert them because they're strong in their convictions. Which is good.
Faith-based groups for singles or young adults
COR: Church of the Resurrection, a United Methodist church in Leawood, has a young adults (18-32) and over 30s singles group. Main gathering: Thursday night for worship and discussion. Social events: bowling, dancing, movies, dinners. (913) 897-0120. www.cor.org.
Young Professional Initiative: A new program for young Jewish adults to network and socialize. YPI is funded by the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City, the Jewish Community Foundation and the Jewish heritage foundation. For ages 21-45, single or married. Contact Lynn Harris Treinish for more information. email@example.com, (913) 327-8144
Singles seminar: Pleasant Valley Baptist Church in Liberty has a group called the Five Love Languages for Singles starting Dec. 4. (816) 781-5959. www.pleasantvalley.org.
YAFC Young Adults: "The family you go to church with." A group for single or married Catholics, ages 21-40, at Guardian Angels Parish in Westport. Events: movie night, happy hours, trips to Hermann, Mo., retreats. (816) 931-4351 www.guardianangelsparish.ws.
CAMP: Council of American Muslim Professionals. www.campnet.net/kansascity-ks.
Singles Sunday school: The Rev. Emanuel Cleaver's church, St. James United Methodist Church in Kansas City, has a singles Sunday school at 9:45 a.m. every week. (816) 444-5588. www.stjamesumc.com.
The Independents Singles: Nondenominational Christian singles group at First United Methodist Church in Blue Springs. Most active are singles over 40, but younger age groups forming. Activities: potlucks, tennis, volleyball, movies, game nights, community service. (816) 229-8108. www.orgsites.com/mo/singles.
Thirst: Young adult ministry for ages 18-25 at Sheffield Family Life Center in Kansas City. Activities: retreats, concerts, discussions, classes on Wednesday nights. Also, Sheffield has an active singles adult ministry for ages 26 and older. (816) 241-4831 www.sheffieldfamilylifecenter.org.
More groups: About 80 percent of singles groups in Kansas City (and everywhere else, too) are faith-based. To find more groups in the Kansas City area, go to www.singlesmall.com/kcgroups.html to buy a directory kept by Don Davidson, retired singles pastor. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Seventy-eight percent of Kansas City singles would date someone of another religion.
Source: Star poll of 600 singles ages 20-34.