Faith dating: When there are three in the relationship… you, him and God

Finding Mr Right is never easy – but things get really complicated when you have to factor in religion, as these young writers explain.

Dating as a Jew by Deborah Cicurel, 28, from London

Finding The One when there are seven billion people in the world is difficult enough. But imagine you are restricted to dating within your religion – which makes up only 0.2 per cent of the population? That’s just one of several dilemmas faced when it comes to Jewish dating.

Growing up in a modern orthodox society is a curious experience. You’re fully integrated into the secular world, yet it’s expected that you’ll marry ‘into’ the community – and the road to finding a Jewish partner is never entirely straightforward.

While there are lots of benefits to being part of a tight-knit community, one downside is the total lack of secrecy. From the minute you hit dating age, everyone you know – and I mean everyone – will be trying to set you up. From your dentist and your former teachers to your parents’ colleagues and people you meet in synagogue, everyone really does have a lovely son, nephew, neighbour or long-lost friend who would be just perfect for you.

There’s no real way of wriggling out of these shidduchim (Hebrew for matchmaking, as in the Fiddler on the Roof song), for fear of offending said dentist, teacher and so on. You’ll have to be prepared to endure a lot of awkward dates in the quest to find your beshert (soulmate), and once the date’s over, that’s when the embarrassment starts. Because everyone knows each other, you’re instantly a hot topic with all and sundry ready to dissect the ins and outs of your date, whether you should give each other another chance or whether your mismatched dating partner would actually be more suited to your cousin.

As for ‘girl code’ or ‘boy code’ (trying to avoid dating the exes of your friends), while the idea is honourable, when it comes to your mid- to late-20s, you can laugh it off: you will end up with someone your friend has once dated. Practically every other Sunday you’ll attend a different wedding surrounded by exes, or, at best, people your aunt once tried to set you up with at a bar mitzvah. With such a small community, it’s virtually impossible to find a fellow Jew to date that you haven’t heard of already. Even if you fall in love with a Jew from Ecuador, Canada or Sweden, you will never be total strangers: one quick game of Jewish geography and you’ll soon find out you have close mutual friends.

Luckily, it’s easier than ever to find a Jewish partner, so you don’t need to attend awkward Friday-night dinners put on by well-meaning family friends in which you’ll sit next to a catalogue of strangers in the right age group, one of whom just might – or, more likely, definitely won’t – be your beshert.

Nowadays, there are a raft of dating apps, such as JSwipe and JCrush, to help you find your nice Jewish boy: I’ve attended three weddings facilitated by these apps in the past year alone. There are fewer people to swipe through than on Tinder, and, of course, it helps that your mutual friends show up so you can do plenty of ‘Jew diligence’ before heading for your first date.

Jew diligence, much like due diligence, is all about doing the right amount of research into your potential beshert: how religious are they? Do they keep kosher? How many kids do they want? Because while you might both be Jewish, every Jew has a different level of observance. While they might seem trifling details, finding out that your potential partner eats bacon while you keep kosher, or learning they observe the Sabbath while you’re adamant you’d never give up driving on Friday night can be make-or-break lifestyle choices that will necessitate serious discussions in the future.

As for me? I met my nice Jewish boy, now my husband of four years, at the age of 11 at our Jewish school, and we went on to study at a university together. Although it took a lot of JSwipe, dentist matchmaking and Friday night dinners for us to finally get together, break the glass and shout ‘mazel tov!’, it eventually happened.

So what next? We’ve become that irritating couple in synagogue trying to play matchmaker. We know just the person for you…

Courting as a Christian by Jessica Evans, 26, from Liverpool

My date nearly choked on his brunch when I told him I go to church. I leisurely finished my mouthful of granola, reached for a slice of toast and waited for the inevitable questions: do I pray? What about sex before marriage? This is the delicate juncture I so often dread when I first bring up my faith on a date.

Whenever I drop the C-bomb, the reaction is usually a worried one. It isn’t exactly deemed a smashing thing to be Christian at the moment. I feels like the majority of nonbelievers see the Church as a hostile, hypercritical place and that Christians live on some kind of superior morality.

When you’re getting to know someone, let alone trying to woo someone, this is the last opinion you want them to conjure up. I like dating to feel organic and natural, but I also like to be honest about my faith from the off, so whenever a reference to it does crop up, I’ll be open about it.

What are my thoughts on sex before marriage? Perhaps unsurprisingly it’s a question I get asked the most by men. Translation: when can I have sex with you? And they don’t always like the answer. I’ve dated men who think they can eventually talk me into having sex, that I might change my mind by the time we reach the three-month mark in a relationship. But I believe sex isn’t just a physical and emotional act, it’s a spiritual one too; one that works best in the safe place of marriage. That’s where the greatest sex should be.

When you have sex, there is a deep, sacred and vulnerable tie. However you dress it up, ‘friends with benefits’, one-night stands or casual sex – it doesn’t work for me. Nevertheless, just because I’m Christian, it doesn’t mean I get less turned on than a non-Christian or mean I have a superpower against wanting to rip someone’s clothes off.

Today’s dating scene isn’t exactly compatible with the expectations outlined by Christianity, with marriage, commitment and monogamy high on the agenda.

I probably find dating trends such as ghosting (where the person you’re dating disappears without contacting you) and breadcrumbing (being slowly strung along) a bit harder to swallow than the average person. As old-fashioned and intense as it may sound, I go into dating seriously and meeting a husband is a priority for me.

I don’t need a ring on my finger right away, but I date with a purpose, and I don’t just date within my religion. When I felt exhausted by dating apps such as Tinder and Bumble, I gave the dating site Christian Connection (I cringe slightly as I write that) a go after my friend recommended it. Although I met a lovely guy on there who I dated for a few months, I didn’t really have much luck with it.

As for a lot of my Christian girlfriends, they’ve met men in church, gone on to marry them and have kids with them. This is the ultimate cliché Christian girl’s dream – to meet a like minded Christian man in her church who holds the same values and faith as her. It’s not unusual for two Christians to get engaged after six months of dating.

My current boyfriend is a wonderful man who isn’t a Christian. He holds pretty liberal views and we sometimes have disagreements in what I call a clash of world-views, but on the whole we work well together.

There’s a common misconception that Christianity is full of rules and holds you back from living life, but for me, my faith gives me true freedom. There are boundaries but they are rooted in love – just as you wouldn’t cheat on your partner because you care for them – and without these, there’s chaos. Even though dating in a secular society as a Christian has its challenges, I wouldn’t want to do it any other way.

Finding a match as a Muslim by Amna Saleem, 30, from London

According to one auntie of mine, good Muslim girls don’t date. They are briefly courted by a suitable boy, after which they become promptly engaged. I’m sure in my aunt’s day this was how it worked, but much has changed since the era of shoulder pads and overdone lip liner.

My parents were strict when I was younger, but as I grew up they started to relax – so much so that my mother even suggested I try Tinder. This is the mother who once made me return a Valentine’s card from the cutest guy at mosque when I was 14. Though it’s not a coincidence that she suddenly became an advocate for online dating as I drew close to my 28th birthday.

Most people imagine 30 as being the age at which people start properly worrying about their singledom, but for South Asian women it’s more like 27 or 28, because ideally by 30 you should be married with at least two kids. The pressure on us to settle down is immense and clouds every conversation with relatives. Some even become your self-appointed rishta auntie.

A rishta auntie is a woman who may or may not be related to you, who has taken it upon herself to find you a man. They call at your house at all hours, pop by unannounced (always at dinner time) and hunt you down at weddings in order to present you with an eligible bachelor. Boundaries aren’t their thing. I was once accosted by a rishta auntie while helping out at my parents’ shop. Out of respect my parents made awkward small talk while I stood in the confectionery aisle with bachelor number one as he silently looked me up and down then sauntered back to the car, with Auntie quickly in tow. A few minutes later she found me in the same aisle to tell me I wasn’t his type, then left.

I didn’t date much until I moved to London from Glasgow in my mid-20s. Meeting someone of the same race and religion as me was important but not necessary. I discovered, however, that I enjoyed swiping away on apps more than the dating as I quickly tired of answering identical questions about arranged marriages and Indian food. But, to my astonishment, it was the combination of my Glaswegian accent and my caramel-coloured complexion that provoked the most inappropriate questions – not my religion.

On one particularly memorable first date, I was asked to FaceTime my white date’s friends because they didn’t believe he was on a date with a Pakistani girl with a Scottish accent. He got huffy when I refused and confused when I didn’t accept a second date.

A few years ago I was involved with someone who was from the same race and religion as me. I really valued our shared background and there was a spark between us that I had been longing for. He was someone my parents would have loved but, after a while, it became apparent that we were incompatible due to cultural differences, among other things. The irony was not lost on me. I had no desire ever to live with in-laws, nor did I see kids in my near future. I wasn’t ready to put my career on hold for anybody, especially not at 25.

Presently, I am in a long-term relationship with a journalist whom I met at a birthday party. Although our relationship is interracial and interfaith (he’s Caucasian and culturally Christian), I’ve never felt a stronger connection, so it’s fair to say that love can be supremely unpredictable.

My South-Asian Muslim friends who are more conservative than I am are also swiping away, but instead of Tinder it’s the Muzmatch app. Some get lucky, others not so much, but it does show that dating in the Muslim community is evolving like everything else. Some pals even invite the more progressive rishta aunties into their lives while others happily leave it to their parents to find good men to meet while they focus on their education. It works well for them – which just goes to show that, no matter what the aunties say, there is no one way to date as a young Muslim woman.