You and your date are sitting in a corner booth, laughing over a clever joke. For hours, you've sat entranced, unwilling to give the slightest nod to others in the restaurant. You like him, he likes you. Perfect. What's not to like? That all depends. Sure you've connected on some level, but how well do you really know him or her? Do you share the same interests, the same values . the same faith?For the spiritually minded teen, the question isn't whether the issue of interfaith dating will come up; it's what to do when it does. Eighteen-year-old high-school senior Alli Silverman has been dating a boy from outside her faith for some time. He's Catholic, she's Jewish. They attend each other's religious events and spend time with both families. "There are issues that we disagree on," says Alli, "so when we see his family, we do things their way. And when we're with my family, we do things our way."Although Alli has grown up in a Jewish home and has attended bothTorah and Hebrew schools, she points out that her faith community is small. "My friends and I have talked about this. We've known the guys since we were little, so we wouldn't date one of them. We want to get out there and experience new things."That's what concerns Rabbi Alan Silverstein, author of "It AllBegins With a Date: Jewish Concerns About Intermarriage." "Once casualdating even unwittingly transforms into romantic love, it may be too late to reverse this perilous process. It is difficult to treat a relationship as a water faucet, merely turning the handle into the 'off' position once 'love' enters," writes Silverstein.Rather than fighting a lifetime of difficulties, as he puts it,Silverstein advises Jewish youth to hold fast to their roots and to make efforts to build a larger network of Jewish friends. He suggests that singles try blind dates, attend Jewish summer camps, and search out colleges with a high number of Jewish students.Silverstein's sentiments are echoed by those within the Christian faith. The authors of "Dating Clues for the Clueless," a pithy question-answer book for the lovelorn, say, "If you are a believer and she is not (or vice-versa), it's a no-brainer. That's not the person for you. You don't even have to pray about it. God has already drawn a boundary that you'd be really wise not to cross (2 Cor 6:14-18)." What's all the fuss about? It's just dating, right? Kristen Kebblish is Catholic. The 17-year-old pom-pom girl hangs out with friends of different religions and sees nothing wrong with attending a dance or other events with a non-Catholic. What she is concerned about is her potential date's interests, personality, and values. "I would also want to make sure that they aren't into smoking or drugs or stuff like that."
"I think your faith gives you your value system," says 17-year-old John Reynolds, who attends homeschool and has dated only in groups. He hopes to date only Christians, but concedes that he would go out with someone whose faith has given her values similar to his own. "But I would definitely pray about it first," he adds. "If I feel that a peaceful, loving relationship is possible--then I will embrace it," says Vandya, which means "one is revered by all." Born Emily Bernath, the 15-year-old Hindu believes that religious differences should not mask the good qualities in dating "applicants." "At the temple I attend (Vedanta Temple), they teach that all paths lead to the same source. The ability to see love and God in all things, all people, all ways of life, would have to prevail, and my own inner self might be strengthened through that very challenge," says Vandya. A study by the Barna Research Group found that 47 percent of teens say their parents have the greatest influence on their spiritual development. So even while teens are fretting about "what to do, what to do," many are still very conscious of what mom and dad think.Vandya says her parents aren't strict about her social life, but they do encourage spiritual practice and thus enforce her sense of honor toward her religion. "I will not sacrifice my dharma for a worldly relationship," says Vandya. "My parents have always encouraged these sorts of feelings." "We're not sure what decisions our sons will make, but we hope that they will take relationships very seriously," says Cheryl Reynolds, mom to John and his three brothers. "Parents have a lifelong influence on their children, and we've tried to instill in our kids what's appropriate for dating and marriage." The message from the experts is: Proceed with caution. Todd Outcalt, author of "Before You Say 'I Do,'" warns, "Never assume that you know about another faith until you have asked many questions, read official material, and talked with a cross-section of adherents." Outcalt is a United Methodist minister with hundreds of marriage ceremonies under his collar, many for brides and grooms of different religions. In an article on mixed marriages in Hinduism Today, 23-year-old Neha Pencholie (not her real name), who dated a non-Hindu but ultimately married within her faith, suggests: "Think before you leap into an interreligious relationship. Don't do it if you can't be honest to those around you and to yourself."
Eventually, you will have to decide for yourself whether to venture outside your faith for a date. As Alli says: "If dating outside my faith eventually leads to marriage, we'll have to talk about it then. But," she adds, "it would be extra hard." Vandya admits there could be problems from dating outside her faith, but adds, "all good relationships have obstacles."