Dear Renita,
I am a Catholic woman who is becoming serious with a Muslim man. Our parents are not at all happy about this. Do you have any advice for couples of differing religions who are contemplating marriage?

Dear Interfaith,
I like to think of myself as a pragmatic, down-to-earth woman. But the truth is that like most women who grew up on megadoses of romance flicks, I'm a sucker for a love story. Tales of star-crossed lovers who overcome obstacles to be with each other keep me glued to my seat. Pass the popcorn. Get out the tissues. Hooray for love!

I only wish love were as simple as it appears in the movies. Couples of the same faith can sometimes barely stand each other when marriage outlasts the passion. Love can be downright perilous when there are major religious differences.

It's not simply the fact that your understanding of God is at odds with each other. It's more the nitty-gritty differences between you two that worries folks like your parents-and me. Religion informs our values, molds our thinking about power and obligations, and influences our understanding of roles. This kind of stuff leaves you yelling at each other across the room and slamming doors: Do we celebrate Christmas? Who washes the dishes? How will we raise the children? What's wrong with ordering a BLT sandwich? Do we pray together, and, if so, where? Why should I give up sweets during Lent when you didn't respect my fasting during Ramadan? Who says can't I wear jogging shorts outside? Why does your brother keep trying to convert me?

Your marriage will have a greater chance of succeeding if you take the time to do a few things before tying the knot. Don't be in a hurry. Extend your courtship and engagement period for as long as you need to learn as much as you can. Meet and talk with interfaith couples whose marriages have survived and those whose marriages did not.

Also, use this time to learn about each other's religion. Take a course, study the history and philosophy. Go to mosque and church with each other so that you can get a sense of the other's tradition and teachings. Decide whether conversion to the other's faith is a possibility for either of you. Set up counseling sessions for the two of you with his imam and your priest, and compare notes. This will help a lot when you have to deal with your partner's spoken and unspoken expectations of you-you'll understand where he or she is coming from.

Above all, take time to pray together and individually about the life-changing decision facing the two of you. You must face the reality that we live in a post-September 11th world filled with religious intolerance. Yet it's just possible that you'll figure out a way to acknowledge your differences and to build a bridge of faith on which to meet each other halfway (and sometimes more than halfway). It can be done. But then I am sucker for a love story.

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