Dear Dr. Wes & Kendra:
I want to marry someone of my own faith, but while I’m still young I want to date whomever I want considering that I just want to be with someone who makes me happy. But my dad is against me dating anyone who is not of our faith. How can I get him to be open-minded and let me date whom I want?
Kendra: As Kansas legislators debated the now dead so-called "religious freedom" bill, I began to realize that while religion is only a small factor in my own life, to others, it shapes their every move. And while I still believe in love conquering all, I also see how religious differences could divide a couple.
In our hook-up culture, it’s hard to look at dating partners as potential wives or husbands, especially at a young age, when your opportunities are endless. Yet, I see no point in dating people you would never visualize spending your life with.
In this case, however, you’re not seeking out the wrong guys for you. You’re seeking out the wrong guys for your parents. If faith isn’t as important to you as it is to them, have a frank discussion with your folks about religion and clearly explain your own views. But if you’re very connected to your faith, dating someone who doesn’t share your views could quickly turn detrimental. While discussions of religion may not be prevalent among teens, conversations about moral issues are inevitable.
If you do get into a relationship with someone of a different faith, you may later realize that it’s a greater factor than you initially thought. Or you may find that morals guide that person's actions, rather than religion, and be just fine. Either way, you’re developing your own faith in order to find the perfect match for you, not simply inheriting the faith of your parents.
Wes: This is a dicey situation. While the vast majority of Americans espouse a belief in God, that’s where our agreement ends. We vary widely in which impression of God we worship, how and how much we worship, and most importantly, what we vest in God’s will versus our own in determining our destinies. In turn, our interpretation of God’s plan guides how we conduct ourselves and treat each other. Some faiths espouse inclusion, others judgment. Some ask only for belief, others for orthodoxy. Some demand obedience, others emphasize grace. It’s quite a smorgasbord of ideas.
As a child, it’s most likely that you’ll accept the faith your parents offer. That’s simply a matter of cognitive development. As you grow and start questioning the world, you also question your beliefs. While you seem pretty solid in your faith at this point, you’re beginning to consider what your beliefs mean, here and now. From my perspective, that’s a great thing.
As Kendra notes, faith will never become your own if you don’t test it and see how it integrates into your life. And a failure to go through that process typically yields adults with less dedication to religion, because they’ve not let themselves really grow into it.
You and your parents face a tough decision. If you start dating outside your faith, the chances are greater that you’ll continue to do so. If you don’t, then your dating pool may be so limited as to afford little practice before you leave high school, and that rarely turns out well. I’ve also seen some pretty great couples where one partner opened up a faith journey for the other, and that person converted. So a lot can happen at your age.
I taught a class recently at a private religious school where we were discussing this issue. One of the teachers stood up and said something very wise: “I tell my own kids I don’t want you to grow up and do exactly what I tell you to do. I want you to think for yourselves. But I do want my beliefs to figure in. I want to be a part of that conversation.”
I suggest your parents follow this devout father’s tack by offering up the best ideas of your faith, encouraging you to consider them in your dating life, and then letting you find your way.
— Wes Crenshaw, Ph.D., ABPP, is author of “Dear Dr. Wes: Real Life Advice for Teens” and “Real Life Advice for Parents of Teens.” Learn about his practice Family Psychological Services at dr-wes.com. Kendra Schwartz is a Lawrence High School senior. Send your confidential 200-word question on adolescence and parenting to firstname.lastname@example.org. Double Take opinions and advice are not a substitute for psychological services.