Brigid Strait is a long-time Onion Dome contributor and one of the founding members of Orthogals, where she writes about the blessings of the single years. She loves tea, hiking, and fairy tales. She lives in Indianapolis with two good friends and a beer-thieving dog.
How many times am I expected to have my heart shattered before I can call it a day?
No non-Orthodox men. I’ve said this before, and I’ve made exceptions before. And I feel I was right to make those exceptions, because they were amazing men who could have been great partners for me–they were worth the work, and worth the risk.
And eventually it all fell apart because I’m Orthodox, he wasn’t, I’m not willing to give up my faith, and he decided/realized he had no interest in sharing it, and there’s only so far you can go before the differences become unbearable.
It is not my job to convert the non-Orthodox. It is my job to love them and pray for them and live my faith with honesty, courage, and humility. And that job is big enough, thank you.
It’s disrespectful to date someone with the goal of changing them. There’s a crucial difference between deliberately dating non-Orthodox guys with the goal of bringing them to the church and dating someone specific because you adore them and you hope that they discover that the Church is home for them too. The first one, frankly, is awful. And the second one is complicated.
Look, I will gladly go on a date with a suitable young gentleman of any faith, because I’m delighted to share good company and good conversation and see what comes of it. But I will not invest myself heavily in a relationship with a guy who isn’t Orthodox. Why? Because that kind of emotional investment has a really high cost.
I know that if the relationship is to have a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding, you need to make that investment. But for me personally as an individual who is not casting judgment on or making recommendations to anyone else, it doesn’t make sense to make that investment of time and emotion in something that–as far as I’m concerned–is damn near doomed from the getgo.
If missionary dating worked for you, AWESOME. I am so happy for you. And I want no part of it.
Here’s how missionary dating works in the best of circumstances:
- You meet a great fellow.
- Great Fellow is not Orthodox, but is open to Orthodoxy or at least not regularly participating in Satanic rituals.
- You and Great Fellow talk a bit, and he asks you on a date.
- You and GF have a spiffy time and make more plans to get together.
- GF finds out you are Orthodox and does not run away screaming or call you a heathen fiend.
- You and GF continue to date, and at some point he comes to church with you.GF doesn’t hate it! You make further plans to date and possibly to attend church together again in the future.
- This may be on his request or your invitation.
- You and GF are now in a relationship! Congratulations. There are some bumps and cultural differences, but he makes no ultimatums about sex, how the children will be baptized or raised or not, or getting married in his granny’s lovely little Protestant church down the road.
- You and GF continue to date, he decides Orthodoxy is just marvelous, the relationship continues to progress well, and he decides to convert.He spends the next 3-ish years suffering from convertitis as he tries to figure out things like a prayer rule, fasting, letter of the law vs spirit of the law, not judging himself so harshly, not judging the members of his old (or current) church, panicking over what to eat in Lent, what secular media still works for him vs doesn’t, and a million other things.
- You have a panic attack over whether he’s converting “for you”.
- Fine, I would have that panic attack.
- It all gets sorted out and he progresses with catechism etc.
- Your priest hears his life confession and doesn’t tell you to “wait and pray a few years” with terrified urgency in his voice.
- He’s baptized.
- You have a panic attack over whether he’s converting “for you”.
- Now you get to navigate all the ups and downs of a relationship (and maybe marriage, and maybe childrearing) with a very nice man who had his world turned upside down and has become kind of insane.
- Please note I am not knocking the converts. I am a convert. I know full well what a big change it is and how much it affects every facet of life.
Look, if I met a non-Orthodox man and knew deep in my heart that it was worth all that mess, I would pray and cry and trust God, and thank Him fervently for sending a man who was worth it. But I’m sure as eggs not going to go chasing it.
I know people who brought their spouses to the faith. They’re very happy. I know people whose ex-significant others brought them to the faith and then they broke up. They’re also doing very well in life. And I know people in “mixed marriages” (because he/she didn’t convert before the marriage) who realized suddenly that, actually, it doesn’t matter how patient and kind and intelligent he is. If he doesn’t value why you’re doing what you do in a more concrete way than “because it’s important to you”, there will come a point in the middle of Lent when he’s utterly fed up that you won’t share his bacon or skip church to ______, that you do things that really bother him theologically, that you’re gone to church 3 times a week, that you’re fasting even though you complain about it and it makes you bitchy, that your faith makes everything so complicated. And for what? From an outside perspective it can seem senseless and even harmful.
If you share Orthodoxy, he knows why you fast even when it’s crazy-hard. He doesn’t view it as a threat to you he has to protect you from. If you share Orthodoxy, he knows why you pray to the saints and doesn’t think it’s a bally insult to whatever Sola Scriptura interpretation is popular in his neck of the woods. If you share Orthodoxy, he doesn’t whine that you won’t just relax and have brunch on Sunday morning because for pete’s sake you’re both exhausted, can’t you catch a later service?
One of the things I notice is that it is almost exclusively the non-Orthodox who say the differences don’t matter, or if they do matter that we should meet in the middle. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this:
Catholic: “We’re two lungs of the same church!”
Protestant: “We agree on all the right points. If we talk more we can overcome the slight difference of belief. Can’t we compromise on Lutheranism or something?”
Pagan: “Eh, it all goes up the same pipeline.”
Theology informs our worldview. It informs how we vote, how we fight, how we want to raise our children. It affects what we expect out of marriage, what we expect of ourselves, what we can compromise on and what we will die for.
I do not believe that truth is relative. Which means, when it comes down to it, I think that non-Orthodox theology and worldviews are incorrect. And I cannot compromise on that. I can smile and see good in it. I can keep my mouth shut. But I can’t say it doesn’t matter.
I have been there. I have done that. I have dated some really phenomenal non-Orthodox men whom I still admire and respect. Sometimes it was beneficial to my spiritual life and led to me praying all the harder and doing my damnedest to live my faith, and sometimes it did damage because trying to make it all balance pulled me away from Orthodoxy in a thousand tiny ways. I don’t regret it, but I’m not interested in trying it again.
I know that the people suggesting this mean well. Most humans mean well. But I have very good reasons for not wishing to date a non-Orthodox man. I’m not saying “never again” because every time I’ve said that I’ve been cheerfully wrong a short while later. But it’s decidedly outside my plans. My faith is so foundational, and to suggest that the difference is a minor matter overlooks the very real hard work and heartache involved in bridging the gap.
It requires putting two hearts on the line, with all the hard work and investment required in any relationship. It means dealing with a huge cultural divide. It means both of us knowing that unless he discovers that Orthodoxy is his spiritual home, at best we can have a pleasant holding pattern. It involves a lot of dialogue about complex, sensitive issues. And when the relationship begins, he won’t understand my priorities, lifestyle, or the things nearest to my heart–they’ll be alien to him.* It requires patience and grace with topics that are foreign, especially when we may not have a reference point to understand why the other’s so passionate about these things that seem normal, or odd but minor.
People have strong reasons for why they believe what they do. (Not always sound reasons–but strong ones.) I won’t give up my Church, or my wish for an Orthodox marriage, family, and home. And if I truly respect him, I need to trust that he’s the best judge of his spiritual needs, too.
I understand why people are open to mixed relationships. I’ve certainly had good ones, and I’ve seen missionary dating turn into beautiful Orthodox marriages. I don’t mean to disparage that for other people.
And for those of you who are currently missionary-dating, my priest once gave me some really splendid advice: “Make sure you’re talking to God about him more than you’re talking to him about God.” I’m cheering you on, darling.
But please, stop telling me about this nice young Unitarian Universalist you’d like to set me up with.
(This being my luck, I’m going to meet a gorgeous, honorable, highly-compatible Methodist tomorrow who asks if I’d take him to church with me, because my life is ironic like that.)
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*”Being understood” in general may be a bit overrated, as men and women think and operate in somewhat different ways. But there’s a certain way in which I can let my guard down if he already knows why I don’t want to grab pizza on Friday night, why I venerate the Theotokos and what that means, etc.
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