The Stories We're Overlooking When We Talk About Modern Dating
We live in an age of golden dating opportunity. After all, 50.2% of all American adults are single, 22% of 25-34 year olds identify as "online daters" and Tinder sees more than 1 billion swipes a day.
But while we are bombarded with an infinite scroll of free-range partners on our screens, the biggest filter for many Internet-age daters is neither a geotag nor an age range. Rather, it's the cultural and religious beliefs that deeply influence how we choose our partners, whether we are aware of it or not.
In this way, many of us have a "dating destiny," a romantic path predetermined by our unique faith-based parameters. For the millions of Jewish, Muslim, Mormon and Catholic communities (to name only a few), having a clear-cut path is not a limitation. Rather, it's a choice. And it's worthy of embracing.
There's a lot of value in having shared values. Sarah*, an observant Jewish woman in her 20s said that shared values are a huge draw to her dating destiny. "Having a partner with similar values and politics, who still challenges me, but with whom I can assume a certain level of both communal and religious knowledge [are] things that matter to me," she told Mic. For many, dating within a destiny is a shorthand for intimacy.
The benefits of having that in-born community are often too great to pass up for an interfaith marriage, and moreover, too important for individuals. As the New York Times' Naomi Schaefer Riley found in a 2010 YouGov poll of 2,450 Americans, while the number of interfaith marriages is climbing — 58% between the ages of 26 and 35 — same-faith couples are significantly more satisfied. When couples have the support of their families and communities, they often experience greater relationship satisfaction and longer lasting relationships, as a 2011 study in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found.
We associate dating destinies in pop culture with petty annoyances and excessive limitations. Usually they involve some form of helicoptering, needling parents. In My Big Fat Greek Wedding, we've seen the (often hilarious) cost of turning on a dating destiny ("You better get married soon. You're starting to look old!").
On the popular Crazy Jewish Mom Instagram account, we see evidence of the stereotypical meddling that religiously devout families are known for: "Ur wasting ur best childbearing years on Superjew and HE REFUSES TO PROPOSE!" reads one text from a supposedly Jewish mother to her daughter. However, people often date within their destiny to relish in the immense support it provides (even when they text you about "UR FRESH EGGS").
There are traditions, but you have your own way of doing things. It's a modern world, which means even those with a dating destiny make their own rules. And no two roadmaps look the same. Sarah, for example, was dating non-Jews for a time in her life, but as she put simply, "not anymore."
"There's a distinction between short-term dating and long-term dating," Josh, a non-denominational Jewish 28-year-old, told Mic.* "Preferably whoever I date [in the long term] would be Jewish and have a similar or at least compatible observance set to mine."
For Josh, being honest and upfront is his go-to protocol for navigating his dating destiny in a world where he doesn't deny that he's an extroverted person who likes to flirt. "I don't mind casually dating. The last time I was in a relationship with someone who wasn't Jewish, two years ago, I just said off the bat, 'I'm Jewish. I want to be with someone long term who is Jewish, if this is a problem, then we should just not move forward,'" he said. He told his family and friends about his new girlfriend. She was respectful of his beliefs (he keeps kosher and Sabbath), but there reached a point in the relationship when they both knew they couldn't go any further. They had to break up.
How does Josh rationalize the fine line between just dating and dating-for-marriage? "Dating, just like everything else, is hard to reduce to a set of principles because nobody lives in complete harmony with their principles. There's all sorts of dissonance," he said.
The opportunity for love is wide open. Josh is frequently asked about the limited dating pool he finds everywhere from JDate to the local bar: "Doesn't it suck?"
"Everyone prioritizes something in dating," Josh explained. "It's kind of easier for me to date. One of the problems with Tinder is that you're so inundated with humans ... I just start out with a smaller subset."
Sarah was on the receiving end of a lot of challenges to her Jewish-only dating style from her college friends, but she ultimately disagreed with them. "Choosing to date someone of the same religion is ultimately not very different from dating others with similar backgrounds, values, cultures, beliefs, career choices, interests, passions," she said. "In other words: all the reasons you choose to date another person in this world."
"That's not to say you can't find many points of connection with someone outside of your religion, of course you can. You can also be with someone who doesn't enjoy music or going to concerts when that's your passion, but would you?" Sarah said.
For Younas, he was looking for someone who wasn't shallow and who he could laugh with, sure, but his connection to his destiny destiny ran deeper. "It is considered in Islam that getting married is deemed to be half your faith — that the other person completes your faith," he said. "Religious compatibility is often seen to be a foundation to a successful marriage in Islam. Once this is found then in essence it allows two people to help each other in this life with a view to strengthening their relationship with God," Younas explained.
Yes, we have apps for that. Today, bridging the chasm between principles and practice, aka getting a date who shares your values, has never been simpler. A recent Today poll showed that 60% say that it's easier to find love within the same faith. The rise of niche dating has seen a wealth of faith-centric sites and apps that specifically cater to dating destinies, like Christian Mingle, Ishqr, JDate, JSwipe and SingleSaints.
Shahzad Younas, the founder of the Muslim-dating app Muzmatch, explained that he was looking for a way to modernize Muslim marriage searches while keeping with Islamic sensibilities. "Dating as such in Islam isn't permitted. Generally it is understood that men and women only really get to know each other for the purpose of marriage," Younas told Mic. His app combines the swipe functionality of Tinder with Muslim-based principles, like a special app-assigned Guardian, halal-conforming language etiquette and hidden photos.
Muzmatch, like many other religiously-affiliated dating apps, targets users specifically looking for marriage within their communities, from the religious to the not-so-religious. Michael Egan, the CEO of Spark Networks, which owns Christian Mingle and JDate told Today that, "People come to us because they are really interested in forming a long-term partnership with somebody... it's more about that core belief."
But, ultimately, embracing our dating destiny is about navigating a choice: A dating destiny, while at times limiting (People on JDate are "very EAGER," Sarah lamented), is above all else, about making a priority about your love life. While in some cultures marriages may be arranged or forced, for the majority of people with dating destinies in the in the United States, Sarah and Josh included, their decisions have always been self-informed. Part of the pleasure of that decision was knowing it was their own.
"If you're a thinking person, hopefully you reach a certain age where you start questioning your faith and your own beliefs and what you want for the future and how you want to live your live," Josh said. "Just reflecting on all my values and how I was raised and how I want to raise someone else, evaluating the good and the bad ... I made a choice."
* Some names have been changed to allow subjects to speak freely on private matters.