In college, dating in its many forms is a thriving practice. What draws one person to another and places them in an intimate relationship could be attributed to an infinite number of factors.
Take GW seniors Danielle Brody and Pat Dean. Their compatibility, to many, seems obvious. Both study psychology, are active in the Greek-letter community, grew up in New England and studied abroad (though in different places).
What may not be so obvious, that taboo of polite conversation, is their religious affiliation.
Brody was raised conservative Jewish and is now more lax but remains religious, while Dean was raised Christian but now describes himself as “spiritual in my own sense” and “doesn’t need to go to church to find God.”
“We have tried exchanging roles and shared in each other’s religious holidays,” Dean said. “I celebrated Rosh Hashanah with her and she came to Christmas services.”
Inter-religious dating, such as the relationship between Brody and Dean, is common on campuses as culturally and religiously diverse as GW. Students, who seem to agree that such a situation in marriage may be difficult, are often open to the prospect of dating others who do not practice the same religion.
GW professor Steven Roberts, a Jew, and his Catholic wife, Cokie, have been married for more than 30 years and even co-authored a book, “From This Day Forward,” about their relationship.
“People get hung up on labels and doctrine,” Roberts said. “But it is possible to cross lines, though people (clergy and parents) will tell you otherwise to keep people apart.”
Although the University does not report statistics on the religious affiliation of its student body, GW states on its admissions Web site that 34 percent of the undergraduate student community is multicultural.
Furthermore, the same Web site states that almost half of the nearly 300 student organizations are cultural and international, several endorsing either cultural or doctrinal aspects of religion, thus providing an apt social scene for meeting and perhaps dating someone of a different religion.
“I’ve never dated an Indian guy, I’ve dated black and white,” said sophomore Shilpa Grover, who is Indian and Hindu. “It would be nice to meet an Indian guy but I am not just looking for that.”
While many students are comfortable with dating outside of their religion, many also admit there may be some awkward moments or disagreements along the way.
“There are a lot of things I’m never willing to try,” said Brody. “Never church on Easter, nothing besides a basket.”
Roberts said the “hook-up culture” of today’s dating scene where “sex is very casual and in a curious way not intimate” impairs the potential for a successful relationship, especially an inter-religious one which requires “candid, frank, and trustful communication and understanding.”
Another prevalent and difficult barrier, and one Roberts experienced personally, was the social stigma of inter-religious dating often advocated by many parents and communities. Roberts was raised in a Jewish community and household adamantly opposed to inter-religious relationships. His wife’s family was devoutly Catholic; her mother served as ambassador to the Vatican.
“With parents, the single biggest problem is ignorance,” said Roberts. “Bring them home and make it clear you are not rejecting them or the religion.”
Brody said her mother would prefer she date another Jew, but has proven Roberts’ theory correct.
“My parents first met Pat before we even started dating and they really do like him,” she said.
Grover feels similarly. “Even though my parents are pretty liberal, especially for Indian parents, I know they would prefer (I date) an Indian.”
Many students, however, express concern when the relationship becomes serious enough for marriage.
“I would never convert because I want to raise my kids Jewish,” senior Liz Sussy said. “I’m fine with being with someone as long as they were OK with that.”
Sophomore Shelly Jain serves as vice president of Satyan, a Hinduism-awareness student organization and has been dating her Hindu boyfriend for two and half years.
“It is important for me to date someone of the same religion” she said. “I’m not saying I’m marrying him but there is no future if there is a large religious difference.”
Roberts’ knowledge on long-term, successful relationships extends beyond solely the inter-religious model, especially in his final piece of advice: “Understand the virtue of flexibility because it’s going to be difficult and you have got to be really in love.”