The Honest Truth: Should You Date Non-Catholics?

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For the average practicing Catholic, dating can be really fun. After all, you’re young, ready to discern marriage, and maybe even ready to start a family of your own.

But when it comes to the questions of dating non-Catholics, a lot of questions begin to surface. What are their opinions about the teachings of the Church? Are they hostile or friendly to Catholicism? And if the relationship leads to marriage, what are their thoughts about contraception and NFP?

Should Catholics date non-Catholics?

If you ask this question to five Catholics, you might get six different answers. That’s because the answer is not that clear and will vary from couple to couple.

Many successful and very holy mixed marriages exist thanks to the generosity of Holy Mother Church. There are couples who are devout, who seek holiness through the sacrament of matrimony, and live in such a way to witness to the life and love of Christ.

So what do you do if you find yourself interested in or dating a non-Catholic? Consider the four points below. Remember that your situation may be different than somebody else’s, so consider them in prayer.

1. Your non-Catholic boyfriend or girlfriend needs to love you for your faith, not in spite of it.

You want to be with somebody who loves you for who you are and what you believe, no matter what. If your boyfriend or girlfriend does not go to Mass with you, does not want to talk about God or the Church, or is totally opposed to discussing NFP, you need to seriously consider where the relationship is going.

In return, you need to do what you can to ensure they are on the path to God as well. Love them for who they are, and do what it takes to make them thrive.

2. Realize that your non-Catholic boyfriend or girlfriend may never become Catholic.

While people do change over time, you cannot enter into marriage believing that you will one day convert your husband or wife. You can certainly influence them, but do not marry somebody expecting that one day you will change them or their opinions about the Church. It doesn’t work that way.

Answer this question in sincerity: if I marry this person, I am 100% okay with the fact that we will never receive the Eucharist together.

3. Consider how well your non-Catholic boyfriend or girlfriend can really know you if they don’t live a Sacramental life.

Catholics often forget how integral and central the Catholic faith is. What you see as a normal experience, like confession or Eucharistic adoration, others see as totally foreign, stupid, or maybe even idolatry.

If receiving the Eucharist or worshiping Jesus in the host is the source and summit of the life of a Christian, consider how well your boyfriend or girlfriend can really know you and your soul.

4. Find Spiritual Directors and Mentors.

If you want a successful marriage, find a couple who has been doing that for along time and ask them how to do it. Who better to ask about successful mixed marriages then a couple in a successful mixed marriage?

Seeking counsel from experienced people regarding marriage, or any situation, is always a great way to learn wisdom.

Other Resources:

Ryan Eggenberger

Ryan Eggenberger

Ryan Eggenberger is a partner at Little Flower Strategies, LLC. He writes about travel, marketing, and his terrible parking skills. Follow him on twitter at @RyanEggenberger.

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34 thoughts on “The Honest Truth: Should You Date Non-Catholics?”

  1. Avatar

    A point that practicing single Catholics get hit with all the time: “You’re just too picky! Why not marry a Protestant? They are Christians too.” As Ryan points out in this article, the inherent problem in an interfaith marriage is that husband and wife cannot — or do not — share the same sacramental life together. Some couples thrive despite this challenge, but make no bones about it: it’s a challenge. It doesn’t help to tell faithful single Catholics who want to marry within the Church that they should marry outside it instead, yet this is a staple comment on Catholic blogs whenever the issue of lonely singles comes up. Sure interfaith marriage can work, but it’s not ideal. It may happen if God sends us the right partner, but it is not something one would seek out from the start.

    1. Avatar

      I think the real thing is if someone is following God or not…whether Catholic or Protestant. There are very few of us left in the world. Many say “Lord Lord” and don’t really live out the day to day grind of what it means to be Christian. I always think of Christ’s words in Matthew 24.

      It is so sad to see some of my female Catholic friends abandoning their faith because they dated non-Christians and non-practicing “Catholics” The term “non-practicing” should not exist. You either ARE Catholic and go to mass each week or you are a hypocrite who should not call themselves one.

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  3. Avatar

    This is a very tough subject. I can imagine a faithful Catholic being frightened that they may never have the marriage they hope for if thier prospectice spouse never converts…there would be much to miss out on.

    And yet for me, if my H had not been willing to date my Protestant self, I might have missed out on Catholicism completely…he was the only Catholic I ever dated.

    As with our vocations, jobs, family size, breadwinner issues…there is no perfect one-size-fits-all answer. Discerning Gods will is forever a challenge and this is a whopper of a thing to have to discern.

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      I think if both a Catholic and Protestant practice their faith it can work. You’d just have to figure out which Catholic church is best to attend/school etc if you bring kids into the mix.

  4. Avatar

    For obvious reasons, the mixed couples who start by compromising their faith and end up losing it altogether don’t comment here.

  5. Avatar

    I think you, and a few commenters forget is that a relationship (hopefully leading to marriage) can be an amazing resource for bringing people to the Church. There’s even a becoming Catholic blogger over at Pathos that was led to the Church because of her relationship with her (now ex) boyfriend.

    I’m lucky that my husband never “forced” his religion on me, knowing that 1) I would fight against it if I felt forced to accept it and 2) that if I came to it on my own my experience would be that much deeper.

    Of course he did take some of the stances you state – he made it clear he’d never leave the Church, and accepted that I might never join (which mirrors his own parents religious stances), but just asked that I be respectful of his decisions and he would be respectful of mine. I think we had it easier than most “interfaith” considering we were both Christians (I grew up Protestant and was attending at a local Episcopal Church) so we didn’t have the larger hurdles to jump (we were always respectful of any differences in practice/belief and agreed on certain topics anyway).

    Isn’t it St. Francis who said something akin to “Preach the Gospel, and when necessary use words”? Sometimes the best way to bring people to the Church is to stand firm in your believes, set a good example and let them come to you.

    1. Avatar

      I have had a similar experience. I grew up protestant with no intention of changing. I started dating a Catholic, 3 years later I was confirmed into the Catholic Church, and 6 years later we are married and about to celebrate our 1st anniversary in Rome, to thank God for all His blessings.

      Looking back at those early years of dating, there were so many things I did and said in my ignorance, that my now-husband must have really disliked. But all he ever did was educate me on his faith, and encourage and support me when I decided to take steps to become a Catholic. If he had told me he wouldn’t date/marry me unless I was Catholic, at the time I would have walked away.

      I am so grateful to God for sending my this angel, my husband.

      1. Avatar

        Ditto Rachel, the best thing that my Catholic husband (and his very devout family) did for the faith was to let me approach it at my own pace. There was no pressure to do RCIA before the wedding or to have one ceremony over the other. And now we’re about to celebrate our 5th anniversary (it seems silly to “brag” but it’s not as common to achieve nowadays I’m finding) and if everything works out I’ll be completing RCIA about that time. We hope to renew our vows by fully devoting ourselves to this sacrament around the time of our anniversary.

        Ryan – Thanks, I’ve read that post before. =) One of the things that amazes me is that we’ve adjusted our lives and beliefs to better correlate with Church teaching without fully realizing it (that is to say without sitting down and saying “today we’ll decided to fully believe this part of the Catechism”) and this has happened by just living our lives together and weathering it’s storms. Honestly, I’m drawn to believe that one of the most important Catholic teachings on marriage that an “inter-faith” or “inter-denomination” couple can base itself on is the idea that marriage “is for keeps” to put it simply – knowing that we’re in this together 100% has had amazing results during some very trying times in our, relatively short, 5 years.

      2. Avatar
        Perinatal Loss Nurse

        Rachel, I wish I could say the same (that my H was always kind in the process). I said something really stupid on the subject 20something years ago and he reminds me of it regularly. His reminders are not funny or nostalgic, it feels mean and spiteful.

        I have (quite a few times now) worked with couples experiencing infant loss where one was Catholic and the other was not. Almost all of the non-Catholic spouses converted…I think they saw a real beauty in the guidance and care that the Church offered them in the course if their journeys.

  6. Avatar

    ‘Tis a small thing, but for #1, which reads, “Your non-Catholic boyfriend or girlfriend needs to love you for your faith, not in spite of it,” shouldn’t it be “despite”? The former sounds like they’re loving you to spite your Catholicism, rather than loving you even though you’re Catholic.

    A good article, though, and it brings up very valid points.

      1. Avatar

        I have noticed that people think this, but they mean the opposite. “Despite” means “regardless of whatever reasons there may be for spite”. “In spite of” means “specifically bearing in mind all reasons for spite”.

  7. Avatar

    I really liked reading this Ryan. I think it is very respectfully written, because it is a hot topic and, like you said, “ask five people get six answers”. I have seen other couples in which they make it possible, but I don’t envy them, because it must be so difficult.

  8. Avatar

    Very respectfully written. I imagine it is a great cross not to share your Faith with your spouse, but tremendous grace must come from it. The Catholic spouse really has to treasure their relationship with God above all else. Sometimes I’m tempted to use my husband’s faith as a crutch when I’m too lazy or busy to seek the Lord myself.

  9. Avatar

    I always think of St. Monica in these situations…have been reading a book about her in Adoration the last month or so. Her gentleness and unconditional love of her husband and son, who either did not know or rejected the faith is truly a witness of what some others have said about evangelizing in love and deed, rather than with rigid boundaries and requirements. Quite the role model and encouragement for those with loved ones outside the sacramental life of the Church!

  10. Avatar

    Thank you for writing this, Ryan. I know that this is an issue with which I have wrestled in the past. On the one hand, after a long time thinking and praying on the subject, I decided that the right thing FOR ME was to stick with only dating fellow Catholics. On the other hand, I have known of more than a few couples in which one member was converted to the Faith by the other, so I see the importance and potential of those relationships. On the gripping hand, I know that, first and foremost, we should strive to do the will of our Father in Heaven, and thus remain open to the (genuine) promptings of the Holy Spirit, wherever that may lead.

    As in many other areas of life, I would say the best advice is to be found in the words of Scripture: “Be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves.”

    To add to the above examples other commentors have provided: the parents of some friends from my parish, Mr. and Mrs. C, were married for something like 30 or 40 years. Mrs. C was Catholic, Mr. C was not, and all three of their daughters were brought up as faithful members of the Church. Sadly, Mrs. C passed away from breast cancer about 2 1/2 years ago. About a year after her death, Mr. C entered RCIA, and he was received into the Church this past Easter. So no, Mrs. C was never able to receive the Holy Eucharist with her husband, but she was still the cause of his conversion.

  11. Avatar
    Perinatal Loss Nurse

    If our ultimate goal is to assist our spouse to get to heaven, I guess you could call me a brokenhearted success 🙁 . My husband died suddenly yesterday morning. I feel very comfortable with the state of his soul but it could not have been without The Church.

  12. Avatar

    The most important factors are: Will this non-Catholic I am dating be open to children (not contracept) and bring up children in the faith? I have been reading Catholic mom blogs for 15 years and over and over again I read women complaining that their husband doesn’t want to do NFP or he doesn’t help rear the children in the faith. The husband is supposed to be the spiritual head of the family. The wife needs his leadership and support in teaching the faith. Especially for sons, if Dad isn’t doing it (going to mass, praying the rosary, etc.) he doesn’t want to do it. So certainly some husbands convert but many don’t and that spells misery and frustration for many wives. In addition many wives complain that the husband said he would do NFP or support the wife in rearing their children Catholic but then they change their minds. I just read one the other day on where the husband did this and now insists on baptizing the kids in his extended family’s Lutheran faith after promising to raise them Catholic before they married. I think if you did an actual scientific survey you would find more problems from interfaith marriage than conversions.

    1. Avatar

      I think if they are not-practicing Christian this is a MAJOR issue. Not practicing is NOT Christian in the first place. Women deceive themselves into thinking a man will change for them. Instead they end up with pagan children that cause heartbreak.

  13. Avatar

    I just found this website, Ryan. This subject is very important I am an 86 year old widow of a year after almost 64 years married to a Catholic. All I can say is that so many times through the years I thanked God that my parents always preached about dating only Catholics. I married my brother’s good friend and we lived happily ever-after. I know others have not been so fortunate but I still think it is the ideal situation. We had five children and now I have a flock of grand-children in my widowed life.

  14. Avatar

    I completely understand this article. I also have a different point of view though. I started dating a Protestant boy (Church of Christ, to be exact) about four years ago. When we started dating, neither one of us really took in to account our faith differences, but he was a really nice guy and really liked me so it continued. He wasn’t too keen on the idea of Catholicism and would every once in a while ask questions about the faith (some I knew the answers to, others not so much). After a few months he broke up with me. In his heart he truly believed he was doing the right thing. I was devastated because his reason was that our faiths were different. The Lord had greater plans for us because about a week later we started dating again and talked a lot about how we needed to learn more about each other. I am happy and proud to say that four years later I have the sweetest most devout guy in the world. He comes to Mass with me, prays with me, comes to Adoration with me, knows every Catholic prayer, surprises me by taking me to pretty Cathedrals, and will marry me in the near future. I have prayed for his conversion every day since we broke up. Mother Mary has interceded for me and God has blessed our relationship abundantly. He has not converted yet but I truly believe he will in the near future! He admires my faith and has fallen in love with Catholicism. It took some long discussions, millions of questions, frustrations and patience, but prayer ultimately led us together at a deeper and more spiritual level. Four years ago I never would have thought he would want to go to Mass, dip his fingers in Holy Water, or recite the Nicene Creed from memory, but with endless prayer ANYTHING is possible!!!

    1. Avatar

      Honestly Catholics and Protestants are not *that* different. Either or….tbh. If you are really following the Bible that is what matters.

  15. Avatar

    My Catholic girlfriend has served as an inspiration to me, an atheist for almost 60 years. I love going to Mass with her and have, since, started learning all I can about Catholicism, much to her joy. She’s been a major influence on me, though never at all, on her part, consciously so. I’m surprised at myself and now want to pray with her every morning and night. It just feels so right to me. I’m now considering going to RCIA and will see what happens after.

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