What I Wish I Knew About Dating A Non-Catholic

by Love and Relationships

There are Catholics who marry Catholics and who live a wonderful life. There are Catholics who marry Catholics who end up in divorce. There are Catholics who marry non-Catholics who lose their faith. And there are Catholics who marry non-Catholics whose spouses convert and live happily ever after. 

All this is to say; every situation can go in every direction. There is no magic ingredient or solution for the dating crisis. There is no one way to end up with somebody who sustains you in your faith as a high quality partner for life. The reality is that every situation is constantly under the pressure and the influence of circumstances, and more importantly; free will. Free will is the rudder of life. I heard someone give this analogy recently: two brothers grew up with an alcoholic father. One became an alcoholic, one never drank a drop. As adults, each was asked why they drank and didn’t drink; they gave the same answer, “My dad was an alcoholic.”

Free will is the ultimate deciding factor in any human situation, whether it be attitude, circumstance, relationships, or choices. Certainly, our free will is always influenced by our wounds or our beliefs. But our free will is never completely taken from us. 

So circumstances and free will are major players in this topic, but, from my experience, the difference between dating a Catholic and dating a non-Catholic is a circumstance that is quite severe. 

When I was about 19, I was involved with a young woman whose faith background was negligible, to say the least. She grew up in a family that did not practice any faith, and she was incredibly critical of the Catholic Church and its teachings. She was pro-abortion, a staunch atheist, and when it came to morality she was primarily concerned with inclusion and other current social issues rather than timeless moral convictions. She and I found common ground in art and music, and our ability to discuss all things in-depth, often agreeing to disagree. We dated for no more than six months. 

I was heartbroken when we broke up. I truly cared for her as a person. Unbeknownst to her, we broke up because a priest had refused to give me absolution for the sins that I had committed with her. This priest heard the same confession from me week after week for six months. He finally told me that I needed to break it off with this girl; otherwise, he would not absolve me. He ended the confession by saying, “If you want absolution, you can go to the priest in the other confessional, and he will give you absolution.” 

I didn’t go to the other priest. I knew I needed to hear his words. I needed to live with the reality of my sins to find the motivation to actually renounce them. I was living in such a way that did not align with the truth of the Gospel. I was living a Constantinian Catholicism; “if I get baptized right before I die, then I’ll go straight to heaven,” therefore, wait till the last minute to convert and you can have the best of both worlds! 

What this priest exposed to me was that the fruits of my relationship with this young woman were sin and, therefore, death. Fruitfulness is what inevitably comes from something, whether you intended it or not. Even though my human emotions were very attached to her, I was very affectionate towards her, and I cared deeply about her well-being and salvation, the fruits of the relationship were still death, in this life and the next. 

The Fruit Of A Catholic Relationship

Fast forward 13 years and I am married to the love of my life. My wife, Emma, is the most faith-filled, beautiful, insightful, and fruitful woman I have ever met, and our relationship brings life to me and to the world. 

In many ways, the human affection that we have for a person is almost identical, even if the moral content of the relationship is unhealthy or disconnected from God’s grace through sin. We can still feel attached or an emotional sense of love for that person. What makes a relationship special is the fruitfulness of it. The difference between my wife and the women that I dated throughout my young adult life is that my relationship with my wife is not simply emotional and affectionate but also edifyingly fruitful. So fruitful, in fact, that our love has actually become incarnate in the form of a little baby, and not only a baby but a loving, lifelong commitment through marriage, through which that baby will be raised in safety, security, and loving stability.  We have left the mosh pit of feelings and passions and entered into the contemplative depth of a positively fruitful relationship. Only an authentic, grace-filled marriage can do this. Only a marriage made holy through cooperation with grace can take a relationship from the fruitless to the fruitful. 

So, if you’re in a situation where you’re dating and trying to find someone that you can trust with your life, it’s important to consider these factors: is the fruitfulness bringing you closer to God? Is it fruitful in goodness, truth, and beauty?  I don’t want to say don’t date a non-Catholic because, frankly, some people who consider themselves Catholic are quite despicable, and a lot of people who are non-Catholics would make incredible spouses. There are always exceptions. 

My Relationship Advice To Those Dating A Non-Catholic

What I wish I knew about dating a non-Catholic is that it is generally preferable to date somebody whose deepest beliefs about who God is and what it means to be human are aligned with yours. Actually, it’s even more important that their deepest presumptions are not so much aligned with yours but aligned with the truth.

This is the reason why religion and philosophy are so often at the core of war. Humans are deeply convicted of their own beliefs. So much so that it often leads to war. And what happens in a marriage is that your beliefs come to the surface whether you like it or not, and often they create miniature wars within our families. These wars are often simple things like whether we’re going to live together before we get married, questions of sexuality, or political preferences. Married couples are not meant to go to war against each other. They are meant to war together against evil and untruth. It is, therefore, so important to come from the same understanding of good and evil. 

Whether in a romantic or platonic relationship, one important way to find out about anybody you will be in a relationship with is to ask what he or she considers to be wrong. A good question to ask anybody is this, “what do you consider immoral?” 

The question forces a person to draw a line somewhere. All of us have a line. Very few of us are holy enough to have the exact same line as Jesus. When we can find that line, we can see more clearly how much we overlap with another person in the most important aspects of life. This line also reveals what that person is willing to do and not willing to do. It can be a vulnerable question because it often reveals what a person has done and is likely to do. And those are the questions that are most important when preparing to give your life (and your children) completely to the care of another human being. Rather than ignoring the long-term and deep-seated beliefs of a love interest like I did, face them head-on. Ask. Discuss. And really get to know who you’re committing your life and time to. 

Another thing I wish I knew about dating a non-Catholic is that my feelings don’t matter as much as I think they do. What matters is the goodness that flows from the relationship. And quite often the goodness that flows from the relationship is frankly not accompanied by overwhelmingly good feelings. It’s the fruits that matter. What can often happen is we get preoccupied with upholding good feelings in a relationship, and when they are not there, we get discouraged or feel that something is wrong. But a fruitful relationship will not only give us the grace to be able to handle the mountaintops and valleys of the rollercoaster of love, but it will also bear fruit, and those fruits become completely independent sources of joy. 

It’s a bit like the Trinity. The Father delights in the Son, and the Son delights in the Father. So much so that the fruit of the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son and becomes a new source of delight. 

If I would have been realistic about myself, my faith, and my future I would have realized very quickly that these relationships I was getting into with people who don’t share the same beliefs as I do would ultimately deprive me of myself, my faith, and my future. 

For anyone out there who is in the throes of the dating scene, keep yourself centered. Know that the relationship that is going to fulfill you is not the relationship that’s necessarily going to make you feel good all the time. And even the seemingly perfect relationship isn’t going to completely fulfill a person. Ultimately, it’s Jesus who will fulfill you. But if you’re called to marriage, Jesus will transform you through your spouse. This will give you a fruitfulness that fills your life with wholesome goodness; resilient, beautiful, and fulfilling in holiness.

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Photo by Priscilla Du Preez 🇨🇦 on Unsplash

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