What’s It Like To Date Some One Of A Different Religion?

You’ve gotta have faith in love... and sometimes in more ways than one. Two interfaith couples recount their love stories and share advice on how to navigate these relationships.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

You’ve gotta have faith in love... and sometimes in more ways than one. Two interfaith couples recount their love stories and share advice on how to navigate these relationships.

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Mei Yan, 27, is a Buddhist, and Jude, 31, is a Catholic

The couple started out as colleagues in the hotel industry, but only got to know each other when they formed a band with their co-workers, with Jude on the guitar and Mei Yan on vocals. They’ve been together for four years. 

“It was seeing Jude with a guitar, and how talented he was, that piqued my interest,” says Mei Yan. “He also seemed really easy-going and uninterested in material things, qualities I find very attractive.” As for Jude, he says that he really liked Mei Yan’s voice. 

“She was also down to earth and very real,” he adds.

What was the conversation about religion like? 

Mei Yan: It wasn’t a heavy-hearted conversation. I just asked him once over dinner if he’d like me to convert to Catholicism if we ever got married, and he said it wasn’t necessary.

Jude: Yeah, I don’t think religion can be forced. We always seemed to have other things to talk about that were more crucial to our relationship, like communication and respect. I’d rather we share the same views on lifestyle and values that we want our future kids to have. 

How do your parents feel about your relationship?

Mei Yan: My parents love Jude. At the start of our relationship, I asked my mum if our religious or racial difference bothered her. She just said if I like him, that’s good enough for her! I probably lucked out in that aspect. 

Jude: My family is perfectly fine with Mei Yan and my mum loves talking to her. My extended family hasn’t said anything but even if they did, I don’t think it would bother me. 

Have you ever discussed how you would raise your kids—particularly which religion they would follow?

Mei Yan: If we get married in church, I believe I have to sign something stating that I will raise our children in the Catholic faith. We’ve talked about this—I’m all for my child choosing his or hew own faith when the time comes. Because of his upbringing, Jude would love if his child was baptised from birth. 

In my opinion, my child’s religion will not determine their character and values. As future parents, it’ll be our job to teach them that.


Is dating someone of a different religion as difficult as you might have assumed? 

Mei Yan: It has certainly exposed me to a different culture and tradition, but nothing that has made me look at Jude in a different way. We’re similar in so many other ways, so maybe that’s why religion never really was an issue. I think it’s healthy for couples to have different interests and beliefs. 

How do you (respectfully) fend off people who disapprove? 

Mei Yan: We encountered “haters” mostly at the start of our relationship, but it was largely more about how we’re of different races. 

People tend to make snap judgements based only on what they see, so I don’t blame them. I had insensitive friends who asked me why I didn’t choose a Chinese boyfriend. I’d just laugh it off and say I chose him for his height (Jude is 1.9m and I’m 1.7m), and didn’t even realise he’s of a different race and religion! 

Sometimes, we get second glances and disapproving looks. At the end of the day, we just hope everyone around us doesn’t spread any more intolerance. 

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Emmeline, 21, is a freethinker while Hannan, 27, is a Muslim

The couple struck up a close friendship when they were working together at the Night Safari in 2016, and things quickly blossomed into a romantic relationship. She’s currently pursuing a degree in interior design while he now works at a bank. 

What was the conversation about religion like?

Emmeline: Religion was hardly an issue between us at first. Even though he’s a practicing Muslim, he is pretty open- minded about our cultural differences and we both respect each other’s boundaries. 

However, we’re currently three years into our relationship and marriage is on the cards. This ultimately means I have to convert to Islam. Hannan did make it clear from the start that I definitely would need to convert if we get married.

Hannan: Religion wasn’t a topic of discussion when we started going out. We did touch on it briefly, but it was only recently that we had an in-depth conversation about it since we’re trying to move forward with our relationship. 

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Hari Raya celebration with Hannan's family

How do your parents feel about your relationship?

Emmeline: At first, my parents, who are Buddhists, were unsure about us because of the difference in religion and culture. Even though we’re a pretty secular Chinese family, they still had their reservations about me dating a Muslim as they were worried about our cultural differences and my eventual conversion if we do get married. They have since warmed up to Hannan and his family. We even went on a trip together with our parents. My parents also told me they would respect my decision no matter what. 

Hannan: My family has always been OK with it as both my brothers-in-law are from different religions. In fact, I sometimes feel that my parents love Emmeline more than me! But jokes aside, my parents take her as their own daughter. 

Have you ever discussed how you would raise your kids—particularly which religion they would follow?

Emmeline: Because I’d have to convert to Islam, our child would follow the Muslim tradition from birth. 

Hannan: We have both agreed that they will be born Muslim but as I’ve said before, you need to believe in the religion. 

Is dating someone of a different religion as difficult as you might have assumed? 

Emmeline: Many people think that the downside of being involved in an interfaith or intercultural relationship is navigating the wishes and traditional demands of both sides of the family. When we first started dating, I was stressed as I did not know what to expect from his family. I did not want to come off as insensitive and thought I wouldn’t integrate well. But thankfully, his immediate and extended family were really welcoming and never once imposed their religion on me. His sisters and relatives are in inter-cultural marriages as well and each time there is a family gathering, it’s always a celebration of different cultures. 

Hannan: Dating someone from a different religion isn’t that hard. The only time that I really do feel bad is when we have dinner with her family. I have no issues with them eating pork in front of me but they still avoid eating it, which makes me feel bad. 


Who’s marrying who in Singapore ?

While there are no official figures on interfaith marriages here, there are statistics on inter-ethnic marriages, which refer to those between people of different races. Findings from the Singapore Department of Statistics suggest they’re far more common than you might think. 

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In 2017, inter-ethnic marriages made up more than one-fifth of all marriages in Singapore—a more than 15 percent rise from 2006.

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Inter-ethnic marriages are especially prevalent among Muslim marriages. 38 percent of Muslim marriages in 2017 were between people of different races.

Advice on Navigating an interfaith relationship

“Give your partner your commitment and presence every single second of your relationship—too many things in life are mediocre, and love should not be one of them. Respect is key. I know many religions insist that there is only one higher power to believe in, but forcing that belief on your partner can be both stifling and inconsiderate. Jude and I are lucky in that we believe that it doesn’t matter who you pray to, as long as you pray.” - Mei Yan 

“Relationships—interfaith, inter-ethnic or otherwise—are never a walk in the park. Both partners should be open-minded enough to acknowledge the cultural differences and learn how to compromise with each other. Learning how to be tolerant is an integral part in maintaining a healthy relationship.” - Emmeline