Love Advice Across Faiths: Wisdom on Relationships from World Religions
Every generation puts its own spin on love and romance. Just ask millenials, whose highly fluid, label-averse approach to dating has become the stuff of hit TV shows such as "Girls," as well as hand-wringing over the possible decline of courtship.
But even as rules and expectations evolve, the mechanics of attraction remain the same, and the principles of romance—respect, restraint, honesty, etc.—are as important (and as difficult to master) as ever. Long before one could learn from Hannah Horvath’s mistakes, live vicariously through Anastasia Steele, or take down notes from "The Art of Seduction" love-seekers were beset by the same questions, frustrations and desires. For much of history, the most reliable resources to turn to were the annals of religion—one could even call them the world’s first advice books. Religion is still an unparalleled source of romance advice, and these books distill wisdom from major world faiths that’ll steer you in the right direction.
Christianity: The Golden Rule
The Golden Rule—"Treat others as you wish to be treated"—is seen in various forms across many faiths, but it’s a particular favorite among Christians. Jesus says it twice in the New Testament, once in Matthew (7:12) and once in Luke (6:31). The rule communicates the simple idea that empathizing with another person—seeing that they are as valuable and as deserving of respect as oneself—can forestall aggression, engender kindness and, ideally, bring people closer.
It’s good motto to keep in mind when dating, since we have a tendency to get wrapped up in our own emotions. "Listen to the kinds of questions we ask when we’re guided by a selfless desire to do what’s best for another," says Joshua Harris in "Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello to Courtship," an advice book on Christian dating. When you sense you’re making missteps (too eager, too distant), or you’re confused about what will or won’t the other person happy, come back the Rule to build empathy and gain perspective.
Judaism: Family matters
Family is a crucial part of Jewish faith and culture, and respect for the importance of filial connection—however burdensome or intimidating—is a value we can all take to heart. As Vicki Weiss and Jennifer A. Block put in their guide to Jewish dating, "What To Do When You’re Dating a Jew": "No matter how much trouble your boyfriend’s family might have with your relationship, if they are still acknowledging his existence, consider yourself ahead of the game."
Whether or not your significant other is close with their family, they still have one, and getting to know a partner deeply means peeling back the layers—however gradually—to get a sense of where they come from.
Islam: Win over the friends
In traditional Islamic culture, young people tend to hang out exclusively with friends of the same gender, and it’s uncommon for young men and women to get to know each other well without first establishing romantic intentions. In order to find a partner, then, one has to rely on a wide network of same-sex friends to orchestrate a pairing. In her book "The Muslim Next Door," Sumbul Ali-Karamali writes: "Muslim cultures tend to emphasize finding compatible life companions rather than movie-style romance."
While these customs don’t necessarily apply to those outside Islamic culture, the value of friendship networks translates. Taking an interest in your partner’s friends is crucial: They were likely around before you, and their opinions matter.
The Buddhist concept of "non-attachment" may not seem like an obvious principle to apply to dating—you’re trying to get closer to your partner, not further away—but if understood correctly, it can help you keep your relationship buoyant and healthy. In brief: Buddhist philosophy holds that humans by nature cling to stuff—people, money, places, things—in order to feel complete and secure. The problem with this is that we can’t rely on external things to ensure our happiness—other humans, in particular, are averse to needy attachment (i.e., no one likes a clinger). Practicing “non-attachment” means recognizing this desire as an innate aspect of our nature and moving past it. The point is not to withdraw from the outside world, but to be more rational about what kind of fulfillment we can expect from it.
What does this mean in a dating context? Lama Ole Nydahl, in his book "Buddha & Love," says practicing non-attachment can lead to a more enlightened type of love. "'Taking love,'" he writes, "leads to feelings of attachment, jealousy, anger, and childish self-absorption, while…'giving love,' intrinsic on the tenets of Buddhism, encompasses the whole enjoyable realm of love, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity…. A relationship becomes difficult when one expects happiness to be provided by the partner."
His book "The Way Things Are" spells out tactics for practicing mindfulness and mitigating emotion greed—key components to cultivating "giving love."