His core values aren’t that different than mine, they just come from a different place—couldn’t the rest be a work in progress?
Once you’ve been on Tinder for more than a week, you mostly stop getting excited about new matches. The odds of meeting in person or even having a worthwhile messaging exchange are low.
But every once in a while, someone comes along who makes your heart jump when the screen announces you’ve matched. Ethan is one of those.
He has dark hair and eyes and a wide, toothy smile, and he’s chosen a compelling array of photos to represent himself: There’s one of him on a hill overlooking an all-white desert city (well-traveled!), one where he’s wielding a giant backpack while standing on top of a mountain (outdoorsy!), and one mid-step in a throng of joggers with a race number pinned to his shirt (athletic!). His profile says he recently moved to San Francisco from Denver, and he’s looking for a relationship.
We meet for drinks that same week, and from the moment we introduce ourselves neither of us can stop grinning. He’s about 6’3 and handsome in a boyish, non-threatening way—other than the receding hairline, I imagine he still closely resembles his fifth-grade school picture. He has the slightest hint of a lisp, and gives off a humble, eager energy that puts my nerves at ease.
In a refreshing departure from what my single friends and I call “The Script”—the typical dull introductory date conversation that’s identical every time and doesn’t really tell you anything valuable about the other person—we share funny stories about our only-in-San-Francisco roommate situations and Craigslist furniture purchases. I pepper him with questions about making homemade kombucha, which he’s mastered and I’ve been wanting to do for months, and about what it’s like to run ultra-marathons (apparently 26.2 miles isn’t enough, and there are people who voluntarily run 50+ miles at a time. Why is that a thing? Why?). He’s an attentive listener, and we repeatedly burst out laughing at the same times.
It’s the best spark I’ve had with anyone in months; three hours fly by and our conversation doesn’t miss a beat.
He asks me about living in Mexico, then tells me about the trip he took to Colombia over New Year’s. He’d met and fallen for a girl there, and liked her so much he’d gone back just a month later to see her again. I find this wonderfully impulsive and romantic, and I love that Ethan is the kind of guy who throws caution to the wind and flies to another country to see someone he barely knows—cuz I do that shit too, and how boring would life be if there weren’t other irrational weirdos out there?
I’m already envisioning the two of us haphazardly traveling the world together when he says, “But since I don’t date girls who aren’t Christian, we had to break it off.”
My eyes widen. I reach for my water glass and take my time draining every last drop from it.
Placing the glass back on the table, I clear my throat and try to sound casual as I ask, “You don’t date girls who aren’t Christian?”
“Nope,” he replies. “I put it in my profile. It weeds out a ton of people.”
“It’s not in your profile.”
“Yeah it is.”
I shake my head. “It’s definitely, definitely not.” I know this for a fact, because if it was, I’d have swiped left and this date wouldn’t even be happening.
“Hmm.” He looks mildly perplexed, though not nearly as perplexed as I feel he should look based on this conversation. “Maybe you’re right. I think it’s on my Bumble, but I took it off my Tinder to see how much of a difference it would make.”
Then, instead of asking me about my religious beliefs he says, “I’m hungry. Want to get some dinner? There’s a good place right around the corner.”
I take the fact that he didn’t ask me about religion to mean that maybe he likes me enough not to care, or maybe it’s not that big of a deal to him (see above re: irrational).
So instead of laying out my cards and making sure we’re not wasting our time, I say yes, let’s get dinner.
It’s not until dinner’s almost over that religion comes up again. I tell Ethan that I consider myself spiritual, but don’t identify with any organized religion.
He nods and tries to look understanding, and openly answers my questions about his own religious process (essentially, he was raised Christian and stayed so into adulthood). His smile stays wide, his eyes sincere, but it’s palpable—something has shifted.
Still, after we hug goodbye and part ways, I hang on to some hope that I’ll see him again. Thinking it through, I figure this might be something I can work with. A solid, clear belief system is better than no belief system at all. Maybe we can reach some kind of middle ground.
Not shockingly, though, I don’t hear from Ethan, and a week after our date I reach out, wanting a definitive answer if nothing else. “I had a great time with you,” I text. “But seems there’ll be no second date. Because of religion?”
His response comes quickly, in the form of a well-intentioned but mildly patronizing compliment sandwich: “I had fun with you too. But I don’t think we should go out again, because being with a Christian is important to me. You’re a great woman with a lot to offer the right person.”
After reading the message through three times, I crumple in my seat and fume. How can it be that he won’t even give me a chance? And, more importantly, why do I feel so certain that I wanted one?
One of my closest friends—who happens to be deeply religious and is happily married—always reminds me, in dating, to watch out for the big three: money, sex, and religion. These are essential for couples to align on for a relationship to have half a shot at working, and if they’re not in sync from early on, it’s better to cut and run.
Amid my disappointment and wounded ego, I pegged Ethan as narrow-minded; he let the thing we didn’t have in common cancel out the things we did. I, on the other hand, was open-minded: His core values aren’t that different than mine, they just come from a different place—couldn’t the rest be a work in progress?
As I mull it over a bit more, though, I start to wonder if rather than open-minded, what I was being was superficial. I was willing to put surface-level things—common interests, physical attraction, the “spark”—before a fundamental difference in belief systems and world views. Maybe of all the reasons to dump someone, strong religious beliefs the other person doesn’t share is near the top of the Totally Legit list.
But…how many perfectly happy couples are out there who never even would have met if one person had preemptively put down a hard line on spirituality?
Open-minded or narrow-minded, fundamental or superficial—none of these are the right answer. The right answer is to find someone who is where we are, or is willing to meet us halfway.
Rather than being annoyed that Ethan didn’t want to see me again, then, I’m annoyed at his initial lack of transparency. Dating is hard enough as it is—dealbreaking preferences should be listed up front so we don’t all waste our time. I, for example, won’t go out with anyone who’s vegan, non-monogamous, or looking for just a hookup—and that’s all spelled out in my profile.
When I’m back in the Bay Area several months later, Ethan resurfaces on my Tinder. He’s still looking for a relationship, except now he’s made his search more specific—“with a Christian woman.”
I check out his photos again, briefly admiring how cute he is (not to mention well-traveled, outdoorsy, and athletic). Then I swipe left.
Vanessa Bates Ramirez is a Mexican-American writer and editor. She received an MFA from Northwestern University. She blogs about the intersection of love and travel at Around the World in 80 Dates (www.atwi80dates.com).