Ask Margot-I Love Her, But She Won’t Convert

Loving someone of another faith. Expert advice on what to do when you love someone but they won't convert to your faith.

By Margot Carmichael Lester

ear Margot,
My girlfriend and I have broken up four times because we can’t sort out this religious issue: She is Catholic and I am Muslim. (The last break-up lasted seven months.) I have tried to convince her to convert. Most of the time she agrees, only to
Many deeply religious people would probably say their faith comes first.
change her mind later. I have met beautiful Muslim girls who love me but I feel nothing for them. She has tried to go out with a Catholic but to no avail. We are now separated for the fifth time. What can we do to surmount this problem?
-My Utterly Significant Lady Isn’t Muslim

I’m no award-winning fashion designer, but even I can see that there’s a strong pattern in your love life. And like flame-stitch or paisley (at least in my opinion), it’s got to go.

You may love each other but past history and present circumstance say that this relationship isn’t meant to be. You’ve broken up five times—all for the same reason. That means three things:
  1. You never resolve the issue to either partner’s satisfaction. You want her to convert and she doesn’t want to. Sure, she says she does, but when the reality of the decision sets in, she backs off. This is unlikely to change.
  2. Religious devotion comes before personal devotion. Many deeply religious people would probably say their faith comes first. Best thing you can do is accept this for what it is and move on.
  3. You’re not meant to be together. Your deep feelings for each other don’t necessarily mean you’re supposed to be together. In fact, you may be making more of your feelings for her to avoid having to commit to another person. If you stay “committed” to someone you can’t be with, how committed are you?
The More Things Change
Here’s the thing: This break-up/make-up business has got to stop. Trust me on this. I ignored a strong pattern like this in my own love life a few years ago and I still rue the day! You’ll continue to get together and split apart until (and if) she converts. And even if she does, that’s no guarantee of domestic bliss. She might end up resenting you for forcing her to change. Or you might realize that her religion wasn’t the only thing about her that doesn’t work for you. And then it’ll be too late.

Keep the Faith
Perhaps even more important to both of you than the relationship is the sanctity of your spiritual life and all it holds for you, your family and your larger faith community. Insisting that your girlfriend convert not for the faith itself but for you could be inviting her into a life of duplicity. If she doesn’t believe now, and only pretends to believe in order to marry you, can you really feel good about that? And if she’s a deeply religious
It’s a complicated situation with no easy answers.
person in her own right, can she feel good about forsaking her true beliefs? This sounds like what my granddaddy used to call livin’ a lie.

I feel for you on this, I really do. It’s a complicated situation with no easy answers. However, I think your break-up-and-make-up pattern is strong evidence for just how unworkable it is and how unlikely you are to make it work in the future. If she agrees to convert, she won’t be making the decision to adopt your beliefs and practices based on their inherent value and meaning to her, personally. Rather, she’ll be accepting your beliefs and rituals simply because you want her to. And it doesn’t sound as if you want to marry someone who only half-believes in your faith…do you?

So before you make another plea for her to reconcile with you — and convert — ask and answer these five questions:
  1. Why is it important to me that she convert?
  2. What would our lives together look like if she didn’t convert?
  3. Have I approached dating other people with a truly open mind and heart?
  4. Do I keep going back to her because I don’t really want to commit at all?
  5. What’s more important to me: That she be a truly spiritual person devoted to her own beliefs, or that she be devoted to mine?
Honestly answering these questions will help you figure out your own feelings around this situation. But the fact is, you can’t make anyone convert to a faith they don’t actually believe in—nor should you. And since she’s made it clear she has no intention to do that anyway, my best advice is to stay broken up. Put your energies instead into doing some work on yourself so you’re clear about what you want in a partner and where to find someone who shares your religious beliefs.

Margot Carmichael Lester is a freelance writer based in North Carolina. Send your faith-based dating questions to
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