What happens when you have fundamentally different beliefs to someone you love? With societies facing growing ideological divides, Dilvin Yasa meets three duos who have opposing views on vaccination, religion and diet, and discovers how they make their relationship work.
Dana & Hayley
Dana Pham, a 33-year-old who works in human resources, is a staunch Catholic and engaged to Hayley (surname withheld), a 32-year-old doctor and self-confessed “militant atheist”.
“I was raised in a Catholic household but fell away from the faith as a teenager after I told a religious sister I was trans and she responded in a way that bruised me emotionally. That experience left me in limbo for years, but as I neared the end of my 20s I began to feel like something was missing; I needed to get back to my roots. The process of coming home took some time, but I reconnected with my Catholic faith and community a couple of years ago.
When Hayley and I met at a lesbian speed-dating event back in 2019, I felt a spark between us that continues to grow to this day. Obviously, many within the LGBTQI community tend to be agnostic or atheist so I don’t know that I ever expected to fall in love with someone who shares my religious beliefs. Let’s just say I wasn’t exactly surprised when Hayley revealed how she felt about religion a couple of weeks in.
My faith is a huge part of my life. It’s not like I’m praying 24/7, but I attend mass as well as regular social functions with my congregation. So there have been times – particularly in the beginning of our relationship – when I could see Hayley trying to make sense of how our relationship could work. It wasn’t just a matter of trying not to get annoyed with me (although she certainly did that), but calculating how much she was willing to compromise in order for us to make a happy life together. I told Hayley the same thing I’ll say now: whether you love someone romantically or not, having differing views is a fact of life we all have to deal with sometimes.
Hayley and I make a great team because we each know when to look the other way, and when it’s safe to engage in passionate banter. The latter lets us work off some steam, which is important for Hayley in particular, and we always end up having a laugh. Provided you are tolerant and patient, there’s no reason something like having opposing views on religion should hold back a relationship. There’s beauty in being presented with a different perspective, and although I’m sure Hayley would hate for me to say this, I’m a firm believer in the original message of Christianity: love thy neighbour. It’s about making love the focus, always.”
“Dana had only recently started going back to church when we first began dating. On paper, a devout Catholic is not normally the sort of woman I’d go for, but I was so taken with Dana that I continued seeing her – all the while hoping she’d soon return to her senses and decide this whole religion thing really wasn’t for her.
In the beginning of our relationship I tried to do the ‘right thing’ and show my support by going church shopping with her but the process didn’t do any wonders for us as a couple and I eventually realised it was better for the both of us if I wasn’t involved in that side of her life at all.
Organised religion flies in the face of all logic; they’re basically cults until they’re sanctioned by a government, going on to cause billions of people endless conflict. I also struggle to see how anyone could believe in a higher power when science has already proven there’s no such thing. I’m not going to lie; loving someone who has progressively grown more religious as our relationship advanced was – and continues to be – a challenge. What I focus on is the fact that Dana is trying to do good in the community, with her dedication to teaching other Catholics about the LGBTQI community. Through her work, I’ve met some extraordinary Catholic people so there are definitely silver linings to enjoy when your partner exposes you to a world you would otherwise never have entered.
Whether you have conflicting views or not, love is obviously important as a foundation, but so too is finding common ground and focusing on that. Dana and I might have differences, but we have many more shared interests. Above all, Dana has a good heart and she is a kind person – that’s what matters to me most.”
Kerri & Seah
Sisters-in-law Kerri Asker, a 36-year-old entrepreneur, and Seah Katsidis, a 29-year-old receptionist and beauty therapist, have conflicting views on vaccination – particularly when it comes to their children.
“When people think of anti-vaxxers, they tend to think of those who are aggressive in their approach and capable of doing horrible things to broadcast their views. Those people don’t hold views that are aligned with my own; the majority of us who choose not to vaccinate are simply pro-choice. I believe in someone’s right to vaccinate as much as I believe in someone’s right not to. My concern is that the less united we are, the easier it is for us to become manipulated and turn on each other. We’re already seeing that.
I didn’t arrive at my decision to keep my family vaccination-free lightly; I’ve spent years researching the topic, and for me it ultimately came down to a feeling that the cons outweigh the pros. Not everyone within my family agrees with my beliefs, of course. We have an even split of those who are pro-vaccine and others who are more in line with my way of thinking. Seah and I are very close, but even though she’s in the other camp, we’ve never let the ‘noise’ get in the way of our love and respect for one another.
I’ve taken the ‘It’s her baby, therefore her business’ approach when it comes to Seah, as I would with anyone else. If she asks me anything before or after taking her son to the GP for his vaccination appointments, I’ll tell her what potential side effects to look out for but I leave it there. The question of whether our kids will continue to play together as they get older has been raised by others, but we don’t see why not. As long as they have good food to nourish their bodies, sunlight and lots of love, the kids will be more than fine.
What I’ve learnt over the last two years is that you need to come to this topic – like many of life’s big topics – from a place of love and understanding. Arguing doesn’t get you anywhere, and once you start belittling others and pushing your opinions down their throats, you lose a lot more than your argument. My ideal outcome with the COVID-19 vaccine rollout? That we all eventually learn to say, ‘You do you and don’t worry about anyone else.’”
“When my son was born, a few people warned me against Kerri. There was this message of ‘Don’t let your baby go near her unvaccinated kids,’ which seemed absurd. I’ve known Kerri for years and let me tell you this: I don’t know anyone who loves and cares for her children as well as she does.
My feelings towards vaccines are right at the other end of the spectrum to Kerri’s; when I think about what the modern-day world would have been without the polio or rubella vaccines, for example, I feel a sense of gratitude and relief that we’re able to access them so readily. History has taught me to have faith in science, but not only am I looking at it from a protection angle for my family, we’re keen to enjoy the benefits that come with vaccination too. I, for one, can’t wait to travel again.
People in relationships like ours tend to avoid the vaccination topic, but Kerri and I talk about it openly. I think it’s a method that works because although I value her opinion and always take the opportunity to ask questions, we don’t push our views on the other. Rather, we take what might be useful from the conversation.
Sometimes I really worry for Kerri. She can’t take her kids to childcare because they’re not vaccinated, she can’t work because her kids are home. Who knows what’s going to happen once those who remain unvaccinated from COVID aren’t given the same freedoms? What I do know is sitting in judgement of others is a terrible way to live. You can only do what’s right for you and your family, rather than what’s right for everyone else.”
Sonya & Brad
Sonya Gellert, a writer, and Brad Gellert, a policy and advocacy manager, both 34, are married with an 18-month-old daughter. Although both are dedicated foodies, their diets are vastly different, and the couple have struggled to agree on what their child should eat.
“Brad’s earliest memories of our relationship probably involve me questioning why he would choose to eat meat – much in the way vegetarians and vegans are endlessly asked why they don’t. I became a vegetarian when I was 13 after I realised I could no longer disconnect my love of animals with the food I put on my plate. Even though I make my living primarily as a food writer, it’s a stance from which I’ve never wavered.
Brad’s carnivorous side bothered me at times when we first started dating. At the time, I was much more of an activist and, being young, we were both staunchly on either side of the argument. What you choose to eat and why might not sound all that divisive, but it caused quite a lot of friction between us and led to some pretty passionate discussions.
I’m not comfortable buying or cooking meat so grocery shopping and meal times were a challenge, but I think as time went on we came to understand what our lines were and what we would and wouldn’t budge on. We’ve been working with that blueprint ever since.
Compromise has been key in making our relationship work. I don’t mind if Brad eats meat outside the home and I respect his choices as he does mine (even if I don’t always understand them).
While I struggled with the idea of introducing meat into our toddler’s diet, Brad and I came to a happy middle ground where the only meat she eats is fish, and he prepares it for her. Obviously she’ll make her own decisions about eating or abstaining from meat when she’s older, but in the meantime she gets to learn how two people who have opposing views can communicate effectively and model giving and taking in order to live harmoniously.
The key to relationship success in a situation like ours? Remaining respectful of one another and keeping your focus on the person you love rather than the issue that’s irking you.”
“Sonya and I both share a love of good food, but where we differ is that I don’t have an inherent ethical problem with humans eating animals. I realise they’re not mutually exclusive, but I’ve just always found social justice issues to be more compelling.
I probably wasn’t as understanding as I could have been in the first years of our relationship, not because I was trying to be argumentative, but because I was so young I never thought too long and hard about the potential implications of my actions. I’m sure there were more than a few times when I booked a meat-heavy restaurant without checking it had a vegetarian menu, and I even worked as a cook for a period.
I’m not the kind of person who has to eat meat every day; I’m hardly a butcher or a hunter. In saying that, there are challenges in a relationship when only one of you is open to eating everything. Travel – particularly overseas – can be difficult, and so too can having a child and coming to a decision about their diet you’re both happy with. It took a lot of active discussion before we realised what worked best for us as a family is to keep the household meat-free and to include fish in our daughter’s diet. Our happy medium is incorporating plenty of daddy and daughter fish and chips outings when Sonya’s not around.
There are plenty of upsides to being introduced to someone else’s point of view. Obviously I eat a lot less meat than I used to, which is better for both my health and the environment, but I’ve also become passionate about exploring new vegetarian recipes. It’s good to have your viewpoint challenged to prevent you from getting stuck in your ways. As we all know, everything changes. People can change too – and often for the better.”