Carolyn Hax is on leave. This column originally ran on June 22, 2008.
Dear Carolyn: How do you make a decision about faith in a mixed-religion couple? How do I have a rational discussion about something that inherently is beyond rationality?
I’m dating a wonderful woman who is a perfect match – except we’re not the same religion. I’m fine with her choices and more than happy to support them. Except that’s not enough; I’m expected to convert, too.
I’m having trouble articulating what bothers me most about this. I have a feeling this is part of her “princess fantasy” of what a wedding and happily-ever-after will look like, without an appreciation for how real life might impact it.
There is a selfish assumption that I be the one to convert. She adamantly will never consider doing so for me — not that I’d expect her to. But it’s the whole “you sacrifice and I don’t” thing that bothers me, when I think couples should be about shared sacrifices.
I am also concerned about a possible social chill on my family and friends, who are also not of this same religion.
Oh, yeah, and there are doctrinal areas of disagreement. And I’m feeling pushed to decide, even though by her own admission it took her 20-plus years to become spiritually mature in her beliefs.
Perfect, you mean, aside from the princess fantasies, selfish motives and unrealistic expectations?
If this were just about faith, I imagine it would be an easier decision. But you’re conflating faith, fairness, character, societal intolerance and those dubious perfection claims … and knotting them with the common thread of astonishing communication problems.
Get your priorities straight, then get straight with her.
Life-prioritization quiz time! The following questions either end the discussion or lead to the next question:
(1) Is your faith such that adopting another is even possible? If no, then stop here.
If there’s room in your beliefs to convert, then: (2) Is she worth leaving your faith, or is your faith worth leaving her?
If you choose her, then: (3) Do you believe in her enough, and in her rationale, to convert gladly?
If you’re doubting, then: (4) Consider context. “Shared sacrifices” don’t mean that each of you budges exactly 50 percent. Sometimes it means you cave this time, and she caves on something else you’re adamant about assuming both of you really mean it, and aren’t just caving to preserve harmony (thereby rendering it fraudulent, by the way, which will make for bigger problems later). When a partnership works, both of you take responsibility for your own and the other’s well-being.
If you question her commitment to that, then: (5) You suspend this inner dialogue, and start talking to her. “How would you define ‘shared sacrifices’?” Discuss.
If you do trust each other, then: (6) You both figure out what foreseeable changes marriage would entail. This is where you factor in “social chill,” doctrinal disagreements, the general “perfection” of this match, location, kids, flossing, etc. Don’t blow past the little things. Life with someone is an accumulation of little things.
Then: (7) You both weigh if you’re ready to adjust for each other.
Or, for anyone. The best way to decide — the only way, really — is for you both to know yourselves. Then, show each other exactly what that means, without obstructing the view.
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