Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: I am agnostic, but my boyfriend is religious. He has recently become more devoted to his religion and is not certain but thinks he will want a union in his faith, which does not allow marriage to a non-adherent.
If we were to compromise and marry outside the church, there would be serious consequences for him (read: excommunication).
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We will not ask each other to abandon our beliefs, but I have volunteered to learn more about his faith and explore my options for conversion … though honestly I doubt this is even possible for me.
Maybe you see an option we have missed? Or are we just prolonging the inevitable at this point?
Convert or Bust?
DEAR CONVERT: The standard answer for a couple with cultural/religious/political differences is that it can work if both of you believe in making it work, and if it’s your priority to.
In this case, though, it sounds not only as if religion is his priority, but also that his priorities are in flux, with religion growing in importance to a degree as yet unknown.
It’s not unthinkable, therefore, that you can convert, and mean it, and still not be religious enough for him to see you as his true partner.
If it will help you make a decision without what-ifs, then, by all means, learn more about his faith and explore your options.
But if what you see isn’t something you can embrace fully — meaning, if your commitment would ultimately be to the man and not to the faith — then you need to consider that you’d enter a marriage with him with distinctly different ideas of what that marriage means. And that’s a tough obstacle to clear.
RE: RELIGIOUS DIFFERENCES: In my case, I’m the religious one and my husband is the atheist. We’ve been married a long time, and our views have changed over the years, but my husband has gradually become more and more hostile to religious beliefs. For me, the test was when we were asked to give a prepared speech with boilerplate language about faith. My husband absolutely refused to parrot words he disagrees with so thoroughly. I supported his decision fully and could only admire his integrity. I’m proud that he won’t fake belief.
The Religious One
RE: CONVERT OR BUST: When you marry someone, you often marry not only your partner, but the family – to greater or lesser degrees – and you marry a culture. In my case, I come from a very proper (or uptight, depending on your view) Episcopalian background, but I married into an untamed Irish Catholic family with free-for-all dinners and far more noise than I was used to.
It’s not that one is right or wrong, but you both need to accept this is all part of the package — or you shouldn’t do it. Your partner does not exist in isolation.
DEAR READERS: Well said, thank you both.
Partners don’t exist in isolation, yes, but our experiences with them do, in a way — we process them in the solitude of our own minds. That’s why the decisive opinion has to be how the letter-writer feels in the company of someone as devoted to his faith as this boyfriend is. This could pre-empt all the rest.
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