Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Updates: “Non-Believer” Responds

It’s time again for “Dear Wendy Updates,” a feature where people I’ve given advice to in the past let us know whether they followed the advice and how they’re doing now. Today, we hear from “Non-Believer,” a woman who had just become exclusive with a practicing Christian who had expressed his desire that his future family — wife, included — attend church with him regularly. The LW, a non-Christian, is fine with her partner practicing whatever religion he wants, but she told her boyfriend she had no interest in ever attending church regularly. She wrote: “I don’t want to table the issue to just have it become a deal-breaker in several months — what’s the point? — but I guess I’m hoping maybe he will be less rigid in his view of what he wants me to be religiously.” Keep reading to see whether either of them has come around.

Thank you, Wendy, and everyone else for your thoughtful responses, both in terms of things I wanted to hear…and certainly in terms of those I was dreading to hear but needed as a reality check. But first, something I left out but feel I can clarify now: I’m not atheist, but actually of another religion although it’s more cultural than anything else and I don’t actively practice.

So after thinking long and hard about it, I decided that I could handle going to church with Calvin. I presented it as me going to support him in something that is important to him. I told him I was going to observe versus participate, and, when he asked, I told him to please not expect anything other than me to just sit there. Ultimately, the experience of going to church was not a big deal for me, and I was happy to follow through with what I had told him I would do.

That night, though, we ended up having a huge fight about religion again, and I had to explicitly tell him that I am not now going to, nor will I ever, convert to Christianity, something it sounds like he was hoping I might eventually warm up to. After a few days apart, we were able to talk more about the argument and Calvin was able to say that, if he is with me, he will accept me as is, including my religion of origin. Probably easier said than done, however. Calvin asked me questions about why maintaining those cultural ties are important and why I will not ever choose to convert, and he seemed to respect what I told him. He was not able to exactly articulate if that will be enough (i.e., if he needs to settle down with someone Christian or if all of our other levels of connection are enough).

So, in a lot of ways, it feels like we are back at square one, although at least he is curious about understanding more about my background and beliefs a bit more. My plan is to continue enjoying spending time with him and to proceed with caution. It makes me nervous and I’d love to know his bottom line right now, but I think, since I’m enjoying myself, I’ll take it slow(er) and try to reassess and ask him to check in with me about all this in a few months. Hopefully, that means I’ll have another update for you by the summer, for better or worse. I know this is potentially a recipe for disaster, but I’m not sure at what point he should have a definitive answer in his head about what he wants/needs in the long run.

-Still Feeling Stuck (not my original name, but feels appropriate now!)

 
Thank you for your update. I’m sure it must feel unsettling to have things be uncertain still, but part of dating is deciding what our must-haves and deal-breakers are. Each relationship brings us closer to not only figuring it out, but finding it. Maybe this will be it for you. Maybe not. Either way, you’re bound to learn a lot and will hopefully make some happy memories in the process.

***************

If you’re someone I’ve given advice to in the past, I’d love to hear from you, too. Email me at wendy@dearwendy.com with a link to the original post, and let me know whether you followed the advice and how you’re doing now.

You can follow me on Facebook here and sign up for my weekly newsletter here.

If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

44 comments… add one
  • avatar

    oldie March 25, 2013, 1:50 pm

    I think you are kidding yourself by stringing this relationship along.

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  • Skyblossom

    Skyblossom March 25, 2013, 2:01 pm

    This does sound tenuous. If the two of you intend to have kids what are his thoughts about religion for them. Would they absolutely have to be Christian? Would he mind if they were also exposed to your religion in a cultural way? Would he be upset if they ultimately identified with your religion more than his? Would he try to impose his religion on them? If his children decided to not be Christian, by his definition of what it means to be Christian, what would he do?

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    • avatar

      MsMisery March 26, 2013, 12:36 pm

      Kids are pretty much a crapshoot anyway though, aren’t they? My parents raised me Catholic with no exposure to other religions and all it did was make me rebel. Currently I identify as apathetic agnostic. This guy could raise his kids (or their kids as the case may be) as strictly in his faith and they may end up Zen Buddhists.

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      • Skyblossom

        Skyblossom March 26, 2013, 1:37 pm

        I agree about kids. Each child will be an individual that grows up to make their own choices, including about religion. I’m afraid that someone who is dogmatic and believes their faith is the one and only true path won’t accept their children not practicing the faith as adults.

        Faith is one of those things you can’t choose for your children. You can take them to church but ultimately they will choose for themselves.

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  • avatar

    csp March 25, 2013, 2:05 pm

    LW, I think this is sounding very mature. It sounds like you have your eyes wide open but you aren’t just slamming the door on this relationship. Keep learning about each other and see where you are.

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  • FireStar

    FireStar March 25, 2013, 2:07 pm

    If you have the time to give him to figure out if this is a deal breaker or not – then I think your plan is a good one. But you should probably have a dead line on how long you will give him. Ultimately he is the one that has to let his dream of a church going family of the future go…can he? and could you believe him if he says he can? Maybe there are some counsellors that specialize in interfaith marriages/relationships that could help him navigate his options and give you a little security in knowing the issue has been fully addressed at the end of the process – or a maybe a book on the topic? The last thing you want is for him to think he is waiting you out and you thinking the matter has been resolved. Sometimes you need a third party to bring some type of finality to an issue. Good luck.

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  • avatar

    HmC March 25, 2013, 2:33 pm

    Wow I just have to say I love Wendy’s response to this! Uncertainty is sometimes just a part of dating. Truth.

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  • avatar

    Sue Jones March 25, 2013, 2:34 pm

    Well it sounds like they are in the process of working these things out. Perhaps she is even opening his mind a bit ( and vice versa). They sound quite young so I see no rush to the altar or anything like that. Love can stretch your mind.

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    • FireStar

      FireStar March 25, 2013, 2:47 pm

      She is late twenties and he is early thirties. Not sure where her cut off point is – but she should have one. Even if they were even younger – she should still have one. This issue won’t go away on it’s own – eventually they will have or decide one way or the other.

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  • Heather

    Heather March 25, 2013, 2:41 pm

    Although I think there’s nothing wrong with a slight amount of uncertainty in a relationship, this could be a serious issue down the line. Even if he accepts that you won’t convert, I’d wager a guess that he’d want your future children to follow in his religious footsteps (please don’t take this as me presuming to know him better than you; it’s just that, if he’s as steadfast in his faith as it sounds, I can imagine he’d want to raise your future children with the religion that has shaped his life). Will that be a problem for you two? Something to think about.

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    • Skyblossom

      Skyblossom March 25, 2013, 3:02 pm

      I bet in his mind he sees their future children kneeling beside their beds at night saying their Christian prayers and she probably doesn’t even think of it. Also he probably assumes a family that prays before meals and perhaps discusses bible versus at some point in the day and pushes memorization of the bible. There is probably far more involved than just her attending church on Sunday. That doesn’t even touch on things like monetary donations to the church and attending Sunday School and Bible Study classes. There is so much for them to discuss. Not that it can’t be done but it is alot to tackle, depending on how devout he is and how much religion he practices besides his church attendance.

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      • avatar

        sarolabelle March 25, 2013, 4:50 pm

        Yes, religion is so much more than just going to church.

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      • avatar

        j2 March 25, 2013, 7:12 pm

        This is exactly right!

        Kids are the ignored elephants in this room of a relationship.

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  • Fabelle

    Fabelle March 25, 2013, 2:41 pm

    Well. She’s right to feel still be feeling cautious & uncertain, I”ll say?

    Based on the original letter & the update, it just seems like this issue keeps getting pushed to the side rather than resolved. You have a big fight—then talk it out in some way where it’s no longer a priority problem. But it is, actually. When the same issue keeps coming up, even if it manifests itself in different ways, it’s…still the same issue. It’s like a piece of trash in the ocean that keeps washing up on different shores (I pulled that metaphor out of my ass, sorry)

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    • Lindsay

      Lindsay March 25, 2013, 4:01 pm

      Haha, that is an amazing metaphor.

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  • landygirl

    landygirl March 25, 2013, 2:44 pm

    LW, why continue to torture yourself? This will always be an issue in your relationship with him. Always.

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  • avatar

    GatorGirl March 25, 2013, 2:50 pm

    I don’t get the point in draggin this on…you went to church with him and that day had a big arguement. Ugh. JUST MOVE ON ALREADY.

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    • avatar

      oldie March 25, 2013, 2:53 pm

      Yes, it’s clear from the response that just sitting in church with him will never be enough for him. She has caved on attending church and now he is banking on another cave on conversion and actively practicing his religion, if he is able to string this along further as her clock ticks. I call B.S. on ‘he doesn’t know if this is a deal-breaker for him’. He’s merely not convinced this is a deal-breaker for LW.

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  • avatar

    Julia March 25, 2013, 2:50 pm

    She’s hoping he’ll become a little less Christian and he’s hoping she’ll become a little more Christian. They are not dating each other at face value, but dating the person each wants the other to grow into. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this doesn’t bode well. Good luck.

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    • avatar

      Anon March 25, 2013, 4:32 pm

      “They are not dating each other at face value, but dating the person each wants the other to grow into.” I have a friend who made this same mistake with her husband in regards to their different religions/cultures–each went into it secrety hoping the other would come around over time, in all but name if not with an official conversion. Guess what hasn’t happened for either one of them? They’ve managed to stay together for about 10 years now, but it’s been very difficult.

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  • Lindsay

    Lindsay March 25, 2013, 2:51 pm

    I think you’re going about this well, LW, but I am wary of your boyfriend. From how you’ve described his responses, he sounds like the type who can’t even fathom why someone would be part of another culture or religion, which is a lot worse, IMO, than just wanting to be with someone of similar beliefs. I hope that as you give him time to think, you continue to think, too. Because a lot of times, concessions (like going to church) are a lot easier when you’re in the honeymoon phase of a relationship. This is far in the future, but consider how OK you’d be with hauling yourself to church for years on end, or when you’ve got a new baby or something. (Personally, I couldn’t do it, but you seem to be more open than I am.)

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    • Fabelle

      Fabelle March 25, 2013, 2:58 pm

      You packed a lot of very good points into this— just seconding the “he sounds like the type who can’t even fathom why someone would be part of another culture or religion” and ESPECIALLY the “a lot of times, concessions (like going to church) are a lot easier when you’re in the honeymoon phase of a relationship.” I really hope the LW reads & thinks on both of those..

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  • avatar

    Amber March 25, 2013, 3:00 pm

    This relationship is headed nowhere good.

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  • iwannatalktosampson

    iwannatalktosampson March 25, 2013, 3:15 pm

    I LOVE multiple updates – it makes me feel like I’m travelling on the journey with the LW’s.

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  • Miss MJ

    MISS MJ March 25, 2013, 3:54 pm

    LW, I think you do know what his bottom line is, you just don’t want to admit it. You tried to compromise by going to church with Calvin – observing only – and, despite the fact that he knows you are of a different religion and belief system and despite the fact that he knows you have never been interested in converting, you still got into an argument and he still wanted you to convert. And, he always will. In his heart of hearts, he wants to be with someone of the same religion, and that isn’t you and it isn’t who you have any intention of being. And for me, that would be the end of it right there. There is something fundamental about you that Calvin cannot accept and will always want to change. I’m sure Calvin loves you, and I’m sure you love him, but I this issue isn’t going away. In fact, it will just grow more prominent the longer you are together. This is a MOA situation, hard as it is, and I’d do it sooner, rather than later.

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  • avatar

    SGMcG March 25, 2013, 4:03 pm

    LW, you are not being fair to your boyfriend, by expecting him to compromise what he wants in a partner in order to continue dating you. More important LW, you are not being fair to YOURSELF, by acquiesing to what his ideal of a partner should be. You’re sitting in a church now, even though you don’t have plans to convert, but what about further into the future, when you have kids together? I also don’t like the way he phrased how you practice the tenants of your cultural faith, “if he is with me, he will accept me as is, including my religion of origin.” He may be accepting, but can you be sure that he won’t judge you in the process? Take heed LW, and please guard your heart accordingly.

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    • Lindsay

      Lindsay March 25, 2013, 7:04 pm

      I agree, except for the unfairness to the boyfriend. From what I can tell, the LW is being very honest with him about what she is and isn’t willing to do. If he’s not OK with that, then he doesn’t have to continue dating her. There are a lot of interfaith couples who make it work, so I don’t think it’s wrong for her to simply ask if that’s something he’d be willing to do. I do think she should consider whether the relationships if fair to them both, but I also don’t think it’s her job to determine what his dealbreakers are for him.

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  • avatar

    sarolabelle March 25, 2013, 4:47 pm

    This week is the holiest of weeks in all Christian cultures. It is the belief that a man came into this world and died for us and then ROSE from the grave that makes us Christian. I would have loved to have seen a update after this week as this is your first Easter together as a couple.

    It’s not about him, I don’t think. Do YOU want YOUR children to believe that Jesus Christ died for them and then rose from the dead and that Jesus Christ is 100% God and 100% Human at the same time? Do you want that? If you don’t want that then you need to let him go. It is not fair to him to string him along. Sometimes the guy can be perfect in every way but one. And this is a big difference.

    If the answer is, “I don’t care if they know about Jesus”….well knowing about him and believing in Him are completely different. Your boyfriend wants your children to believe, have faith that the impossible could be possible, and pray and have a bond with something they can’t see. Faith is bigger. It surpasses science and understanding. Do you want your children to have a faith?

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    • iwannatalktosampson

      iwannatalktosampson March 25, 2013, 5:08 pm

      I agree with everything in your post except this: “Do you want that? If you don’t want that then you need to let him go. It is not fair to him to string him along.” I think he is stringing her along just as much as she is stringing him along. They are both assuming the other will change their minds. I think they just need to move on. Having faith is a huge thing. It impacts every part of your life. Not having faith is also a huge thing and also impacts every part of your life in ways that you wouldn’t even know. I can’t imagine this LW being willing to teach her children about Jesus, which she will have to do if her husband insists on them being raised Christian. I mean kids have a lot of questions and they won’t understand that dad believes and mom doesn’t, so they will undoubtedly come to her with questions as well as dad, so what does she plan on saying?

      I think they both just keep sweeping it under the rug, and the situation is not going to change. I wish both of them would really think about how this will play out in the day to day. Is she willing to pray before meals and attend weekly church and discuss the bible and living in a Christian way? I just don’t think religion is something you can half ass.

      I wasn’t raised going to church (although my dad’s whole family are practicing catholics) and Ethan is Lutheran. The Lutheran church didn’t require me to convert to be married in a Lutheran church, which was really important to him. I think the difference is that he only goes to church about 8 times a year and IF (huge IF) we had kids I wouldn’t mind raising them in the church, because honestly sometimes I think having faith is a really good thing. Maybe I’ve just had too much death around me lately but I think having faith gives a person a certain calmness that not having doesn’t. So even if I have a shaky faith at best (I would classify myself more as spiritual) I would not mind raising my kids with Christian values.

      Even this week he is planning on going to the Friday and Sunday service. Easter is his favorite church holiday (if you can word it that way). But he has told me if I have other things going on he doesn’t care if I go or not. Most years I go to Easter, because the service is cool and I get a new dress. But I like that he doesn’t care if I go so there’s no pressure.

      The weird thing about this LW and her situation is that the husband is essentially saying I want you to walk like a duck and talk like a duck but I don’t need you to be a duck. He wants her to go to church every week, raise her kids Christian, and have a Christian household – but telling her she doesn’t need to convert or be Christian. What? This is not possible.

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      • iwannatalktosampson

        iwannatalktosampson March 25, 2013, 5:09 pm

        Bhaha I just said that I don’t think religion is something you can half ass and then proceeded to list all the different ways I half ass it. Weird.

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    • avatar

      Catcar March 25, 2013, 5:09 pm

      Well, not in all Christian culture. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, where Easter is considered more important then Christmas basically, Easter doesn’t take place until May 5th. This is because the Eastern Orthodox uses the Julian calendar and not the Gregorian.

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      • Skyblossom

        Skyblossom March 26, 2013, 1:44 pm

        The Roman church also considers Easter more important than Christmas.

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  • avatar

    You Go Girl March 25, 2013, 7:22 pm

    Because the LW is having fun with her boyfriend, she has decided to wait a few months to revisit the issue of religion, even though she knows that probably nothing will change. For a Conservative Christian man, just having his wife warm a bench in church will never be enough. He will probably expect his wife to submit to him, be demure, and obey him. He will expect to have daily devotions with his wife, raise their children Christian, and give generously to the church.

    The LW believes all religions are valid, and that everyone is worthy of respect. She naively believes that her boyfriend has a similar opinion, but this may not be the case. Many Christians consider non-Christian women like the LW to be “rebellious”, a “Jezebel” and a “feminist”, and therefore not worthy of being treated decently. (Note: as a Christian I do not agree with this belief). According to this view, it is ok for a man (but not a woman) to sow his wild oats with a “fallen” woman. I am troubled by the possibility that the boyfriend is sowing his wild oats with her without regard to her well-being.

    The LW’s decision to enjoy her time with her boyfriend is very reasonable. But if marriage and a family are her goals, depending upon her age, she needs to ask herself whether she is wasting precious time that she could be spending looking for a more compatible man. She is approaching the situation very maturely, and will probably decide soon that she needs to MOA. I wish her well, and hope she is not traumatized by the situation.

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    • avatar

      Desiree March 26, 2013, 12:08 am

      “He will probably expect his wife to submit to him, be demure, and obey him.” That’s a stereotype that can be true, but really isn’t as often as people think. I was raised in an extremely conservative Christian church, and believe me when I tell you that plenty of the women in that church “wore the pants” in their marriages (apologize for the outdated phrase, couldn’t think of anything better).

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      • avatar

        You Go Girl March 26, 2013, 1:28 am

        Unfortunately the doctrine that a wife is supposed to obey her husband was a strong belief in the Wisconsin Evangelical Synod Lutheran (WELS) church I just left. I converted to WELS after my husband died, and became a member after 5 months of classes. Wifely submission was briefly mentioned brief in one class, and very seldom mentioned in sermons. The word “obey” was never used officially, but I eventually learned that WELS culture expected wives to obey their husbands. When my friend was punished for having an original idea, I also eventually learned that women were never supposed to have any ideas of their own.

        I am glad Desiree has not found this stereotype to be prevalent in her experience. Unfortunately it is very prevalent in my experience.

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  • avatar

    convexed March 25, 2013, 11:15 pm

    For better or worse, a person’s religious/faith values tend to stick. They are not usually on the list of things people compromise for their relationship or job–that is, if they are serious about them, versus just holding onto them out of habit. Sometimes people change, and shed their religion or begin to rethink it and approach it differently. But that emerges from the inside, and is impossible to instigate and unrealistic to hope for. This guy is who he is, and will likely continue to expect from a future wife what he says he does now.

    For nonreligious people, this can be hard to understand. I’m not religious, but I can equate it like this: could I/would I compromise my values about feminism and liberalism (and my desire for a feminist-minded, liberal partner) because I met someone great? I doubt it—these are my bedrock beliefs, and I’m not who I am without them. That is what it is like for this boyfriend.

    As for the LW…she is not being unfair or stringing him along. She is making the choice with her eyes open to continue to enjoy this time with her boyfriend despite her understanding that their chances may be slim. I think she should have no expectation that his position will change, and I for one wouldn’t want to be in a relationship I felt was contingent on my open-mindedness to converting to (or even going through the motions of) a religion I didn’t believe in or feel invested in.

    It’s just an unfortunate lack of compatibility at a level that seems to really matter for this couple.

    I also have some personal experience with guys who were religious who continued to pursue me in the hopes that they would ‘save’ me—their duty to the ‘kingdom building’ that comes with evangelical Christianity got all entangled in their vision of me, and I finally realized they weren’t seeing ‘me’, they were seeing a fallen lady archetype in need of salvation that, once received, would render me forever grateful and our bond sanctioned by God himself. The LW should beware of that. She is not her boyfriend’s project, whether to sculpt his own perfect future wife or to save souls for Jesus.

    They both need to be strong enough to admit where they stand, to set their terms clearly and with finality and expect the other to respond with full disclosure. This conversation will probably end any illusion of a future for the relationship, but on the bright side it will also end that ambiguity and ‘waiting on a bottom line’ that must be very trying to live with.

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    • avatar

      Desiree March 26, 2013, 12:13 am

      Oh, heavens, “kingdom building” dating. I really wish that wasn’t a thing, but it really truly is. It caused sexual harassment on my college campus: one of the pastors told the young men to continue to romantically pursue women who had said no if the young men felt it was God’s will for them to be with those particular women. I didn’t appreciate them confusing their physical desires with divine intention, and I absolutely did not appreciate the usurping of my right to refuse advancements.

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  • bittergaymark

    bittergaymark March 26, 2013, 12:47 am

    Religions! Keeping people from actually being happy since the dawn of time!!

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  • Astronomer

    Astronomer March 26, 2013, 4:10 am

    If you’re not on the same life path in terms of observing a religion, your boyfriend is probably going to seem like an even bigger jerk to you as time goes on. Do you really want to spend the next several weeks, months, or even years being badgered, cajoled, and bullied about what you should believe? There are very important things at stake here, like what you think happens when you die and whether or not Sundays are for sleeping late and reading the paper in your pajamas.

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  • avatar

    Violet March 26, 2013, 9:34 am

    There’s an interesting letter in Dear Prudence today, too, about a couple with teenaged children and a religion/non-religion clash. As most of the comments have noted, this issue is not one that will go away in time, and if you have children, years down the line the arguments could be just as frequent.

    http://www.slate.com/articles/life/dear_prudence/2013/03/dear_prudence_a_neighbor_has_been_poisoning_our_cat_colony.single.html

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  • Tracey

    Tracey March 26, 2013, 12:11 pm

    I think the key to this issue can be summed up in the paragraph that described the fight after LW attended a church service with her boyfriend. They had a huge fight. She let him know she would observe at his services but would never convert or actively be a participant in his religion. She also said going to church services with him was not a big deal. He asked why she’d never convert and why her cultural ties are so important to her. But he also said he would accept her as is, religious beliefs included.

    Now they have to mean what they say. That means she occasionally goes to a service with him. That means he sticks to his word and accepts her participation in his religion at the level she’s most comfortable. That means that neither work to change the other – no attempts at conversion (actively or passively), no resentment because the other won’t capitulate to the other’s values, no insinuations that one way is “right” and the other way is “wrong.” It also means that they have a serious talk (or series of talks) about what this means for their future – marriage, family planning, end of life plans (as ghoulish as it may be, but it has to be discussed because anything can happen at any time) – and it should be done with the guidance of an impartial counselor or mediator so that emotions don’t overrule their ability to hear each other.

    They’ve got a good, if tenuous, first step toward mutual acceptance and respect. Now it’s time to finish the work. Here’s hoping it works out for the best, without anyone feeling stuck or wanting to change the other into his/her ideal.

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    • avatar

      oldie March 26, 2013, 2:26 pm

      Kids? That’s where the crunch comes. Mommy can’t support Daddy’s views on religion when he insists that grandma and gramps are eternally burning in hell, because they were mainstream Presbyterians, or Jew, or Catholics, or Hindu, or whatever LW’s cultural background is. Daddy will definitely believe this and will want his children raised in a faith where they are taught to believe it. A tad awkward? And no, he’s not willing to accept her as she is. This is the long fight for him and he took a tactical step backward. If he were accepting, they wouldn’t have had the big fight right after she attended his church.

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      • avatar

        oldie March 26, 2013, 2:31 pm

        This is the key sentence in the update: “Calvin was able to say that, if he is with me, he will accept me as is, including my religion of origin.”

        Calvin is not lying. The goal is to get her so hooked on him that the thought of him not continuing to be with her were cause her to convert. If she doesn’t convert, he won’t be with her. That time comes on the day he is convinced that she really is not willing to convert for him.”

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  • avatar

    themintyness March 26, 2013, 8:51 pm

    My two cents…I’m an atheist and it took me a long time to figure out my identity, and my atheism is a part of it. I’d never expect anyone else to convert to atheism or whatever religion I was a part of. I would respect and I’ve always respected my past partners’ religions.

    I’d be pretty pissed off if the person I was dating was so insensitive as to ask me why my culture or religious background was so important. It’s obviously a part of the LW’s identity even if she doesn’t openly practice it. He’s apparently trying, but it sounds like she’s compromising more than he is. If that made her happy, then fine. But she sounds uneasy and she says she wants to find out what his dealbreaker/boundary is, but I think she should try to find out where HER boundaries lie.

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