Note: Letter writers’ names are changed to protect their privacy.
I’m sure you get questions all of the time about religious girlfriends/boyfriends, but my question has more to do with timing, patience, and viability.
I’ve been dating a wonderful girl I met at work for nearly a year. She’s 22, I’m 25. The relationship is fantastic and I can totally see myself marrying her. We’ve discussed it in some detail, but she refuses to concede the raising of children in anything but Christianity. This is a deal breaker for me. The problem: I’m not pressed for time, I’m not rushing around looking to get married and this girl is really and truly wonderful and I’m glad she’s being transparent now about her beliefs.
This is where the timing comes in. Everything works so well now, but I’m afraid if I continue down this path that I’ll be older and still with her when I know I don’t want to go down the marriage path (well I do, but it would require a huge change on her part and I know this isn’t a possibility). When the heck do I break this off, if ever.
(Heart says no, brain says yes).
Thank you Richard,
You said that you’ve “discussed it some in detail,” but it’s not clear from your letter if you have been as up front and transparent about your “deal breaker” as she has been about her hers. So I have to spend some time with this ambiguity. Please understand, I’m not assuming that you’re being less than truthful with her. I’m saying that it’s not clear from your letter, and the most important issue here is mutual clarity and honesty in your relationship. If you have that, then together the two of you can answer the questions you’re asking me. With respect, I have questions for you:
She has made it clear to you that she is adamant about raising potential children as Christians. Have you made it just as clear to her that that will be unacceptable to you? You talk about breaking this off as if you are the only one who would initiate that. Why might not she break it off, unless she is operating in the dark? Yes, she’s wonderful. Are you wonderful? You appreciate the real person she is because she allows you to know her. Does she know you?
If you are not returning her honesty with your own honesty, then all this talk about “timing” is really you just wanting to enjoy her company as long as you can by allowing her to assume that there is no impasse between you. That kind of lie by omission would make you a cad, to put it nicely. I’m not saying you are, I’m saying make sure you’re not.
She may or may not be the woman whom you end up marrying. Nevertheless, if it isn’t already, then immediately make your relationship with her fully disclosed, candid, forthright, frank, out-in-the-open, cards-on-the-table, truth-told-without-being-asked, HONEST.
You’re 25. If you do not develop that ability now, you might never. Then you might spend the rest of your life in a series of relationships that can only go so far until whatever is the unspoken truth in each one brings it to a stop.
if your honesty with this wonderful girl is mutual and complete, and you have made certain that both of you are fully aware that down the road your mutually exclusive, non-negotiable positions about children will make the prospect of marriage highly unlikely, then you can both enjoy each other’s company in your entirely open and understood way until one or the other decides that it’s time to seek separate paths.
You said that the relationship is fantastic and works so well, but you did not mention the word “love.” I don’t know if that word’s absence in your letter is significant. You might certainly love her, and she you, but it is another thing about which you should get clear and unambiguous within yourself as well as with her.
One other thing to consider: Young people often have strong opinions about raising children when those children are still hypothetical. Later, when those kids are made of carbon and calcium and looking expectantly up at you from the rug, those strong opinions can evaporate. I’ve seen it go both ways. Some people who think they’ll be very unyielding in how they’ll raise their kids later find that compromise and pragmatism are not only acceptable, they’re necessary. And some people who thought they’d have no problem letting their spouse raise the brood in some manner of their own can suddenly find that it is a problem that needs some modification.
So take another look at your assumption that both of you will and must remain unbending about your potential children’s religious upbringing. What you think is a deal breaker now can become just another part of the negotiation later. Some mixed couples are able to work out agreements. Even if she gives them Christian ideas, you can have your input too. It doesn’t have to be a tug-of-war with the kids as the rope. It can be a respectful dialogue over many years. As the children grow into participating in that dialogue, they can decide for themselves.
Trevor, discuss it all in even more detail with her, and make it safe for her to do the same. Tell her your feelings you have for her, your present opinions about raising kids and your thoughts about her opinions, your own beliefs and your feelings about her beliefs, and very importantly, your conflicted feelings about staying together. Every question you asked me, you should ask her. The relationship will last as long as it lasts; short, medium, or life-long, but it should be one that is based on full, fearless truth telling.