Love Across the Lines: A Valentine’s Meditation on Mixed-Belief Love

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My wife and I have had 14 Valentine’s Days together, including today. I don’t often get sentimental about this strange holiday, although once several years ago, I got an impulse to make a grand gesture and ended up giving my wife (who I’ll refer to as C hereafter) chocolates and a Netflix subscription and recited an e. e. cummings poem from memory. (It was a bit much, truthfully, and I haven’t wanted to try and pull off something like it again.)

No, this holiday is something else for me. More than anything, it’s an opportunity to reflect on the perfectly ordinary miracle of our love.

I have written before about how my wife and I have a mixed-belief relationship: She’s a Christian, and I’m an atheist. It didn’t start that way, and neither of us expected it to happen, but nine years into our relationship, I jumped ship on religion. To her credit, C handled it relatively well, even though she still says (mostly teasingly by now, I think) that I “blindsided” her — which is completely fair. I had stepped out on a limb, not knowing whether it would hold or snap. It was, ironically, an act of faith.

This new element to our relationship was just one more attribute that seemed to put us statistically in grave risk of the marriage collapsing. (I once checked on all the statistics that seemed to doom our marriage, and it was surprisingly depressing.) I confess that there were many times in the aftermath of my deconversion that it seemed likely, but through some renegotiation of our relationship, we held together.

Four years after that shock to our marriage, I think we’re stronger than we’ve ever been.

I don’t know that there’s anything incredibly different about us from other loves. We try to respect each other as people capable of our own opinions and views of the world, and we live together by a set of shared values that haven’t changed since we first came together. Do we have to deal with some things that make it harder? Perhaps, but life isn’t a game only worth playing at the lowest difficulty setting.

Through everything, C has been one of my most important anchors, keeping me grounded and supporting me when my hopes aren’t too high out of reach. She listens to my rants; she counsels me when my confidence founders; she tolerates my flights of passion about things I care about. She confides in me her own frustrations and trepidations; she shares with me her grief; she draws me in with her affection.

Photo Frank Janssen (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Photo by Frank Janssen via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

And none of these things ever require that we subscribe to the same views about the universe.

In the city of Roermond in the Netherlands, there’s an old cemetery that is split into sections based on religion. In the late 19th century, a colonel died and was buried on the Protestant (Dutch Reformed) section, but his Catholic wife wanted to be buried next to him. The solution has made this grave world-famous: The gravestones were placed directly on each side of the dividing wall between the Protestant and Catholic sections, each with a stone hand extended to join the other.

I admit that when I first saw this, I was impressed by the ingenuity. But the reality is that this is a great example of how a completely superfluous separation was imposed on people who saw no such wall between them, and it had to be circumvented. It fixed a problem that ought never to have existed at all.

Similarly, I don’t see this aspect of my relationship with C to be a problem. Yes, our love does cross some lines, but they’re not insurmountable barriers but rather like the arbitrary lines of city limits — they might tell you something interesting about where you are in relation to each other, but there’s no reason why you can’t join hands across that line.

Of course, sometimes people have their reasons for imposing these separations themselves. But I’d like to hope that relationships that cross these lines — no matter what kind — can be about the substance of the connection, not these kinds of unnecessary boundaries.

Here’s to our ordinary love, my dear. May it continue to grow no matter what side of the line we find ourselves on.

Image via Pixabay

POPULAR AT PATHEOS Nonreligious
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