Think I haven’t seen the other side of the Unequally Yoked Club? Oh no. Read on–I’ve been where some of my Christian readers are now.
Some time after breaking up with Biff, I ended up in a teeny tiny town in Kansas, where I met and fell head-over-heels in love with a dreamy-eyed young man who taught me what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a spiritual deception.
A New Start for Your Captain.
Kansas was good for me in a lot of ways. It was quite flat and boring, pretty much everything non-Kansans imagine Kansas to be, so the residents tended to make their own fun. And the town was too small for someone to be a loner if she really didn’t want to be one. I fell in with a tightly-knit group of gamers and was taken in immediately by them.
Lionel was one of those gamers. Just barely old enough to buy his own liquor, he was some years my junior, but we hit it off immediately because I was going through an enormously immature phase. We became inseparable; six months after meeting, I asked him to move into my tiny sugar-cube of an apartment, and from then on we were formally a couple.
I didn’t consider myself much of anything, spirituality-wise, at that point. I was slowly inching into Buddhism and meditation, which was evening me out considerably. I felt downright shell-shocked by what had happened to me and was still processing it all. I didn’t realize I had a raging case of what my shrink later described as military-grade PTSD, though any competent therapist would have spotted it fairly quickly as it was also quite literally bullet-point for bullet-point a textbook case as well. I didn’t know that. I just knew that Kansas calmed me down and I felt good to be around someone who didn’t make any demands of me. Lionel, for his part, was a recovering Catholic from a family just as uber-Catholic as my mother’s had been, so he seemed disinterested in religious stuff as well.
A year or two later, we moved to Atlanta, where we spent the next six years together. Atlanta was a big change for Lionel, though I’d lived in large cities most of my life. In retrospect, it was probably too big of a change for him. Most people in Kansas progressed along a continuum, it seemed to me–from the really tiny towns like Schoenchoen (SHEN-shen, pop. about 200) to Hays (HAZE, pop. about 10k) to Lawrence (90k) (or Salina, 45k) to Kansas City (150k)–or Wichita at 386k, if they had been very bad children in their previous lives.
Atlanta and its teeming 5.5 million population simply wasn’t part of the cultural lexicon.
We set about locating a new group of gamers and found them, but it just wasn’t the same at all when you couldn’t just walk to a friend’s house and hang out. In retrospect, Lionel was likely overwhelmed.
A Shocking Discovery!
About a year or so into our stay in Atlanta, I discovered a cache of books he’d been keeping from me.
No, they weren’t porn. I wouldn’t have cared about porn. I’d already made peace with the aggravating and false indoctrination I’d gotten in my youth about that.
They were worse: books about traditionalist Wicca, a big stack of them all tucked away somewhere nice and secret. Most of them were, in retrospect, just hastily-written and published trash, but they were all well-read and worn. They had names like Triumph of the Moon and Book of Shadows and stuff. Some were by Gerald Gardner, whose name I vaguely recognized as a founder or high priest or something of Wicca.
(A quick note for those who don’t know: there are two branches of Wicca primarily, the eclectic and the traditionalist. Eclectic Wiccans are a bit like the “Teen Witch” variety, picking and choosing what they like best from Wicca and other pagan religions and not adhering much to the classic stone-knife naked ritualistic variety. Traditionalist Wiccans are more like the old-fashioned naked rituals in the field, stone-knife-wielding sort; of this latter type, there are two main schools, Alexandrian and Gardnerian, with some branches of the latter of which getting the rather fancy label “British Traditional Wicca” or BTW. Of course, it’s even harder to generalize about Wiccans than it is about Christians, so this is only the most general of definitions and if you investigate very far at all you’ll discover a vast variety of beliefs and practices among Wiccans. The books I found concentrated primarily on BTW. Also, I didn’t know any of this at the time.)
I remember my whole world just stopping when I found these books. I stared at them in shock, and all the nasty comments I’d made about Wicca over the years came crashing down around me. I don’t even know now why I’d made them; maybe Lionel had brought it up or something. It’s not like you run into a lot of Wiccans in Atlanta.
To keep things in perspective, I reasoned, we weren’t talking about a life of crime or something. He was clearly investigating this religion and was also fairly serious about it.
I did the mature adult thing and confronted him as gently as I could that night when he got home, and he admitted that yes, he’d felt very drawn to this religion and was actively looking into it.
Well, he’d been sneaking to local meetings of Wiccans and was even right then trying to figure out a way to go off on a weekend jaunt cross-state to a coven practicing in nearby Tennessee to watch their rituals and see if he wanted to join them. It was the last step before he got initiated.
That was a little more serious than I’d thought at first.
Of Course He Hadn’t Talked to Me About This Move.
Why hadn’t he talked to me earlier, as in much earlier, about this?
To be fair, he knew I wasn’t very receptive to the idea. Wherever the topic had come from, it’d come up before, and I’d always been fairly negative about it. He clearly didn’t feel safe talking to me about this yearning he’d been feeling. That’s what stung the most. To me, spiritual searches were a deeply intimate and personal thing (and they still are), and he hadn’t felt like he could share that yearning or that search with the person he was sleeping with every night and boning regularly. He’d figured that if it turned out to be nothing, if he turned out not to want to get involved with it, he’d just be distressing me unnecessarily, so why bother bringing it up till he knew it would be a real thing for him?
I was deeply hurt and distressed, all right, but more by the (by that time) two-year-long deception than I was by the fact that the deception was about Wicca. I wanted to know the truth–all the truth–his whole truth. He’d kept a big part of himself secret and hidden away from me. I didn’t like that. I really didn’t like being the person he couldn’t share deep truths about himself with. It made me question our entire relationship and how intimate and close we really were. And I felt deeply embarrassed that I might have been bad-mouthing something very important to him without even realizing it. None of this, of course, compared to what he had to have been going through at my hands.
Did I really want to be someone who couldn’t share his struggles and rejoice in his personal discoveries? No, I really did not.
I respected his enormous intelligence, his goodness of heart, and his discernment; if he thought this religion was worth his time, then didn’t I owe it to him, out of respect if nothing else, to be supportive while he looked into it? Not like he was demanding I get into it, after all. He didn’t care if I did or didn’t. This was something he needed to check out for his own sake. He viewed his religious persuasion as being entirely superfluous and extraneous to our relationship; he didn’t view it as being built upon any spiritual conceptualization, so joining a religion–especially one that didn’t proselytize or make serious threats to non-believers–didn’t seem like it’d change much.
In the end, I gave him my blessing to go to the coven weekend thing, and he went, but he returned fairly quickly–later that same night actually–saying that no, it hadn’t really been comfortable to be around at all. I had spent the day soul-searching, and that night, we opened up and began to talk for the first time about religion, spirituality, and what our spirits seemed to crave most. It was cringe-worthy stuff–despite what you may think from this blog, I’m fairly stoic and not given to enjoying such conversations–but worthwhile.
So it might not be about Christianity, but I’ve been on the receiving end of someone hiding a religious search and not feeling safe about discussing what he was doing spirituality-wise. I know how it feels–I know how it feels to experience so much betrayal and punctured pride.
In the end, Lionel didn’t adopt Wicca as his religion, but at least it was something he figured out for himself and with my wholehearted, albeit late, support. And I learned some important lessons.
How to Get People to Tell You What You Need to Know.
* Watch your mouth.
It can be easy to reflexively bad-mouth something. Especially when one is in a dominant group and talking about a group that is demonized, privilege can lead to just assuming that everybody listening agrees with the sentiment being expressed. When it comes to religion or other hot-button topics, remember that you may not know your audience as well as you think, and that audience may not agree with you at all but not feel safe expressing disagreement. And hopefully that matters to you.
* Be a safe harbor.
If you really want honesty in a relationship, you’ve got to be able to receive honesty. Lionel didn’t talk to me about his spiritual wanderings because he didn’t feel safe talking to me. I hadn’t proven myself to be a safe person to be honest around. That was my fault. I’d had partners and friends before who said they prized honesty yet punished it when they got it, and I’d done the same exact thing to my sweet Lionel in turn.
Lionel had been afraid I’d laugh at him, or argue with him, or look down on him for telling me about his investigation into Wicca. I don’t know if I’d have done any of that, but he sure thought it was a risk that he was unwilling to take. You’ve got to keep clear lines of communication open, especially when religion gets involved in things.
* Don’t take it personally.
This one was the hardest. Lionel’s wanderings into Wicca were not a reflection on me. It was what he had to do on his own. He wasn’t doing it to me. He was doing it for himself. And as hurt as I was that he hadn’t talked to me long ago about how he felt, I had to remember that he was the one having to keep this big part of himself secret and having to do all this investigation in private without arousing my suspicion. I’ve never held it against him.
* Figure out what’s important.
Everybody wants and needs certain things in a relationship. I’m not saying I’d have been totally cool with him being a hardcore British Traditionalist Wiccan. I don’t know if I would have been. But I supported his self-development even if him becoming one meant our relationship could turn into something I found untenable. I didn’t want a relationship based around him being afraid to talk to me or pursue something that was good for him. I didn’t want a relationship based on a fear of change. I had to figure out very quickly just what I wanted out of Lionel and out of a long-term romantic relationship with him. I had to figure out how much I was able to embrace and what ultimately I would have balked at.
What’s great about that last thing is that because I wanted what was best for him and myself both, later on when we did grow apart on some other matters, we broke up very amiably when we realized things were going that direction; he ended up changing even more after we parted ways, as did I, and though we are utterly incompatible as romantic partners now, we’re still on very friendly terms. He’s happy where he is; I’m happy where I am. I still think of that relationship as quite a successful one, and I’m sure he does as well. (A long time ago I figured out that a successful relationship doesn’t need to be measured by its longevity.)
I’m never going to tell someone “put up with anything in the name of love.” That’s not only abusive but undignified. But I will say that if you know what you need and want out of a relationship, you’ll know very quickly if your partner goes over any lines. And if communication is open and free, then you’ll be able to talk about it very quickly and honestly and resolve issues efficiently and with as little suffering inflicted as possible.
See how smoothly that works?
It’s almost as if love was maybe meant to be that way.
Cap’n Cas prettied up this post on April 10, 2016, by adding some formatting and headers and clearing up some grammatical confusions. The only substantive change was the addition of population reports to the town names.