Hi, Carolyn: My boyfriend comes from a relatively conservative Catholic family. He does not want to disappoint them (especially his mother) by letting them know that no, he does not go to church nor does he practice Catholicism.
My issue stems from his putting up this facade, not being true to himself or giving his family any credit that they will still accept him. We live together, and I see this as long-term, but I cannot live a lie, especially if marriage or children are down the line. I see a fight over a Catholic church wedding, baptism, etc., that his family would expect.
I do not identify with any religion and will not pretend to. I’ve attempted to let him know that this will either damage his relationship with me or his parents the longer he waits to be completely honest. How should I start a conversation with him? He tends to avoid conflict.
– Religion Farce
Church-dodging is an issue with his parents, but conflict-dodging is an issue with absolutely everything.
So while you have a useful conversation-starter in his unwillingness to be honest with his parents, it is merely that, a start.
Let’s say you do get married and have kids. What happens when he’s upset with you about something – will he approach you to talk, or will he just start working a little later-later-later until one day it dawns on you that he’s never around anymore? If the kids are stressing him out, will he admit that to you, call the pediatrician for ideas, buy a book on whatever problem he’s having – or will he wander off to scroll through his phone and leave you to manage the load? Will his career stall because his aversion to confrontation saddles his employers with problems chronic and unaddressed?
When something is wrong on any of these fronts, will you hear about it in time to help fix it, or only after it’s too late, and only then because he can’t deflect, postpone or conceal it anymore?
Bury conflict as opposed to getting to its roots, and these problems sprout.
Before you get into the religious dishonesty issue with him, you need to ask yourself how you want to live your life. Every partner will come with a full set of frailties, just as you do – but when you’re choosing someone, it matters how well each of you is equipped to deal with your own and the other’s shortcomings. Let’s say you’ve decided you love him enough to make this work. Do your strengths (and weaknesses) make you a good match for a conflict-avoidant partner – you’re comfortable being the spokes-spouse, say – or do his issues exacerbate yours?
Once you understand where you are, you make a much better messenger for what you need. That’s when you can say, without hand-wringing over word choices, “Enough with avoiding your parents. The deed of the disappointment is done, you aren’t a practicing Catholic; hiding it doesn’t change that. It only adds lying to the list of things they’ll eventually discover for themselves.”
Or however you choose to say it. What matters is that once you’ve accepted that you can’t continue as-is, you won’t be afraid to upset your relationship equilibrium with truth-telling, which includes the fact that this is about more than faith and parents.
One minor point of disagreement with your letter: His parents actually might not accept him after he’s honest with them. That’s a risk everyone takes in adhering to principles, and I don’t recommend downplaying it.
Instead, stick to the risk – the many risks – he faces from unwillingness to stand behind who he is. It’s not just about losing you, though he likely will; your message has to be that he risks losing himself in facades he presents to the world.
You do have a right to say this to him, as someone who cares about him. After that, however – to keep it from being the most ironic point you ever make – you need to step back to let him figure out for himself what comes next.