What do you do when one person in a relationship is religious and the other is not when it comes time for marriage? Or when two people with different religious backgrounds want to marry? Just as love comes in all different shapes and sizes, it comes in different backgrounds and beliefs as well, but it’s no less strong.
This post might be a little controversial, but I’m dealing with it now, and have friends who have too, so I just feel like it’s an important topic to look at as more and more people are embarking on relationships with people of different backgrounds and religions. It’s interesting in today’s world as more people are faced with this question.
Here is New York, the melting pot of the world, people are falling in love with other people they would have never even met 100 years ago and cultures are blending more than ever. There are many aspects that make up a culture, religion being one. Even me, when I first met my guy and he told me he was Polish I thought, okay so…, little did I know just how Polish he was. Where I grew up, my best friend was Polish, and Italian and whatever else; I am a total mut, Irish, English, French, German, but none of those things really defined who we were since my family, and her family, had been here and blended for many generations. I didn’t realize when he told me he was Polish that day that is meant he was a part of a culture that I didn’t really understand. He didn’t move here until he was almost a teen, already immersed in a culture completely different than the one I was raised in. His parents don’t speak English, he was raised Catholic, not just in theory but practicing even as an alter boy, he speaks two languages fluently and thinks in Polish as much as if not more than he does in English, and so many other cultural nuances I’m still learning about.
For me, religion has never been something I’ve thought about in my life. I’m atheist if you must label it, I prefer not to. I consider myself spiritual, respect everyone’s ability to choose their beliefs and the institutions for which they are shaped. BUT I’m not someone who likes to be told what to believe, and I was not raised with any particular religious viewpoint so I never really understood what the big deal was. Both of my parents are Irish Catholics who stopped practicing years before I was even born so the whole organized religion thing has never really been on my radar, that is until I met Przemek. Even for holidays there are religious rituals incorporated into the day, like taking a basket of butter, bread, salt, eggs and cured meats to church Easter morning for a blessing, then everyone must have a bite, I kind of like it, it adds more significance, but in my family though we all come together for holidays they are more about family time and celebration than any religious meaning.
I’m pretty up front so even in the beginning of our relationship I explained who I was and what I did and didn’t want. For instance, I’m not changing my name, I didn’t want to get married in a church, etc. He was fine with all of that initially but then as things got more serious and he actually saw himself thinking of a future with me, suddenly it wasn’t so okay. To be fair, I didn’t realize at the time how important his religion was to him and just how much it shaped who he was. It was never anything I had to think about before. I’d dated all different types of people and much like I didn’t care what race they were, I didn’t care about their religious beliefs either and kind of expected the same thought process in return.
To be honest about a year and a half into our relationship, we almost broke up. And it wasn’t a fight, it wasn’t for lack of love, it was that he wanted to get married in a church, and raise his kids Catholic, all of the things expected from a traditional Catholic union. I just couldn’t see it, I thought he was being ridiculous, I felt hurt and judged, I thought it wouldn’t be allowed unless I conformed to his beliefs. I wanted to get married in a field being in nature, write our own vows and just celebrate our love without God in the picture. Or rather with God in the picture, but more as a silent partner, along with the Goddess.
We really didn’t want to break up, so there were ongoing conversations, one minute we’d think that it was all going to be over, the next we’d move forward and get closer to understanding each other further. I asked him why it was really so important for him and he said it was because he wanted us to be linked up together always and the only way to do that would be if it was recognized by God. It wouldn’t just be an earthy marriage but we’d be married even in the afterlife. I thought that was really profound. Whether or not you believe in the afterlife, to want to be so connected to someone else in such a lasting way made me feel very loved.
In the end, I realized, wait a minute, am I really willing to throw away being with the love of my life because of this? He’s amazing, if having a religious practice makes him this way, it can’t be a bad thing. I may not agree with all of the teachings but that’s not really the point and not really what he is pushing anyway. Also, I’m not exactly easy or traditional, and yet he was willing to concede on every point but this one, so I could compromise too, couldn’t I?
Am I changing my name? No. Are we getting married in a church? You bet. Are we also doing an outdoor ceremony? Uh Hugh. Because it’s important that each person gets to be themselves and gets what they want, it’s important that they feel heard.
We should have done the research before we broke down, but now, here is what I know:
Different religions allow different things when it comes to marriage. I have friends who have been married outside if one or the other is Jewish or Christian. With Catholics, if one of you is religious and the other is not, you can still get married in a church. It’s a bit trickier if you have been baptized in another religion but still doable. If you have not been baptized (like me) and want to be, it’s even easier for you. If not (like me) the person who is religious has to get certain permissions from their religious institution beforehand. You also have to take a class called pre-cana where they go over the rules for a traditional Catholic marriage and family upbringing. What’s cool is that they go into problem solving, communication, and other really important skills to learn for a successful marriage, religious or otherwise. In regards to children, there is an understanding that the Catholic spouse does everything in their power to raise the children in the Catholic faith. The Catholic church has become a lot more understanding of relationships like ours as our world has become a true melting pot of people and ideas.
It’s one day, it’s a huge day, but it’s the means to the end, not the end. Just remember that nothing like this should break you up, it’s all something you can work out if you both show a mutual respect for eachother’s beliefs. It will take a bit more work and more honest and open communication on both of your parts, but if you want to spend your life with this person, believe me, it will be worth it and it’s valuable to learn to talk about stuff like this, the big stuff, now. The Priest who is marrying us is one of the nicest people I have ever met. He really helped us put things into perspective and we planned the ceremony in a small chapel, it’s both intimate and beautiful and I’m excited I get to marry my best friend there!