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September 21, 1998   CONTINUED e-mail e-mail to a friend in need


Goin' to the Chapel
Incredibly insightful shoutouts to Jessica from last week:

Jeanette writes: I just finished reading the letter from Jessica, who wondered about marrying her boyfriend in the Catholic Church. Your advice was right, but I'd like to add something from my own experience. I was raised Catholic and my husband was raised Lutheran. We attend his church, and will raise our family there. When we were dating, we discussed religion quite a bit. When we began talking about marriage, we discussed--in depth--what religion meant to each of us. We discussed the theological differences between the two churces. We both were very clear about how important religion was to the other. When he proposed, I had already made the decision that, since allegiance to his religion meant more to him than mine did to me, I would be willing and able to attend his church.

The surprise came after we were married, and I discovered the emotional attachment I had to Catholicism. Making an intellectual decision about religion is not the same as separating oneself from one's religious background. It took time and patience to work through the unexpected emotional turmoil of attending a different church.

Fortunately, my husband is not threatened by discussions about religion. His ability to understand my confusion and help me through a tough spot made it possible for me to stick with my decision. I still have moments of missing the familiarity of the church in which I grew up, but we are still solid in our decision to attend this church.

Back to Jessica. While she and her boyfriend seem to have done some talking about religion, it didn't sound to me as if they have a goal of finding middle ground. They are still figuring out what the other believes, and that's much too early to make a weighty decision about marriage. If they take their time, do more, more, more discussing about their beliefs and expectations about religion, they may be able to make marriage work. Whatever they decide about religion, both must be dedicated to making the religious part work. A quick and easy decision--"Oh, I'm sure I'll get used to a new church/his agnosticism/her time spent with the Altar Society..." or "She probably won't be that much of a fanatic" or--isn't good enough.

My experience tells me that religion sometimes means more to us than our intellect admits. Keeping that in mind will make those difficult decisions more understandable--not less painful, not easier, but more understandable."


Happily Intermarried writes: "Some Catholic churches actually do allow interfaith weddings in the sanctuary, though you probably won't get a full Mass. Do some research with all the churches in your neighboring parishes. You should be able to find a priest to marry you as long as you go through pre-Cana (which is more about learning to be a good spouse than being a good Catholic). But if not, BG is absolutely right: Don't knock alternative locales such as botanical gardens, parks, restaurants, hotels and universities. Most are very pretty; some are stunning.

But the more important issue isn't the wedding -- which is, after all, just one day out of your life -- but about living with a man who doesn't share your particular beliefs. As you've discovered, once the subject of marriage comes up, it's amazing how quickly those little, "insignificant" differences can become big ones. As BG wisely advised, you and Bill should have some serious sit-downs to discuss what part you expect religion to play in your lives once the knot is tied. Will you feel odd if he doesn't go to church with you, or that he can't take communion? Will he be weirded-out if you put a crucifix or religious pictures in the house? Will you feel constrained from practicing your personal beliefs because you're afraid he'll object, or is he afraid to discuss his atheism because he thinks you'll be offended? Can you agree to disagree without getting into "I'm right-you're wrong" dead ends?

Then there's the whole kids issue -- and yeah, you do have to think about it at this early stage of the game. (Experts say it's best for a child to have a healthy spiritual life as a foundation for building future values.) What do each of you expect to teach them about God and religion? If the kids will be Catholic, can Bill deal with baptisms, first communions and the inevitable question: "Why doesn't Daddy go to church with us?" If Bill feels strongly that the kids not be raised Catholic, can you accept it graciously? Come to think of it, are you two in sync with the whole birth-control issue?

I'm not trying to scare you away from marrying the guy you love -- far from it. I'm in an interfaith marriage myself, and we have a wonderful relationship. But these matches work only when both husband and wife have an abundance of respect, support and, when necessary, a willingness to compromise. And that's something you have to find out for yourselves long before you start rounding up bridesmaids and shopping for that white satin gown.

Finally, check your bookstore for books on mixed marriages; they could spark some good discussions and help you and Bill handle both your current and future dilemmas. Good luck!"

Ooh, one more good one:

SLC writes: Your advice to DilemmaLass is spot on. There are plenty of differences that a couple can reach a compromise on, but there's no compromise on parenthood -- either you are a parent, or you aren't. However, I wanted to highlight one comment from DilemmaLass's letter. She says that her husband "thought she would change as she grew older." Folks, if any of you are thinking the same thing about your sweetie/affianced, step back and think again. Yes, some people who don't want kids when they're young change their minds as they get older (and some people who want kids at first eventually decide that they'd rather not, though it seems you only hear about folks in this category when they decided AFTER they had children!). But plenty of people know whether they want kids when they're 21 and haven't changed their minds at 60.

It's old hat advice, but it bears repeating: never assume that your sweetie is going to change their mind. After all, do _you_ expect to change your mind on the subject? If they feel differently about kids than you do, don't marry them thinking "ah, they'll change their mind when the biological clock starts ticking/when they see how much we can do without kids tying us down." In fact, I'd personally go further: don't marry them. Again, there is no compromise on whether or not to become a parent.

(And tell DilemmaLass not to get pregnant unless she's decided she does want kids. At three months along myself and still feeling sick, I don't recommend this to anyone who doesn't look forward to the results!)



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