Should I Dump Catholic Partner Who Won’t Marry Me?
The Seesaw is a new kind of advice column in which a broad range of columnists will address the real life issues faced by interfaith couples and families. Read the discussion and vote below for what you think is the best response to this particular quandary. You can email your own questions, which will remain anonymous, to: [email protected]
I am a Jewish gay man who has been in a relationship with the love of my life for ten years. He is a Catholic who, for obvious reasons, has mixed feelings about his faith but still connects with it on some level. I have wanted to get married for a few years now and for awhile he was telling me that he wanted to as well, but just needed time. Now that time has passed and he, probably unsurprisingly, is saying that he doesn’t think he can really “do that” to his family. I am heartbroken.
I’ve always wanted to get married, and also I’m 35 and ready to adopt a child, which is much easier if we are husband and husband. He is open to adoption, but not nearly as excited about it as I am. Also, my parents, who are desperate for grandchildren, say they believe being married helps a couple when it comes to parenthood because it really pushes you to think as one unit. They will love us and support us no matter what route we take, but that is their advice and I think it is solid. Seesaw, I love him, but it does feel like he is letting his barely there Catholicism hold us back from what could be the life I have always dreamed of. Is it time to move on? — Baby Fever in Boston
I Suspect This Isn’t About His Religion
CARYN AVIV: I don’t think the core issue in your relationship revolves around your partner’s resurgent connection to Catholicism, or about his fear of family disapproval if you marry. I think your core dilemma is about values congruence: whether your needs and desires about life goals, as you move deeper into your thirties, might be diverging from your partner’s needs and desires.
My first hunch is that what you want is to marry Jewishly and raise Jewish children, whatever that might look like to you. My second hunch is that you’re afraid of two things: that your partner’s changing relationship to being Catholic, and that his ambivalence about having children altogether, might become a source of conflict in your relationship. And then my third hunch is that you fear your partner is not the right person to realize your deepest hopes and dreams about building a family.
Have you talked honestly about your own hopes, dreams, and fears? Has your partner responded openly with his vision of the future? Personally, I have found that once I have clarity about something, the best strategy is to put everything out on the table. Your vision about the future you want is a place to begin the conversation. I think it’s much better to be totally honest and work your way through difficult conversations, rather than suppress what you need and want, in the interests of staying in a relationship that might not be based on shared goals.
You are correct that if coupled, raising children as a team is vital, so that you can focus on supporting the child(ren). If one partner is deeply ambivalent about raising children, this might generate inequality in the division of labor in your home which could lead to frustration, resentment and emotional distance between parents.
Dr. Caryn Aviv is Associate Director of Judaism Your Way, an outreach organization based in Denver. She has taught Jewish and Israel Studies in university settings, co-founded two Jewish start-ups, and published research on contemporary Jewish culture for scholarly and popular audiences. Last year she began rabbinical studies through ALEPH: The Alliance for Jewish Renewal.
What Exactly Can’t He Do to His Family?
JANE LARKIN: As a person who married for the wrong reason once and then found love and marriage success on my second try, the best advice I can give you is identify and work through big issues now. It will make navigating married life and parenthood much easier. It will also help you determine if this is a relationship you both want.
First, clarify what your boyfriend means when he says, “he doesn’t think he can really ‘do that’ to his family.” Does he believe his parents will have a problem with him marrying another man or marrying someone who isn’t Christian? If it’s the former, he has some issues to work out. If it’s the later, find an interfaith support group or class, or therapist who counsels couples considering intermarriage. They can help you address concerns and give you tools to navigate interfaith family life.
When my non-Jewish boyfriend and I were dating, religion was an obstacle for us, even though he was agnostic about faith. Our debate was about how to address religion in the home if we married. We wanted to settle the issue before we became engaged. So, we took a class on interfaith relationships taught by a priest and a rabbi. If the course couldn’t help us find a resolution, we agreed to break-up.
The class was helpful. It pushed each of us to think about what we valued and what we wanted in a relationship, gave us a framework for making religious choices and suggestions for talking to our parents. It enabled us to resolve our conflicts and establish a foundation for our future life together. We have now been married for 12 years.
Working through our issues before we married and had a family was worth the effort. Doing the same will help you determine if this is the relationship you both want or if it’s time to move on.
Jane Larkin is the author of “From Generation to Generation: A Story of Intermarriage and Jewish Continuity.” She writes about interfaith relationships and Jewish living for InterfaithFamily and other outlets. Follow her on Twitter @JaneLarkin6.
His Catholicism Probably Isn’t Just ‘Barely There’
REBECCA LEHRER: Let’s be clear:
You want to be married.
You want to be married to your partner and have children together.
You don’t want his Catholicism to hold you back from those things.
First, let’s talk marriage and kids. Many Americans aren’t subscribing to the same concept of marriage as your parents. Over 50% of American adults are unmarried. The number of unmarried couples who live together increased 88% between 1990 and 2007. Also, 40% of children will live in a cohabiting household during their lives. That all being said, if marriage is a non-negotiable, then it’s a non-negotiable.
As for his Catholicism, here’s where you need to be careful about the way you are judging him. You don’t mention how observant your own family is, but as Jews we know that there are many ways to feel rooted in our Jewishness (and many ways to feel guilty!). What he is telling you is that his Catholicism isn’t just “barely there.” It’s there enough to make him feel like marriage isn’t right for him and he’s not willing to alienate his family in order to do it.
Real talk: It’s also possible that he doesn’t want to marry you and his Catholicism is an easy excuse.
This is all to say that if you want to be married, this probably isn’t your guy. If you want to create a life with this guy without marriage, then you need to accept that his Catholicism is fundamental to who he is. If you can get over the marriage hump, and your clock is ticking as fast as you say it is, then you need to ask him straight up if he’s ready to have kids, and you need to be on the same page about what role Judaism and Catholicism will play in the lives of your children.
Rebecca Lehrer is the Co-Founder and CEO of The Mash-Up Americans, a website and consultancy representing the hybrid culture and new face of America. The Mash-Up Americans is exploring Spanglish, kimchi + more, just not on Shabbos.