Should I Keep Dating Him Even Though Religion Might Tear Us Apart?

a religious man holding a bible

Evan, I’m really enjoying your advice. I have what I think is an unusual situation. I’ve been dating a very religious Catholic man for more than a year; I am not Catholic. I am divorced, and he says that for him to consider marrying me, I need an annulment through the Catholic Church — a long (up to two-year), arduous process.

I love him, but the thought of waiting two more years to find out what will happen with us seems really stressful. We’re both in our 40s and frankly, I don’t feel like I have a lot of time to waste. He’s made it clear that if my annulment is denied, he’s breaking up with me. In addition, he hasn’t PROMISED me that we’ll get married if I get my annulment, but only says it’s probable. What to do?

We spend almost all our free time together, tell each other we love each other, attend each other’s family functions — everything is great. But the thought of binding myself to someone a little more and a little more each day only to face the possibility of being told “Sorry, we have to break up” is almost unfathomable. Help. —Lee

I completely agree with you, Lee.

And without going on an anti-religious screed, all I can say is that this is where religious dogmatists lose me — putting centuries-old Church edicts over the practicalities of modern life.

Are you willing to marry a man who puts the needs of his church ahead of the needs of his wife?

Essentially, your boyfriend is telling you that the Catholic Church’s opinion and approval of your marriage is more important than your own individual needs.

That is completely in line with the teachings of the church and he is being completely consistent with his faith. You can’t fault him in that regard.

But you do have a very serious choice to make, at this point in time.

Are you willing to marry a man who puts the needs of his church ahead of the needs of his wife?

Moreover, are you willing to take a chance that a man who doesn’t exercise free will over his own choices in life is going to be a good husband and father? As you said yourself; if, for whatever reason, the church denies your annulment, he’s breaking up with you. And it’s not even a guarantee that you’ll be married (much less happily married) if the annulment comes through.

Are you willing to take a chance that a man who doesn’t exercise free will over his own choices in life is going to be a good husband and father?

I’m generally not one to give out validation in this space, but I’m highly sympathetic to the way you’re feeling.

One of the things that makes my life so charmed is the ability that I have to exercise control over it. I’m my own boss, offering my own opinion to women who seem to value it. I have a very accepting wife. And when someone else tries to exert her will in such a way that’s uncomfortable to me (my Mom or my wife’s Mom, for example), I maintain the right act in a way that works for my nuclear family.

This is a choice I made: to not prostrate myself to others’ dictates.

You’ve chosen a boyfriend who has already picked sides.

Compromising with you for your happiness is out of the question.

If your relationship will work, it’s going to be about you, compromising for the sake of the Catholic Church.

Personally, that wouldn’t work for me.

And, from the tone of your note, I’m guessing it doesn’t really work for you either. As tough as it is, religion is one of those issues that will impact the rest of your life. If you can’t find a path to meet halfway, I would highly suggest you find yourself a new partner who will.

Just have faith. With no disrespect to your boyfriend, there are MILLIONS of men out there who can make you happy, and will put your needs above the church’s policies.

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  1. 1

    When dating, I’m very congnizant of having no control over another human being, I have no power to change them.   One of the things I look for in regard to compatability is lifestyle, most importantly, deeply rooted lifestyle factors.   His religious lifestyle/values is just an example…this man could easily have another ‘deal breaker’ not religion related (hey, at least he told you what his deal breaker was ahead of time!).   In other words, look bigger picture and decide if this lifestyle is one that you can live with long term.

  2. 2

    Evan, you are right on when it comes to the advise you gave this women about her boyfriend problem. Been there already. Believe him when he says he will walk because of religion. You are right when you say there are plenty of men out there who can make her happy.

  3. 3
    Jackie Holness

    As a devout Christian myself, I have dated Christians who were not as committed as I am – essentially for the experience…but I had time to spare in my opinion…if you don’t feel like you have the time, you just have to chalk it up to incompatibility…hard to tear yourself away from someone when you’re digging them, but better now, than later…just my two cents…

  4. 4
    Some other Steve

    To him, this is a matter of personal salvation, and you cannot compete with that.
    You’re getting a preview of coming attractions: the firmness of his conviction here will manifest itself in enough other ways that you’re going to feel absolutely trapped and terribly resentful. Resentment (and its cousin “contempt”) are corrosive to a relationship in way that’s almost impossible to repair.
    Sadly, all you can do is walk away.

  5. 5

    if he was really committed to his religious beliefs he wouldn’t be stringing you along. Why is he even dating someone outside his religion if it,s that important to him?   He isn’t committing to you and has merely come up with a better” excuse than usual.  
    There,s always something with these guys/girls who cant commit to being with you or without you – the ex, the distance, the kids, finances, religion, the dog, the cat. deal with one issue and a new one magically appears. Cut him loose.
    i am Christian and seeing a fellow Christian so it,s not that i,m anti religious.

    1. 5.1

      Great question: If religion is so important to him, then why marry someone outside of the Catholic faith?

      I respect people who don’t feel the same way as I do about being a Christian and don’t fault them for it.

      I choose just not to date them because I know not being on the same page as far as faith is a big issue for me. No one is bad or wrong. It’s just not a match.

  6. 6

    This guy is not interested in marrying her – period. He told her so. He said, oh, if the annulment does not go through, we can’t get married. He seems in no rush to find out either way, and has an out if it is not granted. Which BTW, seems unlikely to not be granted if she is sincere and really wants to put her previous marriage behind her and marry this man. However, like I said, he is not interested in marrying her. He is dating someone, where he does not know if they will be married or not? Only guys who don’t want someone do that; he is however sticking around? For what? Lose him.

  7. 7

    The annulment costs a lot of money too, is he paying for that? I would move on also unless he changes his level of commitment. There should be no conditions for spending a lifetime with someone.

  8. 8
    Some other Steve

    This also brings to mind the pick-and-choose nature of many in his position.
    Marrying outside the church (which he’d be doing if she did not receive an annulment) is a public act that is highly visible to family and friends, while having sex outside of marriage is a private act that mom and dad can pretend to be ignorant of.
    The Church considers both sinful – pretty much the same sin, actually – but I bet a dollar and a donut that our hero is not being entirely consistent in what matters to him.

  9. 9

    He has told you that with one word from the church, he will walk away from you without a backwards glance. Maybe you don’t believe he’d really follow through with that, but what does it say about his feelings for you that he would even make that claim?
    Asking you to wait for two years and change your religion for a ‘maybe’ is a lot. A whole lot.
    Also, are the two of you abstinent? Does he masturbate? I’d be hesitant to hitch my wagon to a man that only followed the tenants of his religion that were convenient for him, while sticking adamantly to the ones that were no problem to him but a big inconvenience for me.
    Im sorry to say that I agree with others who say that he just doesn’t want to get married. If it weren’t the annulment and conversion thing it would be ( and likely will be) something else.
    Best of luck to you.

  10. 10

    Well, I’m glad this guy isn’t pretending – to you or to himself – that his religious beliefs aren’t important to him.   He knows himself and what he can and can’t accept.   Now it’s time for you to figure out your bottom line, too.
    You’re both in your 40s and you indicate that you feel you “don’t have a lot of time to waste.”   I’m not sure if this comment indicates that you’re hoping to have biological children but if so, remember that a. annulments can proceed quickly or slowly and some of that variation simply depends on matters like whether you live in an area where many other couples are trying to get annulments; how helpful your ex is in the process; if you’re a Kennedy/Agnelli/ somehow very well-connected and/or wealthy; etc.   So, even if you’re only 40 now, you could easily be 44 by the time this process is completed and (I can only speak for myself) I would probably be seething with resentment at any guy who’d insisted that i go through such a lengthy, unpleasant process to keep HIS church happy. b. Staunch Catholics don’t approve of many reproductive technologies so should you wish to become pregnant and should you require, say, IVF to do so, he might well nix that, too.  
    I can’t tell you what compromises you should or should not make, I just think you’re smart to ponder these questions now instead of brushing them under the rug because you love your boyfriend.

  11. 11

    Adding on to what Jennifer wrote in terms of picking and choosing which tenants you follow… do you want to have kids in your 40’s, at least two years from   now?   How many?   If the answers aren’t “yes” and “as many as God will give us” then I’d be really curious to know if your bf will “allow” birth control.   If he’s OK with it, then clearly he’s picking and choosing for convenience, and if he truly cared about you he’d “choose” to ignore the annulment thing.   I would be walking away.

  12. 12

    I think we need more information. Is the guy in question single, never married and in his 40s. If so, I would question whether he really wanted to get married at all. Perhaps he is using your need for an annulment as an excuse to put a brake on the relationship.
    If he is having sex with you he is not supposed to be doing that as he is   not married to you.Therefore you should question whether he is genuinely interested in you when he pulls the ÿou’ve got to get an annulment card.
    I do not have problem with him requesting you try to get an annulment as Catholic Church teaches that marriage is indissoluble. When people say “” till death do us part”” they are supposed to mean it. Marriage breakdown has many undesirable consequences and can devastate the children involved so frankly in some ways I appreciate the Catholic Church’s hardline on marriage.
    The annulment process is supposed to discern whether you   had a valid , sacramental marriage; if so no annulment is granted and you are not eligible to marry in the Catholic Church.

  13. 13

    ps. I would not say the annulment process is particularly arduous. You will fill in a questionnaire about your marriage, nominate witnesses you knew you before and at the time of your marriage ( who will be interviewed). You are interviewed yourself once / twice and that is it. If you are not prepared to go through that process how keen are you really on the dude?
    He has known you a year and given that Evan is always saying people should date for at least 2 years before marrying, it may be fair enough that he is not 100% promising he will marry you.

  14. 14

    One line in the OP letter off the main topic was a red flag to me.
    We spend almost all our free time together
    That worries me.   If you are both parents with full lives already and spend most of your precious child free time developing your relationship, this is less of a concern, but if you have no children, and after the first heady rush of the relationship, nearly your entire lives outside of work are each other, your relationship will wither under the pressure.

  15. 15

    I think this guy is a bad bet b/c I think that even if he needed her to get an annulment before he’d marry her, I don’t see how he’s not even proposed yet. I thought most people who needed you to somehow convert to their faith would usually see if you were open to it and hold off on the wedding until the process was complete, but not say, well, you have to do it and then I’ll see if   I still feel the same way.   That sounds awful.   
    How is this any different from any other condition that you might impose on a mate?   I mean, you have to think about what it really says if someone thinks you are good enough to date but not good enough to marry unless you do X, Y, or Z.
    He wants you to jump through a hoop just to give himself the OPTION of someday proposing to you.   I’m not sure how you feel about your ex-husband but I always thought that part an annulment involved somehow suggesting some part of your relationship was fraudulent or that you weren’t necessarily in your ‘right mind’ when you got married.
    I mean, if your boyfriend said he couldn’t marry you b/c you weren’t educated enough or didn’t make enough money, and that you needed to fix that before he’d even consider marrying you, would you feel the same way? I realize that religion is important to many people, but the fact that it is an important part of who he is doesn’t give him the right to hold you hostage b/c you don’t measure up.   
    I think you are a placeholder and that he should look for his next girlfriend on a Catholic dating site.
    A person might start off the search for a mate with a certain set of requirements but I’ve seen many people realize that their strict lists were going to result in them being alone forever.   
    And add me to the list of skeptics when it comes to strict Catholics (and other very religious) people picking and choosing which tenets of their faith to adhere to.   
    I’m not an atheist but I’d have no problem dealing with someone of another faith provided that I didn’t have to follow the rules of a religion that I didn’t believe in.   I think that if you date another Catholic, you need to find one like that.

  16. 16

    Ditch him.   It’s just unbelievable how these men will waste your precious reproductive years telling you whatever BS they’ve made up in their minds to rationalize them not marrying you.   He doesn’t want to marry her, but he wants to keep her around as long as he gets free sex.   Such a religious guy!   It’s all just a game for him.   Men wouldn’t  act like this if their balls fell off at 40, and they had to face never having the  ability to have a child of their own.   Such cruelty and selfishness.   But then, women believe them!   We are all so delusional.

  17. 17

    Something seems hypocritical about the Lee’s boyfriend. If he is such a staunch Catholic that his beliefs may force him to dump her, why isn’t he out there searching for someone who believes as he does? If he’s having sex with Lee, does he himself not consider her truly “divorced”? If he’s that lackadaisical about the outcome of their relationship, how strongly does he want to be married? Whether Lee’s fear has to do with her ticking biological clock, or her concerns about finding a healthy relationship as an older single woman, either one is a legitimate excuse to walk away. She also needs to consider what being married to someone so attached to religious dogma would be like.
    I also think that there is a difference in waiting a couple of years to marry (and I still believe that not every couple needs that time frame, especially a couple in their 40s) when there are no obvious obstacles, and a situation like this one, with such an obvious incompatibility in values and beliefs.

  18. 18

    Evan- shame on you for not doing a little research and being a little more open minded. You have readers of all stripes and we would appreciate a little more respect. Not that I expect for you to become Catholic, but you’re coming off as an ass. If this situation involved a muslim or a jew would you be such a jerk? Probably not.
    The reason the Catholic Church has all of these “hoops” is that Jesus taught that to marry and divorce and to marry again is to commit adultry.    The guy values his own salvation over pleasing his girlfriend. Most Catholics (like myself) who hold this belief won’t even date someone who doesn’t have a decree of nullity because they don’t want to be in this very situation. Marriage is for life and she is still married to her other husband, unless it can be shown that it was invalid. She’s a married woman and he should not have even started dating her.
    She should not stay with him because there will be many more “problems”. For example, is she still able to have children? Is she prepared to practice fertility awareness to space her children? We also believe in natural law (see: Aquinas) Or, maybe she should be a little more open minded and find out all the reasons behind all of the “hoops” Many people have been surprised at the why’s behind it all.
    Be as open minded as your bumper stickers claim you are!

  19. 19

    I was raised catholic, my entire family is catholic.   I left a long time ago. So many man made rules.   First thing that comes to my mind is if annulling your marriage and having the Church approve it is so important to him, is he not using birth control and not having sex out of wedlock?   Because if you are having sex, and I’m assuming you are, he’s doing it with a married woman.   Dump him now, he told you what his priorities are.   Believe him.

  20. 20

    People here don’t understand what an annulment is. He is not asking her to convert to his faith. He is asking her to get her former marriage annulled-ie declared void.

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