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. 21

    @Cath, I think we do all understand what an annulment is…I just mentioned conversion b/c like the annulment it is a process that takes a while and it isn’t unreasonable to think that a man who needs his divorced girlfriend needs to get her marriage annulled might also need to become a Catholic.   And she’s being asked to do something that doesn’t line up with HER beliefs at all.   Just so he can consider possibly one day marrying her (which I doubt he will).   
    To be clear, he’s asking her to do something that could take a while without any guarantees, and it is kind of a big deal.   She hasn’t mentioned kids but I think even for a non-Catholic, declaring your previous marriage null and void might be a big deal if you have kids.   I’m pretty sure the Kennedys helped bring the issue of annulment front and center, both when Joe Kennedy II had his first marriage annulled (but it was later reversed b/c it was BS) and also when Teddy Kennedy was able to have his 2nd marriage in a church (which kind of showed that status, power, and money can help people get annulments for less than valid reasons).   
    At any rate, my point is that I’ve seen couples where one person’s religion stipulated something, be it conversion or annulment or something else that did require an investment of time, however, with the couples that I knew who really wanted to get married to each other and knew it, it was clear that once the hurdle was crossed (and none of this stuff is done quickly) the marriage was going to happen, and the engagement sometimes preceded that.

  2. 22

    @ Drea #19,
    It’s not quite fair to slam EMK as he has been pretty clear on this blog that he is an atheist.   I’m not intending to insult EMK with that comment, but merely to point out that it’s not likely he will be very sympathetic to the OP’s bf.   However I will pray the eyes of his understanding are opened ;oD
    It is also not entirely fair to portray the BF as some mindless drone who blindly follows the church’s doctrine, however.   Not to start a discussion on faith, but God does give us free will.   But I digress.   The Bible is clear about not being “unequally yoked” with a non-believer or someone who does not share  matters of faith with  a potential partner.   Not because God hates  non-believers but because these are the sort of issues that can arise.      Now, it’s true that EMK and his wife have a successful marriage even though there is that difference.   That is  because they respect each others’ views on faith and what that entails.   They follow the dictates of their conscience and that’s not for me or anyone but God to judge.   The Bible is also clear that if a believer marries a non-believer, then that’s not a free ticket to leave the marriage.
    It is a good point  that if the OP’s bf is having sex with her, that comes across as hypocritical.   One of the problems I have had with the institutional church is, they look down on co-habitation before marriage, but will annul a marriage if you can come up with the cash.   No offense intended to rank-and-file Catholics,  but an example of policy and procedure that caused me to leave the church.   Well I jumped out of the frying pan into the fire and became a born-again Christian.    Try dating in this culture with that.   It’s extremely difficult because I am in the world, but not of it and the world is full of temptation and the message to compromise, compromise, compromise.   I can’t do it and am well aware I could live out the rest of my days as a single person.   But there is a  price to pay for taking a stand against what is popular and acceptable in the world.
    One last bit of insight: while dating’s purpose is not to  get married – although that certainly can be an outcome of a successful dating relationship – we just don’t seem to date with intention.   We just kind of jump in, hoping it will work out and are then heartbroken when it doesn’t and we can’t understand why.   Seems to me we need to be more purposeful in our approach.     

  3. 23

    A very Catholic friend asked her very Catholic boyfriend to annul his marriage to his ex-wife and it was indeed a most arduous process.     His argument hinged on the fact that since his ex-wife had suffered from depression, she had not been capable of making a sound decision about entering into the marriage due to this “mental illness.”   Because depression blocked her from being able to make good decisions,   the marriage had never been valid.  
    The ex-wife balked (imagine that!)   She argued that even with depression, a woman can thoughtfully enter into a marriage.    And even though their marriage eventually disintegrated, it lasted more than a decade and to her had been very real.    The process dragged on and on.   My friend gave up waiting and found another staunch Catholic (who’d never been married) to wed; they are very happy.
    My concern regarding the issue at hand is less about the rightness of the annulment process than it is about the fact that it can take years/is not always as straight-forward as one might wish and that it shows a devotion on the guy’s part to values that the poster does not share.  

  4. 24

    I’m of the same beliefs as you and thought I would be single for the rest of my life too.   I met my boyfriend at a bible study.   We are dating with the intention of marrying, should that be a wise decision.     We cleared that up within a couple of months.   it’s not the way of the world but we share the same values so it is not a source of friction (unlike for the OP).  
    I’m not saying that you WILL meet someone, but I wouldn’t discount it just yet!   Go to conferences  where lots of churches  get together if everyone at your church is spoken for.   it’s not  the case that God will drop a man right in front of you anymore than he will drop a job in front of you, it’s okay to do things to make it happen.      I do think that christian men can be a bit clueless when it comes to dating so don’t expect to be chased and seduced in expert fashion. And even if he/she is a christian don’t automatically expect it to work out or that they will behave well. But we do manage to get together all the time.  
    In the City of London there are lots of churches that hold lunchtime services as they don’t have a Sunday congregation.   Lots of men go  .   I don’t know if there is similar where you work.
    Incidentally I know a number of pastors who will marry the divorced, so that widens your pool depending on what you personally believe.

  5. 25
    Evan Marc Katz

    @drea916 – Always charming when someone choose to insult me instead of merely disagreeing with my argument. I usually edit those out. I kept your insult in to show readers what you’re made of. Stay classy.

    As for my brief rebuttal:

    You can be sure that if it were any other religion, I’d have the exact same response. My responsibility is to the OP, her emotional needs, reality and fairness. The Catholic boyfriend is failing all tests.

    I certainly don’t need to do research on Catholic dogma to tell her what to do.

  6. 26

    As a recovering Catholic who has dated at least one man like your boyfriend, I can only say:   RUN!!! Especially if he is in his 40s and never married.   There is a reason.   These guys are typically confused about sex and have a madonna-whore complex. I know a number of them.   In their 50s, not married, still no girlfriends.
    Lee, we are *all* getting older.   We all only have so much time.   But if you marry this clown, I assure you that you will be relegated to a life of misery. Just reading about this jerk gives me the creeps. Don’t give up.   There is a better match for you,   and you won’t have to sell your soul.
    Disclaimer:   I am not referring to *all* never-married men in their 40s. Just the guys who probably should have been priests, but can’t give up the sex.

  7. 27

    Alright, alright, alright… There’s a whole lot of bad information floating around on here right now and I do think people are being a bit harsh and quick to judge the relationship NEEDS of this woman’s boyfriend.   I am a Catholic convert that has grown to love the Church very deeply.   I believe in it’s teachings; I am also a sinner and do not follow them perfectly.   In my eyes it doesn’t make the teaching wrong, it makes me human.   
    I have just gone thru the annulment process and it took just under a year and cost me $500, which the parish would have subsidized if I’d needed.   It’s not long, it’s not overly expensive.   Certainly, if a year and $500 kept my partner from wanting to spend the rest of our lives together… I’d have a problem with that.
    When I first divorced, I did try to date other Catholics.   I have not found my match there and did decide to date outside my faith.   I’ve met a wonderful Lutheran man who I could see myself married to someday.   We have sex.   Yes, I think it’s a sin.   I choose to not receive communion currently because of this choice.   But receiving communion is a major, major part of the Catholic faith and experience.   If we marry outside of the rules of the church, we can not ever receive communion again.   For that reason, if I were to marry my wonderful Lutheran man I would ask him to get an annulment and to have our marriage blessed by a priest.   It IS important to me to be able to experience all of my Catholic faith again in time.   If that makes me a hypocrite then…. ok, I accept that.   It’s still how I feel.   I’m trusting that God knows my desires and that if He brings me a wonderful Lutheran husband then He also understands the struggles we will face aligning the two religions and will help us thru it.   
    And before anyone asks- no, I will not convert because I’m raising my children Catholic.   And I choose to be Catholic myself.   I believe in the faith.   
    Catholics are not the only religion who have rules and traditions for matrimony.   It is my opinion, that if the OP loves this man and wants to be married to him from 40-whatever until death… giving him a little extra effort and maybe a few extra months really *shouldn’t* be a dealbreaker.   If it is, then she probably isn’t ready for the plethora of concessions that come with being married anyway.
    Any relationship requires a certain leap of faith.   If the guy is asking you to get an annulment then… HELLO!   He’s thinkin’ marriage!   Get the annulment!
    Love your writing Evan!

  8. 28

    The advice here makes sense on the surface, and I agree as a fellow atheist, that religious dogma should not get in the way of free will and modern life.   However, is it not the case that if you believe in a system of thought and a way of life, you should actually follow what you believe, to have integrity to your beliefs?
    This is why I would have trouble in a relationship with a (so-called) believer.   Either he constantly breaks his own rules, or he holds to a system that makes no earthly sense and makes a true romantic relationship impossible.   If you just pick and choose what parts to adhere to according to convenience, you really are just performing an act of social conformity in some issues, and being true to your actual nature in other issues – for which you are encouraged to feel guilt.   I would find that hard to tolerate in myself or a partner.
    Whether or not he is sincere in his beliefs, Lee you have excellent cause to RUN.

  9. 29

    @ Angela # 27:   I am not questioning your beliefs.   You are missing the entire point.   Lee’s boyfriend sounds like a hypocrite at best and a jerk at most.   He is obviously playing games with her, and sounds to me like   someone who is avoiding commitment.   That has nothing to do with religion.
    I have found converts to be the most vociferous.   My advice to this girl stands.   Run.   I have a bit more experience with the Catholic faith than you do, no offense. If you have no problems with creepy old men in skirts making your life’s choices, more power to you.

    oh, and Angela…..I don’t think this guy wants to marry the OP. Hello to you!

  10. 30

    Call it what you want, but a rigid, inflexible mindset does not make for a healthy intimate relationship between two people. He can have his religious beliefs and hold fast to them, but he wants more than that. He wants her to prove herself worthy in the eyes of his church before deciding whether she’s worthy of a marriage commitment. Personally, I’d prefer to be deemed worthy just for being myself. Dump. Him.

  11. 31

    I am a bit taken aback by the insulting nature of the follow up comment to mine, as I don’t feel Lille my post was the least bit attacking towards anyone.   I merely was stating that I could potentially see myself asking a future spouse to take the same steps as the OP’s boyfriend and I am entirely committed to finding true, lifelong love again.
    I’m interested in hearing the thoughts of those who reacted negatively to this scenario now that Evan has posted the follow up article involving a Jewish man.   Is it completely absurd for a Jewish boyfriend to require that a woman convert prior to marriage since the lineage is passed thru the mother?   Or is it just the traditions of those of us who allow “creepy old men in skirts to make our life’s choices” that is problematic?   If one partner is an atheist, should that automatically trump a partner who associates with a religion?   And why?   The logic here is absurd.   in my opinion, a relationship is a MUTUAL agreement to make concessions when needed for the whole.   I don’t think asking a future spouse to get an annulment, which means much to me and takes little from him, should mean that my partner should “run”.   

    1. 31.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      Angela, for some reason, however, you seem to be focused on religion in the abstract instead of focusing on the OP’s original question. Her question wasn’t about a quick and easy annulment, in general. It was whether she should go through the sometimes arduous process of annulment for a man who has not proposed, promised a proposal, or guaranteed that he would still marry her if the annulment didn’t come thru. This man has given her ZERO job security and he’s asking her to undergo a process entirely for HIS needs. So my answer to her isn’t based on my feelings about religion – it’s about my feelings on selfishness and stubbornness.

      I didn’t ask my wife to “convert” for me, because a) it’s not my place to tell her how to believe. She’s a Catholic. b) it seems a pointless exercise when someone doesn’t believe in what she’s doing and c) my children being Jewish is dependent upon how I raise them, not upon some matrilineal bloodline tradition that has been passed down for 5000 years. My wife is Catholic. My kids are Jewish. We’re all cool with this compromise.

      The OP is clearly NOT cool with this compromise, because her boyfriend is not doing ANY compromising. He’s putting Catholicism before love. That’s his prerogative if he thinks an annulment is more important than the OP. But it also means the OP has a perfectly valid reason to question her relationship with a man who is so insensitive to her needs. Any other anti-religious thing you’re inferring comes from your own sensitivity around this issue – not from anything I wrote here.

  12. 32

    I never took issue with your answer!   I fully understand your point.   Yes, I did take issue with some of the anti-religious remarks left by other commenters.   I think far too often it’s easy for those who are not followers of a faith to make overly simplistic black/ white commentaries about things that… honestly, they don’t understand.   My only response, really, to your post, was the comment that we always have to be empathetic to our partner and find the best solution for the relationship/ marriage and not always put our personal needs at the top of the hierarchy.   That said, yes, I agree that I would never ask someone to convert nor would I ask them to begin the annulment process before a solid commitment.   However… the church doctrine does state that it is a sin to even date a “still married in the eyes of the church” person, so if ya wanna get involved with a devout Catholic, you are going to be asked to get that piece of paper and that probably means that they are thinking about you in future terms!   You can view it as a negative or a positive, but there are positive connotations to it that I felt were not addressed.   If my responses came off as negative or nasty, it was not my intention.   I just see it from a different side!

  13. 33

    Dump the guy and find someone great.  
    Hes wasting your life while he strings you along.   Some of the most pious people I have encountered are the most morally corrupt  

  14. 34

    @Angela, I can only speak for myself, but what bothers we most about this guy and a lot of organized religion is hypocrisy.   I think he’s being a hypocrite to say the rules of his faith are so important to him but then to date a non-Catholic and expect her to follow them.   And of course if they are having sex and using birth control, he’s being a hypocrite about that too.   Why is he allowed to pick and choose what rules he wants to follow?
    If being Catholic and following the rules of the Catholic church are so important to this guy, he should only date people who are as Catholic as he is.   There is a Catholic equivalent of JDate.   One of my friends who became quite dogmatic as an adult used it.   So she refers to liberal Catholics who believe in things like birth control to be ‘fake Catholics.’   I went to Mass with her…it was pretty extreme to me (I’m not Catholic but have been to Mass on several occasions).   
    Let’s take religion out of it, b/c that seems to make it hard for you to focus on the point.   If there is something that you consider a deal breaker in order for you to marry a person, then don’t date people who can’t live up to your expectations.   If he needs someone who has never been married in the eyes of the church, he either needs to date never marrieds or date Catholics who are okay annulling their marriage (I’m sure they won’t all be, but some are going to be like him).   Personally, my opinion would be the same if this girl was chubby when she met him and he told her she needed to lost 50lbs before he’d think about marrying her.   Or if he met her and she only had a high school education and he said she needed to finish college before he’d think about marrying her.   If you want what you want, then pick that to start and don’t waste people’s time with your requirements.
    The most important thing here is that he hasn’t made any promises or commitments to her but wants her to do this thing that she doesn’t believe in so he can consider possibly investing more in her.   It seems pretty selfish.
    And that just sucks.
    And for what it’s worth, I wouldn’t be hard on people who were raised Catholic, or Evangelical, or in any other strict religious household b/c they went through things you didn’t.   You got to choose to be Catholic as an adult.   And enough has come out about the Catholic church that I would not judge any former Catholic who dislikes the religion now.   I think dogma is bad, no matter what faith it is.   Lots of extremes, lots of abuses, and lots of hypocrisy, which is likely what a lot of former members of any faith are reacting to.   Organized religion is supposedly the word of God but throughout history, we see people (who are just human but as church heads get way too much power) bend and break that word to suit their own needs and desires.   Sometimes in a moral sense, and sometimes in a criminal sense.   So I think that is what evokes such a visceral reaction in people when religion comes up.   I don’t see how anyone ignores that.

  15. 35

    As someone that was a (pretty devout) Christian for 20 years, here’s my two cents – I think religion is not even the issue here. The OP’s boyfriend is using religion as an excuse to not fully commit to OP. If he were as devout as he says, he wouldn’t have had a year-long relationship (involving sex and birth control, I assume) with her in the first place. If he didn’t have religion as an excuse, he would’ve come up with something else. It is not his religion that is keeping them apart – they are apart because he wants them to be apart, period, end of story. He gets all of OP’s free time and commitment, and offers nothing in return. Time to say good-bye to the pious man.

  16. 36

    Lee can analyze this on the level discussed by several posters and be done with it.   This is not a situation that is fair to her or good for her.  
    I am taking it to a deeper level and saying that religion as such, in my opinion, is a problem.   No one I ever knew was able to be a completely good Catholic, because the religion demanded faith, sacrifice, humility, and out of context rules.   None of these fit with my life, my view of reality, or my thoughts of a good partner.   If it works for someone else and their partner, more power to them.   I would be interested to know how that is the case.   Probably by ignoring most inconvenient aspects of the religion, which leads me to ‘why bother calling yourself religious’?   But I guess that is just me 🙂

  17. 37

    l second to Goldie

  18. 38

    Maybe she should date an Episcopalian instead of a Catholic. Similar high-church liturgy, but no difficulties in regards to divorce, remarriage and fertility treatments. Of course, I’m not a Catholic myself.   I *have* noticed my Catholic friends are very “dyed in the wool” in ways most protestants aren’t. Most protestants are pretty fluid in terms of denominational loyalty. I might grow up in a Methodist church, but attend a Baptist church if it’s more convenient, or the congregation is friendlier. A Catholic is always a Catholic. They will always be uncomfortable with anything else.
    Also Evan: in Judaism, marriage is a social contract; however, in Christianity it is a sacrament.
    So, rearranging your idea of what marriage is in order to conform to “modern” practicalities might not seem like a big deal to someone that believes marriage is only a social contract — but it would be a VERY big deal to someone who views marriage as a sacrament.

  19. 39

    Evan, I’m the OP. I thought you might like an update on this. You were dead right. He didn’t care about my emotional needs. In fact, after dating him a few more months, I found out that my very religious boyfriend had cheated on me. Yes, the man who told me that he wanted to do things “God’s way” went out on a date with another woman, took her out for drinks and took her back to her place. (I thought he was at home asleep).   He didn’t tell me about it. (Although he did tell me later on that he had confessed to a priest). The other woman told me about it, several weeks after the fact. She said he had promised her he would be breaking up with me and making her his new girlfriend, and he never did, so she was angry. All around, lies and deceit. So I broke up with him, finally. Wish I’d done it a lot sooner. He begged me to take him back. He even suddenly decided the annulment was not so important anymore and asked me to marry him. I don’t feel like I can trust him with my heart for the rest of my life, so I said no. I have moved on.
    Thank you for all you do, Evan.

  20. 40

    Congratulations, Lee.   I’m sure this was a very painful realisation but you have now rid yourself of someone who can bring you no true happiness.   Now you can heal and you’ve made space in your life for a man who is morally upstanding and not merely “religious.”  

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