I was—and am—a person of no religious affiliation. I was taught the difference between right and wrong in a secular home, and while it’s kept me out of trouble with the law, it’s left metaphysical questions open to interpretation. What’s more, the theological gaps I’ve encountered in my twenty-something years of life, along with a lot of international travel and depression, have left me more spiritual than dogmatic.
Before the Holy water had rolled off my boyfriend’s freckled forehead, he was an atheist—someone who scientifically found no reason to believe in a creator of the universe or David Copperfield or the tooth fairy. There wasn’t enough proof.
That’s what I was thinking as my boyfriend explained to me that he had been baptized over the weekend. It was crystal clear. My boyfriend’s soul would bask in the eternal light of the golden city, while I panhandle on the fringes of town with the other lepers and non-believers, hoping to find some crevasse to squeeze through… Maybe over time I could become something like a Herriot Tubman, and help all the miserable pagans break through to the other side—make my own railroad—wait that is horribly off subject. I was upset.
Things could be worse, right? I was at least open to having a philosophical conversation about the idea of God, or discuss reincarnation, or karma, or do yoga—I’m open. His quest for truth didn’t scare me, or so I thought. The person I love had just proclaimed his religious devotion—for the first time in his life—and no amount of ironic humor could save me now. His words pushed me past my comfort zone and into that gross place of introspection, which tends too look very airbrushed in magazine articles and books about self-discover. The truth is, that place sucks.
Suddenly, I was afraid to swear around him. I was painfully aware that I had never volunteered time at a homeless shelter. I worried that he would want to pray before every meal, talk about theology before bed, and most of all push me to become a Christian! How dare he try and change me!? How dare he change!
He had been going to apologetics classes and church services for a while. He’s in the Army, and, while deployed in Afghanistan, he spent a lot of time reading and studying Christianity. I was never threatened by his search for truth until his salvation suddenly compromised my perception of our equal partnership and general appreciation for magic. In other words, I ignored what he was doing.
Twenty-somethings do this all the time: we pretend like we’re comfortable with something in theory, and then when it actually happens, it’s a huge problem.
In reaction to his baptism and general excitement about his new found religion, I did what any rational female would do: I closed up completely, called all of my friends for advice and lied through my teeth about how I was feeling.
I steeped—in a warming concentration of the worst possible feelings known to the human experience: jealousy, anger, resentment, and fear. This is where I become my best impersonation of Hemingway. I see everything in shades of blue and grey, lose my appetite and suppress the urge to drink scotch and chain smoke. I reminisce about The Running of the Bulls in Spain, though I have no particular recollection of ever being at that festival. I try to pretend I’m okay when I’m not until those crazy, bovine maniacs push me to feel something I don’t want to feel: vulnerable.
I felt left behind. I felt abandoned. I felt confused.
In theory, relationships would be so much easier to manage if we all just stayed the same. We like people to behave the way we expect them to behave, do the things they normally do, and never change who they are.
Let’s be thankful this is not the case. Under my bed I like to put things that I want to keep but don’t want to think about on a regular basis. All my yearbooks from middle school are under my bed. I can open any of them to a random page and see proof of my theory. Everyone wrote the same thing: Stay cool! Never change! Best Friends 4ever! All of these people should be thoroughly disappointed. Personally, I’m relieved.
Empathy will get you a lot further in a relationship than running away with the bulls or insisting on clear distinctions between good and evil. As he and I sat together dissecting my incalculable anxiety over the impending date of our departure, we agreed that things would have to change, that it was good for us to do so and that our love for each other would always be the nucleus—allowing both of us to circle around safely, without deception or fear, always able to find our way back home.
My boyfriend’s religion had nothing to do with me, and instead highlighted areas in my life that I wanted to work on. It has allowed me to learn more about Christianity and his new faith, which has enriched my spiritual core without threatening my personal beliefs.
Today he regularly attends church services and bible study. I enjoy going with him from time to time, where I chuckle and roll eyes at disagreeable statements I hear coming from the pulpit.
And ever so gently my boyfriend pokes my side, smiles and laughs too.
He still thinks it’s funny.