My partner is a practicing Catholic and I’m an atheist. If you’d asked me before I met him if I could see myself being with a deeply religious man I would have said, well, a lot of things. One would be, “I don’t think I could ever fully connect to someone who was religious” and “Would someone religious even want to be with me?” And yet, here we are, happy as can be six years later. I didn’t even know he was religious until we’d been together for a few months and he got up one morning after one of our sleepovers and said, “I’m going to Church.” Maybe we’d only spent Friday nights together until that point so we never had a Sunday morning together. I was surprised and didn’t quite know how to respond. But, then I realized, “Well, it hasn’t been an issue for us so far and he knows I’m not religious so—what the hell?” (Then I realized I shouldn’t use the word hell around him. There are some interesting dynamics that arise, however, when your partner is deeply religious and you’re an atheist.
There can be a lot of secrets with his family
It’s not quite so drastic with my partner, but I do have friends with religious partners who ask them to act as if they aren’t having premarital sex, because their partner’s religion wouldn’t allow it (and his parents would hate it). I even have one friend who lives with her boyfriend, but when his parents come to town, she has to pretend she doesn’t live there.
Which is frustrating, because you don’t feel bad
I personally get frustrated having to pretend that we live a different lifestyle than we do to appease his religious family because I don’t personally think we’re doing anything wrong. I think rules against premarital sex or cohabitation aren’t only useless—but harmful. In fact, while cohabitation does break some couples up, I believe it only strengthens couples who are meant to be together.
There may be debate around reproduction
My partner has told me that due to his religion, if we ever became accidentally pregnant, we’d keep the baby. This, as you can imagine, made my blood boil. Who is he to tell me that? But he looked at me with such despair in his eyes as if the idea of an abortion would literally break his soul forever. It was a complicated moment. We weren’t pregnant and aren’t, though.
You just don’t pick that battle
So I just decided not to pick a battle that we weren’t actually having. I hope that we never ever have to have that battle. I’m just taking my birth control as diligently and on time as possible every day and praying (well, not really praying, because I’m not religious) that we never have to truly argue over whether not to keep an unwanted baby.
He may cringe when you swear
I have always been in the habit of swearing. I say God d*mnit and Holy sh*t and things like that. I don’t even realize I do it. But my partner eventually cringed one day when I did it and asked, “Could you, um, not take the Lord’s name in vein? It’s really tough for me to hear. Sorry—I know this is your home but, it’s grating on my ears.”
Then you realize just how much you swear
Once he brought it up to me, I realized just how often I do swear. I don’t necessarily think it’s bad because I’m not religious so I don’t think offending anybody up there. But, I did notice that I have a bit of a dirty mouth and for my own sake decided to tone that down.
You may like some of his traditions and values
I actually like some of the values his religion pushes, like caring for the homeless. He’s big on that. He spends his Sunday mornings bringing food and water to nearby homeless communities. If there’s one thing I admire about his religion, it is that aspect.
You’ll find others arbitrary and wrong
When it comes to things like fasting or abstaining from this or that or giving things up for certain holidays, that I can find a bit useless. I don’t think that makes anyone a better person. I can get frustrated if my partner, for example, gives up alcohol for lent and it falls in the middle of a vacation.
You ask a bit about his time at his religious institution
Sometimes I’m a little curious about his religion. It would also feel rude to ask nothing when he came back from several days at a religious weekend with his family. It is a part of who he is, and I care about everything about him.
But he knows you don’t want an earful
I can sense him editing his response. He just gives me the reader’s digest version. He knows that if he goes into all of the revelations and thoughts he had over the weekend about God, I can only invest so much because I don’t believe.
Your parents may nudge you in his direction
My parents like that my partner is religious—they like it a little too much. When I tell them he’s at church they ask why I don’t go with him. They’re religious, too, and always hoped I would stay in the faith. They even try to go behind my back and convince my partner to talk me back into going to church.
You do admire his faith
I do admire his loyalty to his religion. I admire his ability to put faith in something he can’t see. He’s very devoted. Nobody forces him to go to church or participate in traditions—he is just disciplined and I think that’s attractive.
But you don’t understand it
I don’t, however, understand how he believes. I’m an atheist so to me it just…makes no sense. He does all of these things and lives this way because of something he cannot see or touch.
You wonder if it’s because he was raised that way
Sometimes I can’t help but wonder if my partner would be religious if he hadn’t been raised that way. So many of the things we do, we simply do because they’re engrained in us from childhood. I mentioned this once and it started a fight so I dropped it.
But, hey, you have your own spiritual things
I have my own spiritual things. I meditate. I believe in ghosts. Yup—I do! So, I guess if he believes in forces you can’t touch and I do, too, who am I to judge what he believes in?