Our two-month relationship felt like a two-year one sped up with the same exhaustive intensity. During that short window of time, there were no mediocre moments spent together. It became obvious that our personalities were the instantaneously compatible kind.
On our first date, it was as if we had fast forwarded to the depth that only third dates usually cultivate. We both spoke vulnerability and sensitivity. We made each other laugh a lot. Just freshly coming out of a breakup, I felt myself yearning for those exact comforts.
I didn’t think this would be the kind of matter pivotal to our relationship but there was one singular issue — his devotion to Christianity and my lack of faith. I didn’t know what to make of our complete alignment on morals and ethics while our views of religion were entirely off course from one another. We had just flung ourselves into a relationship but we were already faced with a mature and complex concern.
I turned to friends to seek out their perspectives on the matter. Attending a university with a fairly liberal-minded pool of students, I discovered a wealth of negativity against the fact we had any kind of religious issue at all. I struggled against misconceptions thrown at him for weeks. By being agnostic, I was the one asking for nothing and by being Christian, he was asking for everything.
I wasn’t sure where the line was that separated right and wrong. I worried about blaming him for valuing Christianity enough to affect our relationship when I was placing the same value in my agnosticism. I couldn’t forget that my hold on agnosticism was providing the same barrier as his devotion to God. Looking back, my single strain of approval was the fact he didn’t identify as hyper-religious and, although it was beside the point — he was loving and gentle-minded. Even when I cried because I couldn’t see our story panning out in some kind of direction, he held me and reminded me that we were trying.
In the next couple of weeks, there came a point when he asked me to come to church with him the upcoming Sunday. In earlier conversations, I had voiced my willingness to go with him one day. Although I had attended church a number of times in my childhood, I felt hesitant and even wondered if it was a premature thing to do at our stage. I still nervously agreed.
But I couldn’t stop thinking how little time we had to discover each other first. I raised these concerns to him, and he recoiled from me for the first time. His eyes held a quiet kind of sadness and disappointment. I already knew how much the gesture would mean to him but I had no premonition of the importance of its time sensitivity. All the same, I felt like I had gone back on my word. I felt selfish. An overwhelming mixture of pressure and guilt began brewing inside me. Eventually, my decision to go to church with him culminated like an unsettling lump in my throat.
With less than a week left on our clock, Sunday eventually came, yet he arrived more nervous than I had ever seen him. Standing beside him after the service had ended, I felt myself beginning to absorb his anxiety after he introduced me to his friends.
“We’re sifting through our problems, and we know we got things to work on,” he said.
He almost sounded wise and self-acknowledging about his faults except he was extending those faults to another person, myself. I suddenly became aware — he was ashamed of me. This was the first moment where I felt so assuredly wronged. Sure, I came in knowing that many of his friends were hesitant about the sustainability our relationship but it never occurred to me that he would be so outwardly wavered by their concerns.
When we were alone, I could sense a small eagerness in his tone as he asked about my Sunday experience. I couldn’t lie to him and admitted it was similar to my experiences in the past: beginning with songs of praise, a sermon, maybe a few testimonials, followed by more music. Once the words flew out of my mouth, I realized how underwhelmed I appeared. I couldn’t bear the dejection in his eyes so I suggested we try again another time. He agreed but that dejection never fully left — he harbored a sore wound for the rest of the day.
From the start, we both acknowledged this relationship couldn’t be easy, and it would have to be an uncertainty we would navigate together. But something about Sunday diluted his earnesty for us. He became painfully distant and avoidant. By that Friday, I confronted him. I found out that he had reached out to religious leaders for guidance about our relationship. He had assessed our fundamental fallacy as a couple with two very different views on faith. He even brought up marriage and the looming problem that would arise from having children in a house divided by faith. The answer was clear; he simply couldn’t continue any longer without feeling compromised. No longer was there a future with direction.
For a while, I couldn’t stop blaming God because I knew that spirituality mattered more to him than we ever could. I firmly knew I’d never be touched by Christianity the way he so desperately wanted me to be.
But then the realization would flash over me like a bullet to the head because God was merely the context of our situation. God wasn’t the one hoping for me to shift a lifetime of perspectives in less than two months. God wasn’t ashamed about who I was, broadcasting it to his friends on first encounter. God wasn’t the one who got scared in the face of uncertainty and gave up on me. It was then I would wonder how much of his love stemmed from my patience and openness to religion rather than who I was as a person. A haunting doubt as to whether or not I looked better next to God so he paved that path in the hopes I would take it.
Either way, it would be the last time I went to church for anyone except God.