He Wants Me to Be Religious

We're trying a new thing today. It's a thing that will let Love Letters readers have a live conversation while reading today's letter. I'm not explaining it very well, but it will be up from noon to 2 p.m. You can still comment while it's up. I'll jump in too.

My boyfriend (29) is the best man I've ever met. He is loving, doting, faithful, smart, interesting, funny, sweet, a great communicator, fun to be around, active, has wonderful friends and a close and amazing family, and he's as handsome as they come.

I (28) happen to also think I'm pretty great, and share many of the same qualities he does. We've been together almost two years and have been living together for eight months. What's the problem? He's Christian and I'm not. (I'm nothing and prefer not to even say atheist or agnostic.)

It doesn't come up in day-to-day life. We both try to keep a lid on it. He doesn't regularly go to church so it doesn't come up every Sunday either. He is 100 percent a believer in Jesus Christ being his Lord and Savior, though, and he prays (like really, really prays a lot about everything) and thanks God and feels blessed every day. He had a very, very rough childhood and I don't begrudge him his beliefs at all.

It comes up when we talk about our future. Whether we could marry. How we'd raise our kids. What would happen as we aged, grew old, and died. We've pondered not having kids. We've pondered not getting married and just going on with our day-to-day. I've told him I can accompany him to church (we've gone a couple times). I can hold his hands as he prays. I can continue to respect and encourage his emotional and religious growth. But I just don't share it.

We've been having rough talks lately and it came to a head last night when something in him finally clicked and he got the notion that our relationship is a trial and that all of a sudden it was clear to him that he cannot marry and have a life with me if I do not believe.

He wants me to believe. Part of me wishes I did -- things would be wonderful for us, and maybe I'd get some of the peace and assurance that his beliefs bring him (and I could certainly use another source of strength/calm/love in my life). But the other part of me really truly does not believe and cannot wrap my head around faith and the concept of God and Jesus and there being one right religion, etc. I've never felt lost or empty or alone, and have never had a desire to be saved, found, or any of that. I cannot fake it, either.

Does anyone have any advice? Should I try to become a believer by surrounding myself with it and just see what happens? We are about to start couples therapy. Has anyone been through anything similar?

– If Only I Believed, Brighton

You can't fake or force belief. You might change your mind about religion over time, but it has to be all about you. You shouldn't try to alter your values to appease someone else.

It's possible that you could enjoy becoming involved with a church community. Organized religion (besides the religion part of things) is about the people, the events, the connections, and the support system.

But -- your boyfriend isn't asking for involvement. He's asking for faith. Stay honest in couples therapy. Explain that you are open to his philosophies and that you occasionally want to believe, but that it's not part of who you are. If religion and belief have become his priority, above all other things, you're just not a match and you have to walk away.

Readers? Has this happened to you? Can they compromise? Can she try to force the belief?

– Meredith