[Two-Pronged] My BF and I have different religions
Dear Dr Holmes and Mr Baer,
Hi! I just turned 20 and I have a boyfriend for 5 years now. (To do the math, we started our relationship back when we were in high school). I finished my bachelor’s degree this year and I am already working for months and still living with my parents (I'm the youngest of 4). My boyfriend, 21, an undergrad who's very happy with his work now, lives on his own.
We are very happy and seriously in love with each other. The thing is, we're not in the same religion or faith in God. We don't get along well on this, but we respect each other's beliefs. He doesn't want to be converted to my religion. He stands on what he believes and I've accepted that already.
It's a very long story, but to summarize, my parents want us to be separated. They like him for me, but they said that if he really loves me, he should also be a member of our religion. Right now, my family thinks that we've already broken up, but we're still together secretly.
On another side, his family is very loving and didn't even care if I have a different belief. I told him that if he didn't like to do what my family wants, I am willing to do it for him, but, of course, there will be consequences.
I love my family so much and don't want to disappoint them. I feel like I have to choose between my family and my man. I love my boyfriend as well, to the point that I can't imagine myself being with another man...just him.
For now, we're enjoying ourselves. He's said he'll wait for the right time when I am ready to make a decision for myself. The time when I am already separated from my parents. Literally, that will take another 5 years since I want to give back to my parents after all their hardships.
I look forward to your advice. And more power to you! :) Thank you very much.
Thank you for your letter.
Our column is primarily geared to address readers' concerns from a psychological, rational, and common sense perspective, and to concentrate on fact rather than fiction. Religion is therefore generally outside our remit, principally because at its core it deals with beliefs and is therefore not susceptible to any sort of rational discussion.
Indeed, if even the Catholics, Protestants, Methodists, Baptists, Iglesia ni Cristo etc. who claim to worship the Christian god cannot agree among themselves on a single belief, how likely is a meeting of the minds with such diverse alternative beliefs such as Muslims, Buddhists, Shintoists, Confucians, not to mention animists, Rastafarians, and other more exotic alternatives?
Notwithstanding the bizarre, if not plainly unbelievable, origins of most faiths (tablets of stone found up mountains, buried books written on golden plates, visions, virgin births, resurrections from the dead etc.), enormous doctrinal edifices have been erected on top of these shaky foundations and these have led to interminable debates, schisms, oppression, ethnic cleansing, wars – in effect, all the sorts of behaviour that most religions purport to abhor. All this is done in the name of a god by people who claim to be privy to the one real and absolute "truth," blithely ignoring the myriad other competing claims out there to that same absolute "truth."
Because it is a sad fact that religious believers so often cannot restrain themselves from imposing their beliefs, sometimes by force, on others, religion frequently complicates our lives despite our best efforts. In your case, Annie, it is threatening to derail your relationship with your boyfriend (let's call him Jose) even though it is not even an issue between the most important people, the two of you. What started as a dyad has now grown to encompass not only both sets of parents but also their religions.
Now I am not suggesting that relationships can be conducted in a complete vacuum. Obviously, we are all subject to various influences on our lives – cultural, socio-economical, educational, and others. Your letter itself shows some of these: religion of course, but also your adherence to a tradition of filial piety, demonstrated by a desire to obey your parents while you remain under their roof and your intention to repay them for the hardships caused by financing your education (it is worth mentioning that neither of these, which are taken for granted by so many here, would necessarily be expected, much less observed, in many parts of Europe or the USA, where filial piety has been superseded by filial independence).
Ultimately the solution to your problem comes down to a matter of priorities and timing. You have demonstrated a deference to your parents' wishes that many would consider admirable and others would consider excessive. I readily acknowledge that I am one of the latter, principally because when it comes to a relationship and possible marriage, it is you, not your parents, who are in the relationship and you who will marry Jose, not them. However, as it seems that I cannot escape the cultural shackles of my own upbringing, I will now leave it to Dr Holmes to give her views.
All the best,
Thank you very much for your letter. The first thing I must constantly remind myself of is not to be ageist – you know, thinking, “Bata ka pa. Ano naman ang alam mo tungkol sa pagibig?” (You’re so young, what can you really know about love?) and presuming that, because you are (only) 20 and I am 63, you couldn’t possibly have more mature thoughts than I. For no other reason than my being older than you, I expect you to do as I say even before I listen to what you think and feel. This is something parents sometimes forget, which is why some people can be terrific parents when their kids are 5 or below (accepting everything their parents tell them), and be awful parents to the same kids 10, or in your case, 15 years later.
This is where your parents have failed you, Annie. True, they endured hardships to provide you with the best education they could, but once that education taught you how to think for yourself, they slammed it down, insisting you believe claptrap like: “If he really loves [you], he should also be a member of [your] religion.”
This is a false dichotomy, and I am so glad you realize it. He can love you and still not convert to your religion, no matter what your parents say; just as you can still love them and yet not do everything they tell you.
In the last paragraph of Jeremy’s answer to you, he said, “Ultimately the solution to your problem comes down to a matter of priorities and timing.” I agree wholeheartedly.
You already realize that your parents have tried to put you in a position where you must choose between them or him, and I am glad that you have re-defined their false dichotomy by showing how you can love your parents and him at the same time. You have a different sort of love for each, so competition doesn’t come into it at all, no matter how your parents have conflated the concepts of religion, love, and loyalty to try and make it so.
Oh, Annie, like you, I so wish you and Jose could love each other openly. To do so will help you both in separating the chaff from the grain and realizing when the passion is a function of love and not a product of the adrenaline rush that comes when you hide your relationship from anyone, in this case, your parents.
I so wish I could tell you to be “more open to your parents” because you know them better than I do and my feeling is being open might be the worst thing you should be if you want to stay on track professionally and personally.
So, perhaps, the best I can tell you is to focus on logistics, particularly regarding waiting 5 years to give back to your parents. Five years can be a very long time to wait, given that you have waited for 5 years already. However, if any couple can do it, that would be you and Jose. The best of luck to you and him, Annie.
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