Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: My boyfriend of three years proposed to me 10 months ago. I wasn’t ready; he’s been patient. He’s now eager to know one way or the other and neither of us wants to waste more time (early 30s), but I am completely torn.
I feel like he is my soul mate and we connect on an otherworldly level. In a vacuum, this would be bliss.
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But I hesitate to commit fully because I am religious and he does not want to participate, even for my sake. I am also very spiritual and have a hard time saying yes to a life where I know I will not grow and connect spiritually/religiously with my spouse.
I’ve tried therapy, we’ve tried giving each other space, and we’ve tried living our lives together until I arrive at an eventual conclusion, none of which has worked. This is tearing us apart, as individuals and as a couple. What now?
— To Commit, or Not to Commit?
DEAR TO COMMIT, OR NOT TO COMMIT?: Since you’ve tried everything else, the only remaining choice is to leave for good — not “give each other space,” but exit decisively enough for you both to start healing and building new lives without each other.
For the sake of argument, though: You say, “we connect on an otherworldly level” — and then, “I know I will not grow and connect spiritually/religiously with my spouse.” Which is it?
“On an otherworldly level” and “spiritually” sound like the same connection to me. That would mean your sole disconnection is organized religion — and while that’s clearly no small thing to you, it’s also not fair to assume spiritual growth with him is a nonstarter. But then, I don’t believe people need religion to be spiritual; if you believe otherwise, then we’re back to Paragraph 1.
CAROLYN: You are correct in equating “otherworldly” and “spiritual” connections. I think it boils down to two issues I can’t get past: I feel like I am not getting the spiritual nourishment I need to deepen my faith and live a more fulfilling life, plus there’s the prospect of being the only parent providing a religious example and education for future kids.
But are those enough to end an otherwise wonderful relationship?
— Commit or Not, again
DEAR COMMIT OR NOT, AGAIN: If he was raised in a church community and then encouraged to decide for himself, maybe he’d agree to the same for your kids. He’d need to figure out where conscientious child-rearing leaves off and faking it begins, but it’s worth exploring.
You’d also have to prepare for these someday kids to opt out of your beliefs, but every parent faces that prospect, with any belief.
On the connection issue: Every marriage leaves some hunger unsatisfied — religious, intellectual, physical, or just a compatible definition of fun. It’s not realistic to expect everything from one person; we can only hold out for our priorities and do without the things we won’t miss too badly.
And we can decide whether it’s realistic to seek this missing nourishment outside the marriage. If you’re literature-starved, you join a book group; if you’re sex-starved, your choices aren’t quite so straightforward.
Ultimately, though, it’s about being true to yourself and fair to him; it’s a tough decision, it’s yours to make, and your grace period is up.