It's A Pleasure

My Boyfriend & I Don't Agree On Religion. Are We Doomed To Break Up?

I love him, but I'll never be the devout partner he deserves.

Caroline Wurtzel/Bustle; Melika Tursic Musinovic/Stocksy

Q: I am 21 and my boyfriend is 25, we have been together for a little over a year, and I love him very much. I currently live abroad to study and I’m finishing my degree this year. We have therefore had a primarily long-distance relationship, but this works well for us as we are both homebodies and we enjoy playing video games and interacting with each other as such.

I have been having doubts recently about our relationship and they are making me feel really stressed and anxious. The primary issue is religion — namely, he is religious and I am not. He is a Muslim, and aside from the dating before marriage, he is strict, he prays, abides by the dietary rules, the clothing rules, and is currently fasting for Ramadan. His religion is really important to him and I love that he cares about it and that it brings him joy. I am an extremely strong atheist. I cannot see a future for myself where I am happy having a religious wedding, or trying to raise children to believe in something that I fundamentally disagree with. But I also do not see a future where I can ask him to celebrate Ramadan, and pray, and make his pilgrimage to Mecca alone. I believe that he deserves to have and love someone who values religion the way he does, someone who can raise children within his faith, and I know that this will never be me. We don't discuss it anymore after we had some arguments about it, but it has become all I can think about.

I know if I told him that, he would try and reassure me or tell me we can work it out and that makes me feel worse, because I do not see a compromise here. He'll most likely want to marry and have children in the next five years, which I'm already not sure I'm ready for but more so I feel insanely guilty for feeling like this.

There are also smaller doubts I have, such as his family's disapproval of him dating, let alone a non-Muslim, and also the fact that I want to continue to study and travel and I'm not sure if a long-distance committed relationship will suit this. But whenever I think about discussing this with him, I can just imagine him crying and it breaks my heart in two. I love him, my parents love him, we have so much in common, and I trust him with my whole heart. I just don't know how to or if it's even possible to reconcile what appears to me to be something so fundamentally at odds with long-term compatibility. I believe that relationships can be fun and happy and they don't need to be permanently centered on the potential future, but I believe it would be unfair to him if I decided I couldn't be with him long-term but didn't know how to tell him.

A: I’m very glad you mentioned that you think relationships can have value even if they aren’t future-focused. The meaningfulness of a relationship isn’t measured on time spent together; forever love isn’t the only valid or the most worthy love. If you do decide to end this relationship, I want you to know that it does not at all erase or diminish the love that was and is there. That’s not what the end of a relationship is or even can be. A breakup doesn't change the past, only the future.

It sounds like, for the sake of both of your futures, this relationship might need to end.

Interfaith relationships are possible, common, and wonderful. In 2015, the Pew Research Center reported that 39% of then-recent weddings in the U.S. were between interfaith couples. I do not think that differences in faith are deal-breakers by any stretch of the imagination. I do, however, think that you two are on wildly different pages about a whole heck of a lot of stuff, religion included.

Long-distance relationships need to be way stronger than the average bond because they don’t have the easy, little daily intimacies to carry you. They require more communication and more work. And they require a shared concept of the future. Fundamentally, I think you two have different visions of life and family. As you said, those things are not very easily compromisable — unless you do some weird Parent Trap sh*t like let him raise half of your kids in the next couple years religiously and then you raise the other half a decade from now as atheists. Many families have multiple religious influences or understand that one of their parents believes something and the other doesn’t. Kids within the same family have varying degrees of belief all the time; that part isn’t a huge stretch for me.

What is a stretch is the degree of difference you feel about this topic and the lack of conversation you guys have been able to have about it. I do not think it’s a failure on your guys' part to not be able to sort this stuff out. I think you both have known the truth for a while, which is, clinically speaking, “this is f*cked.” Loving someone who is incompatible with your life is one of the most painful experiences you can have. It’s the harsh lesson that love isn’t enough. Love can’t make one of you change your values. You two are simply in love and on different life paths.

I’m going to say something that’s super annoying to hear, and I’m going to do my best to make it not sound condescending. This part of your life, your early 20s, is the time to mess things up and be a little reckless and self-centered with your choices. Don’t aim to hurt people, but it’s OK to be ruthless with building the life you want. This age is filled with situations like the one you’re in, where on the one hand, things could continue along uninterrupted and possibly turn into The Rest of Your Life if you do nothing, but also is this too young to start the rest of my life??? I urge you to do the scary things, to uproot sh*t, to really intentionally build out the next year of your life the way you want to live. The Rest of Your Life will occur no matter what; it will come. A lot of it will be thrilling and a lot of it will be you pretending you know what to do in an office setting. Now is the time to take some risks. You do not get to come back and do your 20s again but more fun this time.

I believe you know all of this already, and that you are seeking out reassurance that it’s OK to leave. I think it is! You are not evil for breaking both of your hearts. I think this because you say that the idea of him crying stops you. You don’t mention that this devastates you, or cuts off the life you have always intended to live. Of course, I know you’ll be sad too — terribly, horribly, unbelievably sad for a while. But it sounds like you’ve been slowly getting used to the unacceptable truth of needing to end this. You’ve been testing the ice on the frozen pond.

Believe me, please: it will suck for a bit. You will probably feel guilty and shameful and angry with yourself for ending something that didn’t have to end just yet. Try to remember that going your separate ways might be the kindest choice for you both. Neither of you deserves the burden of making the impossible work. You each deserve the ease of building a life with someone with shared visions of the future. You deserve love that feels like, “Ahh, yes, of course,” rather than, “How the heck do we make this work?”

I guarantee you that your life after the breakup will be full again. It will be full of laughter and fun and travel and making out on a dance floor and watching stupid TV shows with your friends. I promise you. It will be so, so, so, so good. This will hurt for a bit. And then, one day not as far in the future as you might think, it will be miraculous.

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