Dear Thomas,
I'm 23 and have fallen in love with a Jehovah's Witness. We've been together every day for 6 months. He hasn't practiced his religion since he was 21 (he is now almost 29). But he says he will more than likely go back to it when he has a family. I grew up Catholic, with holidays, and my family would be very upset if I threw our family holiday time away as well as possibly becoming a Jehovah's Witness. He really won't budge too much or compromise, but says he's in love with me. What should I do?

Dear Ashley,
Falling in love is a creative kind of craziness. You lose perspective, become obsessed, and do silly things. It’s a delicious experience that can make you feel alive and happy. I think of it as one time in life when your deep, mysterious soul takes precedence over your practical mind, and that’s a good thing. But this state of being in love is not a good one for decision-making. Eventually, you have to see through the fog of romantic love to the nuts and bolts of an enduring relationship, if the love-madness is heading toward marriage.

I think people often overdo the requirement of compatibility. Marriage is, by definition, a union of different worlds. It isn’t just a living arrangement worked out by two rational, conscious people. At every wedding, families and friends also get married, for better or worse. You bring your family and your memories of childhood with you to the relationship, as does your partner. It’s all quite complicated and deep.

One crucial element of a solid relationship is respect for each other’s background, beliefs, attachments, and hopes. This is especially true when it comes to religion. While some people happily convert to their partner’s religious tradition, just as often differences in belief cause conflict. Your man doesn’t sound willing to respect your beliefs and traditions. The way you celebrate holidays is important. They give you security, tradition, and meaning. It may be important to your future happiness not to give them up.

Your letter, frankly, sounds a bit naïve about these things. You say your family would be upset if you didn’t celebrate the holidays, but you don’t indicate how you would feel. I don’t feel the force of your convictions in your letter, but I do clearly sense the strength of your boyfriend’s beliefs.

Maybe the only way you will know what to do about this relationship is to get more in touch with your own feelings and ideas about religion and about raising children. Then engage your partner in some real heart-to-heart dialogue. If it turns out that he’s a person who can budge, then you can probably predict a successful future with him. For myself, I can’t imagine being in a budge-less marriage. Marriage is all about budging and allowing room for two thoughtful and complicated adults to work out their lives in love and real companionship.

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