This week GG pointed me to an article on Slate.com in which Dear Prudence gives meh advice* to a devout Christian woman whose husband of four years converted from atheism to Wicca. Jason at The Wild Hunt already wrote detailing why the advice of Emily Yoffe, Dear Prudence’s author, was not only bad advice but offensive, so I won’t go into that. I’ve also seen a few places around the ‘net where Pagans have basically said the woman (who called herself “Wife of Pagan”) needs to suck it up and accept her husband’s change, which, in theory, would be a nice pat answer. However, having been through this personally, I know it’s not that easy. In support of those who may be going through something similar, I’ll spend the next three weeks telling TheScott and my story of how we navigated my conversion (spoiler: we didn’t just “get over it”) sprinkled with some hard-earned advice.
I had been questioning my Christian faith for a couple years before I met TheScott. The year before we got married, though, certain interactions with various churches made it clear to me how much I don’t philosophically have in common with the Christian theology of Heaven and Hell and salvation from sin through sacrifice of the Son. As theological resonance is important to me, I started exploring other faiths and found new ideas I felt called to explore, like goddess worship, magic, and nature spirituality. I couldn’t pursue these paths from the name “Christian” without feeling I was living a lie. But it wasn’t until the year after TheScott and I married that I got up the courage to do something about this calling.
I already knew TheScott and I faced challenges as a Protestant/Catholic household. When I realized I had to tell him we were a Pagan/Catholic household, I was terrified. Contrary to what I’ve seen other authors argue regarding Yoffe’s advice, I did feel like I was making a breach of our marriage contract. TheScott was prepared for a certain level of interfaith challenge, and here I was throwing him an epic curveball eight months into our marriage. To deny my conversion was a big deal to us as a married couple is to deny being a Pagan in modern society carries with it any challenges or that raising kids in our faith (or in an interfaith household) can be tricky. I didn’t feel I could stay with the faith I had professed when I married TheScott, but when I converted I changed the expectations my husband had for our life together in a big way. I am fortunate I married somebody strong enough to handle it.
We were in a hotel room when I told him. I’d been a bridesmaid in my old college roommate’s wedding, and I had nearly passed out at the ceremony that evening (literally; I had to sit down on the first pew because blackness was encroaching on my sight). TheScott was his typical heroic self, vaulting over three rows of pews to get to me. I don’t know why I chose that night to tell him, if it was something in our conversation after the reception, if it was attending a wedding and the emotional wringer that always sends, or if I was still light-headed from my first-and-only near-fainting episode. After my choked out announcement he held me and said we’d figure it out, but I could tell he was wigged. I think I was crying, too. It was a mess. That night, though, TheScott proved to me for the first time, but not for the last, how deeply committed he is to preserving our relationship.
And that’s my first and biggest piece of advice for couples dealing with religious conversion. You have to make a decision about how important the relationship is to you. It isn’t easy, not at first anyway, but your marriage can be stronger and your life richer for working through this together. But you have to be committed to accepting each other as you are and not as you want your partner to be. You can’t tell somebody else what religion to be. Either they feel it or they don’t, and if they don’t feel it you can’t force it on them.
This brings up one of the things Wife of Pagan said in her letter to Dear Prudence. One of her concerns was that her husband was “pressuring her to give what he does a chance.” I’m not certain what she meant by that. If she meant he wants her to give his personal conversion a chance before she decides to end the relationship, then I would advise her to do so. If Wicca makes him a happier, more fulfilled person then their relationship will be the better for it. If he’s asking her to learn more about his new faith to alleviate her fears and help her understand why he’s doing what he’s doing, then that’s a reasonable request, too. She’ll likely feel a lot better about his choices if she educates herself instead of relying on misconceptions about Paganism that are still all-too-common. If, on the other hand, she meant he’s encouraging her to consider converting to Wicca herself… well, that gives me deep concerns about the husband and possible concerns about what sort of group he’s gotten himself into. Real Pagan groups do not encourage their members to evangelize.
I have never, ever tried to get TheScott to convert. Just as I want him to respect my religious decisions, I respect his. He likes being Catholic, and so a Catholic he will be. It is not my job to question why he chooses to be Catholic, what he gets out of it, or if he is selecting his religion for the same reasons I am selecting mine. He is happy and he respects my choices, and those are the only two things that concern me. (Same goes for my friends and the rest of my family.)
If the husband is evangelizing, it’s possible he’s doing it without his coven’s encouragement. Restraining yourself from running around like a crazy evangelist can be hard sometimes for the new convert. We feel like we’ve found this joyful freedom, this new truth, and this better way of existing and we want to share it with those we love so they can be as happy as we are. But this is a fundamental fallacy too many people get caught up in. Humans mostly want the same feelings – love, security, adventure, success – but we all get those feelings from different things and in different ways. What makes one person feel fulfilled is not necessarily what makes the next person feel fulfilled. To love somebody is to help them get what makes them happy, not what would make you happy. Respecting a person means respecting their right to judge what is best for their own life. Any close relationship without love and respect will have a hard time succeeding.
The need to hold strongly to that love and respect goes both ways to Wife of Pagan and her Wiccan husband. If their marriage is going to work, she needs to accept his decision to convert and he cannot pressure her into converting with him. If they cannot respect each other enough to let the other make their own decision in this matter, then the marriage is never going to be as happy as it once was. If they can find the respect to accept the choices of the other one, then, like TheScott and I, they will find their marriage is stronger and more loving for it.
Next week I’ll talk about personal changes and the importance of communication. Meanwhile, does anybody in The Realm have a coming out to their partner story they want to share? I’d also be interested to hear stories from the other side!
* A lot of Pagans have had far stronger words than “meh” for Yoffe’s advice. Personally, I found the cartoon offensive, but the advice itself, while snarky, wasn’t, IMO, all that terrible. She didn’t say break up with him, she recommended they see a neutral counselor, and ended by saying that if the wife can’t accept her husband as a Wiccan, the marriage is over. Which… is true. The cartoon was obnoxious. Her advice was snarky (although I kinda like snarky, so I try not to be too bugged when it’s snarking at me ). But while the advice lacked depth (hence the meh) I don’t think it was atrocious.
+ Featured Image: Wedding Rings 2 by FireMedic58