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He's Mormon, I'm Not--Can Our Relationship Survive? Ask Harry and Louise
Our husband-and-wife team advises a woman wondering whether she and her new beau can get past their religious differences.
By Harry Jaffe, Louise Jaffe
Comments () | Published April 5, 2012

Dear Harry and Louise,

I am a single woman in my thirties. I recently spent a week with a girlfriend whom I have known for more than ten years. While I was in her hometown, we went out to a bar. I met a wonderful man there and we ended up spending much of the week together. We connected in a way I haven't experienced since my college days. We laughed, we talked, we shared our personal histories. We had great sex, and it seemed as if we could not get enough of each other.

Well, we shared most of our personal histories. It turns out he left out a big part: He is Mormon. He says he wants to continue seeing me, even though we live several hours apart. I am not particularly religious, and I am completely respectful of others' religious beliefs. The problem is that every conversation involves his guilt about being with me. He wants to discuss me becoming a Mormon (not going to happen). He thinks we can be together as long as I am open to discussing his religion. I really think I could love this man. Why does religion have to keep us apart? How do I approach this conversation with him?

• • •

HARRY SAYS:

Patience.

Being the hopeless romantic, I do believe love can win out, but in this case the odds are long. The two things that cause conflict in a long-term relationship, beyond sex, are money and religion. It's best to share values on both matters as you build the foundation of a lasting bond.

I fear Mormonism is a religion where one has to be all in. I'm not sure tolerance and coexistence are possible--as they can sometimes be in intermarriage between Christians and Jews. I have plenty of experience on that score.

If there is no chance that you would become a Mormon, what are the chances that he would break with the faith--and the family? Seems unlikely, as you describe him.

Back to patience. See if your love affair can develop over time before you confront the nettlesome questions of religion. If you still can't manage to find a way to settle the matter, I'm afraid you will have to chalk it up to the Mormon you once loved.

• • •

LOUISE SAYS:

The connection you share sounds great. Except for the G-word: guilt. I don't care if this man is a Catholic, a Muslim, a druid, an agnostic, or a Mormon--he associates being with you with the corrosive emotion of guilt.

That being said, it sounds as if he's willing to discuss his religion and your different views about religion. I believe you when you say this connection is special and worth trying to maintain. I believe he wants to maintain this connection as well. Please be honest with him that you will never be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, but you will try to keep an open mind about his religious beliefs. Assure him you welcome discussions about his church. Be clear that while your views remain constant, you will try to remain respectful of his church and his beliefs.

If he tells you the relationship cannot move forward unless you change your views, then believe him. Let him go with a smile and a positive word. This does not need to be a battle of the best religion.

If he says he can open his heart to a non-Mormon woman, then believe him. If this proves too difficult for him because of the other people in his life, then you will still need to be prepared to say goodbye.

I believe a deep and profound love for another person can smooth out the most jagged of differences (though there are probably many marital counselors holding their heads in disbelief at this thought). I'm currently reading about the marriage of the deeply religious Emma Wedgwood and Charles Darwin. They made each other's hearts sing despite their inability to agree on whether they would see each other in heaven.

You may have stumbled into a romance hindered by too many impediments to ever fully find its legs. Keep talking, keep being respectful, and, most important, keep being honest about who you are and what you are willing to accept.

• • •

HARRY SAYS:

Romantic Darwinism says this relationship might not be fit to survive, despite the sweet tale of Charles and Emma.

• • •

LOUISE SAYS:

Darwin spoke about "nature as war," and said those species that could adapt best to their surroundings would win the war. It could be that this is a "love as war" matter, in which the man is willing to adapt in order to let love grow in his environment. Or it could be the case of a woman who adapts to the realization that she loves a man who will always be more devoted to his faith than to her--and leaves.

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  • Louise Jaffe

    And to Pete--no contrivance here. This gentleman will not be the first to stray from his religious doctrine. He was not a drunken slop and he is not "falling in the sack" with every available female who crosses his path. OK, he may not be the perfect model of Mormon behavior, but I got no sense that he was a nefarious rogue. I believe the letter writer that the two share very loving feelings for each other, so my answer followed that belief. I also believe that Mitt is one of the smartest people in politics today. I also believe that there should be no religious test to run for political office.
    This may create a firestorm, so here goes: I fear that this coming election will involve many discussions about a Mormon opposing a Muslim. Or a devout Baptist versus a Mormon. That is a sad commentary on how far we have strayed from our Founding Fathers' demand that there be a separation of church and state.
    So Pete; be gentler on our Mormon boy in love, and electorate; follow the issues and do not become constrained by religion.

  • Louise Jaffe

    Been There is the most experience voice on this one. She makes the great point that no matter how open minded the girl is, it will not change the fact that her new beau is part of a religion with very high and specific standards. If he decides to stay in the faith (and it sounds like this is his intention) her open mindedness will need to include adopting most of his culture---including raising the children as Mormons. This is so much to be considered. I agree with Been There, this is not hopeless, but there are considerations beyond just being open-minded.

  • Stracypete

    As an active "mormon" man myself since childhood, this whole thing seems contrived by Harry and Louise. A mormon or "latter-day saint" Christian would not: (1) spend time in a bar (would orthodox Jews hang out in a pork BBQ joint? I think not). (2) They would not fall into the sack with a woman they just met for a week, as it violates the Lord's commandments on chastity, which is one of the most serious commandments to break. So a guy who really cares about being mormon would violate two serious commandments in this vignette? It's frankly ridicioulus. I wonder if this isn't contrived to try and help frame the Presidential election with Mitt Romney being a mormon, and for a way for Harry and Louise to join the conspiratorial cabal of liberal journalists in making Mormons seem "weird?" Just saying.....

  • Been There

    I can tell you from dating more than a couple wonderful Mormon men (I'm a liberal Protestant)...this will not work. I'm sure he's great, and for everything that's right about the relationship...unless you're willing to convert, this will almost certainly end in heartbreak.

    Louise is right about the guilt aspect; that won't go away, and it will hurt both of you. The Mormon church is as much a culture as a faith, and while he seems to be rejecting that culture in part (with the booze and sex), it's very, very difficult for a lot of members to completely leave the church, particularly because religion can become more important for people as they get older. If you've lived life without being very religious, the Mormon church can be a big change, and you need to educate yourself on the faith, the institutional expectations, and the culture. You should also reflect on your own beliefs, why you have them, whether you're willing to fundamentally change them, and if not, why not.

    You need to have an extremely frank discussion about his expectations, and be honest with yourself about yours. Are you willing to raise a family within his church? Are you really willing to adopt that belief system? Are you willing to engage with that culture? If not, will he feel more guilt for failing to meet the standards of the church? Are you both willing to stand up for each other when someone else takes issue with the other's faith (or lack thereof)?

    There are success stories, of course. But they are extremely difficult to come by and maintain. I know it's hard to accept when you are over the moon for someone, especially when you know you can be open minded about something like faith. I just offer extreme caution based on my own years of experience and heartbreak stemming from this same situation.

    Good luck to both of you.

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Posted at 11:00 AM/ET, 04/05/2012 RSS | Print | Permalink | Comments () | Washingtonian.com Blogs