Hi all,

I know christmas 2012 is a ways off, but I'm already thinking about some issues that might arise and how to deal with it.

Background Info: My boyfriend and I have been together for 4 years, and we've lived together for 2.5 of those years, and we're both atheists (although he's still a bit closeted). We're very much together and in love and we were tired of spending so much time apart for the holidays.  Unfortunately, our families live 6 hours apart, so spending some time with each family for each holiday isn't exactly convenient. With that in mind, we decided to split the holidays; in 2012, I went to thanksgiving with his family and he came with me for christmas with family.  As you all know, thanksgiving isn't a religious holiday so there weren't any issues there, but christmas for both of our catholic families means going to church and reading from the bible, etc.  In 2012, I will be spending christmas with his family.  I no longer go to mass with my family, but he still goes with his.

Some Additional Background Info:

My family: For christmas we go down there for about 4 days, spend time together, play games, eat dinner, open gifts etc.  Basically for me, it's an excuse to bring us all together (especially for my brother who lives clear across the country).  My father still reads from the bible, they still pray, and my parents still go to mass.  For a while after I came out to my parents, I also participated in all of these activities (because that's what I was used to doing with them as family) - but then they used it as a tool to get what they wanted.  "You have to come with me to mass, it's mother's day," "it's father's day," "it's (insert some yearly occasion here no matter how trivial)." They weren't respecting my decision and I couldn't explain why I'd go for christmas and not mother's day, so I put my foot down and told them that I would no longer go to mass with them on any occasion, ever.  I've stuck with that, and they now respect that I do not participate in religious ritual (even though they'd still love me to).

His family:  He engages in active debate with his mother regarding skepticism and religion.  Since he hasn't come out and said, "I'm an atheist," she thinks that he's exploring but that he's still religious.  This has led to some conflict.  We started talking about getting married at some point in the future, and she suggested the mission.  My boyfriend let her know that if we did have a ceremony, we likely would not have it inside of a church.  He's said to me that he would have a church ceremony to make his parents happy, but I, on the other hand, refuse to have a religious wedding for various reasons but particularly because I think it would be confusing for my family.  Anyway, when he told her this, she flipped her lid for about week, saying thing like, "that girl ruined him."  Thankfully, it only took her a week to calm down and apologize (unlike the 3 months to year with my family). Despite these discussions and conflicts, I still don't think that they get how much of a skeptic and atheist he is in his day to day life.  She may expect us to all go to mass as a family for christmas,, as they always have in the past, and I understand that this changing would/will be difficult for her and that I'm the variable that's changing that in her mind.

So here are my choices for christmas 2012:

1) Politely decline when asked to go to mass, but let my boyfriend decide what he would like to do himself.  This is consistent with me, what I believe (or don't believe), and my past behavior, but it could lead to some conflict with my boyfriend and his family (which he may or may not be ready for).  I fear that if this is the year that he decides to stay back with me that I will once again be blamed for his actions, even if he makes the decision himself.

2) Go with them anyway (if that is what my boyfriend decides to do).  This keeps the peace for one more year (even though I think facing the issue is inevitable, I also think that it's his decision how he labels and works through things with his family, I would have hated it if someone pushed me to confront the issue with my family before I was ready).  However, if my parents find out that I went to mass with his family even though I do not go with them, they would likely be rather hurt and/or confused, which might just stir up the whole issue in my family all over again.

What do you think?  What would you do and why?

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Consider a third option.  Stay home for the holiday.  It will require less explanation, I think; and it sets a precedent that gets you both out of mass without him have to 'out' himself as an atheist.

Regarding marriage, the Catholic church won't sanction a marriage unless at least one spouse is Catholic.  Food for thought, and for the inevitable discussion with the in-laws.


I thought someone might bring up this third option :). While I agree that we could make that choice, we don't want to miss out on spending this time with our families simply because we do not agree with their religious beliefs.

That would be an excellent point with respect to marriage, but technically we are both confirmed catholics (we went through the process of confirmation in high school). I'm not aware of any formal process to "unconfirm" when you decide differently as adult, nor do I think I would bother.  I like the idea though, of educating myself a bit more on what my parents and his may believe regarding marriage in the church.  Might help me prepare for the discussion a bit better.

There is a proccess for formally leaving the Catholic Church, as a matter of fact. I'm not sure of the details, having never been confirmed in the Catholic church myselff, but I do recall reading about a formal procedure to leave the church. I also recall reading a followup article about how the Church has put a hold on processing these requests because they were getting too nummerous. :D

As for your Christmas mass problem, you didn't say if your boyfriend's family is aware of your lack of belief or not. He may not be out, but if you are then it should not be a surprise to anyone if you decline attending.

I figured there might be.  The Catholic church seems to have a formal process for everything.  They are aware that I'm an atheist, but I sometimes wonder if they really understand how this might affect such situations.  This doubt comes from his mother's, "that girl ruined him," response when he told her that should we marry it would not be in a church.  His family lives in a small town on 10 acres in central California.  They have little to no experience with atheism.  I think his mother (his father doesn't really seem to care) thinks that it means that you don't believe now but you still go through all of the motions for your family because you will again one day.  That aside, I don't think she'd be terribly upset if I declined, but I do think that it'll be hard for her if my boyfriend ever declines (and that I might be partly blamed at first).  Coming out to my family was no picnic, and sometimes I dread going through it all again with his family.  Not enough to revert back to making everyone but me happy, but still not something I look forward to while it lasts.

I'd definitely recommend talking with your boyfriend about this and make sure that he knows that this is making you nervous. Then you two can decide on the best course of action together. If he decided to skip mass, he may be able to deflect some of his mother's inevitable upset from you if you have it planned out in advance.

Looked it up.  It looks like you could, at one time, officially defect: Count Me Out.  I had never even thought about that.  Thanks so much for the advice.  He knows and we do talk about it, and I understand that it makes him sad a bit.  He's big on tradition and his family goes to the mission together every xmas.  I think it was something he once thought that he'd share with me one day.  They all talk about how beautiful it is and how much they love the music.  Letting go is never easy.  If it weren't for my family, I honestly wouldn't mind going.  We have plenty of time, so hopefully we'll be in a good place when the time comes.  I was thinking of asking him to let me talk to his mother beforehand.  A conversation might be less emotionally charged between me and her than her and her son.

I can understand the tradition aspect. When I visit my grandmother for the holidays, the entire family goes to the Christmas evening service. I go along as well, mainly because it means so much to my grandmother and because I usually have family performing in the various skits, songs, etc. I try to tune out the preachy parts or construct counter-arguments in my head. :)

It'd be different if I had a girlfriend/fiance who didn't want to attend, however. Good luck!

I used the coutmeout process.  It's quite simple.  Message me if you want more info.

Stuff like this just serves as a reminder to be thankful toward the fact that I am not married. Too much unnecessary compromise involved.

Well, they have not even married yet …

I comprehend that you hesitate because of family relationships and the emotional stress that comes with any kind of conflict as to them. You should consider the following for a moment, however: By continuously adapting to other people’s expectations, wishes and feelings, you value their ways of life higher than your partner’s and your own. Your partner and you have a right to live your lives your own way, and all your relatives’ happiness combined is not more important than your partner’s and your own happiness.
When I told my parents that I do not believe in God and anything related to Him any longer, and refused to go to church with them on Christmas as well as on other occasions, my father first got angry. Then I wrote an essay of about twenty pages in which I explained my reasons for my disbelief. After they had read it, neither of my parents has ever since approached me in an angry or disappointed way about religion again.

Update: I'm shocked, but everything is absolutely fine! :)

I've held on to the hurt and disrespect I felt when I first told my parents that I did not believe as they do for far too long now.  I spoke to my boyfriend's mother by sharing what she already knew about me and my family and then opening floor for discussion.  She told me that she would completely support anything I felt I needed to do.  I was touched by her understanding of the situation so much so that I told her I would speak with my mother first before making a decision.  I called my mom and told her that I was considering going this year and asked her how she felt and...WARNING: You're About To Enter The TWILIGHT ZONE...my mother told me that she's always respected my decisions and that she'd be find with whatever I chose!  I remember things very differently (see my coming out story), but I haven't really spoken about any of it with them since.  Was I hurt by the way my parents reacted at first? Absolutely.  Is it important to hold on to that now that they're in a different place? Not in the least.  My mom, without her usual you-decide-but-I'll-make-you-feel-guilty-if-you-don't-do-it-my-way tone, said that she wouldn't be hurt either way and that she wouldn't expect me to start going with our family in years to come.  I'm not sure exactly what I'll decide to do, but at least now I feel free to choose.


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