So I'm not really sure why I suddenly want to write this, but I do, so... here it goes...

First, some background.
I was fortunate enough to be raised by two of the most tolerant and considerate parents I've ever met. My mom was raised Catholic in French Canada, and my dad became Jewish during college, when he met his first wife. When he met my mom, he already had two kids, 7 and 3, who had been raised so far to be Jewish. My parents agreed that they would continue raising their family Jewish (but my mom did demand a Christmas tree!). As I grew up with my half-brother and half-sister, there was definitely a bit of what I now realize was indoctrination, but never at the expense of critical thinking or learning about the world, understanding, questioning, and just plain thinking.

As we grew up, I slowly became aware of my own uncertainty about this whole "religion" thing, and eventually stopped wanting to go to religious events, then grew more uncomfortable with saying prayers over the dinner table, and eventually at any events period. Basically, by middle school I had gradually allowed myself to realize that I was atheist, which never really bothered me since from my perspective I was just analyzing the world and thinking rationally. I'd come to the conclusion that religion just couldn't be right, with how many different varieties and conflicts and contradictions there were. I was happy with my atheism. I was secure.

Flash forward to the end of my first year of college.
I meet my amazing girlfriend of, now, > 2.5 years, who is wonderfully tolerant, understanding, shares almost all of my ideas about the world, and also has a Catholic mother, like mine. Except... not like mine at all. Her mother is CATHOLIC. "Birth control is evil," "praise the Pope," "sin, sin, guilt, guilt, hell-fire," and, while more liberal than her numerous siblings, rather bigoted about "different" people. Did I mention they're Filipino? That might help to explain the uber-Catholicism a bit.

Unsurprisingly, the first time I met her aunts (who are all very close to her mother and visit regularly), my girlfriend mentioned that I could not, under any circumstances, even so much as think the word "atheist" around her family. Understanding that some people would seriously hyper-react to that word, I said I understood, covered up my innate unease at disguising what I felt was my "self," and went with the cleverly-worded, non-lie cover story "I was raised Jewish." (The actual question I was asked, in the second sentence I ever received from her aunt was, "Are you Catholic?")

The assumption that it was "Catholic" or "other," the tone she said it, the importance she seemed to levy on the answer to that question... I was really hurt, though I didn't let it show.

I was never really satisfied with any "defense" for why she asked me that (and I can still hear her asking me that in my head, clear as that first moment...), but I played my part, because I had been warned that if anyone got even a whiff of "atheist," not only would my girlfriend receive a severe scolding, but I would be banned from ever even seeing or talking to her again, and (here's the part that really pisses me off about this) she would be thrown out of her parents' house for dating me and knowing I was atheist. If they knew who I really was, they would treat me worse than pond scum. So I lie to them. I lie to their faces. I even told my girlfriend I was okay with joining them for Christmas midnight masses the first two winters, though this last year I was just too exhausted to go and finally told her how much it bothered me to go. (It was my being exhausted that got her to let me stay home, though, not my unease...)

I trust my girlfriend. I know that she's just got our mutual best interest at heart when she pushes me to join her family for religious events, or when I have to lie directly to her parents' faces about who I am so they feel like I'm a human being like them. But having to lie so regularly, so often, about something so trivial yet so integral to who I am, has just been weighing down on me over these years, and I'm just getting tired of it all.

I keep imagining what would happen if I did tell them. We'll go months without them doing anything bigoted or prejudicial, and I'll start to feel more (secretly) welcome around them, but just as I'm getting the feeling that I might be able to tell them, something will happen that will trigger her mom to say something so callous, so hurtful, and also so automatic and insistent, that I fall back to square one.

I don't want to lie to them for the rest of our lives together, just to ensure they still consider me "human" and "worthy" of being with their daughter. I hate being dishonest like this. My own mom is a bit of an innocent blabber-mouth, and because of that and the fact that I can confide my secrets in her, I've had to deny my girlfriend's mom's repeated, and increasingly forceful, "requests" to meet my parents. Yeah: I've hid myself and my entire family from her parents, because of how they would react if they learned anything about the real me.

I hate this, and I just don't know what to do about it anymore. I want to just sit down with them and talk, explain everything, and (at least try to) convince them that I'm still the same great guy that I was before I told them about my lack of belief in an invisible sky-man. I want to trust that their humanity will win out over their own indoctrinations and they will make an exception for me, since they know me (otherwise) so well by now. I want to believe (heh...) that they are accepting, tolerant people deep down, and telling them "I am an atheist" wouldn't drive them forever away from me (and worse, from their own daughter). But I cannot tell them, because they would not react the was I would hope. They would not accept me for who I am. They would suddenly snap and call me a devil-worshiper, or a god-hater, or a corrupter, or some other ridiculous nonsense stemmed purely from hearing a single, seven-letter word.

I just don't know what to do about this anymore. I don't want to keep on lying, but... I don't have the choice.

– J

Views: 898

Comment by Julian Fiander on March 23, 2013 at 5:42pm

Thank you all for your responses, I'll try my best to respond as necessary.

Adam: I didn't deliberately choose her (with her family), though I did deliberately agree to hide my atheism from them. But it's not out of shame -- she isn't afraid to tell anyone else about who I am, not does it in any way bother her. It's out of fear of what her family's (over)reaction will be. She honestly did not know that attending the religious events bothered me as much as it did -- she did know it made me uncomfortable, but I convinced her (frankly, to let her not worry) that it was alright. I know, first steps down a dark road...

David: I'd rather not have to wait for or count on that to be able to be open about who I am...

Belle: Yeah, I know. Ultimately, it's more for how they'll treat their daughter after they find out that worries me the most. Their most likely (read: definite) reaction would be to make her choose between me and her family, which is not a decision she could make and stay sane.

Diane: I think, honestly, that I'd be okay with just being honest with them and letting their reactions fly around... but again, my girlfriend would stand to lose her family in that mess...

Gregg: But what if you do love the family you didn't ask for in your life, except they impose this decision on you, between love and love?

Unseen: My family fits the friendly bill perfectly, which unfortunately biases me in favor of just being honest with hers and letting they espouse what they will. But I can't just tell my girlfriend, "My family will be enough, we don't need yours too." :-/

Blaine: If I could get out of this closet and live like that, I would be happy. I don't need them to agree with who I am, I just need them to accept (or even as little as not violently reject) who I am.

Strega: My girlfriend's mom has already disowned her elder daughter for not respecting the family above herself and her own (admittedly, messed up). Half of the family refuses to speak to or in any way contact her, and they don't recognize her existence. If she had been living at home when that happened, she would have been kicked out the front door with whatever she could carry. That seems like a pretty bad "worst" to me...

Steve: She has one gay cousin (that we know about), and the entire elder family is actively oblivious to that fact. He's been living out on the east coast for years now, just to avoid social situations and awkward confrontations. It's like they want to seem tolerant when it doesn't matter, but then show their true colors when it does.

Doug: If it were up to me, I would. If put in the situation of both of her daughters threatening to abandon the family, I feel like something might click in her mom's head, and she'd put aside her predilections and just deal with (or ignore, fine by me) the situation at hand. Or she could snap. She does so love to snap. :-/

Comment by Jorita on March 23, 2013 at 6:14pm

I can only say this, it is tiring to pretend to be something or someone your not, And can I ask this if your family were Atheist and you asked her to pretend not to be a christian if you go and visit them How would that make her feel? My partner is a christian I told him the first time religion came up that I am Atheist. His mother was in tears when he told her and he made it very clear to them that he lives with me not them, that he cares for me regardless of what I don't believe. And I do respect the fact that he could do this for me

Comment by Julian Fiander on March 23, 2013 at 6:21pm

Jorita: Unfortunately for my understanding of this whole situation, I was raised by a family that would never even pretend to care about others' religion. My mom is "Catholic" but hasn't done anything religious in >20 years; my dad is Jewish, and quietly follows along to prayers at special occasions; my sister is a self-proclaimed "Agnostic Jew" (Jewish culturally, agnostic -- with strong lack-of-any-evidence roots -- regarding gods); my brother married a converted Jew, who is the most serious about religion among us all -- and she even only uses Judaism as a guideline to live by. I've never understood fully how people can be so biased in their thinking by religion... It's just so absurd to me.

Comment by Unseen on March 23, 2013 at 9:33pm

@Julian  My family fits the friendly bill perfectly, which unfortunately biases me in favor of just being honest with hers and letting they espouse what they will. But I can't just tell my girlfriend, "My family will be enough, we don't need yours too." :-/

Well, since it will come out eventually anyway (these things always do), you might as well get it out in the open while you have more options rather than after you are married and the options are more limited.

Comment by Barry Adamson on March 23, 2013 at 10:56pm

A college buddy of mine was/is agnostic (I say this because he follows the teachings of the Dali Lama now, but he is not really Buddhist.  He did not change for the following reason, but it did make an impact on his view about the existence of God).  A few years He was in the same boat you are in. The girl he was dating came from a family of very staunch, conservative Southern Baptists.  The relationship between he and the girl became very serious - he was going to ask the young woman to marry him.  But by about that time, the parents found out he was agnostic.  Rather than be welcoming and accepting of his view point (or at least agree to disagree).  The parents of the young woman effectively and authoritatively ended his relationship with the their daughter by telling him that he was not welcome in their house or family.  They then removed the girl as a student from the college and shipped her off to some secluded religious school in Georgia to ensure that they would never see each other again.  It shattered him to pieces, and I was appalled by the parents' behavior.  This might be the worse that could happen.

Hopefully, this does not happen to you, but you must realize that there will always be people in your life who simply will not accept you because of your belief system or lack thereof.  People will leave you, some might abandon you, and others might betray you.  If there is any fear that the relationship between you and this girl teeters on her parents' acceptance of you, it might be best for you to just come out with it and say who you really are.  Otherwise you will be living a lie and relationships never last long on lies.  Why live with this uncertainty? It only breeds a false sense of security and in turn feeds into the false perception as to who you really are.  You will feel alone most of the time, and you will have to hide your true self to others.  Do you really want that for yourself?

Comment by Julian Fiander on March 24, 2013 at 9:22pm

Archaeopteryx: We've actually discussed exactly that. We could "just tell them," but she knew that she would always resent me for it, and that would probably kill whatever part of our relationship survived that sundering right there.

Ironically, the 'kids being raised Catholic' thing is less of an issue, since my girlfriend followed her (British) dad and became Episcopalian during childhood, and is relatively open to discussion of how we might eventually raise kids (though she still occasionally says weird things, like that she would contribute her Christianity and I would contribute my Judaism, not atheism, because she wouldn't want our kids to be separated from her family either (read: raised atheist, despite her being otherwise unprejudiced). That never really settled well with me, to this day. We mostly avoid this topic while it remains irrelevant to our lives at the moment.

Unrelated extenuating circumstances aside, we can both see ourselves staying together for the long-haul. We love spending our lives together, and are merely in the working-out-the-kinks phase right now, making sure we maintain some measure of alone time and try to prevent communication breakdowns. I find myself almost hoping that her parents would confront me about it, both taking the stress of deciding away from me, and (hopefully) meaning that they might be more open to a discussion that we fear. But then, I do always try to see the best in people...

Unseen: I am definitely always thinking about this, since I'd hate to get caught with it leaking somehow, or being stuck in a situation where I don't have a choice.

Comment by Strega on March 24, 2013 at 9:31pm

Honestly, to a Brit, this sounds like a horror story.  I can't wrap my mind around the extent of the religious bigotry over here. Julian, I couldn't possibly know what to do.  Why don't you just say you're a lapsed Episcopalian, and let them work out how lapsed over time.  Whatever you decide, best of luck mate.

Comment by Julian Fiander on March 24, 2013 at 9:45pm

Strega: I think that's more or less the boat I'm already in. Again, I said "I was raised Jewish," which is not a lie -- but nor does it answer the question they are actually asking me.

Comment by Julian Fiander on March 24, 2013 at 9:50pm

"In-laws do freely what outlaws get hung for." That is beautiful. How have I never heard that before? =)

I think as our relationship ages, I get more worried about these realities of life. I can see my own mother trying not to all-but-move-in-with my brother, sister-in-law, and their week-old first child. She knows she shouldn't butt in too much... but definitely is anyway.

Comment by Julian Fiander on March 24, 2013 at 10:13pm

Strangely enough, I've never gotten any flack over the Jewish bit. Possibly because Judaism is technically one step before Christianity, and they're just kinda ignoring the whole no-Jesus part... :-/

That deserve to be on a plaque, or something.


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