To The Young Man In the Red Sweatshirt on Humans of New York,
I saw your photo and your story because someone pointed me to it.
You shared openly and vulnerably about how you had just ended your relationship because your girlfriend does not share your Catholic beliefs and you hope for a marriage rooted in Catholicism someday.
“I want to get married in a Catholic church. I want to raise my children to be Catholic,” you said. “It’s important to me and it’s something that we’d have to deal with eventually. So I didn’t think it would be a good idea to keep putting it off.”
These are all very honorable things, but the general public of social media decided it was high time to mock and ridicule you for this decision and your reasoning behind it. They commented about what a stupid mistake you made - about how love is more important than any set of beliefs - that you should believe in the person right by your side over the one you have never seen. I do not know if you have seen the commentary; none of it came as a surprise to me.
My friend, I firstly want you to know that you did the right thing. You did what you - in your heart - felt and knew was right. You are the commander in chief of your life; you have to make the calls, you have to decide what you will and will not do, and you are the one who faces all the consequences of these decisions…nobody else, no person on Instagram or Facebook lives your life, no one else knows your heart and what God is speaking to you in it.
What these people commenting do not understand is that faith is so much more than stuff we think and believe. It is not a nice little set of flimsy and fluid ideas that can change with the wind - faith and following God, when taken seriously, is the core of who you are. Catholicism involves a rich and beautiful tradition and adhering to many difficult teachings on contraception, family life, and more. Some people do not feel that they wish to enter a marriage where they will have to explain those things, defend those things, or fight for those things and there is nothing wrong with not wanting to have to do any of these things. When young women come to me and have questions about dating men of other faiths or no faith at all, I always ask them…do you desire to date and marry a man who loves his faith deeply, who prays with you and for you, and who believes wholeheartedly that a relationship centered on God is the kind of marriage that will last? These are important questions, and from your story it appears that you have considered them and decided that for you the answer is yes, that this is what you desire, this is not negotiable for you.
There is nothing wrong with the answer to those questions being yes.
When I give talks about dating, I speak about two lists each person should draw up. I call them our "non-negotiables" and “negotiables." The non-negotiables are the characteristics you know you want the person you date to possess - shared beliefs, deep respect for all people, desire for children, non-smoker, etc. These are things you do not wish to compromise on, your core values that are very important to you. The “negotiables" are the things that you would like your significant other to possess, but do not have an enormous effect on the success of a relationship, such as musical interests, height, ability to dance, etc. It is clear that you know what your non-negotiables are, and it is clear that many people think that you should change the standards that you have set for yourself in dating - or that you view this ex-girlfriend of yours as less-than because she does not share your beliefs. I know this is not the case; I know you do not think any less of her, because sticking to your non-negotiables does not ever mean you think less of anyone. If more people had the strength to stick to the values, morals, and characteristics they do not wish to compromise on when they are dating for marriage, there would be many more fulfilling and joyful marriages.
You have already experienced this, but what I have found again and again is that devotion to your faith is going to compel you to make very, very difficult decisions. They will not be easy…some indeed will cause you to sob, as you said you did. Some will be easier than others, but some will cause you temporary confusion or great pain. Some will make you a punching bag for persecution and a prime target for merciless mocking. Unhappy people say the most unkind things. What I can tell you from my years of living out my Catholic faith is this...it is all worth it.
Christ never said that following Him would be easy…He clearly said we will each have to take up our cross. Crosses are heavy and difficult to carry but it is there where we find Christ - it is in pursuing Him where we find Him in the most unexpected of places. It is there where we find peace and refuge in a heart full of love that knows no end. It is in pursuing Him where He leads us and guides us along a path of fulfillment and deep and lasting joy.
I could have married any man who did not share my beliefs, but I decided that it was a non-negotiable much later in my life than you did. The other night, when my husband took me in the car to the beach and pulled out his rosary for us to pray together, I was overwhelmingly grateful. I was grateful that he shares the most important part of my heart and the most important part of my life - my faith - that we can talk about it, and pray together, and keep Christ as the center of everything we are, together.
“I’m hoping God will give me an answer,” you said. He will. He takes His time sometimes, but He will.
Keep your heart up, my friend. Trust that God makes all things work together for the good of those who love Him.
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