The (insert person/group here) that prays together, stays together. Or so they say. But what does that really mean? within the framework of a relationship, for me, it implies that if my partner and I go to church and/or follow a faith based lifestyle, then we will have a happy, healthy, and strong relationship. Of course, nothing is ever that simple, but in its simplest terms, that is what the phrase means to me. Here is the problem with that statement, it essentially places a mandate of spiritual practice onto me and my partner and leaves no room for the idea of maintaining a relationship without the presence of an outside source. That way of thinking is problematic for me because I have never been tied to a religious belief system.
Growing up, I did not see the point of religion. I went to Catholic school from the third grade up until college, attended school masses, and learned about the scripture, but never found any sort of connection to the message. The religious folks that I knew, whether it be the nuns at my Catholic school, or the church sisters at my grandmother’s Baptist church (which I only went to a handful of times), never made me feel comfortable or welcomed. In fact, many of my negative adolescent experiences have involved “church goers” or those claiming to be devout in their religious practice. I could not understand the logic behind subscribing to the practices and teachings of a faith whose followers were not pleasant people. Not to say that anyone who is a Christian, Catholic, or Baptist (which are the faiths that I have the most experience with) are bad people, but the closest thing I had to religion were my interactions with the people who practiced those faiths and shaped the way I thought about religion so it was not something that took on great meaning in my life. Since high school, I have taken on a rebellious stance against religion, as the hypocrisy and bias have left a bad taste in my mouth.
Now spirituality on the other hand, is something that I feel has always been with me in the sense that I have formed a relationship with God in my own way, and affirm positivity as a regular practice without following the rules of a religious denomination, and although spirituality affords more freedom in the interpretation of beliefs and the way we go about practicing those beliefs, there are still times when I feel overwhelmed. So when I hear someone say something like, “The couple that prays together, stays together,” I think about the long Catholic school church masses, kneeling at the pew, wearing long pleated skirts, and mumbling prayers that I did not understand. For me, dating someone who is strongly rooted in their religious beliefs is intimidating because it brings back memories of feeling inadequate and out of place within church walls.
I do believe in supporting my partner and being a part of the things that are important to them, but sitting in church service with my partner, who is a member of her church has taken some adjusting. In the time that we have been dating, I have never been to church so consecutively, without force. With that, I have had to get used to hugging complete strangers during the welcome portion of service (which brings its own set of anxieties), and make it a point to take it easy on Saturday nights in preparation for Sunday afternoons. It is hard for me to sit and hear a sermon without feeling like I am being lectured to so in order to be supportive, I have had to put my ill feelings about religion aside for two hours per week, and listen to the word with an open mind, sketching notes on my church program to stay awake. That in itself is a struggle, but as the partner of a long-time church member, I am under a watchful eye. I feel that I have a certain image to uphold in order to avoid being a poor reflection on my partner. I do not do this because my partner and I need religion to make our relationship work, but I do feel a closer connection seeing her in her element and must admit that I have never been so closely tied to a place of worship; and although that is something that can be celebrated, I now feel a sense of obligation and I am not sure if I like that feeling and expectation of attendance; or the expectation to meet a minimum tithe requirement, but that is a topic for another day.
Call it commitment issues if you want to, but having a partner who is so active in the church, forces me to make a choice, support from a distance (which may not seem like support at all) or try my best to show interest in the aspects of church that I do respect to cancel out my negative feelings and anxiety surrounding organized religion. Focusing on the feeling of community and sharing space and energy with other positive, and affirming people of color has helped me ease some of the anxiety I have been feeling about dating a partner whose spirituality is overwhelming.