I accidentally accepted Jesus into my life.
To be more specific, I met a man who loves Jesus, and we started a relationship. I am a Jewish, progressive, academic-type, 30-something woman. About three months ago — against my better judgment — I consented to a second date with a man who said “I believe everything in the bible is 100 percent true.” I’m not quite sure how it happened, but now it’s been three months and I’ve found myself in the most unlikely and satisfying relationship.
Olive, I honestly feel so good in this relationship. We have excellent communication, our core values match mostly well, we share a lot of outdoor hobbies, and we both have a desire to be incredibly open-minded and non-judgmental of the other person’s vastly different beliefs. Neither of us is trying to convert the other. Because we are very different, we spend a lot of time asking and listening to get to know each other. I’m happy, and I have no desire to end our relationship. I also have trouble seeing a reasonable future; I cannot stomach the idea of raising children in a Christian household, and our communities are so different that it’s hard to imagine how they could fit together.
If the future only brings heartache, does it make sense to continue on this path? On the other hand, if I feel the way I’ve always dreamed I’d feel in a relationship, is it worth the potential heartache to see if this thing is possible? I could use some advice.
-Jesus Lover Lover
If only heartache were a little more like, let’s say, strep throat: one quick swab with a Q-tip and a couple days’ wait, and in exchange for your bacterial sample you go home with answers and antibiotics. Fever dreams and the ice cream cure give way to the relief of certainty even before the medicine hits your bloodstream. You can identify the problem, even if you can’t avoid it, and there’s no figuring out the upside or negotiating how much of it might be good for you. Also, you can usually blame somebody else.
No so much with heartache, which hurts no less than strep but has, so far, no fix you can pick up at the pharmacy. It’s vague and varied, more akin to some mysterious miasma than a diagnosis, and somehow both enraging and embarrassing — that is, when it’s not exhausting, excruciating, or flat-out tiresome in its persistence. There’s little to recommend heartache, really, except in retrospect, when one’s recovery takes on a tinge of moral fortitude and memory blurs the bad parts. Naturally, you’d rather skip it.
Why, then, do we continue risking broken hearts to try to join our insides up with someone else’s?
The easy answer screams from the insides of Dove chocolate tinfoil wrappers: Hope! Possibility! Silver linings! Platitudes either obscure the risk of broken hearts or make it sound like the cost of admission. You want love? Place your bets and call it romance. Lovers are urged to be either naïve or reckless.
That’s not you. You can imagine what’s at stake, and you’re trying to find your way between those extremes. But while it’s certainly a better place to start than giving in to drugstore candy wisdom, I think you’re still asking the wrong question.
The problem with weighing “worth it” by the pain or pleasure someone might offer down the line is that answers to such future-oriented questions are hardly educated analyses, let alone guarantees, but mostly gut hunches. And in the absence of material insight into distant decades, they’re less about risks or rewards themselves, and more about the asker’s own capacity for hope and hardiness.
You just can’t know whether the joy will balance out the suffering until they’re both over; you only know how much you’re willing to find out. Trying to haggle in advance is only likely to expedite that process.
The real question, then, isn’t about your future, but your present. Not in the chocolate slogan sense of whatever instant gratification “the moment” might offer, but in the sense that heartache, unlike strep, is not a whether but a when. Call it the rhinovirus of emotional afflictions (only longer). Immunity is a mirage. There are more trusty guides to figuring out what you want than what might happen.
You’re risking heartache either way, my friend, whether it’s with your Jesus lover or a convenient atheist or all by yourself. Don’t waste time wondering whether your risks are safe or reasoned, or whether they’ll pay off; ask instead whether taking this one, right now, with all its question marks, is making you more whole or breaking you into pieces.
I’d bet you know the difference between creative gambles and destructive ones, if only by their traces. Does the thought of tackling all you might never work through together fill you with dread, or with the eagerness of discovery? When you resolve a disagreement, do you feel closer, or like something has been taken from you? Can you recognize that dissonant ring behind your solar plexus when you hear yourself say out loud something at odds with what your inner voice is whispering — or are your outsides in tune with the rest of you?
Of course, there are always more than two answers. The key is being interested by what the rest of them might be when simplicity doesn’t cover it.
Does your relationship, right now, invite you to be a steadier and truer version of yourself? Does it inspire you? Do you feel more alive, more capable, more honest together than apart?
It’s not just joy at stake. Your answer won’t be about butterflies or falling head over heels, or really even about how much you might like the person in front of you. It’s about how much you like (and feel like) you with someone else around.
These questions don’t dismiss the practical concerns you have in this relationship. But the pragmatic occupies a different axis of the “is it worth it” matrix than your feelings do, and both are easier to figure out when you untangle the answers from a general forecast.
Besides, kids love getting double presents. And growing up with parents who welcome each other’s differences will probably make them the most well-adjusted children in any summer camp.
You write that you two listen to each other, share core values, want to learn — and methods, in the long term, matter more than matching. Someone might believe exactly what you do but be too rigid to adjust as either of you changes (and you’re going to change). Someone else might scoff at faith but also scoff at everything. Yet another someone else might let you win while seething.
Of course, if your methods can’t lead you to consensus about children or Christmas trees or shared communities, there may be no bridge left to try. But there’s no rush to reject a collaboration that’s working just because you’re starting with different baggage. In the meantime, the specter of your romance yielding “only heartbreak” has already been proven false.
Heartache, like the common cold, will hit you one way or another, whether you end up dodging each other at the farmers’ market next week or holding hands in the hospital several decades later. But if you’re planning a future, rather than fearing it, the tools in evidence already give you something to trust. That’s more important than something to hope for.
For a little unprofessional advice in these uncertain times, send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or to our anonymous portal. We want it all: the embarrassing, the baffling, the epistemological. Check back in two weeks from now for another dose of aggressively earnest advice, next time on Asking For a Friend.