Changing Religion for Love

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Hey Whit,

Here is my problem that I hope you can give me some advice about. My girlfriend “Courtney,” who I’ve been dating for three years and hopefully soon to be my fiancée, has asked me if I would convert to her parents’ religion so that they will be able to approve of me.

Her parents have always been really vocal about how she has to marry someone of their own religion, and that this would be a way for them to accept me; and prevent them from disowning her. Courtney has always said that if she married someone from a different religion her parents would have a fit.

A friend of hers who is also of that same religion told me that if Courtney married someone outside of her parents’ religion, it would “kill her mother.” I don’t want to be responsible for her mother killing herself, but I’m not really sure that I want to convert to this religion.

First of all, I’m really not a very religious person, and also I don’t feel right pretending. Some of my friends say that I don’t have to really believe or accept what their religion stands for, just go through the motions to keep her parents happy. What do you think I should do?


Dear Stuck:

Does your girlfriend, Courtney, know how you feel? If she doesn’t, make sure that she knows what your conflict is over converting to “her parents’ religion.”  Let me be upfront: When you use that phrase, “her parents’ religion”, the question that jumps up at me is, “Is this also Courtney’s religion?” If it’s not, then Courtney should have to make the case that you need to embrace an ideology, doctrine, or world view that is not even hers.

From the wording you use, I get the feeling that Courtney has kowtowed to her parents (at least in this matter) in the past and now expects you to do the same. This non-assertive approach strikes me as the ideal way to insure that you will be submitting to your in-laws’ will for the rest of your married life (at least as long as they are alive). Is compromising your beliefs what you have in mind for you and your girlfriend as you establish yourselves as two adults committed to one another?

You and Courtney need to have a talk about what she expects from you and what you are willing to do for her.  The threat of your mother-in-law’s untimely demise is not a factor as long as you and your intended “intended” are clear about where the lines are going to be drawn for her parents as well as each other.

If the two of you decide that your conversion to Courtney’s parents’ religion is not consistent with how you live your life, you have to say so and stand by your decision.  As much as her parents might not like it, I doubt that Courtney’s father will be arranging the last rites for Courtney’s mother anytime soon, at least over the decision you make.

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  1. If her parents have actually said they would “disown” her for marrying outside of their religion, those don’t sound like the kind of people anyone would want for in-laws, even if the writer did convert for convenience’s sake. Does the writer really love Courtney enough to put up with this kind of no-holds-barred manipulation for the rest of his parents-in-laws’ lives?

    • Good question, Get. He seems like the kind of guy who might Go Along instead of Get Real, but at least he wrote the letter. Maybe he’ll see that capitulation has a down side.

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