Religions and Relationships

I don’t, apparently, do relationships like others. Or like I’m supposed to. The feedback I agonize over comes mainly from my family. My mother may be gone, but her voice is still clear in my head, “Sissy, a woman’s role is to support her husband.” Or, any number of other countless admonishments I received from her for my entire life. My father says he doesn’t want to meet my current love because it’s too painful for him to open up to another man, and then have that person leave my life, and thus his. He doesn’t have the emotional constitution to deal with “another future ex-boyfriend or future ex-husband” as he puts it. My Grandma Trulove, bless her heart, I love her to death, said once, “Now what’s his name again? There are so many I can’t keep track.”

Ugh. It makes me feel wretched.

Why do I feel wretched? Because my society (and many societies around the world) teaches that a woman needs to pick one partner and stick to that person. Forever. Period. Deal with it! If you have loved more than one man, you are a bad woman. What governing power usually directs societal pressure? Religion.

I began life pretty dumb about relationships, and I have spent decades learning how to put healthy people into my life. Maybe *you* found an excellent, caring, respectful person to fall in love with, the very first time you tried. But I did not. Maybe you had some reliable relationship skills when you were 19, and knew just how to respect your partner and make that person feel valued and cherished. I did not have these skills. I had to learn by trial and error. I blew it. I got damaged and I caused damage. Often.

I was swimming out at sea in religion the whole time I was growing up, and that was getting in the way of my learning. Religious rules are often about absolutes: “Do this because it’s right,” but those rules don’t accommodate my questions. I had no foundation to stand on from which to launch my life; just criticism and reminders from those around me that I was probably sinning in some way. I don’t recall solid modeling of good relationship behavior, or helpful tricks and tools. Mom reminded me that (very soon) I needed find a cute guy, get married, start popping out babies, and stay married to that person for the rest of our lives no matter what. Because that is what good Christians do. There is all that accountability in Heaven. There is St. Peter to reckon with at the gates, there are all my ancestors who will certainly judge me and every decision I ever made on Earth, and there will be the community of other judgmental Christians while I live. Talk about pressure!

Skipping all the details, at about age 30 I came to terms with being an atheist. I really have tried (trust me) to believe. It would simply make everything easier. I have tried since my youth group leader, Hoby, assigned me to the debate to team to argue the truth of God’s existence. I tried when my father decided to live his life true to his faith, and that faith turned out to be startlingly conservative. I tried when my mother had me at church four times a week trying to beat religion into me. I tried when my Grandfather, Capn. John, actually took my hands and bawled his eyes out, begging me to give my life to my Father. Sorry everyone. I can’t do it. I can’t lie.

Ok. So, atheism established, it changes my perspective on things. WHY on Earth would anyone want to stay in a bad relationship if there is no such thing as Heaven? If when I die, I’m dead?

If I was a stupid 19 year old, and dated a jerk, why would I stay with that person? If I was a stupid 22 year old, and married a selfish spoiled arrogant man, why would I stay with that person? If I unexpectedly got myself in waaay too deep at age 25 and discovered the next man I had married was using methamphetamines, why would I stay with that person? If I am 37 and have a daughter, watching me, trying to figure out how to grow up, why wouldn’t I try to teach her empowerment?

I believe that my life ends the day I stop breathing, and thus what I do with my brief life becomes desperately, excruciatingly important. What society or religion thinks of me becomes pathetically unimportant. I must do this right, even if that means to stop what I started, and to try again. An atheist can be motivated by time, rather than by guilt, which is a much more positive form of energy. And if she is naïve, and lacks skills, then she is obviously going to make poor choices. And I did. And I learned. I am 42 now and I don’t know it all, but I am learning every day, and always getting better.

Maybe my Arno is my future ex-husband. It could happen. I am no longer naïve. But no matter how things end up between us, he is the best man I’ve ever loved. My skills to put healthy people in my life have improved with time. I do relationships my way, and that doesn’t look like the way everyone else does it. In the whole scheme of things, what I am responsible for boils down to me and my short life, which, when all is said and done, is done.

{On an unrelated topic, the photo at the top was taken by my daughter, of random people at Mt. Tabor, in Portland. I like the shot.}

12 thoughts on “Religions and Relationships

  1. Excellent commentary. It often saddens me that the people we love and adore most, are the ones that turn out to be perniciously and psychologically toxic to our emotional, and spiritual well-being. Know you are amazing – you are strong, confident, and extremely smart. What a wonderful role model to esteem as a colleague and friend… Thank you for coming into my life!

    1. Thank you, love! And of course you must know that I have been planning to write this one for a long time, and my conversation with you on Thursday was the final inspiration. Thank you for your immediate and unrestrained friendship. I am so lucky to know you. ❤

  2. Two issues here.

    1) Is there a universal Mind underlying the universe, connecting each and every person from the inside?


    2) Is that any reason for people to bully themselves and others, categorize & micromanage their most intimate behavior and relationships, (etc!)?
    — — — — —

    If you do any serious meditating (or take one of those naughty pattern-recognition-enhancing pills, as I used to, back in the day) there simply turns out to be too much going on that doesn’t fit into the strict-materialist model of the universe.

    But what’s at work in human life looks a whole lot Rumier and more compassionate than the Gotcha-God of ‘Conservative’ religion. “Human in the best sense of the word,” as somebody told me once. Meanwhile frightened & censorous folks keep imagining something as rigidly judgmental as even they can’t live down to…

    & maybe this Mind is quite happy with you, far more than you’ve dared to be with yourself! You aren’t done yet.

    How much are you willing to let yourself know?
    — — — — —

    Human relationships just turn out to be tricky. Most people haven’t felt loved enough to be good at expressing, manifesting love themselves. It gets easier, & it isn’t about faking anything.

    ‘May the long-time Sun shine upon you,
    All Love surround you,
    And the pure Light within you
    Guide your way on…’
    [Incredible String Band, ‘A Very Cellular Song,’ ~1968]

    1. Mr. Tree (ha ha), I will answer your first question from my own point of view, which is that no, I do not believe there is a “Universal Mind” behind life. That’s the part I simply can’t buy into. And I’m guessing your second question is rhetorical, and I absolutely agree with your point. We’re all muddling through, and we’re never so free from fault that we have the right to cast the first stone, as it were.

      How much am I willing to let myself know? I hope – a whole bunch more! As my tag at the top of my blog notes: “Careening through life and learning stuff.” I want to suck up knowledge like a vacuum cleaner, and I can only hope I stay humble enough to learn what life gives me, and not just what I want to learn.

  3. Thank you Crystal,

    There is so much in your story that highlights my own. My parents are Christians, but unlike yours, they allowed my brother and I to decide our own worldview at age 15. They hoped that they did their part which they promised and it was time to let go.

    My brother, Erick and I walked out of church. He moved from one religion to another as he dated ladies with different worldviews and in the end we both became atheist. My moral life(sex before marriage) did not align with Christianity. In addition to anti-intelligentilism and Christians who acted unChristian, I found atheism, a heaven that quenched my guilty and shame.

    A young, danish beautiful lady,Lea, now my wife and a mother of my 3 month daughter walked into my life and changed everything. She was a definition of wonderful Christian. She dared me not to reject or accept Christianity unless I understand it at its best. Because I loved her and wanted to prove her wrong I major Philosophy of Religion, look were it got me.

    Thank you for sharing in this wonderful and powerful post. We, Christians, tend to forget to recognize the full of worth wisedom that flow out of the ink of those who hold different worldview. Reading classical atheists, Hume and Nietzsche, I discovered that classical atheist and Christians share so much in common and can dialogue with love and respect focusing on the arguments and not people who hold them. I then started following atheists blogs and I am moved at the thought wisedom and critic worth pondering.

    When love comes first, disagreement flows in the right and proper place. I chose to love, listen, and share. You are more than the worldview you hold. As a Christian, I see you first and foremost a bearer of God’s image. How dare I not love you?

    Thank you once again for wonderful post.


    1. This is so beautiful, Prayson. Thank you for your supportive words. I am glad to see so many people read and find inspiration in your blog, because you are a man of wisdom that belies your age!

  4. Hi Cousin,

    I wondered when you were going to post about this subject. We briefly talked about this once and were able to share each others views. You have enlightened and encouraged me, thank you.

    No one can walk in another individual’s shoes and to have a parent, of all people, hammering into you how to live your life is nothing short of well … to use their own terms … sacrilegious!

    I have always believed that each individual must find their own path in life. Our role as parent & grandparent is as a guide and be a role model for right and wrong. That does not include force feeding any particular religious or socialistic belief.

    I am of the opinion that if we do our job right our children and grandchildren will grow up with the ability and the tools to make informed choices in their life regardless of the problems and hurdles that block their paths.

    You are one of the ladies in my life that I admire most. Your choices are yours, you have always “owned” them. While we listen to our elders and the guidance they give us, we still have to live our life and walk in our shoes.

    I hope all our relatives read this post with an open understanding mind. Being an Atheist isn’t a bad thing like they are prone to believe. It is a belief that is beautiful and one that I encourage our Christian relatives to educate themselves about. Please, family GOOGLE it!

    Crystal, I love you!

    1. Cuz, your support means a lot to me. I think in my shoes, you would have also seen that my family members who pressured me were doing it out of their concept of love. It’s frustrating when my family doesn’t respect my choices and actively tells me their way is right and therefore my way is wrong. But…it’s almost always clear to me that they love me, and they are doing it to “help” me. *sigh* Like Capn. John, for example, believed from the bottom of his soul the way a devout Mormon believes: anyone who is not a good Mormon can’t go to Celestial Heaven (the top tier of multiple heavens). He thought he was battling to save my eternal life!

      I think my parents tried to hammer their ideas into my head because they wanted to give me that foundation that was so helpful to them. They just can’t conceive that something that helps so many people around the world, wouldn’t help me. They conclude that I am just not trying hard enough, not allowing Christ to enter my heart, not praying with enough genuine effort. Whatever.

      You know who has been one of the most gentle people about it – Uncle Dwight! He’s the pastor, and he never judges me, just patiently offers his own thoughts for me to use or not. That is absolutely perfect.

      Anyway, I love you. You have never judged me. And I can’t judge you harshly because you are one of the strongest, sweetest, most selfless, generous people I know. Thank you.

  5. Thanks for sharing Crystal .
    As I read and pondered your writing ~ The more I truly appreciated your candor .
    Some of the below are things I have learned noted and concluded about life .


    As we all reflect how hard it is to change ourselves~ We better understand the chances we have in trying to change others .
    The best way to succeed in life is to act on the advice we give to others.
    The more I learn & to some degree attempt to understand in life’s sojourn
    The more Tis to note how much more there is yet to learn & how much the more to understand.
    The Moody Blues ~ The Balance .

  6. I grew up atheist because this is what my family and most of the people I knew were. I cannot even try to imagine how it must feel if you were meant to be something else and must rebel against it, in a way. It takes so much strength and you have it. Let’s sail on.

    1. Maybe learning how to be strong enough to rebel against expectations eventually helped my Tara rebel against expectations and begin living as openly transgender? It’s nice how there are so many links in our lives.

      Reading this old post is interesting to me. I’m so open about my thoughts, and comparing it to my thoughts today, I can see I have changed from who this person was. Humans are fascinating.

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