I met James back in 2009. He was 16, I was 17. From the word go, I knew James went to church quite regularly. I wasn’t religious, but I didn’t think much of it at the time.
Like typical teenagers, we were young and in love, and our relationship went from strength to strength. It was six months after our first date when we had sex, which I thought was quite a conservative amount of time. We were both virgins, but there was no discussion about his faith — or sex before marriage. Besides, at that point, he’d almost stopped going to church entirely. I started staying over with him at his mom’s house. We shared a room and a bed, and had an active sex life. Religion wasn’t an issue under the covers and I didn’t give it a second thought.
Fast forward three years, and James opted to study Religion and Theology at college. It was also around this time that he started going back to church regularly. Perhaps studying the subject reignited his passion, I don’t know. He worshipped at an independent Christian church and as I spent most weekends with him, I started going along with him on some Sundays. I knew religion had always been important to him, but now it seemed more so than ever before, and I wanted to support him.
“He’d decided he was going to a Christian college”
But while I dutifully attended church by his side, I found I actually spent most of my energy hating it. I was defensive from the off, and could always find something to argue against in the teachings. It still didn’t occur to me that our differing views would ever drive a wedge between us, though.
Two years into his degree, James made a huge decision about his course. The reason for the sudden change? He’d decided he wanted to become a priest and would be attending a Christian college.
Of course, I totally supported him. We were still madly in love, and I didn’t consider the long-term consequences. When I look back, the biggest thing I failed to realize was that he wasn’t making a career choice, he was making a lifestyle choice.
“I felt like a dirty little secret”
It should have been an exciting time for us, but it wasn’t. As religion was now such a big part of his life, James was worried about moving in together as an unmarried couple. Cohabiting without rings on our fingers strongly implied to the rest of the world that we were having sex out of wedlock. And while this had never been an issue in the past, suddenly it consumed us. I felt like our moving in together was a dirty little secret. But despite this, I knew he was in a really difficult place too, torn between wanting to start a life with me, and following the teachings of his church.
It was six months after moving in together that our relationship started to completely unravel. He called me at work one day, and ended up admitting that he felt like we were on two different paths. He felt guilty about our sex life, and suggested that now he was fully committed to the church, we should stop having sex altogether until we were married.
I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to stop having sex, but knowing he felt so bad about being with me was like a punch in the stomach. I still loved him, and I was distraught that he thought we were drifting apart, so I agreed to put sex on hold. (That didn’t last, as it turned out.) I also promised to try harder with church, stop skipping Sunday services and generally be more involved.
But it’s easy to make false promises. I think I probably went to church with him just once more after that talk.
“He told me he didn’t love me anymore”
It was barely two months later when my whole world came crashing down. James told me he didn’t love me anymore, and that we weren’t the same people we were when we met. He said religion had played a big part in his decision and we just weren’t going to work with such differing opinions on faith.