Every week, Ask Laura features responses to your questions about religion, relationships, and the mess they often create. You can submit questions to Laura anonymously at this form, or via Twitter (@lkoturner) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Best. First. Date. Ever. Until the Regret Hangover
Q: On Saturday, I went on one of the best first dates of my life. I met the girl on Tinder and we met for dinner then went to Starbucks until they closed it down. We didn’t want to stop talking so we stood in the parking lot for another hour. Then we kissed goodbye and that kiss goodbye turned into a long make-out session in the Starbucks parking lot. She commented many times how that was so unlike her. The next day I texted her and she said she had a “regret hangover” about that and needed some time to “process” and to give her a couple of days and call her later this week. What exactly is she processing? What should I do now? I really liked her.
A: Just after I graduated college, my then-boyfriend and I decided to take a break. There was a guy I had known for awhile, Dave, and up until that point I hadn’t thought of him as anything other than a friend. He had a crush on me, though, and it wasn’t long before we had met up a few times for late-night smooching. It wasn’t anything more than that, but I also wasn’t the kind of girl who regularly met up with guys for late-night smooching. (Not that there’s anything wrong with those who do.) In the light of (several) mornings that followed, I felt anxious. Had I known the phrase “regret hangover,” I might have employed it.
It’s impossible to speak to exactly what your date is thinking or processing without being her. She could be thinking a number of things — I wasn’t thinking this would go anywhere; I really like him; I’m not sure if I like him; things got hot and heavy faster than I anticipated. If I had to guess, though, I would guess it was something like that last thought. She may be a person for whom kissing is more serious and signals something that, for her, is more of a commitment than a great first date. That’s why it was so tricky for me — I hadn’t kissed more than a handful of people when I kissed Dave, and it felt odd for me to be doing this thing that felt somewhat intimate with someone I didn’t know that well.
Whatever the case, it’s a lot more about her than it is about you, which is both encouraging (you didn’t do anything wrong!) and means that you need to give her some space to figure out why she is having this response. What she’s processing may have to do with a certain set of religious beliefs she’s not sure she’s violated, or (more likely) it has to do with her figuring out who she is in relationships. Since it sounds like it was such a great date, I would encourage you to follow up with her again later, and listen to her. She might be up for round two, in which case you should hold back on the intense lip-locking if at all possible. But she may feel like she’s done something she doesn’t feel good about, and if so, wish her the best and keep swiping right.
Going to Church Feels Good, but I Think it’s Bunk
Q: I am a lapsed Catholic. I stopped attending church in my teens more out of laziness and indifference than anything else. I never had bad experiences or feelings toward the church, I just felt I did not believe in God, so church was irrelevant. Over the last few years, I have attended mass occasionally. I find the mass experience calming and serene. I’m happy to be there.
The issue is that, although I identify as a Catholic culturally, I do not agree with much of what the Church teaches (including big subjects, such as the certitude of the existence of God, the nature of Jesus, and the whole gay/divorce/contraception thing), although I agree with others (the importance of the history and rootedness of the Church, the profundity of the teachings of Jesus, the good works of the Church). I doubt very much I will be welcomed back to the Church, nor able to participate in the sacraments. Ironically, of course, there many around the world who are Catholics in good standing but who probably have very similar views to mine, but they tend to keep those thoughts to themselves and get to participate in the life of the Church.
So while I feel good going to Church, and it nourishes me in ways nothing else really has, I feel very fake and selfish attending mass when I don’t believe much of what the Church teaches.
It is my culture, but not my faith. How do I approach this problem?
A: Dear Lapsadaisical,
This is one of the best questions I can imagine anyone asking in this advice column, so I’m simultaneously so glad to publish it and so stumped about what to say. I will say it’s great that you are asking this question, and that you are not alone in your experience that the Church — Catholic or otherwise — is your culture but not your faith.
So, my first piece of advice is much more practical than the second: Could you become Episcopalian, or Anglican, or some other denomination? It’s a little bit of a slide down on the high-church scale, but you would find yourself in the company of people who are really willing to talk about their uncertainties regarding the Bible, their acceptance of people who are divorced and people who are gay, as well as folks who honor the “rootedness of the Church,” and the other ideals you mentioned. I know it’s not a perfect solution — there is still the pain of leaving behind the church you grew up in — but as far as reconciling your beliefs with your place of worship, it would seem to be a really good fit.
And now, the much more philosophical piece of advice: This is going to cause you pain. Whatever you decide to do is going to be difficult, because decisions that have your past and your current self at odds are painful, and they involve a kind of rending of the self that can feel unnatural and terrifying. You say that you aren’t sure you would be welcomed back into the Church, and I’m not quite sure what you mean by that, but that can’t be an easy place to be.
But when you say you “feel very fake and selfish attending mass when I don’t believe much of what the Church teaches,” I wonder why that is. Do you feel like you are taking too much under false pretenses? If so, I would say you’re in exactly the right place. The Church is there for you to take, and take as much as you can, fill that bit of yourself that needs filling with as much (little-c) church as you can stomach. There is no one in the sanctuary with you who would agree with every jot and tittle of the Church’s teaching, and if total doctrinal adherence was a prerequisite to attending mass, most sanctuaries would be empty come Sunday mornings.
What I’m saying is, I think you are doing something my mom used to call “comparing your insides to other people’s outsides.” It may be that you need to take a break from Catholic mass, or from your particular congregation, and do a little searching. It may be that you don’t need to do anything at all, and just stay where you are!
But whatever you do, don’t do it because you feel like a fake in church. You are not a fake. You are a human person with a brain that a very good God gave you, and you are paying attention to that brain, and good for you! Keep doing the things that nourish you. Think about joining a discussion group or picking up a book that tackles some of these issues (might I recommend Pete Enns’ The Bible Tells Me So?) I know that during mass you can cross your arms across your chest if you do not wish to receive the host, so do that for a little while if you feel more honest about it. But don’t feel like a fake for having questions, and don’t let those questions drive you further away from God and the people who can be the most help during this time.