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Of courtships, conversions, and CEOs

By Salve Villarosa Published Oct 01, 2020 5:00 pm Updated Oct 02, 2020 7:51 am

He was a boy (who didn't believe in structured religion), she was a girl (who was firmly Catholic). Can I make it any more obvious?

You know that myth about humans never being more than three feet away from a spider at any given moment? Well, in my traditional Filipino Catholic home, you're probably never more than three feet away from either a rosary, a St. Benedict's medal, or a statue of the Virgin Mary.

My family is Catholic Catholic (this is where I'd usually crack a joke and say we were “Jesus stans,” but I don't want to be disowned). When I was born, my parents christened me with not one, not two, but three religious names. The place of honor on our mantel went not to a cozy family photo, but one of my parents meeting Pope Francis. My brother and I both received a good Catholic education, where we learned our prayers better than we learned how to decipher our sprawling family tree.

Like so many Filipinos out there, Catholicisim was so completely entwined in my family's identity that it crossed the line from religion to culture. Sundays were for Mass. Fridays during Lent were for fasting. Someone was sick? Time to pray the Memorare. Sure, there were times when I'd question the Church. But I never questioned God. I was a nice Catholic girl. And I always thought I'd end up with a nice Catholic boy. Why not? Everyone else in my family did. All except one, that is.

"The one prayer God never answered," my aunt told me once, wistfully. She had married a non-practicing Presbyterian and had prayed for the last 30 years that he would find Jesus. The best she could manage was turning him into a CEO Catholic: Christmas, Easter Only.

Of course, as fate (or God, I suppose, in this case) would have it, for the last three years, the person I've been in a committed relationship with is decidedly not the nice Catholic boy I dreamed of. On paper, he's technically a baptized member of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands. But his relationship with that Church began and ended at his baptism. It's not that he was a hardcore atheist, exactly.

He believes in a God, just not in any kind of structured religion. His barkada consisted of lapsed Catholics and agnostics, in stark contrast to my cadre of girlfriends, who were basically a bunch of Auntie Julies in the making. I hesitantly asked him if he believed in Jesus, and he answered with a timid "Sure," nothing like the resounding "Yes!" I would have given. As the years passed, it just became something we swept under the rug. After all, it's not like it really mattered.

I'll save you from most of my sugary sentiments towards him, but in short: all the rom-coms and love songs finally made sense when we got together (damn, so this is what Taylor's been singing about!).

I could talk to him about anything without fear of judgment, from books to memes to future plans — our running joke is that I have a secret lair full of wedding plans, and if/when he proposes, I was going to immediately shriek "Pull the lever, Kronk!" I could be weird, he could be weird. He was my boyfriend and my best friend.

Surprisingly, my family didn't protest when they learned of his faith, or rather lack thereof. I mean, sure, my mom tells me every now and then, in classic Tita of Manila fashion, to help him "find God": "One thing at a time! Bring him to Mass. Pray with him. Tell him how good Jesus is!!!" Sometimes she'd add a nice dose of Catholic guilt: "My God, anak, if you can convert him, for sure you're going to Heaven!" Oddly enough, my boyfriend was on her side. "If your family needed me to convert before we got... you know..."

He would blink meaningfully, neither of us quite ready to seriously mention “the M-word.” "If you asked me to, I would." But something in me always resisted the idea. I didn't want to be that girl who forced their partner to change anything about themselves. Besides, the glazed-over look on his face every time I dragged him to Sunday Mass was enough proof that he was not ready for any kind of true conversion.

So, like any good Catholic would, I phoned a friend. And by friend, I mean priest. I joined my mom for a lunch with one of her many priest friends (#JustCatholicTitaThings). "So, Father Genny, my boyfriend isn't exactly Catholic. Would he have to convert for us to have any sort of future together?" This was what I'd planned to say, but what burst out of me instead was full-blown word vomit: What if we get married? Wouldn't we have to marry in a church?

He'd get bored during the ceremony and I don't want him BORED at our wedding. What about our future kids? Would they be Catholics? Oh God, what if we live a long and happy life together but I end up not seeing him in heaven (bold of me to assume I would end up there in the first place)?! And wise old Obi-Wan Genny just said, "Is he a good person? Kind?" I nodded. Then he shrugged. "Well, then, what makes you think he won't end up in heaven? If he's a good guy, that's all that matters." Just like that. I suppose it was rather on-brand for me, that it took God (or at least, one of his representatives) to make me see what was right in front of me all along.

So for now, I've stopped dragging him to Mass, and he's done his best to parrot back my "God bless yous” every night before we go to sleep. I jokingly refer to him as my pagan boyfriend, and he teases me about how guys used to call me a nun-in-training back in high school. Maybe one day we'll walk down the aisle of a nice Catholic church, and his eyes will still glaze over.

Maybe at best he'll be just be a CEO churchgoer as well. Maybe not at all. But as long as we can still chatter away for hours in our giddy, moonstruck bubble, in love with a capital L, then that's good enough for me.