One of my closest friends—I’ll call her Leah—keeps referring to me as Catholic, even though I have repeatedly told her that I am no such thing. My parents and three of my grandparents are Catholic and I was raised Catholic, even went to parochial school until I was eleven. But I haven’t gone to church since the first Sunday after I left for college, which was over fifteen years ago. I consider myself an agnostic and don’t belong to any religious institution.
I have explained all this to Leah, but the last two times we went out with a group she did the Catholic thing again. One of the times we were talking about abortion restrictions and she asked me how I felt about this “as a Catholic.” The other time she joked with the other people at our dinner table that she and I were a “mixed” Jewish-Catholic friendship—and later that night, when we were alone, she asked me whether I had been upset when he group was talking about child sexual abuse in the Catholic clergy.
I am about to marry an equally secular person who comes from a Buddhist family. When Leah heard the news, she asked me how we were handling our religious differences.
How do I get through to her?
—Exasperated in Exton
Dear Ex Squared,
I think you should keep talking to Leah about this. She may know that you disagree with her, but not that you are offended. Tell her you want to make sure she understands how much you dislike it when she acts as if you still have a relationship with or allegiance to the Catholic Church. You can be nice about it, as long as you don’t mince words. Say that she needs to stop making assumptions about your religious affiliation and sharing them with other people. If, as you say, she is one of your closest friends, she should be able to hear you out without becoming hurt or angry.
Leah may not understand how completely your beliefs have changed. If you value her friendship, which you seem to, try (again) to explain how these changes happened. But belief and dogma may not be what your friend is talking about when she calls you a Catholic: I suspect that the two of you have different senses of what it means to belong to a religion. Some individuals, and some denominations, think of religion as mostly or even solely a matter of faith and adherence to dogma: I was brought up to believe that accepting the basic tenets of my religion, or at least trying to, was absolutely required for continued membership. Other people, and other denominations, see religious identity more in terms of tradition, history, ritual, family background, or ethnicity. This may be the way your friend tends to see her own religious identity—which makes plenty of sense given not only the many rich traditions of Judaism, many of which have little or nothing to do with dogma, but also the fact of the Holocaust, where nobody was asking about personal beliefs before they wiped out millions of people. Leah may think of you as a “secular Catholic”—a term which probably sounds like a contradiction in terms to you, as it does to me, at least as regards the American version of Catholicism. This is an issue you might want to explore with her—unless you are getting tired of the whole topic, which is also just fine.
As for your upcoming marriage, Leah’s response may have more to do with concern over your and your intended’s different cultural backgrounds, your families’ attitudes, and so on than with whether the two of you are likely to come to blows over the transubstantiation or the path to nirvana. So I would give her a bye on this one—unless she jumped right in with the “religious” differences question before asking you anything else about the wedding, or even congratulating you!
And as for the “mixed friendship” thing, is your friend simply saying, basically, that she’s Jewish and you’re not? This, of course, is true whether or not you are still a Catholic. But the phrase strikes me as overwrought and slightly off, as if the two of you are flying in the face of some norm instead of just, you know, hanging out. Context is everything here: was her remark part of some light banter after she’d referred to Mary as part of the Trinity or you’d ordered a blueberry bagel with lox and butter? Or did she raise the subject in a general way, one that would hint at her being more preoccupied than you’d like with religious difference? If the latter, that may be the real problem you and she have to work on, or cope with, or conceivably even split over, at some point in your lives.
I hope and trust not, though. Communication should work things out in time. In any case, you should probably not be worrying right now about any deeper implications of what she has been saying, much less discussing them. For the time being, just do what you can to get her to drop the subject until after you have gotten through the stress and excitement of your wedding. With luck, she will understand your annoyance and the issue will evaporate. Mazel tov!
I have a neighborly issue with my new neighbors—well, really a case of over-neighborliness. I’d be grateful for your advice.
My new neighbors moved in two months ago. They’re an established couple in their mid-twenties who have bought the house from his mother (it’s been in their family for generations). I’m very happy because they are nice, polite, helpful and responsible—all the things we like neighbors to be.
I had a bad experience with a new neighbor several years ago which forced me to relocate, so I’ve been keen to make a good impression and establish friendly terms from the off. Part of this has been putting their wheelie bin out front on bin night (here in the UK each household puts their rubbish in big plastic ‘wheelie bins’ which are emptied once a week). This is something the previous neighbors and I would do for each other on a ‘whoever gets there first’ basis, and I think it’s a great way to maintain good relations. The problem with the new neighbors is that I’ve realized it’s always me who does the bins (both out and back in). Week after week, when I can see they’re in and hear them coming and going, it’s always me. Recently he told me they’d do the same for me of course, but he also said he only ever remembers it’s bin night when he hears me doing it. In other words, I’ve inadvertently become the Bin Fairy for next door.
This probably sounds very petty, and more so when I say that she did me a favor early on by spotting that I’d left my keys in my front door on my way in. They have also been generous in loaning me decorating equipment, and of course I’d do any similar one-offs for them. But this kind of assumed role wasn’t part of the plan, and what gets me is that now I’ve been doing both bins so regularly I feel it would look odd and potentially unfriendly for me to put my own bin out/in but leave theirs.
They’re a young couple and this is their first place together. They’ve rented here and there in the past, but have only had household responsibilities very briefly. Given the chance to establish a routine, I’m sure they would remember that Monday night is bin night and there would no longer be a problem: sometimes they’d do it, sometimes I’d do it. But as it stands nothing happens unless I do it, and I feel bad about doing mine but not theirs, even though theirs is often obstructed by stuff in their yard (which they might clear if they had to wheel their bin around it).
Do you have any suggestions about this, June? It sounds so silly (and I’ve essentially brought the situation on myself), but these little things can cause bad feeling and misunderstandings in the longer term. I’d basically like to either share the wheelie bin honors or just deal with my own (for all I know they might actually prefer to do it separately)—but I don’t know how to do this having established this precedent.
—Bin There in Brighton
Can you bear to live with two weeks’ worth of wheelie rubbish buildup? If so, here’s what I suggest: skip next Monday, or the next Monday when you have minimal trash. (I hope it’s okay to call British rubbish “trash” now and again.) In the unlikely event that your neighbors rally round and take out both bins, thank them and inwardly and hope that they are starting to see the light about sharing—or getting better at remembering when trash day is.
If they don’t take out either bin, which of course is what I am betting on, write or call them on Tuesday and say that you’re sorry, that you totally forgot to put out the wheelies and it seems that they did, too. Then ask them if they’d mind if you each just dealt with your own bins from now on, because that way you’ll only have to worry about forgetting yours. Add that, if they need your help on any specific Monday, all they have to do is ask. If you want, you might also say something vaguely apologetic about having needlessly complicated matters by suggesting shared rubbish responsibility. If you discuss the situation in terms of avoiding confusion, I doubt that your neighbors will be at all upset or offended.
I’m not sure which form of communication would work best in your situation: phoning, or even chatting when you happen to meet, are obviously less formal than writing, and might seem friendlier. Writing, whether a paper note or an email or a rather long text, has the benefit of precision and predictability: you wouldn’t have to fret about being tactless or looking nervous or not making yourself clear. But if you’ve never written anything to them before, doing so now might make it seem as if you are chiding them. If all but the chummiest face-to-face contact makes you tense, and you worry that you might stammer or blurt out something silly or forget your point, try a very friendly note, especially if you and your neighbors have communicated this way before. Otherwise call them or knock on their door, or waylay them, after practicing your best rueful smile.
If your neighbors put out only their own bin on your experimental Monday—unlikely but possible—then, of course, you can and should resume putting out only yours, without further comment.
I wish I could come up with a solution that would involve no stress at all. But alas! If you feel uneasy at even the minor prospect of conflict resulting from my proposal, all you can do is just suck it up, as we say in the States, and keep taking out both bins.
Good luck with your neighbors and their rubbish. And please don’t worry about your problems being petty or “silly.” While it is true that we’re not talking about world peace here, we are talking about peace between neighbors, which can loom very large if you are one of them. I can understand your anxiety, especially given that you actually ended up relocating once before because of your neighbors. Feeling safe and calm at home is a big deal in this stressful world. Besides, one person’s minor annoyance can be another person’s calamity. I say this as a woman who once asked her journal whether anybody else had ever contemplated moving to another state and starting over because of a really bad situation with a carpool.
Thanks, and keep writing.
Cleaver’s in-house advice columnist opines on matters punctuational, interpersonal, and philosophical, spinning wit and literary wisdom in response to your ethical quandaries. Write to her at [email protected]. Find more columns by June in her attic.
La Wally is the nom de June of June Cleaver‘s adult daughter. In real life, she’s an artist and entrepreneur. What’s up with her name? In choosing a pseudonym, the two of them considered the names of the original Cleaver family offspring, both boys, but rejected “Beaver” for obvious reasons. “Wally” alone seemed too masculine and generally hideous. But “La Wally” brings to mind Catalani’s wonderful opera. Speaking of which, have you seen the movie Diva? You should.