Dear Graham Norton: ‘Help! My boyfriend’s a saint’
I am an undergraduate, and just after Easter I started dating a graduate student a year or two older than me. He is a very gentle and gracious man, but he’s also very (quietly) firm in his Catholic morals. Quite often, some crusade of his interrupts our time together – he even invited a homeless person to join us for dinner once. It’s not that he doesn’t ask me first – he’s very careful to do that. It’s not even that he’d be disappointed if I said no: he’s totally incapable of believing that anyone else could have a selfish motive (he’d just trust that I had some excellent and holy reason for my decision). But I’d feel so guilty if I refused – even more so because he wouldn’t judge me – that I’m never able to, and it’s making me uncomfortable.
I like him very much – he makes me feel about 20ft tall without worshipping me or making me feel incapable. I’m even coming around to the whole “no sex/no contraception” thing – which I didn’t expect when I arrived at university! But it’s all pretty hard work and I think I need to grow in my own time. I feel that if I tried to explain “me-time” to him, he would nod and clasp my hands and look at me as if I were the Woman of Samaria, but he would completely fail to understand the concept.
I don’t want to burn myself out dating Pope Francis, but I also don’t want the guilt of demanding more attention – and I don’t want to lose him. I’m also concerned that people are going to take advantage of him in the long term (his family are just the same!). So what should I do? Should I just get over myself and get stuck in, or can I reach some sort of compromise?
I am confused, but then that is hardly surprising because I think you are too. This man sounds lovely but I sense you were looking for a boyfriend, not a vocation. Obviously we all aspire to this man’s high ideals but few of us will ever reach them. For most people that is a compromise we can live with.
The problem with dating saints is that, without trying to, they make us feel worse about ourselves. The simplest desire is seen through a religious filter that makes it appear selfish or base – and that is extremely hard to live with.
The other odd dynamic at work here is that he seems to care about everyone as much as he cares about you. When he is thoughtful, kind or complimentary to you, the effect is somewhat diminished by the fact that he behaves towards everyone in that way. Perhaps things would have felt different if you had met him later in life, but for a student boyfriend, it is all a bit much.
Learning how to have a relationship and navigate your way around someone’s personality is difficult enough, but you are being asked to embrace an entire way of life that, if we are being completely honest, doesn’t come that easily to most of us.
Try to separate the man from the relationship. It is possible to really admire someone without actually dating them. This isn’t about judgment, it is about suitability. Wanting a boyfriend who cares more about you than the rest of the world doesn’t make you an awful person, so be honest about what you want. You being unhappy does not make the world a better place!
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Write: Dear Graham, The Daily Telegraph, 111 Buckingham Palace Road, London SW1W 0DT
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