It was a statement made innocently enough, while discussing the taboo topic of religion during our first date.
We had arrived at the topic when James brought up a sentence I have in my profile: “Jesus is my homeboy.”
“What does that mean, exactly?” he said, his eyes smiling but serious as we maneuvered around our dinner — steak and frites for him, mussels for me.
“Well, I put that in there because it seems like there are so many agnostics and nonbelievers out there who make their faith clear in their profiles, and I wanted to make it clear in mine that I wasn’t,” I said.
“I had no idea there were that many!” he said.
For the record, I am in no way the poster girl for Christianity. I grew up attending church on a more-than-weekly basis, but entering college and leaving home made my attendance sporadic at best. The last time I attended with any type of regularity was in 2012, and my once-nightly prayers have evolved into “God please just let me make through this one moment” and liking the occasional cutesy-fonted scripture quotes on Instagram. But, after navigating oh-so-many professional and personal ups and downs and still being able to standing upright, I have held on to faith in God, and it has been a long-held hope of mind to find a person who feels the same way.
I’ve dated guys who claim to believe in God. But something seemed different about James. He had actually read about God and faith over several years, and had determined himself a believer, rooted in his Catholic upbringing. “I go through phases,” he said of his Sunday Mass attendance at St. Augustine near U Street. “When I don’t go, I miss it.”
With that, I asked him to take me.
We concluded our dinner date with a kiss goodbye on the curb, noting that our next date would be bright and early on a Sunday at 10 a.m.
The following Thursday, however, I grew hesitant. “We don’t have to go, you know,” I said over the phone. “It was just something I threw out there. We can just go to brunch and not go to church before.”
“No, no, let’s go!” he said enthusiastically.
“Okay then,” I confirmed. “We’re going.”
All of my churchgoing had been with family, friends or by myself. I had never done something so … relationship-like with a guy I’d just met. But if faith is a quality that I’m looking for in a partner, then it makes sense that I would want a date where we explore it.
The only other notable Catholic Mass I had attended was in high school, during a Christmas break visit to Texas to see my dad. He is Catholic, and though our relationship has always run from nonexistent to strained, this Mass was one of my fonder memories. To see him, kneeling, praying, taking the sign of the cross along with his fellow parishioners, gave him a look of humility and humanity, two qualities I have, to this day, never seen come out of him before or since.
As James and I sat shoulder to shoulder and service began, I realized I had no idea how to … proceed. I folded my hands, but wondered, “Will he try to take my hand? Should I take his? Am I giving him enough room?” I decided to just breathe and observe, and concentrate on staying roused (romance aside, Mass is still an hour of being talked at, which can make even the most alert start bobbing their heads).
James was conscientious in opening the hymnal so I could follow along. “I wanna hear you sing!” he chided me, as I had warned him before that, due to my tone-deaf nature, I most definitely do not and would not sing. He said, “Just follow my lead” when everyone dropped to their knees to pray, and, most adorably, seemed to truly have found peace in those tender moments.
I found myself at peace too. I listened intently to the homily, which was focused on how to be a shining light to others that we encountered during the week. I really appreciated how the Catholic church made sure that if you actually took the time to come, you were going to be taught something. My time wasn’t wasted, which is how I had felt in way too many Sunday sermons that focused exclusively on salvation. That may be the ultimate goal, naturally, but sometimes you just need to hear a confirmation that you’re okay — that there is good waiting for you on the other side of whatever you are facing. And I felt like I got that.
Once the service concluded, James and I headed to brunch. Over Belgian waffles (him) and a salmon burger (me) we shared more funny stories and faults, and discussed that darn dating albatross known as timing. We talked so long that the server eventually had to drop our check without asking, so we could move it along.
We moseyed back to my car and, after a kiss goodbye, agreed that we’d be seeing each other again, soon. “What if this could be our thing?” I wondered. “Church, followed by brunch, followed by a long walk? Maybe not every Sunday, but like, a few Sundays a month?”
Was this what Etta James meant when she said she wanted a “Sunday kind of love?” A love that lasted past Saturday night, and was more than just love at first sight?
That love wasn’t destined for us. James told me a few days later that while he enjoyed our time together, he felt that something was missing. I was sad, sure, but at the same time I had enjoyed doing something different outside of standard early-date fare. And no matter what, we’ll always have that Sunday in church.
An earlier version of this post appeared on Medium.