Annie's Mailbox: Is there such a thing as a neutral minister to marry us?

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Dear Annie: I have a wonderful boyfriend I'll call "Ray." We have a lot in common and are very happy together. Although we have not yet committed to anything permanent, we both want marriage and have discussed it.

However, there is one thing we don't have in common - our religion. It doesn't bother us (we actually have fun discussing our different beliefs), but it could pose a problem if we decided to marry. We've already agreed that a wedding in a neutral location would be ideal. The problem is, we have no idea who would perform the ceremony.

Neither of our families knows we are of different faiths, and we prefer to keep it a secret. Is there such a thing as a "neutral" ordained minister? One who can marry us without the involvement of religion? We don't want a courthouse wedding to be our only option.

- It's All About Love

Dear About Love: There are plenty of nondenominational ministers who can perform a ceremony that will have spirituality without a specific religion. Look for a justice of the peace or a Universal Life minister, or Google "nondenominational officiant" to find other alternatives. Check with your local county clerk's office to make sure the ceremony will be legally binding.

However, we question any marriage that begins with secrets. Please be mature enough to tell your families and handle the consequences. And if you ever plan to have children, the decisions about their religious upbringing (or lack thereof) could have an enormous impact on your marriage and the relationships you have with family members. Minimizing it now will only create bigger problems later.

Dear Annie: My problem concerns a friend I don't feel close to anymore. Through the years, our paths have diverged, mainly because I'm now married and "Laura" is still single. When I talk to her, it's never a real dialogue. I pick up the phone and she launches into whatever is bothering her.

The other day, all I heard about were Laura's job worries and romantic woes. She's been after some guy who's told her he is only interested in friendship. If I try to say anything, she interrupts and talks more about herself.

Annie, I thought friendships were give and take. I've been out of a job for months, my husband and I have some major repair bills coming up, and I'm worried about my mother. Laura knows about my problems because I've mentioned them in my e-mails, but she doesn't seem to care. It's all about this guy and her job. Do I just stop talking to her?

- Not a Real Friendship

Dear Not: Laura seems very self-absorbed. Tell her directly how hurt you are that she seems uninterested in your life, although she may not respond well. If she continues to irritate you, we recommend you scale back on the communication.

Don't e-mail or call as often. If she calls, listen for a few minutes and then tell her nicely that you are busy and have to get off the phone. Sorry to say, not all friendships stand the test of time.

Dear Annie: This is in response to "Happy American Bachelor," who can't get past the second date and says he's given up on women.

Could it be this guy has unrealistic standards? In my experience, it seems like most guys look for a 20-something long-legged blonde, preferably resembling a Barbie doll. He said he doesn't have much dating experience and proposed a few times. Is he latching on to women too soon, scaring them off?

I, too, am frustrated. I may not be drop-dead gorgeous, but I am funny, smart, love sports and have many interests. I'm tempted to give up, too, but something tells me to hold out hope.

- 37, Single and Disappointed

Dear 37: People who can't find romantic partners often are looking in the wrong places, missing a delightful interior because they are too focused on a gorgeous exterior. We hope one of those "many interests" will lead you to a friendship worth exploring.

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