August 17, 2008

Atheist Dating

You are out on a first date, and the person mentions that they attend church every Sunday. Is this a deal-breaker? How do you respond in such a situation? I usually try to stick to topics I feel like I know something about, but when a reader e-mailed me with the suggestion that I address some of the dating-related challenges atheists face, I couldn't resist. Don't get me wrong - it is not that I have no dating experience as an atheist. It is just that this has not been part of my life for a while. But in this post, I'd like to consider some of the the dating-related obstacles faced by atheists. After all, I'd be lying if I said that they play no role in my current social life (or lack thereof).

Based on when I first started dating and when I first embraced atheism, I had perhaps a year or two of dating as a Christian. For everything since, roughly 20 years, I've been an atheist. This period involved some very different dating contexts (e.g., high school, college, and beyond), and it seemed like there were different challenges in each.

I recall relatively few obstacles to dating in high school. Then again, this was in the Pacific Northwest and not Mississippi. There were a handful of women I would have liked to have gone out with who rejected me upon learning that I was not a Christian. In all but one case I can remember, this did not bother me much. Most of my girlfriends were either mildly Christian or agnostic, and my atheism was not often an issue. With them, the obstacle I faced again and again was their Christian parents. I recall some uncomfortable interrogations and parents forbidding their daughters to go out with me. In retrospect, this was probably wise on their part. Fortunately, it often seemed to make me more attractive in their daughters' eyes.

What about the one exception I mentioned above? Oh boy! I'm not really sure I want to share this, but here goes...there was one time in my life, during high school, where I actually pretended to be Christian just to get the girl. I know, that sounds terrible. All I can say in my defense is that she was worth it. Oh, and I was promptly dumped as soon as I tired of my charade.

College was easier in some ways and much harder in others. I was completely open about my atheism at this point and probably couldn't have hid it if I tried. The fundamentalists were often easy to spot in class, and attractive or not, I generally kept my distance. The few times I did approach them, I was promptly shot down in flames. They knew I was an atheist and therefore evil. Because dating tended to be a group affair often involving alcohol and other substances, the women in attendance were almost never of the fundamentalist sort. I finally met some atheist women and continued to date Christian women too.

Where things were considerably more difficult in college was that some of these relationships were longer-term, more serious, and harder to walk away from. Because I was far more of an activist then than I had been in high school, religion was more often n issue and certainly ended some relationships sooner than I would have liked.

Soon after college, I did something stupid that would set my life on a very different course and take me out of the dating scene for quite a while. I got married. There would be many problems that would lead to our eventual divorce, but my atheism and her on-again-off-again Christianity was an important one. Bad memories.

As luck would have it, I've been in Mississippi since that time. This is not exactly what I would call a conducive place for atheist dating. Fortunately, being on my own has given me an opportunity to learn that I can be perfectly happy outside the context of an intimate relationship.

How about you? What obstacles have you faced dating as an atheist? Is it more a matter of meeting people or of their reaction when they learn of your lack of religious belief?