Thinking About Dating an Atheist? April 23, 2008

Thinking About Dating an Atheist?

A reader of this site has a dilemma.

He just posted a profile on Part of his profile states that he’s an atheist. Right away, this is like kryptonite to a lot of potential dates who may not know what that means but see “atheist” as a dirty word.

He writes:

If we were in a face-to-face setting I could explain it to them more easily based upon their feedback/reactions. I don’t have that opportunity on an opening or second email reply.

One girl has already written to him. She says she’s never dated an atheist before, but it might be ok… you know, if he’s not into devil worship.

We need to clear up stereotypes and offer some advice to those people who *might* want to date an atheist but don’t have a clear impression of what an “atheist” is.

What advice do you have for those people?

There are probably many readers who have dated someone who knew next to nothing about atheism. What stereotypes did you have to correct?

Answer wisely! A potential love life hangs in the balance.

[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

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  • Christian (My Name Only)

    Wow, sometimes you guys think too much.

    If she does not know what atheism is, or does not wish to spend the energy finding out, she is not worth dating.

    Stop being so desperate.

  • @Christian: I can’t argue that. I made a similar dating suicide choice when I decided that I would only date female programmers.

    Long story short? I met my wife online in a Star Trek forum, one of our first dates was spent watching MST3K, and our wedding involved laser tag. Our second anniversary is approaching.

    My advice to the original question? Do the things you like doing. Get involved with groups that share your interests, online and off. Take it from there.

  • sabrina

    Kind of funny, but as a woman, I’ve never not had a guy date me because I’m an atheist. And I usually come right out with it from the need wasting my time on someone who isn’t allowed to date me. I’ve even dated some serious Christians, they’ll try the “are you sure, can’t you just believe.”, but thats about it. And one guy was a serious bible thumper, ie. went to a Christian college, only saw Christian concerts, etc. That one didn’t last, and not because of religion, it was because he liked to shoot animals (and I’m not down with that). My boyfriend now is a Christian, and he actually helps me get the apartment ready and prepare food for my atheist book club. So..if a woman has a problem..she’s probably not someone you want to be with. Join the atheist group in your town:)

  • Ron in Houston

    I wouldn’t have put it on my profile. There’s lots of things you could have said without using the word atheist. I say this because a whole of people just don’t get atheists. If you’ve been raised since a small child with a belief in a deity, then you just find it somewhere on the continuum of odd to abnormal for someone to be an atheist.

    Since the “cat” is already out of the bag, then you need to sell your atheism to your prospective “matches.” You have to convince them that you’re just a normal person like everyone else who just doesn’t happen to believe in God.

    Of course the bright side is that if you find a match they likely won’t expect you to go to church with them.

  • sabrina

    I read this to my boyfriend and he keeps shouting “stop using the word atheist”. I thought I would type his advice since he’s a Christian. But he doesn’t have another word we can use; plus, its not our fault Christians make the word dirty. Oh well, his two cents.

  • Polly

    Just insert the word “friendly” in front of “atheist.” 😉

    My wife has no stereotypes about atheists and neither did I when I was a believer. It boogles my mind how someone can get “devil worship” from atheism.

    If you’re worried about hooking an unsuspecting religious bigot, then maybe just a statement saying “religious affiliation isn’t important to me in a mate/romantic partner/etc..”

  • The misconceptions I generally run into is that I:
    1) am a devil worshipper
    2) am confused
    3) hate the church (usually because of #4)
    4) was abused by the church
    5) want to hurt people because I have no morals
    6) want to hurt myself because I feel lost and alone without religion
    7) am immoral or a nihilist (that’s usually what’s implied but they don’t usually know the word for it)
    8) just want attention
    9) actually believe in god but because of any of the above I’m just in denial
    10) am told that there really is no such thing as atheism.

  • PS: I wouldn’t hide my atheism on a dating site or anywhere else. If nothing else, it quickly weeds out the weak (that is, the fearful) and the ignorant. I don’t want to waste my time trying to explain myself. If the other person doesn’t already know what an atheist is they aren’t for me. If they don’t already know that it doesn’t make me a bad person, I’m not going to waste my time trying to convince them otherwise.

    I’m 36 – guys my age should know better. If they don’t, they’d be a better match for someone else.

  • Jen

    I would tell her I totally do worship the devil, and does she have any cats? But then, I don’t suffer fools.

  • Ron in Houston


    As an ex-Christian atheist, my first response was the same as your boyfriend.

    For gosh sakes, just say, “I’m not a religious person.”

  • I usually just avoid the topic like the plague. If it does come up, I say what Ron in Houston says, “I’m not really religious.” It’s a little hard sometimes since I am a board member of an atheist organization and think I should be open about that, but I want them to get to know me a bit before they make a judgment. Even many people who are “Christians” don’t really think about religion and are more apatheists than “Christians,” I think when you tell them after they’ve gotten to know you it makes it not such a big deal – or at least they give you the chance to explain it.

    There is plenty else to talk about besides religion or lack-thereof. A previous post was about your passions in life – talk about those other passions. You aren’t defined by your atheism.

    I hate to bring gender issues into this, but I think women might have a different perspective on this, too. Walk into any atheist convention and you’ll quickly realize women have their pick in the men’s club (not that the guys don’t want the women there – it’s just that it feels like a men’s club sometimes).

  • You could always tell them that you are NOT “a theist”. But you may only get away with that verbally, not written down ;).

    I would probably recommend not stating emphatically that you are an atheist. If you wanted to hint at it, perhaps say you are “evenly respectful towards all religions”.

  • He should include an explanation of what atheism is: that atheists actually believe in God, but are just amoral nihilists who hate the church and feel lost and alone without religion, and are just out to draw attention to themselves, hurt themselves and everyone around them, and take up Satan worship to this end.

    This ensure the only responses to his profile are from people with a sense of humor.

  • cautious

    …people still use

  • Jodie

    Boo — When attempting online dating, my ONLY search criteria were 1. Atheist and 2. Geographically near. KEEP atheist up there, you might land some hottie skepchcick looking for a mighty man of reason 🙂

  • Jodie

    Boo — When attempting online dating, my ONLY search criteria were 1. Atheist and 2. Geographically near. KEEP atheist up there, you might land some hottie skepchick looking for a mighty man of reason 🙂

  • I usually tell people that I think lying and cheating and stealing are wrong. That murder is right out. That adultry is a no-no. That I honour my father and my mother. That I love my neighbours, and consider it a failing to covet their belongings or lifestyle. In fact (I tell them), I am just like them in every way…except one.

  • My boyfriend is an atheist and, to be honest, I wasn’t looking at his religious credentials when I first made out with him. =P It doesn’t bother me at all, and he’s a friendly atheist. He does not criticize my religious beliefs, nor does he try to “convert” me, though he has jokingly informed me that the atheists are accepting new members. =) We’re together because of the non-religious things we have in common, and because we appreciate the other person for who they are, not who or what they worship or do not worship. My only concern is how nice my uncle will be to him when he finds out, but, hey, if he doesn’t like it, he can kiss our asses. Amirite?! (God, I am the worst typer ever…)

  • I’m frankly surprised it’s that much of an issue. I don’t use the word atheist very often around people, but I’ve never been accused of being into Satan worship.

    I say give the girl a try. In a person you can discuss religion calmly, one-on-one. If she comes across as narrow-minded and judgmental, than it just isn’t meant to be. If you’re respectful and stand up for your lack of beliefs without forcing them down her throat, I can’t imagine you’d get a bad reaction.

  • Tapial

    If you’re more interested in finding someone than finding “the one,” go ahead and remove it from your profile. You could say instead that you “don’t really do religion” or are “not very religious” or something. Or instead of saying atheist you could give a short summary of your philosophical beliefs, humanist taoist whatever. I’d steer clear of “skeptic” too, since most women seem not to go for that so much. Optimally I’d just leave out religious affiliation entirely, but I don’t know if allows that.

    If you’re more interested in finding someone to spend your life with, keep it up there. If you’re trying to catch a certain kind of fish you use that fish’s bait, no matter how much other species may turn up their noses.

    I do think men and women are perceived differently in the dating game. Even I, an atheist woman, am going to be a little leery of atheist men, and would probably require a rather lengthy explanation of their reasoning so that I know whether they’re skeptic atheists who have thought about their beliefs, or atheists by default who will go back and get god to forgive all their sins once there’s no more hot sorority chicks around to premaritally bang and 8:00 doesn’t seem like such an ungodly hour anymore. I’m currently dating an atheist (the one who got me thinking about the whole issue) and I couldn’t be happier; but on casual and especially on first dates (and especially especially blind dates, a la, I would feel a lot safer with someone weighed down by pounds upon pounds of religious guilt.

    Since men are less often victimized in relationships, I could definitely see how they would be less leery of dating an atheist – though the more hardcore ones would probably give it a second thought before taking the next step.

    Just some random thoughts.

  • you know, if he’s not into devil worship.

    I had a coworker who was shocked when I told him I was an atheist and said (with a perfectly straight face) that he’d never met an actual devil worshiper before. (This was at Argonne National Laboratory, where you’d think one would be safe from this type of thinking.)

  • Jamie

    I went through this dilemma. I started with a profile that used “Spiritual, but Not Religious,” which I rationalized because I do, in fact, have a personal definition of “secular spirituality”. But that’s a story for another post, and, honestly, it was a cop-out. The more I got into, however, the more I realized how many code-words and such that there are, and how “Spiritual, but not religious” could quite often mean “atheist.” I had a number of decent dates, in which religion never came up. Which was my initial goal.

    But none of those dates panned out. And somewhere along the way, I decided that I just wanted to be more honest. I switched to “atheist.” Not long after, I connected with someone who had herself labeled as “agnostic.” That was a big selling point for me. Even better: it was code too. She was really an atheist. It’s the first time I dated another atheist, and it is awesome. So awesome, in fact, that we just got engaged.

    My new conclusion is this: soft-peddling yourself may get you more dates, but it may prevent you from finding the really good ones. So, you have a choice: be honest, and risk a long search, but end up with someone who is willing to take you for who you are; or soft-sell, and get more dates, but maybe not find a really good one any time soon. All depends on your goals I guess. The choice is yours.

  • Julie

    Same as Jodie, the last time I tried online dating, I looked for atheists.

    BUT, before that last venture, I online dated quite a bit, and I think I actually might have been alienated by the word atheist. I think it might be better to just not answer the question and explain when you meet someone in person. That way you don’t scare off people like I used to be, who might not be religious but still have this weird feeling that “atheist” is a little extreme. That’s just the time and place in which we live. The idea isn’t fully accepted, even by people who probably are atheists but just aren’t fully out of the closet about it.

    Even better, put something funny in the religion blank. Chicks dig the funny. Then it shows you’re not taking religion seriously, which might be enough to attract either an atheist or someone who just considers themselves not very religious.

  • Julie

    Okay, it took so long for my comment to go up that Jamie’s went up first. And I gotta say I do agree about maybe not soft pedaling yourself. As soon as I adopted my atheists only need apply attitude, I met my boyfriend, and now I’m having his baby and we’re happy as can be. So if you want to meet a lot of people, open it up and be funny or say agnostic. But maybe you just want to wait to meet someone who’s already on the same page, in which case say you’re an atheist and wait it out. Up to you!

  • Sudo

    I’m curious if any of the women atheists here have had men who expected them to have loose(r) morals because they knew you were an atheist?

  • Huh. Not sure if this will help this guy or not, but I just made a profile on OKCupid a couple days ago, listed myself as an atheist, and just about all the replies I’ve gotten have been from atheists or agnostics. (And turnouts been not bad, if I say so myself.) Perhaps the users of OKCupid (the cheap folks) are a more skeptical bunch?

    Basically, I feel like if this guy doesn’t mind dating a religious person, he ought to say so specifically in his profile and devote a couple lines to his position. Otherwise even religious folks who know what the term means may avoid him just for fear of conversion attempts (or not wanting to enter a situation where their own beliefs will be questioned, period). The alternative is not mentioning he’s an atheist anywhere and explaining it later if and when it comes up, though that way will result in time wasted with whatever small segment of the population would actually dump someone upon discovering they’re not religious at all.

  • Can’t we just leave that field blank? Sites like MySpace don’t REQUIRE it, but it’s an option. I agree; atheist is a dirty word for most. Has anyone mentioned that technically atheists aren’t suppose to believe in Satan?

    So, there’s no other devil worshipers here? Lol!

  • Julie


    What the heck are loose morals? Are you talking about shoplifting or sleeping with someone on the first date?

  • JimboB

    I actually met my girlfriend on about 4.5 years ago. We’ve been together ever since. I don’t remember if I put atheist as my ‘religion’ or not. I think I might have put agnostic, which would have been accurate. She had atheist on her profile, which was totally hot, btw 😀
    So I guess my only advice is to keep your atheism out for everyone to see. Honesty is a good thing. Hopefully a lucky lady with a similar worldview will find you (or maybe you’ll find her), and you guys can take it from there.
    Good luck!

  • I don’t know how works. Do you have a lot of leeway in how you describe yourself, or is it more multiple-choice where you’re offered specific selections you have to choose from?

    If the former, I might still say “atheist” but say a few humorous words about it — like “I’m an atheist — and no, I don’t hate life or worship the devil or shoot men in Reno just to watch them die. I’m a pretty nice person, actually.”

    If the latter, I might just say “non-religious,” and explain the details later. Or else just keep saying “atheist” and not worry about it. You may lose some potential people, but you’ll attract others.

    But I don’t agree that saying “atheist” weeds out people you wouldn’t want to meet anyway. (Unless you only want to mee other atheists… which I could understand.) There’s a lot of ignorance out there about atheists… ignorance among decent, well-intentioned people who really just don’t know. There’s a difference between ignorance and stupidity. And the main one is that ignorance can be overcome.

  • I do think men and women are perceived differently in the dating game. Even I, an atheist woman, am going to be a little leery of atheist men, and would probably require a rather lengthy explanation of their reasoning so that I know whether they’re skeptic atheists who have thought about their beliefs, or atheists by default who will go back and get god to forgive all their sins once . . . but on casual and especially on first dates (and especially especially blind dates, a la, I would feel a lot safer with someone weighed down by pounds upon pounds of religious guilt.

    Wow. Even some atheists think atheists are less trustworthy and moral. No wonder theists look down on us. Would you require a Christain to explain why they were a Christian?

  • It’s interesting that you bring this up because when I met my current partner I was sort of coming out of a new age phase after abandoning Christianity. I met him online and decided to meet in person and one of the things I wanted to talk about the most was atheism and how that affected his life. I wanted to hear first hand how he saw things and experienced things. I asked him how not being spiritual affected his experience of being in the room when his father died. We talked about other things too and after a couple of months of dating I realized that I was actually more of an atheist than anything else. I’d say to anyone who wants to date an atheist, don’t judge someone until you can actually talk to them and figure out how they see the world.

    A dating site that is pretty atheist-friendly is

  • WayBeyondSoccerMom

    I think putting down: “prefer to date/chat on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings” would be a nice subtle way to get your point across.

  • TXatheist

    I would feel a lot safer with someone weighed down by pounds upon pounds of religious guilt.

    That one does send a nice little jab into my side.

    On my personal note. I met a girl who was a minister, divorced, and thought she could never remarry because of that being a sin. We dated a couple times and we had two great dates, philosophically. I’m sure I completely opened her mind to atheists being gentlemen.

    On my first date with my wife I told her that I was really into religion/philosophy and elaborated quite a bit. She was cool with it and just said that I shouldn’t chide Christians. I think we’ve both moved closer to the middle. She now gets irritated by YEC and fundies and I can actually talk to them and try to get them to accommodate evolution with religious belief.

  • chancelikely

    WayBeyondSoccerMom – actually, knowing nothing about the person who puts that on their entry, I’d think, “First date: Church! Second date: Bible study!”

    That’s a little too ambiguous to be subtle.

  • Kate

    Haha, Erik would be the one to ask for this. Oh wait…my prior boyfriend was an atheist, but so was I, so I can’t offer any help there.

  • Leena

    Ergh. Been there, done that. It’s so much easier to just date a fellow atheist. You don’t spend half your time together trying to explain what you (don’t) believe.

  • Scotty B

    How about just putting “non-religious” instead of Atheist? Means the same thing (essentially) without the negative connotation many associate with Atheist.

  • I’m surprised and disappointed by how many people think we should keep being an atheist in the closet. It’s NOT a dirty word but until we use it regularly in the mainstream many people will think it is.

    I’m not saying we have to rub it in people’s faces, but we don’t have to act like we’re ashamed of it either by coming up with little euphemisms for the word.

    Atheist is the proper term for one who does not believe in god(s). It’s like using the word “vagina” instead of “va-jay-jay” (oh how I hate that term).

    We’re not children, here.

  • If I were still on the market, I would definitely put “atheist” on my profile. I know it would eliminate some people who might potentially have learned something by meeting me first and learning I’m an atheist later, but in a romantic relationship I’d rather not bother with that kind of hassle. Breaking them in in other ways can be fun, but astonishment about nonbelief is not something I want to deal with in my intimate life.

    I’ve linked to this before on related questions here, but I’ve written a post about atheist/believer romances here: “He has his faults, such as being a perverted-democrat-atheist, but….

  • Jen

    I’m curious if any of the women atheists here have had men who expected them to have loose(r) morals because they knew you were an atheist?

    What the hell does this mean?

  • I’d leave it up, for several reasons.

    1. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.
    2. It might “weed out” partners for which your atheism might be a problem.

    Had I met my wife online rather than at school, and had we discussed this sort of thing before we started dating, and had we reached an understanding on my nonreligion v. her catholicism, it would have saved a lot of headaches.

    The problems are myriad: we actually love each other, though we feel sorry for each other (I feel like she’s been duped, and she feels that people ruined god for me), and I was still figuring out my stance: I flirted with Buddhism and Taoism and then decided I was an agnostic. Then I realized that I was a “weak atheist” and got more militant. There are a lot of issues that we talk about (politics in Ontario and the rest of Canada), and sometimes religion sneaks in there. I do my best to be respectful, but I get pretty adamant about things.

    So here we are. On Sundays, she takes the baby to mass and I take the dog to the park. I try not to badmouth god, or the pope, or religion in general, and she agrees that while I’m sometimes an asshole, that has nothing to do with my atheism.

    You might simply do better to avoid dating people with whom this will be a problem. God forbid (pun intended) that you fall in love with a theist. That’s hard.

    But interesting.

  • Maria

    you might try putting “not religious” or “humanist” or “agnostic”. though these have gotten me some stereotypes too: the response I keep getting is: “but you’re so nice”. I must of course be a horrible person b/c I’m not religious!

  • Jodie

    At this point I only date atheists. It feels so much better having an ally than another debater. And since I only date atheist dudes I have not encountered one who thought “Score! She isn’t terrified of everlasting wrath!”

  • Skepticus

    I do not put “atheist” in my online dating profile for the simple fact that I want the greatest possible number of responses. I need all of the help that I can get! ;o) Most Americans would avoid dating an atheist so why start at a disadvantage? I am not being deceitful nor would I conceal my beliefs if asked because atheism is not the center of my existence, just one facet of my being. Personally, I give a lot of leeway to a woman’s religious beliefs because I feel that this is a personal decision and I am actually very tolerant in this respect. I ask only that she not impose her beliefs on me or try to somehow get me to convert. Live and let live.

  • Sudo

    There are a couple of replies to my question earlier about whether women atheist have encountered men who expect them to have loose(r) morals, and who have expressed what appears to be indignance at or ignorance of the meaning of the question.

    People, it’s a tenet of Christianity and other fundie religions that you wait until marriage to have sex. Yes, I know – hardly anyone does but there are a few people out there who list themselves as Christian who will wait til they’re married or at least in a committed relationship. Stereotype? For sure. But there it is.

    I ask a question about whether you’ve met men who expect you to have looser morals because you’re in atheist, and you pretend not to know that lack of morals is a common stereotype of atheists – but on the other hand thinking you’re a Devil worshiper is a common stereotype that everyone’s heard of? LOL

    One of the chief polemical arguments levied against atheism is that there is no sound basis for morality without a God figure. Prominent atheists have to dispute this in practically every debate I’ve seen or read about and in practically every book about atheism. So to pretend that the common man out there will not possibly expect a woman atheist to have sex with them faster than a woman who labels herself Christian or Muslim is just a bit disingenuous.

  • Julie

    So to pretend that the common man out there will not possibly expect a woman atheist to have sex with them faster than a woman who labels herself Christian or Muslim is just a bit disingenuous.

  • I just do not date seriously religious people.

    But I have found many “Christian” peers in my area who say they are religious, but only pay lip service to dogma. Just keeping up apperances. They are more open and less influenced by their religion.

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