How Was Your Dating Life Different When You Were Religious? December 21, 2009

How Was Your Dating Life Different When You Were Religious?

Laura, the Redheaded Skeptic, used to be a fundamentalist Christian and a pastor’s wife before becoming an atheist.

On her excellent site, she talks about the first journal entry she wrote after meeting the man who would later become her pastor husband (whom she has since left).

Specifically, she mentions a list of goals she set for their relationship as it was just beginning (along with side commentary):

  1. To learn to care more about his needs than my own.
  2. To be in much prayer.
  3. For him to meet my family.
  4. Start a devotion together (weekly) [didn’t happen. Ever. Should have been Christian Red Flag #2.]
  5. To keep God in the center and figure out how to keep God in the center.
  6. To support and encourage him to grow in the Lord and in his self [that’s what I wrote; pardon the grammar!].
  7. To treat him as a brother in Christ [every man’s dream, right?!].
  8. Scripture memorization? [?? yeah, that’ll help! Also didn’t happen.]

She mentions that, in hindsight, she can “spot a hundred things wrong” with what she wrote, but it was genuine and honest back then.

I became an atheist before I ever started dating, so this idea of going into a relationship with religion as a focus is completely foreign to me.

Did you do things differently in terms of dating when you were religious?

Besides the faith (or lack thereof) of the people you liked, how did your dating life change when you became an atheist?

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  • There is something so terribly frightening about that list. Aside from the “his needs before my own” (did he have a similar entry in his list?), as she seems to have realized, none of these things keep a relationship together. There’s nothing there about trust, openness, and making sure to grow together through life’s big changes.

    I’ve read somewhere, and I’m not sure if it’s true or not, that feminist couples have a lower rate of divorce than non-feminist couples. To me, that would make sense. This whole idea of marriage being in support of one individual, the other being nothing more than a housemaid/nanny who allows the important one to blossom without having to worry about daily trivialities, is just not conducive to happiness for either. It’s obvious on the woman’s side, but how can a man ever grow as a person either when he is essentially still a child, getting his arse wiped for him by his surrogate mother?

    I think of all the lives wasted trying to make a marriage like the one alluded to in that list work – it`s like trying to push a boulder up a hill…

  • I cringe when I read my journals during my teens and early twenties. As a Mormon, I was trained that my main role was to support the boys around me and encourage them to grow into spiritual men. And if anything ever went “too far” on a date (which for a Mormon is pretty much anything beyond kissing) it was my fault because girls aren’t supposed to have sexual desires. Boys can’t be expected to control themselves, so it’s up to the girl to show self-restraint.

    Then I met my husband, who led me into a life of sin and coffee and I am eternally grateful! Here’s my full de-conversion story.

  • We Are The 801

    First a bit of background:

    I’m a guy. Many moons ago I was in the Church of Christ– VERY fundamentalist. In the state of Lousyana no less.

    I was already someone with low self-esteem problems in my teens and early twenties, so becoming a Christian only compounded things. Anyway, in high school, I was agnostic.

    I can only say that it was due to moving to the buckle of the Bible Belt, being constantly harassed by these wackos and finally giving in in a moment of emotional insecurity that I actually was baptised in the Church of Christ. I was involved with it for about three years.

    To sum up dating for me back then: Sex… GUILT… sex… GUILT… sex GUILT…

    And when I mean “sex,” I mean kissing, and only later (on very few rare occasions), petting. No removal of clothes. I would feel HORRIBLY guilty at times, feeling like a hypocrite because on the one hand, we would engage in these moments of intimacy and a few hours later, be at church or some devotional or what not.

    The solution: Let’s get MARRIED! QUICK! We hadn’t been even half a year and I proposed to her. I wanted to make the wedding date not much further down the track. Thankfully, my then-GF wanted to put off any wedding date for much later (which thankfully never arrived– it would’ve been disastrous for many different reasons).

    Under marriage, sex is perfectly OK. Hence, wanting a quick marriage (my own low self-esteem didn’t help either). I really think this has a LOT to do with why fundamentalist young adults get married so bloody young. And consequently is a great set-up for divorce later on.

    I was a convert and I had lots of guilt related to sex. Interestingly, my GF was raised in the Church of Christ and apparently had no such guilt (she expressed some puzzlement at times about my feeling guilty).

    It still took a few years to grow in the self-esteem department, but sex and Christian guilt was never a problem.

    The funny thing is that a few years ago, after years of a failed marriage (with someone else, not the Church of Christ GF!), a few years ago I met someone who is an atheist, and who has actually been there for me, helping me to overcome many of my self-esteem issues. Oh, and sex is certainly not an issue! LOL

    I do think religion, especially in its more conservative varieties, places some artificial constraints on couples, forcing them to be dishonest with themselves, with one another, and with their family and friends. I think THIS is one of the most destructive things about religion (aside from, you know, bombs and so on).

    Religion encourages dishonesty, hypocrisy and guilt. And the only way to get around it is to lie even MORE to yourself, and/or to project these insecurities and fears onto others (hence homophobia, etc.).

  • Carlie

    Oh yeah, that list is familiar. I love reading her blog, because it hits so close to home for me in some ways (although she grew up a little more strongly religious than I did). That’s exactly what good little Christian girls are taught to think about dating.

  • PeeJay

    I went to a church that had some very strange ideas about relationships. “Dating” wasn’t allowed. Not that it wasn’t allowed but it was looked down upon so people hung out in groups and when you’d see couples talking to each other for a few months after church, a wedding was on the horizon. Don’t get me wrong, people dated. They just didn’t call it that and they kept it pretty safe. Because of all this…I haven’t dated in the ttraditionl sense in about 12 years. I actually became an atheist one year ago today and so I’m still dealing with all these issues.

  • DGKnipfer

    I’m so glad I was never more than a Deist when I was younger. I can’t imagine trying to fit into the messed up view so many religious people have of relationships.

    The really funny thing to me is I’ve had fewer partners than most religious people I’ve known. They’re always worried about my soul but I do a better job of meeting the standards they profess.

  • Angie

    Arduinnae makes a good point — important elements of a successful romantic relationship are missing from this list. There’s nothing about mutual trust, respect, honesty, communication, or responsibility. The list centers more around the Boss-Man-in-the-Sky than the two people involved in the relationship, which is a serious red flag.

    I’m glad Laura came to her senses and is out of that relationship. Now, she’s free to find a partner with whom she is truly compatible.

  • @ We are the 801, the “quick marriage to avoid sin” thing, definitely a problem.

  • Mathew Wilder

    Dating? Wtf is that? *sigh*

  • Samantha Joy


    I enjoyed reading your story. Thanks for sharing.

  • For me, religion made a horrible mess of relationships. I was conflicted and guilty all the time. All acts of sex were a source of guilt and I spent all my time repenting and then being human again. I nearly married on girl just because I took her virginity and thought I had to. Wasted two years of my life with her over it.

    As for this list –
    “1.To learn to care more about his needs than my own.” – Why? Shouldn’t you look out for your needs as well? This being written by a woman underscores the sexism that is built into all monotheisms.

    “2.To be in much prayer.” – This can be a bad thing. Anyone who spends too much time alone hearing only the echo of their own thoughts gets a little weird. And praying is essentially that.

    “3.For him to meet my family.” – You shouldn’t hide a partner from your family so I can’t really argue with this. Hardly seems worth mentioning.

    “4.Start a devotion together (weekly) [didn’t happen. Ever. Should have been Christian Red Flag #2.]” – This creeps me out. Even when I was a Christian I cringed away from devotions.

    “5.To keep God in the center and figure out how to keep God in the center.” – Yes, how does one do this? By being much in prayer? By listen to the echo of ones own thoughts?

    “6.To support and encourage him to grow in the Lord and in his self [that’s what I wrote; pardon the grammar!].” – Another thing I have no idea how one achieves. How do they choose the right path among many? What is orthodox and what is loony?

    “7.To treat him as a brother in Christ [every man’s dream, right?!].” – Ah, so all Christian marriages are incest! I see the guilt angle here.

    “8.Scripture memorization? [?? yeah, that’ll help! Also didn’t happen.]” – Might help you with memory skill as a whole and that is good but having a handy verse to wield never helped anyone.

  • Shannon

    Not much different. I was raised without religion, which I very much appreciate and am continuing with my own kids. So I was an atheist, then briefly tried to be a Christian in my mid-20’s, then went back to atheist. During my Christian period (it only lasted a few years) I met and married my self-proclaimed “militant atheist” husband. So you know it was true love cuz he married me despite my church going ways, lol!

    But anyway, I wasn’t a good Christian. I was still myself. Still open minded, still thought for myself, still a feminist, didn’t think everyone had to be the same religion, and thought pre-marital sex was just fine and dandy. I didn’t ask him to go to church with me either because I didn’t think it was important. Yeah, I was a lousy Christian 😉

  • Leilani

    I was once Mormon too. I spent over 3 years looking at different singles wards for return missionaries, going to different Universities LDS Religious Institutes searching out ‘worthy’ men. They were either too pious or not ‘worthy’.

    As I became less and less religious, it became easier to find guys I had true interest in. I was 5 years into my marriage to my non-religious husband before I finally embraced my atheism. Our arguments have almost ceased and I no longer feel obligated to my biggoted family. It has been wonderful.

  • Anonymous

    I once almost broke up with my wife in high school because she didn’t really believe in god and at that time it was very important to me.

    10 years later, we’ve been married for almost 4 years and have our first unbaptized child 🙂

  • I have a similar list somewhere…I truly have to find it and post. It was from my pre-marital counseling when I was getting ready to marry Jesus, er, Jeff.

    I also have a post similar in nature – a letter that I wrote to myself at a christian church camp where I was a youth leader. Scary.

  • littlejohn

    I had the opposite problem. I was a lifelong atheist in the bible belt. I can think of at least one woman I would have married if not for her religion. I remember the warning bells going off when she asked me, in all seriousness, “What would you do if you woke up one day and I and all the other Christians were gone?” Holy crap. Literally. Had to let her go. It about killed me. What a figure!
    And this was before the Left Behind series had become widely known, so I didn’t exactly know what she was talking about; I just knew it was woo in the extreme. I wonder what she’s doing now? Still waiting for the rapture while a dozen rugrats crawl around her ankles, I imagine.

  • Hugh Kramer

    Religion wasn’t a major problem when I was dating -except that my parents occasionally pressured me to date within our faith:

    “Why are you still hanging around with that shiksa? Aren’t there any Jewish girls in that fancy-shmancy college we send you to?”

    After I became an atheist though (and told my parents), that concern trumped the one about whoever I might be dating, heh heh!

  • My dating life? It was non existent. Now? It’s nonexistent. It sucks!

  • BEX

    I have always been an atheist since my earliest understanding of what that was, so the question doesn’t exactly apply. However, in early teens sometime I had a crush on a boy who was a very devout Baptist. It turned into my first real exploration of what god meant. I spent almost a year chasing my tail trying to understand the whole idea and trying to get this boy to accept me enough to have some kind of relationship.

    In the end it all came to nothing. I became more and more certain, not of my own thoughts, but that his were utterly ridiculous.

    In the last few years (mid-twenties now) I’ve thought back to that boy quite often and I realize that I’m incredibly grateful for that experience. It was very important for establishing my personality and outlook on the world.

    Not that I’ve dated much, but religion was never a criteria when I chose a mate…It just so happens that the people I happen to be attracted to are also free-thinking rationalist.


    I’ve never dated – not that I don’t want to, I’m just a wee bit isolated.

  • Epistaxis

    She mentions that, in hindsight, she can “spot a hundred things wrong” with what she wrote

    I only see seven.

  • Jen

    That list is not entirely problematic (I can’t argue with 3, for instance) but the rest, wow. 1, in particular, is terrifying. So much of what we are introduced to as romance in the world is actually terrible. Think of all the non-romantic non-comedies that feature stalking, harassment, and abuse that are then presented as “cute” and end up with the (crazy) boy getting the girl. Not to mention the toxic relationships- think of Carrie and Big on SatC, and bang your head against the wall a few times. Now, Laura had the added pressure of the Bible telling her to care more about him than herself, which, really, is not a good idea, no matter how you slice it.

  • I used ot doa lot of “Oh god let us be together” and also tried to be more religious or try to believe harder. Did not work.

  • patrick mercer

    I have been an agnostic since I was a young man. I have tried, on several occasions to be religious, but I just don’t have what it takes: belief in god.

    I once married a christian. Her beliefs, as well as her politics, were difficult for me to understand or appreciate.

    The marriage ultimately failed, much to our mutual relief.

  • Samantha, thanks so much for reading my story.

  • I’ve always been an atheist so I can’t speak of how dating was different when I was religious. I ended up marrying an religious moderate who is really only a “cultural Christian” (kind of like a “cultural Jew”). Earlier in life, I did have some problems with dating religious women. When I started dating my wife, I kind-of down-played my atheism. I told her on the first date I was an atheist but I didn’t make a big deal about it. That was about 17 years ago. We have a good marriage.

  • I can definitely relate to this. My mom was big into the “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” thing when I was a teen, and to top it off, I was homeschooled.

    Funny story–my first real girlfriend called herself an atheist when we first met (though it wasn’t really an intellectual atheism, just a kind of default non-religion) and I ended up converting her to my fundamentalism; proof that evangelical dating can work!
    So, we got married way too young, had kids WAY too young, and then we deconverted.
    It’s caused issues, for sure… honestly, I think it’s just dumb, blind luck that we were such a good match that we could last through fundamentalism and deconversion! And, of course, we love our kids to death, but we do wish we could have waited on both counts, and know the only reason we didn’t was from the religious pressure.

  • Tizzle

    I get to have sex now.

  • muggle

    First the obvious, sex is a possibility now.

    Not so obvious, I’m a strong, opinionated woman who knows her own mind. Okay, that’s obvious but it doesn’t jive well with what religion tells a woman to be. So I was always simultaneously fighting nature and religious guilt trips. (As if saving myself for marriage didn’t do enough of that; man, if only I had that to do over again, sigh.)

  • I must have been reading a better class of Christian marriage-prep books back in the day — I’m pretty sure there was stuff about communication, trust, mutual respect and so on. Or maybe I just filtered it all through a little bit of common sense, so it came out more-or-less right, just with a little Scripture sprinkled on top. Of course, Bill Gothard and similar authoritarians always gave me the creeps, so I avoided any material that pushed that kind of idea. My concept of marriage was and is more organic than organizational. So when the faith gradually went (for both of us) it didn’t make any real difference to the relationship.

  • Religion wasn’t a problem for me while dating, because I wasn’t religious. But I have found that many of my partners had a problem with my lack of religion. There was the Catholic guy who didn’t want me to meet his mother and created a fictional middle name for me to make me sound more Catholic. There was the guy who thought penetrative sex should be saved for after marriage (Oral was a thumbs up, though), which he told after a weekend of sex and debauchery and should be added to the “Things to discuss before sex” conversation. Then there was the guy who made no mention of his beliefs at all until one day I said I found rocks and fossils fascinating because they were millions of years old and he scoffed and said “The Earth is only 6000 years old” and suddenly revealed his YEC ways like a dirty flasher.

  • I guess I will add my two cents.

    When I was in high school I attended an evangelical free church, where my first boyfriend wanted to take me for youth group one Sunday night. I kinda got into it because I really liked all the people, but further on in the relationship, it started to get weird. I’ve always been a nerd and I knew I was going to college and was going to get a degree in something important and save the world. Maybe a kid if it didn’t get in the way. The boyfriend at the time, however, decided to tell me different. He told me it was basically my job to get married ASAP and have lots of kids. Because god said so and all that. So, like some of the other commenters, I have always been a feminist and a person who liked evidence to back up beliefs, and that did not fit with the individuals that went to the church with me.

    Now that I am in college with a year left on a bachelor’s degree in psychology (and on the track to a PhD in clinical psychology), and an open atheist, my dating life has improved. I know what I want for myself and I am not going to let anyone use god to make me change that. It’s better now because I can and do decide for myself, and can search for a partner accordingly.

    And the sex? As soon as I was old enough to legally do it, I enjoyed it and it has been a healthy part of my longer-term relationships. No god, no guilt.

    And don’t even get me started on abstinence-only sex “education.”

    Like someone above commented, I think, I also think that the items on the checklist that potentially reflect a very unbalanced relationship wherein the man is the head of the household and the woman exists solely to support the man. He can’t be expected to control himself, so she has to set boundaries and assist him in his religious growth. It’s a bad deal for both sexes. Women don’t get a say in anything of real value, and men are depicted as creatures which need someone else to do their thinking for them.

  • Staceyjw

    A little off topic, but I think it fits…….

    Good fundies don’t DATE anymore, where have you been?! Now, it’s all about “Courtship”- a euphemism for arranged marriages. Relationship decisions are made by a girls parents and the church; they pick your mate, and “screen: them- before she is even aware that someone is interested! The girl can then meet the suitor, but rarely can be alone with them, and cannot do anything more than hold hands. (Great way to choose a lifeling companion!)

    The center of this ideal is misogyny: Courtship returns women to their “biblically proper place” as property- first of their fathers, then their husbands, with nothing in between. By taking this most important function away from the woman, she loses her ability to be a person in her own right. Technically, she can say no to a chosen suitor, but realistically, how much free choice do you think the average god fearing fundie has in this situation? When Dad and Pastor say “he’s for you”, how many will argue?

    And of course, these same people expect the woman to marry with no info, serve her man in every way (including sexually), then pop out endless amounts of babies (no birth control) and stay married forever. Bad marriages are a considered a woman’s opportunity to MARTYR themselves for the lord (really, I didn’t make this up, I wish I had).

    So yes, #1 on this list is terrible, but only a small taste of whats really going on in the world of super fundie xtians! Don’t chalk them up as the fringe either, they are steadily influencing moderate xtians across denominations.

    I plug these whenever I can, they are important for any secularist or feminist:
    “Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement”, by Katherine Joyce

    Women who escaped:
    Read: Vycki’s story, AND The Tale of a Passionate Housewife Desperate for God by Journey (very disturbing)

    Happy Holidays!

  • Chris

    I’ve only been outright rejected because of my lack of faith once. Atheism and religion are logically incompatible but logic doesn’t play into relationships as much as it probably should. People who are attracted to one another will ignore those logical problems unless they’re massive. And even massive problems can be ignored if the attraction is strong enough.

    Bottom line is that if you have trouble dating you should not blame it on being an atheist. Some people will not date you based on who you are but that list does not suddenly grow massive because you’re atheist.

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