Ask Richard: Skeptical Guy with a Credulous Girlfriend May 10, 2010

Ask Richard: Skeptical Guy with a Credulous Girlfriend

Dear Richard,

I am an atheist, yes, and like many other readers of this blog, I also identify myself as a skeptic. This is a new point of view — or way of life — to my now girlfriend of one year. We have had emotional discussions about religion and God on one or two occasions and more frequently have got into it over our disagreements over skepticism, paranormal, ghosts, etc. She thinks my constant need to question the validity of everything is cynicism. To me it’s actually an optimistic view on life in which I long to know the truth, rather than just accept the reality that is put in front of me. Unfortunately, she can’t — or chooses not to — see the world in that way.

In one example, she received a chain email about the “world’s biggest dog”. To me the pictures looked fishy, although they could have been real. So, I said I wanted to look it up and see if that really WAS the world’s largest dog. This upset her greatly because she says I should have just “let her believe something that makes her happy”. I see her point, and this may be a reasonable sacrifice that has to be made for a relationship… to a point.

More recently, my girlfriend has started reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. She takes in everything Gladwell presents at face value and is excited about every chapter and has to tell me about it. I admit, Gladwell’s premise(s) are very interesting, but as all of we skeptics know, he commits many logical fallacies, the most important of which is just being too damn quick to jump to conclusions on small amounts of data. However, my gentle disagreement with my girlfriend as to the veracity of Gladwell’s book upsets my girlfriend greatly. We are currently in a spat over this issue in general. She thinks I can’t listen to any interesting thing she brings to me without “trying to tear it down” which is obviously not what I am doing at all.

At what point is it too much for a hard skeptic like me to be with someone who is more of a believer, like her? Am I being too stubborn and should I just suck it up and “let her believe” even when I strongly disagree? I feel like this could affect our ability to have rational conversations about stressful life issues farther down the road. Is this a sign that it is not to be? Are we both over-reacting and not being understanding enough of each other’s way of thinking?

Please provide some balanced insight!


Dear Overly-skeptical,

One could see you and your girlfriend as simply a couple who are mismatched on the skepticism-gullibility scale, but that might be overlooking a more subtle and possibly more important point.

A different way of looking at it could be that you and she have completely different criteria for how each of you respond to things. You look for what assures you that something is real, true, correct, and accurate. She looks for what makes her happy, hopeful, optimistic, and excited. Both sets of criteria are useful and legitimate.

Perhaps the mismatch is that you are a bit too much into your intellect, and she’s a bit too much into her feelings. The most well-adjusted people I have known have had a balance between their reason and their emotion. There is a fairly wide middle ground that allows for some of them to be more “the scientist,” and some to be more “the poet,” but people who are either extreme often have great difficulty relating to others. Even when two people are both at the very intellectual, or both at the very emotional ends of this scale, they often have trouble maintaining their relationship. Both extreme types can usually get through life as individuals, but to be a close friend, a partner, a lover, or a spouse, we need a mixture of both our heads and our hearts.

Most successful couples have a fairly close match between their head/heart balances, but an exact match might not be ideal. The difference in how two people respond to a situation can add energy, interest, and excitement to the relationship. Their different emphases can enrich each other’s skills for coping and responding to life. One can remind their partner not to miss the details, while the other can remind their partner not to miss the overall point. Over many years, long term couples gradually “rub off on each other” and often come to resemble each other more. That similarity can be a source of both comfort and boredom, so sometimes they have to stir things up with new differences.

Overly-skeptical, in order to remain a couple, I don’t think that you have to lower your standards for believing in something or accepting a proposition. Nor is it necessary for your girlfriend to become more skeptical. Just reduce the importance for either of you to be “right.” What might help is something you said at the very end of your letter, to be “understanding enough of each other’s way of thinking.” Both of you need only accept that the other’s way has its merits as well as its limits. Perhaps you can see your different approaches as valid contributions to your mutual efforts to respond to life’s challenges. You bring a clarity of vision, (the Greek root for skeptic means “to look”) and she brings a strength of feeling.

So if she excitedly shows you something like a picture of “the world’s biggest dog,” when it comes to something trivial like that, the point is not to investigate whether it’s a genuine photograph. The point is to simply enjoy being amazed and amused, and to let her share with you a wonderfully youthful enthusiasm for life, for which she seems to have a talent. If both of you have adopted this attitude of appreciation for each other’s talent, then when the two of you must discuss stressful life issues farther down the road, your rationalism and her depth of feeling can augment each other rather than collide. Let that mutual influencing happen naturally, rather than by a deliberate effort of one trying to change the other.

If the two of you remain together long enough, you will probably come to have a bit of the poet inside your scientist, and she will probably come to have a bit of the scientist inside her poet. They will be gifts from each other that have become a part of each of you, and you will both cherish that inner link.


You may send your questions for Richard to AskRichard. Please keep your letters concise. They may be edited. All will eventually be answered, but not all can be published. There is a very large number of letters; please be patient.

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  • Nakor

    I do believe that this is what Einstein was getting at when he said, “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” Well answered.

  • santa

    Bite the bullet and dump her now. I mean that seriously. If she were interested in learning…understanding… that might be one thing but I doubt it is going to get any better over time. People can change, but you can’t change people. She doesn’t sound interested in growing intellectually and eventually you will be looking down on her, intellectually and I suspect you already do but might not admit it. There IS a woman out there that has your current girlfriends good qualities AND is bright enough to be skeptical.

  • JimG

    I regretfully say that I suspect you’re giving some bad advice in the interests of momentary peace, Richard. Were this a permanent solution, going out of one’s way to tone down skepticism wouldn’t be such a big deal. But I suspect it won’t end there.

    In my admittedly limited experience I’ve found that the credulous, lacking solid criteria for why they believe what they believe, are not placated with simple non-opposition. They must often be reassured by the confirmation of others. In short, if Overly-skeptical merely doesn’t object to his girlfriend’s woo and urban legends, she’ll soon be demanding that he openly agree with her. Her unsupported beliefs must be declared “just as good” as his reasoning. It’s all well and good to tell him not to try to change her – but who’s going to tell her not to try changing him?

  • Sarah

    I don’t think an atheist and a christian (or whatever religion it may be) would go well together.

  • Overly-skeptical

    Thanks for the great feedback, Richard. I will be thinking this over.

    Also, for those that are interested enough to be leaving some comments, I wanted to be clear on one or two things:

    First – I was still initially upset and a little emotional following an argument when I wrote my letter to Richard, and I wasn’t seeing ‘her side’ as well as I am now.

    Second – In defense of my gf, she is extremely intelligent and has a good job working in a technical field with me. So this isn’t a case of her not being as smart as me. She’s probably smarter!

  • Edman

    Agreed with the above comments.

    If the relationship continues, it will be a constant source of frustration for both parties, and speaking as a person who has been there – you’ll begin to lose respect for the “gullible” party.

  • I saw “as all we skeptics know”, and just thought, “what do you mean, we?” OK, I do get that Gladwell plays up his conclusions, but his quickness to pronounce “all we skeptics” makes me wonder if he’s subconsciously traded one dogma for another.

  • Justin

    I have to agree with santa. It appears to me that she is consciously resisting understanding – an important part of you.

    You might not come to look down on her intellectually (though that is, of course, a possibility), yet it is very likely that your “spats” will grow to the point where your relationship starts to deteriorate, and then the blame games will begin – actually, it looks like those have already begun, from both sides (though she is a bit more vocal).

    AAaaand then there’s the chance that I’m misinterpreting the situation, so…well, just think through your actions before doing them.

    Best of luck to you in this.

  • Overly-skeptical

    I agree with you. My choice of language was deliberately facetious when talking about Gladwell. I don’t really think about it that dogmatically. The point is that it’s easy to see how Gladwell may confuse correllation with causation, even if you agree with him. And I can see how Gladwell may be correct, but he doesn’t have a mountain of good evidence to conclude that he’s right either.

  • plutosdad

    My girlfriend is a theist, and christian, and it’s nothing like this. We are able to discuss and challenge each other’s beliefs and most of the time it does not devolve into hurt feelings. It sounds like she’s very different from the woman in the letter though: my gf is a lawyer and quite incredulous and very good at arguing against me and doesn’t get her feelings hurt by arguing (I might feel hurt more than she does! 🙂 )

    Even then, we have broken up and almost broken up before, because of our differences in beliefs about god and how to acquire knowledge. We have learned to try to argue differently than we are used to. But I think that’s pretty normal; we are both sensitive about different things. We are still together, it is rough even when your temperments are the same. To be with someone so completely different as it sounds, I can’t imagine it how hard that would be to work. There is no need to blame either party, it sounds like the problems are not really worldviews, but different temperments.

  • Alexrkr7

    I thought I was the only one to disagree with Richard here, glad I’m not =).

    As described, I see little merit when it comes to Overly-skeptical’s girlfriends point of view. When it comes to what is true or not what makes you happy and excited means slim to none. There are a plethora of things in reality to be excited about (if fact yesterday I was forcing earbuds together as the magnets inside pushed them away from each other and sat there in awe thinking about this invisible fundamental force working in my hands) so to be excited about what to someone with reasonable critical thinking can see is fake is not only meritless but a turn off. (anybody here attracted to Tim Minchin’s ‘Storm’ character?)

    Being happy and excited about the world is great and I hope my future partner is more bubbly than I but that excitement should be placed in either what we can reasonably call real and in what we know is fiction like movies, books and the imagination. Overly-skeptical can’t fake being happy or like that which he doesn’t believe is true nor should he be expected to. Plus all this is a sign of a very credulous mind which to me is a turn off like scientific illiteracy or extreme religiosity. Note I said “to me” which means I’m not giving advice here. I should also point out that this advice isn’t bad, it just doesn’t seem like it could apply to most people in our position as atheists and skeptics.

  • Killer Bee

    Maybe it’s the sound of your voice that she doesn’t like. Try limiting your expression to intrigued-yet-supportive grunts and hmm-mmms along with vigorous head nodding.

  • Richard, I often like your advice here… but I think you missed the boat on this one.

    For one thing: “You look for what assures you that something is real, true, correct, and accurate. She looks for what makes her happy, hopeful, optimistic, and excited. Both sets of criteria are useful and legitimate.”

    No. I’m sorry, but rejecting that which is true for that which is exciting is not a useful or legitimate criteria. Especially when it comes to evaluating, you know, reality — which is what these examples involved. It’s not like Overly-skeptical was questioning whether the Harry Potter books are consistent with reality, to the point where his girlfriend couldn’t enjoy them. He was questioning whether statements about reality were consistent with reality. Rejecting reality in favor of pretty stories we tell ourselves is not a valid philosophy.

    But even if it were… it is a philosophy that is completely at odds with that of the letter writer. Prioritizing truth and reality isn’t just a superficial preference, like whether you prefer Mexican food or Chinese. It is a core value. And it sounds from this letter as if the girlfriend not only doesn’t value truth and reality — she is actively hostile to it.

    Given that, I am, sad to say, extremely skeptical as to whether this relationship has a future. Is he going to have to keep his mouth shut every time he disagrees with something she believes… for the rest of their lives together? If she’s going to get this upset and angry every time he brings up unpleasant truths… how are they going to make decisions and resolve differences in their actual relationship, about things that are more important than the world’s largest dog?

  • Parse

    I agree with most of the above posters and think that, given the limited description of the situation, the relationship is doomed. Trying to postpone the ending will only make it that much worse when it happens.
    The scientist and the artist can flourish in a relationship if both parties allow it. But it doesn’t sound like the girlfriend will allow it. Overly-Skeptical wrote “She thinks I can’t listen to any interesting thing she brings to me without “trying to tear it down””, which I read as “You should accept this because I accept this” – from both of you.
    The other thing I see is that O-S appears to be painfully tone-deaf. I’m ADD enough that I would probably share the same reaction to the dog picture: “Ooh! Big dog! But is that *really* the biggest? I wonder if I can find one bigger? That’s bound to be *hilarious*!” But it’s important to communicate that you’re doing this to find pictures of big (or bigger) dogs for entertainment value – because it can very easily be read as you’re doing it to prove her wrong. Same goes for discussing Malcom Gladwell (who I’ve also never heard of [providing another counterexample to your ‘all of we skeptics know’]) – it’s okay to debate the points for validity and finding the truth, but it can easily be seen as trying to prove her wrong. If you’re willing to try to make the relationship work, you need to anticipate how the words you say will be heard, and if this letter’s a valid sample, it’s something you need to work on.
    Finally, questioning the validity of everything is practically the definition of cynicism. I agree that cynicism can be a good thing, for much the same reasons as you hold. So if the topic comes up again, accept the label of cynic and describe its virtues; don’t deny it.

  • Alexrkr7

    I would like to note that Greta Christina said it far better than I did, but that was my point exactly. So anyone who didn’t understand my rambling mess of a post should refer to her. Thanks Greta!

  • Charon

    Overly-skeptical: leave, before she leaves you. I say this from bitter personal experience. I was in a long-term relationship with someone who had some different epistemological criteria than I, and after a few years, she left as a result. And our differences weren’t nearly as large as yours. She was intelligent, like your girlfriend, but she was also a scientist and wasn’t interested in paranormal nonsense – except religion. One or the other of you is going to feel they’re not being respected, and that will doom your relationship.

    Parse: I know you’re just using it as a stereotypical shorthand, but I don’t think the phrase “the scientist and the artist” is very useful. I know artists who are sensible people in touch with reality, and many scientists who are good amateur musicians, poets, etc.

  • Charon

    plutosdad: good f’ing luck.

  • stephanie

    Wow, everyone is aware there’s a difference between skepticism and pessimism, right?
    I think the strength of a relationship with this kind of difference depends entirely upon how much value each partner places on their way of seeing the world. Since Overly-skeptical is clearly aware that there are two different world views in the relationship and wants to get past it, if Overly-credulous is of the same opinion I think the relationship will be fine. I know I’ve had differences of opinion with my husband over the past couple decades in areas up to and including religion- but since neither of us define ourselves by those opinions (I am an atheist, but this does not define who I am, it’s merely a bit of information I know to be true) they didn’t hurt us at all, merely gave us more to think about.

  • Time for a new girlfriend. She’ll be happier with a more credulous boyfriend and you can go find someone you won’t have to tiptoe around. Really. You two are incompatible.

  • I’ll jump on the ‘disagree with Richard’ bandwagon for this one.

    Rejecting reality in favor of pretty stories we tell ourselves is not a valid philosophy.

    Which is why I agree with Greta Christina and I’m no longer an evangelical Christian.

    Exciting? Yes. Useful? Sure. Legitimate? No. Fantasy is not a legitimate approach to reality. If all we’re concerned with is whether or not our worldview makes us happy, we may as well get hooked on psychedelics and do nothing else. Plenty of exciting, mind-blowing fantasy, but reality will still find us starved to death in the end.

  • Samiimas

    You look for what assures you that something is real, true, correct, and accurate. She looks for what makes her happy, hopeful, optimistic, and excited. Both sets of criteria are useful and legitimate.

    No. Just no. This is the kind of ridiculous ‘all opinions are right’ woo that causes half the problems this site talks about. People asserting that “Both sets of criteria are useful and legitimate” are the ones claiming biologists and creationists have the same evidence and that hate group’s scientific opinions are just as valid as the APA’s.

  • Charon

    stephanie: yes, you’re right about the attitudes and values. I still doubt that Overly-skeptical’s relationship will work long term, but it does indeed depend on the parties involved. If both are truly committed to the relationship, then yes, the relationship might be able to work even given large differences.

    As a scientist, I should know better than to generalize from my personal n=1 anecdotal sample. But it certainly informs my emotions on the matter.

    On the other hand, there’s a difference between knowing that there are two world views, and accepting both. Overly-skeptical thinks his girlfriend is wrong (rightly so, in my opinion). Many people find it difficult to live their lives knowing that their partner believes they misunderstand the world.

  • vivian

    I agree with Stephanie with her comments.

    My fiance and I were together before I started to question my own beliefs. We had insane and bitter fights that resulted in resentment. His non-support made me feel very lonely. BUT, we dearly love each other and bond on many other levels. Like having the same career (just like Overly-skeptical and his gf.) In time, my fiance came out of his shell and can engage in conversation with me. He doesn’t completely agree with me and he doesn’t take the time like I do to avidly read and research, but coming to a point where we can talk and relate took time and was well worth it.

    Of course, that is my experience. I don’t agree Overly-skeptical should just dump the gf based on this issue alone (or by these comments), it just comes to whether it is a deal breaker or whether his patience is wearing off.

    I don’t think it is over-reacting on either side to be passionate of their own or each other’s ideas and opinions. I don’t think either one of them should have to suck it up and agree to disagree. They both should ask themselves if they respect each other enough to engage in a healthy debate and conversation.

    Good luck!

  • Alexrkr7

    @Stephanie This is an epistemological issue not that of opinion. How one comes to a decision and a viewpoint about the world is as important as their conclusions. As least to me and many people here. I find when someone doesn’t base their beliefs on logical and consistent criteria they are doom to believe ridiculous things and be too unpredictable to imbalanced in view.

    You’re going to take this incredibly personally but I understand different people have different criteria for what they want in a partner but some are better than others. Intelligence is important to me but maybe not others. A sense of humor is important to me but maybe not to others. Liberal value judgments (which is one of the only valid areas of disagreement) would be nice but maybe not to others and their respective value judgments. Skeptical and logical reasoning is important to me but maybe it isn’t to you.

    All these things tend to affect larger areas of the relationship and our ideas and if they are in constant odds what’s the point? Look at it this way, we all have our cut off when it comes to compatibility. I’m sure you would never be with a Naturopathic, young earth creationist who is a member of the KKK. There may but no real objective correct cut off point but I fail to see how your criteria is better other than the fact that you’ll get along better with the credulous.

  • Never mind being in a relationship, I can hardly imagine being good friends with such a person. There is nothing more frustrating than someone who likes to talk about the latest extraordinary story, but becomes upset at any attempt to verify. I think I’d have better luck with an evangelical Christian. I mean, my atheism isn’t nearly as fundamental as my belief that beliefs ought to match reality.

  • Matt

    I think that people can have a successful relationship while holding opposing beliefs. In the end I think it’s less about the beliefs and more about how you deal with each other. Mutual respect. If you have that, then you are in a good place.

    My girlfriend sometimes shows me excerpts from horoscopes. Now, I don’t believe in that stuff, but I don’t take every opportunity to point out how foolish her belief is. It’s fun for her, so I smile and enjoy her wonder.

    I don’t think your girlfriend is entirely to blame. Obviously, the two of you have some opposing beliefs, but it might be good to sit down and discuss this problem. If you think her approach to life is something you can’t accept, then you should probably come clean and break up with her. On the other hand, if you can accept it as harmless, then you can learn to respect her beliefs. This goes both ways too. She needs to acknowledge that you are a very skeptical person and learn to take your skepticism with a grain of salt.

    I guess the point after that babble of text is simple. Communicate.

  • Xena

    I think you are ALL too skeptical. Do any of you ever just enjoy a poem or a piece of art because you find it pretty or moving? I happen to love Dylan Thomas’ near cliche, even when–or maybe especially when–Rodney Dangerfield recited it. Would I try to draw literal meaning and proof of whatever from it? Absolutely not. It just sounds nice.

    And I still own 2 Tarot decks that my Wiccan friends gave me as birthday gifts. Do I try to tell the future with them? Of course not. But the artwork on the Lady Harris deck is exquisite, and understood from a Jungian perspective, sometimes helps loosen up my creative processes when I’m stuck on a story idea that’s going nowhere. And that usually happens BECAUSE I get stupidly wrapped up in trying to create plausibility for skeptics.

    There’s nothing wrong with laughing at a silly picture of a humungus whatever that’s obviously been photoshopped, as long as she’s not spending money on it, or setting up an altar to it. And Gladwell’s reasoning may be a little less than perfect, but the underlying goal that I understood when I read the review on Amazon was far from damaging, as long as the girl knows enough to check his sources.

    Some people can spend every waking moment dissecting lab specimens, but some of us do just like to chill once in a while with our holistic processing faculties and a cosplay group, a good scary story, or some classic Pink Floyd The Wall. Overly Skeptical, why don’t you try embracing the absurd for a few hours instead of trying to measure everything and give it purpose? What’s the worst that can happen? Laughter? Unexpected vocal talent? Really good sex? Doesn’t sound so bad to me.

  • Xena

    *You’re too skeptical, EXCEPT MATT, whose comment went up while I was still typing:-)

  • JulietEcho

    I think Greta Christina already said it very well (as she often does), and Richard missed the boat a bit here (as he very rarely does).

    Sure, someone can be very intelligent and work in a technical field, but this isn’t about that kind of “smart” – it’s about perspective. It sounds like she views the world as something to enjoy, not to question. Richard makes it sound like you view the world as something to question, not to merely enjoy – and there’s no evidence for that in your letter.

    The examples you give don’t involve you questioning Avatar or the Harry Potter books or whether or not a piece of artwork is beautiful. They involve you questioning subjects that make truth claims. If she’s uncomfortable with such questioning, then I don’t think you’ll be very compatible in the long haul, because it’s pretty hard to stifle if you’re a curious, scientifically-minded person. You weren’t dismissing these subjects outright – you were after more information. And that reaction doesn’t preclude additional reactions, like amusement or excitement. I’d be excited to find out about the world’s largest dog – whether it’s the one in the picture she saw or a different one.

    Anyway, the other possibility is that this wasn’t *about* the questioning and the skepticism – that it’s about something else, and that’s the topic that pushed things over the edge into fights. If, however, there wasn’t some other issue causing tense feelings or sensitivity, I’d say you guys shouldn’t count on the long haul.

  • Matt

    I’m not the only one that googled “world’s largest dog”, am I?

  • Cindy

    I can give you a quick test. Ask her to read Daemon Haunted World, Science as a Candle in the Dark by Sagan. If she is inspired, Great! or at the very least, understands the skeptical point of view better and can start to see where you’re coming from, good. If she doesn’t get it, cut away it’s done.

  • Xena: What does being skeptical have to do with not finding the value in art, poetry, music, etc.?

    “It does no harm to the romance of the sunset to know a little bit about it.” — Carl Sagan

  • Valerie

    All too often emotion trumps reason. This could just be a rough patch the two of you are experiencing…I know when I bottle my feelings, there’s always a seemingly moot breaking point (i.e. Biggest Dog in the World), but I think if the two of you can’t agree that the breaking point was silly, if you can’t each look at each other’s views objectively, and examine how your inquisitiveness combined with her optimism can be really fruitful, it’s a heartache waiting to happen.

    Before my last breakup my ex became obsessed with several conspiracy theories and paranormal occurances. His attitude near the end was that I could never be on the same spiritual wavelength as he. I believed in the love we once shared, but I couldn’t subscribe to his new age drivel. I could not restore his calm after interrupting his meditation, and he didn’t remember why he fell in love with me in the first place. Perhaps if I would have been more accomodating we might not have split when we did…but I gotta tell you…I imagine that would be completely exhausting and just as painful as the impending breakup. When it comes down to it, without emotional compromise, you each just seem condescending to each other.

    Or maybe I’m being overly cynical. I sometimes forget about the enduring qualities of love. If you care enough about her to ask for advice, if you can admit that you’re a good intellectual match, more power to you.

  • Alice

    I would advise you to seperate. If she’s getting all bent out of shape over the world’s biggest dog then I would expect there to be some more subtle issues with the relationship. Also, if you identify yourself as a skeptic, that’s who you are, and your girl friend can’t stand skepticism… Why would you want a girl friend who can’t stand you? Find someone who will share your interest in reality instead of trying to replace it with woo.

  • vivian

    Xena – your comments are more about you then it is about the person asking the question. The difference is that you know the tarot cards are fake and the “large dog” is photoshopped. Gf in question, does not. Laughing about absurdities together is different then one person laughing at the other.

  • Peregrine

    When my wife and I met, I was, an atheist, although more of the “Live and let live” variety, and my wife was a practicing Wiccan. Today, I’m still an atheist, although I’m far more skeptical than I was just a few short years ago. And my wife still identifies as Pagan, though I’m not sure how serious she takes it.

    We’ve been together for 10 years, married for 5. We have our disagreements like any other couple, but we’ve never had any kind of friction due to our philosophical differences.

    I’ve grown in my skepticism, and I believe she has too, to a certain extent. And we’ve grown in other ways too.

    That’s what couples do. They grow together.

    So I have to disagree with some of those who would say that two people are incompatible because of their spiritual or secular position. Maybe you are, and maybe you’re not, but you can’t let some random people with predisposed opinions on believers and spirituality make that judgment for you. Whether or not you and your girlfriend are compatible, or whether your differences are something that can be worked around, or whether you can grow and change and rub off on each other as Richard suggests, is for you and your partner to figure out for yourselves.

    You are two different people, with two different perspectives, and different opinions on different topics. That will never change. But you can learn and grow together.

    At the same time, you don’t have to go to Snopes every time she shows you a picture from the Internet. You’ve got to give people the benefit of the doubt, and the chance to figure some of this stuff out for themselves. I’m still working on that one myself, but you’ve got to let some stuff slide every once in a while.

  • prospera

    wow. I am surprised by the comments that suggest that skeptics have nothing to learn from other views. I agree with Richard’s advice. It is also my opinion that the less alike two people are in a relationship,there’s greater potential for growth. You just have to learn how to communicate with each other with respect. My husband is often annoyed by my skepticism about everything, and I am often frustrated by his willingness to believe things without questioning, but we’ve been married for 20 years and still going strong.

    I cannot think of a more boring world than one filled with only skeptics.

  • Karen

    Your girlfriend likes to share stuff with you as a way of connecting. I still do this with my husband of 27 years. (Fortunately, we’re both skeptical and atheist/agnostic, though this wasn’t always the case.) When you criticize something she’s showing you, she feels that you’re criticizing her, and rebuffing the connection.

    If you want to encourage her to develop a more skeptical style of thinking, don’t do it using any of the pictures or articles she’s already decided are interesting or positive. She will only become defensive and this will cause her to hang onto her point of view even more strongly. Instead, find articles that you find interesting — perhaps something from a skeptical magazine, something that shows a silly belief being debunked convincingly — and share these with her. As long as they don’t seem like a direct attack on something she believes or likes, she may be able to read them with an open mind.

    Maybe she’d be open to debunking of creationism, or the ‘we never really went to the moon’ conspiracy type beliefs. I have found that skeptical thinking needs to be learned — for most people is isn’t how they’re used to thinking. If she can learn to think that way about some things, she may begin to approach other beliefs that way on her own, over time. But that is only likely if she doesn’t feel any need to defend beliefs to you.

    One other suggestion is to find positive things to share with her — to counter the image that you’re just cynical. Share wonderful Hubble space photos, or amazing facts about nature, or something along those lines. Let her see that being skeptical of the paranormal doesn’t mean turning your back on wonder.


  • Milena

    You all need to relax. Maybe they will break up and maybe they won’t. But there’s nothing wrong with taking a break from reality every once in a while and enjoying something silly like the world’s biggest dog or whatever. It doesn’t make one an idiot, it’s just funny.

    It seems to me like she prefers to think that there is something extraordinary out there, whether its really big dogs or whatever, because it makes her happy. His constant questioning and scepticism over it is bringing her back down to Earth and dampening her enthusiasm. This isn’t to say that it’s his fault, but I don’t think it’s anything that they can’t resolve without a good talking. He could try to relax his scepticism a little when it comes to the things that she shows him and she could try to see the wonder in the real world. Either way, it doesn’t sound to me like the relationship is necessarily doomed.

    Also, what Karen said re: showing her things of your own.

  • Serj

    I’m going to agree with the minority of commenters on this one – I too am in a relationship where I am “overly skeptical” and she is much more “willing to believe”. I think that, because of this difference in our perceptions, we have both grown and matured very much more than we would have with people who share our views. She has shown me that it isn’t always necessary to analyze everything with the skeptic’s hat on – that sometimes just enjoying something at face value for its own sake (in my case, ghost stories and other semi-spiritual occurences) is important in life; that it’s ok to enjoy something without having to ask why or how every once in a while. And I’ve shown her that it’s important to be aware of how our beliefs mesh with reality, and to be more wary of scams and lies (to do some research before leaping into something that seems appealing, even at the expense of losing some of that enthusiasm). We’ve had our share of fights, but we’ve gone along the path that Richard prescribes here, and it seems to be working quite well for us. How can we ever learn about ourselves if we stick only to those who think like we do?

  • Amarantha

    As my Aikido instructor once said, when I couldn’t figure out how I was both cynical and optimistic:

    “A cynic is an informed optimist”.

  • I recommend first trying Richard’s advice. One should always try to develop a relationship before “cutting and running”. You might have something very good, otherwise, going on with her. Your heart will know. Your mind will follow. 🙂

    And, yes, I’m more skeptical about most things than almost everybody I know. I just know what things really matter to me. Once you figure out what really matters to you, you will know what to do.

  • @MikeTheInfidel,
    I think Xena is basically telling him to not be such a tight-ass and loosen his frickin’ tie a bit.
    Anyway, I used to really love credulous girls. I wasn’t much of the Alan Harper type of guy.
    “No, this prevents wrinkles…really.”
    Good thing there’s no hell.

  • Break up.

  • SmittyTheKitty

    I think Richard’s advice is premised on a false dichotomy between reason and emotion. It assumes that thinking skeptically and being in touch with your feelings are on opposite sides of a single continuum. This is essentially the standard straw man against skepticism, and it really bears no resemblance to reality. It’s entirely possible (and not at all unlikely) to be both emotionally well adjusted and skeptically oriented, and it’s possible to be completely credulous and emotionally maladjusted. When it comes to deciding what’s true, it’s not as if all methods have value and you shouldn’t argue with people who accept things without question. Questing the validity of claims is important if your goal is finding the truth. It is unequivocally better to think skeptically about truth claims than to accept them simply because they make you feel good, and doing so doesn’t in any way interfere with your emotional wellbeing.

    Xena’s comment takes this anti-skeptical straw man and runs with it. Skepticism is about questioning the validity of truth claims; by no means does it entail an inability to appreciate art, or any of the other maladies mentioned. Nothing any of the “skeptics” have said in this thread indicate that they are as emotionally inept as you seem to think. You say that all is well, “as long as the girl knows enough to check [Gladwell’s] sources.” That is exactly the point – Overly Skeptical was very clear that the problem is that she doesn’t know to do that, and furthermore, she is actively opposed to anyone else doing it. Basically, most skeptics would agree with just about all of your main points, except for the unfounded assumption that skeptics are emotionally bankrupt, can’t appreciate art, etc. That’s just not true.

    This isn’t to say that I think the relationship is doomed – I’m not sure about that. In this respect, I think Karen’s advice seems quite good, though.

  • muggle

    I’m sorry but I’m agreeing that Richard’s advise was bad and this relationship is probably doomed. Even Richard has an off day or two.

    It’s not just skeptic vs. credulous, believer vs nonbeleiver. Those can be worked out. It’s the fundamentally different way of looking at the world and themselves that’s the problem.

    She is very reactive to his not coming around to her way of thinking. A believer who could make it work with a skeptic wouldn’t need this. Take the danged dog, for instance. She didn’t shrug and let him have at debunking it, she threw a hissy fit about his spoiling her fun. She’s certainly not going to be able to take larger skeptism towards larger subjects if she gets this worked up about something like world’s largest dog that matters not a hoot.

    That says volumes about how her faith will feel threatened by his doubt each time and every time.

    Run, run for your life from this shrew.

  • Alexrkr7

    Like I said earlier I don’t want to tell someone I don’t know they should break up especially on such limited information.

    I want to ask those who keep saying one can learn something from someone with a more credulous outlook on life, what exactly is it in your relationship that you have learned from your more credulous partner? Because at this point it all sounds like empty platitudes. I would like Richard to answer this as well because this could open the field up to me greatly relationship-wise but right now it sounds like a lot of people in bad relationships rationalizing their decision to be with that person. I know harsh but that’s the working assumption.

  • Listen, if she’s really credulous, maybe the relationship can be saved. Try this link ( on her, and if it works, you’re good to go.
    On a more serious note, if she can’t deal with simple truths in life, how is she going to deal with the more uncomfortable and ugly realities as they pop up unexpectedly? Will she have your back when you need her or will she withdraw into her own more comfortable fantasy world and leave you hanging?
    So much of this has to do with emotional courage and strength, my friend. My experience has shown that most folks who insist on living in a world of make-believe are extremely needy and weak. That may fly for a time, but living with someone like that long-term will eventually sap all of your strength. Besides, smart, brave, independent girls are way sexier. I only wish I had found that out earlier in life.

  • Laura

    I feel like a lot of these responses are almost “rational to the point of irrationality.” Yes, having the same criteria for accepting something as true can strengthen a relationship; however, just because you disagree on this doesn’t mean you should break up tomorrow. I’m totally in favor of maintaining an uncompromising standard of evidence in order to accept a claim, but it sounds like this guy is going beyond that and belittling his girlfriend or possibly going out of his way to show her the various ways she’s wrong. Finding the truth is important, but you can’t use “I’m the skeptic! I’m right!” to dismiss your basic commitment to respectful communication in a relationship. Communicating with someone respectfully isn’t the same as agreeing with everything they say, it’s recognizing that your approach matters, your level of persistence matters, and the degree to which you make the argument personal (were you objecting to the Photoshopped dog, or to her?) really matters. If you care about your girlfriend enough to want the relationship to work, try finding kinder ways to disagree or go on the offensive less often.

  • Hrm. Count me as one of the commenters who agree with Richard. This sentence is probably the single best piece of relationship advice ever typed on a blog.

    Just reduce the importance for either of you to be “right.”

    I don’t know nearly enough about Overly-Skeptic’s relationship to say, “dump her,” or “stick it out.” However, I do know that having to be “right” all the time will kill a healthy relationship in a hurry.

  • Mark another one down for the majority opinion.

    Of course, without more information it’s hard to tell, but from the letter I get the impression that the incompatibility of this relationship is not entirely Overly-Credulous’ fault. I do kinda agree with Laura that, judging from the gf’s reaction, Overly-Skeptical may have some problems with his approach.

    I’d look at my approach, O-S… but I’m not of the opinion that changing that will magically make the relationship work out. Look, there are other fish in the sea. Don’t set yourselves up for future resentment just because it’s Overly-Painful to breakup, now.

  • Overy-Skeptical

    Cindy, you said:

    “I can give you a quick test. Ask her to read Daemon Haunted World, Science as a Candle in the Dark by Sagan.”

    This is funny. We were on a vacation in February and the book I took to read was Demon-Haunted World. I read her a quote about how lying to yourself for the purpose of beliefs is like stealing and she disagreed with me. I don’t think she would like the book much.

  • OK, this might not sound good, but I personally wouldn’t stay with someone who believes everything they hear.

    I have to put up with such people on a daily basis, and I can get by with a polite nod and “uh-huh” every time they go off on a rant. However, a long-term relationship with such a person would just drive me crazier because I get frustrated with gullible people, as is probably normal for anyone who has ever had to put up with an airhead for an extended period of time.

  • Overy-Skeptical

    Karen and Milena.

    Great comments! Thank you very much.

  • Cherie M

    While I will agree that when emotional joy comes from something empirically false, it is -not- as valid as the value of the truth, I also don’t think that this is grounds for the termination of a relationship. The commenter who suggested she may feel you’re attacking -her- has likely hit the crux of the issue. It can sometimes be hard to give criticism of an idea a loved one subscribes to without sounding as though they are silly or stupid for believing it.

    I’m an atheist, a skeptic and my husband is on the “don’t know, don’t care” fence as far as god is concerned, but he does believe in ghosts/perpetuation of a soul. I have zero belief in the paranormal, but he sincerely believes he’s had experiences that indicate otherwise. I can’t refute that experience and have no reason to, so I don’t push it. On the other hand, on the rare occasion he brings up a new “discovery” or theory that sounds way too good to be true, I’ll call the -theory- out for what it is, and we’ll dissect it together.

    While he and I have varying levels of skepticism and I’m personally more invested in finding the factual truth of things (I research a subject much more than he does) the most important thing is remembering to keep things civil. If your girlfriend has something she gets into, instead of immediately knocking it down, try a different approach of. “That’s an interesting subject/author. Would you like to discuss what it/he/she is about?” Analyzing “He says this” statements, instead of “I think this is a neat idea” moves your criticism from her to the source of whatever is going on. In the case of the biggest dog or such things, why not simply look for MORE proof instead of saying something amusing is wrong. And if you do find it’s photoshopped, you can simply go “Hey, this dog is even bigger!” You get your empirically correct information, she gets something that makes her happy.

    I do think it can work, but remember – keep communication both ways. If you need to, explain why factual evidence is so important to you, and, since I doubt you’re purposefully trying to upset her, tell her that your way of finding joy in the world often lies in finding what is true and you’re trying to share that with her.

  • Xena

    @Godless Monster: As long as “wrinkle prevention” is a 2-way experiment, there’s no harm in having some fun with it.

    @Overly Skeptical, the letter to Richard didn’t mention the Sagan quote. If she disagrees with the statement “lying to oneself is like stealing”, she may have a much deeper problem than a banal sense of humour. Maybe having some fun with other types of silliness will help her understand that you’re not discrediting her entertainment(?) to be cruel. Maybe it won’t.

    Watch for signs of what Godless Monster warned about at 12:36 am. If she starts saying or doing things that approach delusional when she’s under stress, or expects you to pull her weight all the time, THAT’S when it’s time to start reconsidering your options.

  • Steven

    I think that Richard’s most insightful advice in this case is how couples can “rub off on each other” (minds out of the gutter, people!). My wife calls me “the biggest cynic around”. Aside from inspiring me to maybe hit the gym it makes me think that easing up a bit could lead to a little more fun. After all, one has to suspend their disbelief with a crane when watching most movies or t.v. shows. Curiously, over the years my wife has become increasingly skeptical – so much so that she now considers herself an agnostic. If many of the other aspects of a relationship work, then it may be worth it to try and see the world through your partner’s eyes. The view might be pretty spectacular.

  • walkamungus

    So, Overly-Skeptical, you’ve got this girlfriend, Overly-Credulous. What exactly are you getting out of this relationship that makes you want to stick with it? Is the sex really great? ‘Cause I don’t see anything like “I love her so much my toes hurt,” or “Last month when she was working late, I brought Chinese take-out to her office because I missed her at home,” or “We used to talk about maybe getting married and having kids” — in short, “I really want to preserve this relationship because it’s important to me.”

    In one of your comments, you say she’s smart, “maybe smarter than me!” So she’s techie-smart, right? Not stupid.

    The skeptical/credulous divide you present seems to be a red herring. To me, and I know I might get flamed for this, it sounds like you really, *really* want to be right. All the time. Because you’re not going after Truth, you’re trying to be hurtful (the Sagan “lying to yourself” quote was a lousy choice, because it attacks her; the “biggest dog” kerfuffle says, “I don’t trust you *and* I’m going to prove that you’re both wrong and too stupid to see this was Photoshopped!”) under the guise of “Truth.” It sounds like you’ve focused on the “credulous” part of your girlfriend’s personality because it’s an arena where you can always be “right.”

    You say, “She thinks I can’t listen to any interesting thing she brings to me without ‘trying to tear it down’ which is obviously not what I am doing at all.” Well, no, from the info you provide, that *is* what you’re doing, and you’re tearing her down by extension. If I were your girlfriend, I would’ve kicked your butt into the next state by now.

    If she *is* important to you as a person, not as a straw woman you can keep knocking down, you need to take a good look at your own psyche and motivations and behaviors, vow to clean up your act, and ask her to forgive you for acting like a jerk. This doesn’t mean you stop being a skeptic, but it does mean that you treat her like a human being.

  • Carrie

    I think most commenters are too harsh with the girlfriend. If my husband insisted on proof for every picture I showed him or story I told him, well, he wouldn’t be my husband. I don’t need someone so negative in my life.

    And I say all of that as the skeptical one in my relationship. I’ve been with my husband for 10 years. He doesn’t believe in God, but he does believe in certain paranormal things. His life experiences were different than mine. And that’s OK with me. No, I don’t agree with him, but I would never belittle him (as the girlfriend must feel) by teaching him better.

    Being a skeptic is part of who I am, but it doesn’t define me. We share the same values, goals, and taste in fiction, and all of that is more important to me.

    Don’t go into a relationship thinking you can change someone. Either accept them as they are, or let them find someone who does.

  • Xena


    Anti-skeptical straw man? [All]skeptics are emotionally bankrupt?

    I said that all the commenters on this particular blog engaged in this particular discussion up until 5:53pm yesterday were too skeptical, not that they were emotionally bankrupt. And I told Overly Skeptical that embracing the absurd once in a while can be fun.

    Also, “not knowing” to scrutinize a piece of information, and preferring to regard a passing whim as such a low-priority item that scrutinizing its validity would not be worth the effort are two different approaches to assimilating said information.
    Gf’s statements: “[just] let [me] believe something that makes me happy”, in reference to a picture of a dog, and “[you] can’t listen to anything…without trying to tear it down” sound like attempts to bring the focus (priority) of a discussion back to the care aspects of a relationship to avoid an excessively critical and time consuming discussion of causality.

    I’d thank you kindly to not put absolutist statements in my proverbial mouth, Mr. second year philosophy student. But if, in the future, you’d like to engage in friendly and challenging debates, my views lean toward consequentialist at this point. Throw me all the “fat men” I can save. Practise is good.

    Like I said earlier, new info regarding gf’s reaction to Sagan’s statements on lying to oneself was my reason for (more or less) conceding to the majority here.

  • Overly-skeptical,

    Okay, you think she’s smart. But I bet you don’t think she’s reasonable, and I doubt that she thinks you’re smart or she wouldn’t be getting mad at you for not agreeing with her. Somehow you’re not living up to her expectations.

    I hope you two are enjoying your relationship right now, but apply your skeptical mind to your own relationship. Is she going to be happy just with you not shooting holes in her fantasy world? Or is she going to expect you to join her in her world of internet wonders and giant dogs? I’m betting the latter. You’d better be prepared to abandon your reason if you want to make your relationship work. Because it doesn’t sound like she’s going to let go of her fantasy world or wonders. Otherwise, just accept that this one is temporary and understand that you’ll probably be moving on soon. It happens.

  • plutosdad

    Karen has a good point. I’ve learned to not immediately say “oh you don’t know that” etc, but maybe bring that up a little later. It doesn’t seem like you are shutting them down or being dismissive that way.

  • Chakolate

    The first thing I thought of when I read the letter was to wonder why she continued to parade her illogical beliefs in front of Overly Skeptical when she knew he didn’t agree with them. The second thing I wondered was why, knowing all that, she would get her feelings hurt when he responded as she must have known he would.

    There is a certain type of person who knows she can’t justify her beliefs, and so gets her feelings hurt when they’re questioned, and yet keeps trotting them out. It’s (I think) a way of preaching – ‘I’ll just keep telling him all the good things I believe in and sooner or later he’ll believe, too’.

    If she can’t see that acting hurt when he disagrees with her is a form of blackmail, then she should be dumped: she’s nowhere near as intelligent as he believes her to be.

  • walkamungus said:

    You say, “She thinks I can’t listen to any interesting thing she brings to me without ‘trying to tear it down’ which is obviously not what I am doing at all.” Well, no, from the info you provide, that *is* what you’re doing, and you’re tearing her down by extension. If I were your girlfriend, I would’ve kicked your butt into the next state by now.

    If she were my girlfriend, I would’ve dumped her for being so manipulative. It sounds to me like she’s trying to get everything her way and attack him for asserting himself. How dare he care whether or not things are true? He should just shut up and let her be happy, whether it increasingly irritates him or not! Right?

  • Circe of the Godless

    She is intelectually beneath you. How on earth do you think that’s going to pan out?

  • SmittyTheKitty


    The bit about [all] skeptics being emotionally bankrupt was a careless overstatement, and I apologize for it, but that sentence wasn’t important to my main point. You implied that being too skeptical can interfere with your ability to appreciate art or enjoy silly things like photoshopped pictures, and my point was that that’s not true. Any definition of skepticism that leads to that conclusion wouldn’t be accepted by a vast majority of self-proclaimed skeptics, and that’s why I consider it a straw man. Like I said, I agree with your main point, I just think it’s unfair and misleading to characterize “skepticism” that way.

    Unfortunately I’m not a philosophy student so the bit about consequentialism and fat men went over my head, but I presume it was fairly witty… sort of makes me wish I were a second-year philosophy student.

  • walkamungus

    MikeTheInfidel said:

    If she were my girlfriend, I would’ve dumped her for being so manipulative. It sounds to me like she’s trying to get everything her way and attack him for asserting himself. How dare he care whether or not things are true? He should just shut up and let her be happy, whether it increasingly irritates him or not! Right?

    For a bunch of skeptics, lots of the commenters here sure accepted the contents of Overly-Skeptical’s letter as Truth. Why?

    I stick by what I said before: This guy needs to be right. In fact, I’ll go even farther and wonder why he wants to keep putting her down.

  • Demonhype

    Oh, cheeses, I love this crap where we turn it around on the skeptic. Nowhere in the original letter was there a single hint of Overly-Skeptical being superior or looking down on his girlfriend, but somehow some people have managed to add in a ton of “you’re not skeptical, that’s just your excuse for being abusive” crap. From what I see, the only abuse is coming from the overly-credulous girl–as MikeTheInfidel and Chakolate have said, she is being emotionally manipulative to get her way, and she is being actively hostile to Overly-Skeptical’s viewpoints while demanding special treatment for her own viewpoints.

    I mean, okay, she wants to believe in the supernatural, but it’s pretty clear from what is written that she isn’t going to leave it at quiet non-opposition–she wants you to nod and say, “yup, yup, yup, that’s totally true and the world is filled with magic leprechauns, no doubt about it!” without making even the slightest endeavor to research a single claim–because that would be insulting. And so what if that makes her happy and it’s totally a part of her identity and rejection of it feels like rejection of her? Guess what? The skeptical person has a skeptical identity, and the skeptic shouldn’t have to suppress his/her own identity so the other can have his/her way in everything. This shit can’t work when one person is supposed to suppress him/herself because the other person gets ridiculous every time s/he doesn’t get his/her way on something!

    And yes, it is completely possible to get with someone credulous when you’re skeptical, as so many have pointed out with stories of their own relationships. But what those people are missing is that their credulous partner is making an equal effort toward compromise and is making equal concessions, as opposed to just expecting the skeptical partners to shut their mouths just so the credulous partner can keep feeling perfectly special. If this girl wants the relationship to work, it sounds like she wants it on her terms, which are “you need to embrace my views and abandon your own”, to judge from her behavior over the slightest skepticism from her boyfriend.

    I would have dumped her by now too, from what I’m hearing. There’s no compromise from someone who’s very identity seems to rely on always getting her way, and when someone cares more about ideas that make her feel good than ideas that have evidence to support them–or when her emotional attachment to her own actively credulous views takes absolute overarching precedence over any views that might be important to her partner–well, that’s a pretty scary indication of that person’s maturity and emotional stability, as well as that person’s mentality toward other people.

    And I know from experience that it’s not easy to live with someone who can’t take criticism but keeps bringing up the touchy subjects–my mom keeps confronting me with my disbelief in the supernatural/ghosts or in Sylvia Browne, no matter how many times I have told her “look, you believe, I don’t, I thought we were just going to leave it at that and stop getting into these stupid arguments so we can continue to have a loving relationship!” Yet, she continues to try to “convert” me, bringing up the subject again and again, and accusing me of being “close-minded” constantly. And then my father tells me to “stop trying to butt heads with her” when I’m not even the one bringing up the subject!

    The GF sounds the same way–this isnt’ a matter of O-S “needing to be Right all the time”, this is a matter of the GF “needing to be Right all the time” and having no tolerance for the fact that her BF is a skeptical person. Like my mom, it sounds like she figures that if she keeps hounding him with her beliefs, she’ll be able to convert him to her way of thinking. My mom does that with SB especially–she’ll quote Sylvia, shoehorning some Sphynx-like platitude into a conversation, and then wait expectantly for me to say “wow, that is so wise and true and I was a fool think she was some kind of fucking vulture con-artist!” And it doesn’t matter if I disagree, denigrate Sylvia Browne as a con-artist, nod or grunt in a non-committal way, or just say nothing–if I don’t react with abject credulity, I get the lecture about what an arrogant, horrible person I am for not accepting the Glory that is Sylvia. She wants total and complete unquestioning agreement and nothing less, just like O-S’s GF.

    But that’s just me, and I’m not Overly-Skeptical. I’m just going with what I heard, neither omitting nor adding information. Only O-S can fully assess what he wants to do, since this is his situation.

    Sorry to go off, but we’re going through this same shit with my brother’s GF, who behaves in the exact same way, and I’m perpetually pissed at both her dismal behavior and the way some of my family try to turn it around to make him the bad guy. So it’s kind of personal to me, and also depressing to watch someone you love get manipulated like that and have no power to stop it. That kind of behavior has always pissed me off, but it pisses me off even more than ever now. >:(

  • Demonhype

    Looking up “world’s biggest dog” is in no way “putting her down”. She likes to believe shit at face value without question? Well, he likes to find things out, and there is no reason for him not to–why does her need to never be questioned trump his need to find things out? I see absolutely no way to interpret it as putting her down, unless you are personally adding things to the story that haven’t been mentioned–and while it might be logical to doubt O-S’s story as “absolute Truth”, it is not logical to add things to the story that were not mentioned and then make arguments based on these fictional additions.

    Seriously, every time a Credulous and a Skeptic get together, the Skeptic is seen as the one who needs to suppress himself in favor of the views of the Credulous, and if the Skeptic doesn’t he is always accused of being abusive–no matter how much that might not be true or how much abuse the Credulous is putting on him. The general opinion of the world is that the Skeptical person has something wrong with him, while the Credulous person is somehow superior for their heroic ability to believe everything without fail and inability to critically analyze anything at all–and so, the Credulous must always get their way in all things, and the Skeptic has a duty to concede in all things.

    Why the fuck is hostile, willful ignorance so lauded in this country?

  • AxeGrrl

    stephanie wrote:

    I know I’ve had differences of opinion with my husband over the past couple decades in areas up to and including religion- but since neither of us define ourselves by those opinions (I am an atheist, but this does not define who I am, it’s merely a bit of information I know to be true) they didn’t hurt us at all, merely gave us more to think about.

    Very nicely said stephanie…..and what a great point.

  • Overly-skeptical

    walkamungus & carrie,
    I think some of your comments about my actions/attitudes are fair. I definitely have a lot of personal work to do in this area of my personality.

    My intent was not to say “I’m right and my girlfriend is unreasonable, should I stay with her?” Rather I wanted to give an idea of how our personalities clash, and see if we are BOTH over-reacting, and whether Richard (and others) think we have room to better understand each other. Which I think is the case!

    I care very much for overy-credulous (haha!). If I didn’t I wouldn’t be posting here. I regret my original letter not painting that part of the picture.

    Thanks all.

  • That used to be me. For 8 years. We would have the weekly fight over something stupid. They usually started with me not believing or wanting more details on something. Then we would have meta-fight about how we are fighting.

    Eventually we broke up. I should have left years prior.

  • geekrider

    Oh, and my current girlfriend likes that trait in me. It’s been 9 months and we haven’t had a single fight yet. We have a great relationship that is supportive and fun.

    You should leave her and move on. Don’t feel bad about it. Breaking a relationship is good and natural. It happens to every one of us over and over again.

  • Xena

    Well said, OS. It sounds like the matter is resolved for now.

    I’ll continue my discussion with Smitty if it becomes relevant at a later date. For now, I’ll just say that hollering “straw man” is to philosophers what slut-shaming is to feminists. I’ll forgive you, but don’t ever use that expression in the presence of a real philosopher. Them’s fightin’ words! (I’m actually a 2nd year anthro student with enough philosophy electives to say that I have about the equivalent of a 1st year background in most philosophy programs in my area,btw)

    Again, good luck OS & OC. I hope you’ll find your happiness, whatever that means for you.

  • Overly-skeptical

    I wouldn’t say it is “resolved”. It hasn’t come up in the last couple of weeks and things are smooth. I am trying to take into account Richard’s advice and be more understanding, and remember that in this context it’s more important for us to be supportive of each other – it’s less important for one person to be right.

    Engineering is way easier than personal relationships. 🙂

  • Xena

    Yes, OS. Mathy disciplines are way easier. While there are often different approaches to finding a correct answer to a numbers-based problem, there is usually a correct answer and an incorrect answer.

    Unlike numbers and trees and rocks, people are not consistently predictable or reliable. Unfortunately, most of the relationship experts on the market can only use broad and imperfect guidelines to measure human behaviour and suggest solutions to common difficulties with each other. And, even when the guidelines are somewhat workable, they’re still derived from models that separate “bodies” from “minds”, or refer to personalities as “innate”, which carries religious implications. And to learn enough social science theory to be able to do a proper job of critically assessing these models takes 2-3 years and thousands of dollars.

    I’m not sure about your area, but where I am techies are required to constantly upgrade their knowledge and skill set for a changing work environment. If your company ever offers to pay for more education, you may be able to build a few social science and humanities courses into whatever curriculum they’re suggesting by telling them that these will make you a more “well-rounded worker”. That may give you some of what you need to more efficiently assess and use the free sources (libraries, used bookstores, etc.) available to build your own relationship skills DIY program, if you’re worried about lining the pockets of some scam artist.

    Other than that, all I can say is stay flexible. Adaptability is key to evolution.

  • JulietEcho

    Seriously, Xena? One of my degrees is in philosophy, and “strawman” is a pretty helpful shorthand for a very common kind of fallacy. In general, the strongest argument against X counters X in its best, strongest form. To paint a picture of a weaker, less-consistent, worse version of X and address an argument against *that* is a lazy and intellectually dishonest tactic.

    Whether or not any given characterization *is* a “strawman” or not can obviously be debated, but I don’t think you’d find many philosophers who somehow abhor the word/concept. You might be conflating the word itself with its overuse by zealous debaters or misuse by those who don’t understand their terminology.

  • mikekoz68

    Run, don’t walk, run away from this relationship now! It’s only going to get worse as you get older, trust me, run.

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