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!
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.
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