Ask Richard: Atheist Outs Himself on First Date; She Rejects Him After They’re in Love

Dear Richard,

My girlfriend just broke up with me suddenly due to my lack of belief in god. Everything between us had been so perfect, felt so natural and right (her words), yet she went from loving me and telling me how much I meant to her on one day to telling me she can’t be with me anymore the next day. This happened a few days prior to my birthday while I was on vacation. I had disclosed about my former religious self and how I can no longer believe in god on our first date.

Her best friend’s father passed away and that made her realize that she could be in front of god’s judgment any day. That scared her because she feels that she’s not good enough. She wants to be closer to god. She blamed herself for the mistreatment from her previous relationship because she wasn’t living according to god. She told me that I’m better than most people she knows in church and that no one has ever made her feel so special and beautiful like the way I made her feel, yet she cannot be with me anymore because I’m not a “man of faith”. I’m 31 and have dated many women and lucky enough to have been in love 4 times, but I have never felt so rejected and unwanted because of my belief.

Things changed 180 overnight and I cried uncontrollably on my birthday for the first time in my life. I have never loved a woman who’s more pure hearted and it hurts so badly to hear her speaking to me now without any emotion. She went from warm and loving to cold and emotionless within 24 hours. I know there’s nothing that I say or do can change her mind since it’s a religious conviction that I’m battling against. As much as I love her and want to be with her, I respected her decision and can only hope that she’ll realized that two persons can love and be with one another despite different beliefs.

I’ve been following your blog for a while now and have always respected your wisdom and maturity. Please share with me your kindness and words of wisdom to help sooth this first deeply personal rejection because of my atheism.

Sincerely,
Your fellow human being

Dear Fellow Human Being,

It is clear that you loved her passionately, and you thought she was wonderful. The unfairness of being rejected because of your thoughts rather than because of your actions stings deeply. Your painful grief is very understandable.

Often friends, moved by compassion, will immediately try to get someone in your position to “just snap out of it” or “just get over it” quickly, but often that is not the best thing to do. Grief is a healing process, and it takes time. As dark as that tunnel can be, it does open up at the other end. It’s better to not try to cut grief unnaturally short with flippant dismissals, distracting substitutes, or numbing intoxicants, because if the grief is just suppressed, then the healing will not be completed. Important wise lessons and realizations can be missed if grief is not allowed to run its course.

On the other hand, it’s also better to not extend grief unnaturally long with endless brooding, perseverating, or carrying a torch. Some people get caught up in a romantic image of grief, finding an unhealthy solace in playing the tragic role of the jilted lover. Grief, like all emotional experiences, has a lifespan; if we don’t interfere with it, it abides for a time while the mind heals, and then it gradually fades away, according to the severity of the loss.

All this is why I have waited three weeks to answer your letter, because I have some sobering things to say. Your letter hints at aspects of your girlfriend that are not so wonderful.

You did the right thing when you divulged your atheism on your very first date. Atheism is so often a deal breaker between couples that I think in general, atheists in a budding relationship should get that out in the open as soon as possible. If it is going to be immediately unacceptable for the other person, revealing it soon will spare both people disappointment and heartache.

It is actually unfortunate that it wasn’t immediately unacceptable for your former girlfriend, because her deciding that the deal is off much later has caused you much worse disappointment and heartache.

Frankly, I think you dodged a bullet.

The way her religious crisis or epiphany was precipitated by the death of a friend’s father suggests to me that it was inevitable. If she had gone through this after your relationship had grown more involved and committed, possibly including marriage, and “gods forbid” children, then the disappointment would have been devastation, and the heartache would have been heartbreak.

She can be mercurial in her mood, going from warm and loving to suddenly cold overnight and speaking to you without any emotion. We don’t know for sure, but if that is a trait that could emerge in other situations, then if your relationship had continued, it might have been a painful and chaotic roller coaster ride.

In your letter you said that she generally feels that “she’s not good enough,” and she blames herself for being mistreated in her previous relationship. Those are codependent traits that would likely encourage unhealthy behaviors in both of you. Avoid people who either take no responsibility for their actions, or who take on all responsibility for the actions of others.

In addition to her thinking that she’s not good enough, you would never be good enough either. She told you that you’re better than most people she knows in church, and that no one has ever made her feel so special and beautiful the way you do. Regardless of your excellent treatment of her, that is not good enough because you’re not a “man of faith.” To her, only belief is what counts; your behavior is irrelevant. That was a breakup waiting to happen.

I know that my words are hard to hear. I hope that by now you’re not hurting as badly as when you wrote your letter, and you are beginning to heal. I think you should begin to look forward, but look with a new clarity.

Religion is the most divisive thing ever invented. It can sever the most deeply loving and devoted relationships between lovers, spouses, friends, siblings, even parents and their children. The problem is that if that heavy sword is present, you never know if or when the cleaving stroke will fall.

When you resume dating, definitely continue to reveal your atheism right away. If your new prospect is religious but she says she doesn’t mind that you’re an atheist, remember this experience. Talk to her at length about her beliefs and her attitudes, and if it is appropriate for your level of closeness, be frank about why you are being cautious.

You might also look for places to find atheists to date, so that you know that issue is already eliminated. I have been married for 41 years, so I will not pretend to understand the resources and challenges of dating today. Hopefully our readers here will have helpful suggestions and encouragement about that. Please feel free to tell us how you are doing here in the comments, or write to me again after some time to let us know how things have developed. I wish you ease from the last of your pain, and I wish you happiness and fulfillment.
Richard

**Update**
The letter writer has written me again, and I am publishing it here with his permission:

Dear Richard,

I saw the post. I must say that your words of wisdom and honesty had one of
the greatest impact in helping me heal. I’ve read about the healthy healing
process and codependent books before and your insights had greatly reminded
me how lucky I am to have “dodged the bullet” on this one. She is genuinely
a caring and good person worthy of love, but she isn’t the right one for me.
I am doing much better. I still have my ups and downs, but getting better
each day. Thank you so much again for taking your time to reply to my
letter. I am very grateful for your kindness.

Happy New Year,
Your Fellow Human Being

P.S. – I have not tried to numb or avoid the healing process with substances
or harmful distractions. I’ve reached out to trusting friends, exercising
regularly, dancing a lot, and facing all the emotions when they arrive.

I’m very grateful for this feedback, because people simply care about Fellow Human Being, and because it can encourage people who have been, are now, or will be in a similar situation. He sets a very good example by reaching out to trustworthy friends, doing healthy physical and emotional behaviors, and by not getting bogged down in resentment or bitterness toward his former girlfriend. Keep going!

You may send your questions for Richard to AskRichard. Please keep your letters concise. They may be edited. There is a very large number of letters. I am sorry if I am unable to respond.

About Richard Wade

Richard Wade is a retired Marriage and Family Therapist living in California.


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