One of the most universal human experiences is learning how awful dating can be. Dating is frustrating enough, but imagine that you have to go into it with most people around you believing that you are an untrustworthy and immoral monster. I definitely am not trying for speak all atheists with this post, but I’d like to start a conversation of what it is like to be an atheist dating in the Bible Belt from my own experience.
I moved to South Carolina for graduate school and have been here for four years. I’m lucky that I work at a major university because this creates a more heterogeneous environment than other places in my very conservative state. However, I’ve still definitely experienced some barriers in the dating world because of my lack of faith. The most explicit barrier is how there are simply a limited amount of potential romantic partners that share my values. I’m no dating expert, but through my many dating mistakes I’ve learned a few things. One such lesson is that common interests are nice, but shared values are crucial for dating.
So what do I mean by values? Well for me personally, I strongly value education, social justice, and skepticism. Finding someone who shares those same three values can be difficult. I could pretend to not be bothered by social inequalities or the many problems with religion in order to prevent friction with romantic partners, but it would be dishonest. This gets at the crux of my post: being honest with who you are can be lonely.
A friend of mine, who grew up in a rural area of South Carolina, was telling me how he knew of several closeted atheists who would pretend to be religious in order to date and have sex with people (think of the irony for a moment of pretending to be religious to have sex). It’s unfortunate that anyone would feel like they have to lie about who they are in order to experience intimacy. Personally, I think that we should be honest with our partners, but I understand how dishonesty may become an option if the alternative is social isolation.There are many religious people in the Bible Belt who would never want to date an atheist, but let’s say I meet some nice progressive Christian woman who is ‘okay’ with me being an atheist. Perhaps she thinks that god saves everyone and I’ll go the heaven. It’s definitely possible that we could date, but by simply being an atheist I am saying that her entire worldview is implausible. Again, it comes down to values. We all have cognitive blind spots and biases, so perhaps I could look past her believing in something in which I think there is no evidence for. However, I feel like it would be difficult for me to connect emotionally and intellectually with someone who sees the world is such a different way than I do (and this has been the case with the few religious women I’ve dated).
So is dating possible in the Bible Belt as a progressive and open atheist? Yes, it definitely is and I’ve had several very positive dating experiences while living in South Carolina. Online dating can make it easier, but progressive atheists on Okcupid are still hard to find. Volunteering and being involved in progressive activities can also be great ways to connect with like-minded people. However, it requires a lot of patience to find people who share your values. I understand that my dating options are limited before I even begin searching for mutual attraction and chemistry. To cope with this, I simply focus on other things. Because my state is so conservative, there are many, many ways I can help out as an activist. That is the silver lining for atheists living in conservative areas. Our options are limited by default, but that should inspire us to go out and make a difference with the extra time we have from being single!
This post isn’t meant to be any sort of manifesto for dating in the Bible Belt as an atheist (at least not yet!). I’d really just like to make theists aware of another privilege they have in a religiously dominated country. I’d also very much like to hear from fellow atheists and their dating stories so feel free to share your stories in the comments below!
Featured image from Wikipedia