Ask Richard: I


Sept. 8, 2010

Dear Richard,

I am an atheist Chinese teenager living in an international community in Beijing. I used to be a Christian until one day I realized that Christianity is just not working for me. I “came out” easily, since China is an atheist country.

But the problem is that one of my best friends is a fundamentalist Christian. Things were okay between us until one day I asked her out for a date and she rejected me because I am an atheist. Afterwards, we started debating about the existence of God, and now I am really getting sick of her arguments because every time we argue, she just avoids using God as the ultimate answer. I feel she looks down at me.

I don’t want to lose her as a friend. What should I do?


Dear Mitchell,

When you asked your friend out for a date, you introduced new expectations and prospects for the relationship. A dating relationship carries with it possibilities for romantic and sexual involvement and possible long-term commitments. From her point of view, the stakes would have been much higher if she had accepted your date. Many religious people are comfortable being friends with atheists, but they would not consider any involvement that could go in the direction of choosing them as a mate.

I have the impression that you were disappointed, and that disappointment caused you to feel resentment. Now this ongoing debate about religion is being fed by the conflict in your relationship. Outwardly, you’re both discussing religious things, but beneath the surface what you’re both really struggling with is your respective values as people and your hurt feelings. You are trying to defend your suitability as a datable young man, and she is trying to defend the validity of the reasons she turned you down.

I’m assuming you’re a rationalist. Take a step back and look at it rationally. By declining your offer of a date, she probably wasn’t saying that you are unsuitable for dating anyone. She was only saying that she didn’t want to go in that direction with you because your different views would cause more conflict as you became more committed. With very few exceptions, she’s right. I think she wasn’t rejecting you, she was rejecting the probable heartaches and headaches that both of you would suffer. Imagine if you were married and having this perpetual quarrel…

This doesn’t sound like a debate that either of you will “win.” Probably neither of you will change your different ways of thinking in the foreseeable future. If you really don’t want to lose her as a friend, then stop trying to win the debate. Talk with her frankly about your friendship. Bring your expectations back to a friendship level only and forget the whole idea of dating her. Then, if the two of you still really want to discuss religious issues, at least the emotional tension about your respective value, attractiveness and self-esteem will not be mixed up in it.

Consider her predicament. She’s a fundamentalist Christian in a country of 1.3 billion atheists, at least officially. She’s going to be at least a little bit defensive and intractable about her beliefs. If you understand her feelings from her point of view, your empathy will help to restore the mutual respect and goodwill of the original friendship.

Mitchell, I suggest that you look around for other prospects for dating. As you said, you’re in a country of atheists.

I hope you’ll be able to enjoy both a friendship with your friend and dates with someone else.



Richard Wade identifies as both a humanist and an atheist. He has worked as an artist and as a marriage and family therapist with many years in the specialization of addiction. Now retired, he has counseled more than ten thousand patients. Questions to this advice column are welcome from any perspective or belief, not just that of humanism or atheism. Richard Wade’s column can also be read on a regular basis at The Friendly Atheist blog.