My last year of college, I sat next to a guy in biology named Joe (not his real name). As we started eating lunch together, we discovered a mutual love of science fiction and classic literature. We could talk for hours about shared ideas and interests. Then he slipped me a note during class to ask me out to a movie. It was adorable. He was shy, a bit awkward, and I knew from reading the stories he wrote in a writing workshop we’d both attended that he had little confidence when it came to his appearance or appeal. That he’d worked up the courage to ask me out was flattering. I was 23, and thus far had never been pursued by anyone who wasn’t literally old enough to be my father. Of course, I said I’d go out with him.
There was just one problem. Joe was an atheist. I found this out two days after we set up our date, when a lecture on evolution prompted the religion discussion we hadn’t had yet.
We did go to the movie, but our budding almost-relationship ended with that conversation about faith. I hope other young Christians can avoid the awkwardness of this situation, but one thing my story proves is that the question of whether or not to date an unbeliever can come up more easily than you might think. Just because you plan on only dating other Christians doesn’t mean an attractive unbeliever isn’t going to ask you out. If that happens, here are a few things I learned that might help you respond when an unbeliever wants to date you.
1. Keep your priorities straight.
At any point in the last 10 years, you could have asked me what the No. 1 thing I look for in a man was, and I would have said “strong Christian faith.” But when Joe and I started talking, I’m ashamed to say that shared interests and intriguing conversation overshadowed the quality I considered non-negotiable. When emotions get involved, we have to be on guard that we don’t get carried away and lose sight of what matters to God.
2. Know what you don’t want.
Usually, when we’re making a list of things to look for in a potential spouse, we focus on what we want rather than what we don’t want. However, in her book True Love Dates, Debra Fileta suggests organizing your list into Red traits that you won’t settle for, Yellow traits that put you on your guard, and Green traits that you want in your partner. The idea is that you never date anyone with Red traits, no matter how many Green traits they seem to have. This ensures you won’t settle for someone who doesn’t have a relationship with Jesus just because you’re attracted to their other qualities.
3. Be honest and up-front.
As soon as I found out for certain that Joe was an atheist, I told him I couldn’t see myself in a long-term romantic relationship with someone who did not share my faith. If you do get to the point where an unbeliever is asking you out, that’s when you need to be candid about how your faith affects the kind of relationship you want. In my case, an earlier conversation would probably have been better, but continuing to put it off would certainly have been worse.
4. Don’t feel guilty.
Never feel guilty for having standards and refusing to compromise your faith. I still feel awful about how upset Joe was when I stopped the relationship, but no matter how much I go over my actions in my head, the one thing I’m sure of is that I couldn’t have continued dating him. The Bible says, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14, ESV), and that’s what will happen if you let yourself get more and more romantically involved with someone who doesn’t share your faith.
5. Pray about everything.
I don’t remember praying about my relationship with Joe until after I’d said yes to going out with him. That was a mistake, but once I finally started praying, God responded. He made me “strong in the Lord” to say what needed to be said, and renewed my confidence that God does indeed hear and answer our prayers for help (1 John 5:14-15). If you find yourself in a position where an unbeliever is asking you out, take your concerns about it to God. He really is listening.
I still haven’t found someone to share my life with, but I now have a better idea of what kind of man I’m looking for. This is partly because of my experience with Joe, but mostly because of my experiences with God. The closer I get to Him, the more comfortable I am trusting Him with my future and the more confident I am that a man who follows God is the only choice for me.
Marissa Baker is a freelance writer. She can be found online at marissabaker.wordpress.com, where she shares thoughts on everything from psychology to yurts to Jesus.