Years ago when I created my online dating profile, I clicked “spiritual but not religious” under beliefs, preferring my match to have the same preference. Fellow Christians, even conservative ones, were welcome. Atheists, however, were generally not. I wanted a partner who would understand what I meant when I told them I felt God in a sunrise or who also enjoyed the works of C.S. Lewis and Father Richard Rohr.
I went on dates with two conservative Christians, one a kind-hearted pilot with a penchant for country music, the other a born-again who found faith during a pilgrimage in India. Both were wonderful people; both were not the right fit. While the country music-lover understood my faith, we lacked similar interests. In contrast, on the end of my third date with the born-again, I held my breath in his car, waiting for the night to end with our first kiss. Instead, he offered an almost apologetic goodbye. It wasn’t nerves, I later learned, his feelings didn’t extend beyond friendship.
The born-again’s rejection hit hard. I had gone to his church and even met his family for lunch one day after services. But I’d secretly struggled to reconcile my liberal stance on homosexuality and women’s rights with a passing reference one of the born-again’s relatives made to “man as head of the household.” Looking back, I wonder if the born-again’s feelings were based on my progressive brand of Christianity more than lack of physical attraction. He was looking for a fundamentalist Christian wife, not a woman of open-ended faith who felt a divine presence in nature and had close friends who were atheists.
Though I had long been proud of my refusal to craft elaborate checklists of the qualities I wanted in a partner, I had now gone too far in the other direction. In clinging so hard to a wide range of prospective partners, I realized I had lost myself–an irony, considering a relationship to a creator,or a rejection of it, is profoundly personal. In that moment, I reconciled another reality: the acceptance of my longtime singleness with my desire for a lasting partner.
When I met Aaron—an agnostic— for drinks in Manhattan a few weeks later, I credited a higher power for leading Aaron to me. I dismissed his agnosticism as one of few differences, differences, however, that quickly began to multiply. For one, Aaron is a dedicated basketball fan. In contrast, I couldn’t pick out LeBron James on a court until Aaron pointed him out. I also have a near-reverent love of music, from classic rock to indie folk, which Aaron does not match. On one of our first dates at a rustic pub, Bob Dylan’s distinctive warble played overhead.
“Who’s this?” Aaron asked matter-of-factly.
“That’s Bob Dylan!” I gasped. “Bob Dylan’s ‘Like a Rolling Stone.’” Regaining my composure, I pressed, “Do you like it?”
Aaron cocked his head slightly and contemplated. “Not really,” he finally pronounced. Though Bob Dylan is not one of my favorite artists, I know Aaron—who has never been to a concert—will never understand the way my blood seems to physically heat when I hear Zeppelin or Foreigner.
For a long time, I fretted our differences would ultimately divide us. Though we had common political views and hailed from similar backgrounds (both only children, etc.) I worried our penchant for taking an hour to agree on a movie, for example, would eventually wear us out. What I didn’t realize was that this very process, often permeated with teasing laughter, underscored our shared value of independent thinking.
Recently, after watching a podcast by neuroscientist and atheist Sam Harris, Aaron said he now identified as an atheist, too. When I asked him why, he shrugged. “I think I’ve actually been one all along.” Spirituality has never interested Aaron in the way science, particularly astronomy, captivates him. My initial reaction was disappointment—but not surprise. Semantically, there is little difference between atheism and agnosticism; both stances represent a function of intellectual honesty because, technically, there is no scientific proof that God exists. Knowing Aaron, a devout rationalist, would never understand my sense of faith was a reality that initially saddened me because it was an experience we would never share.
As I considered, however, our personal tradition of movie choosing and gentle compromise—never forcing the other to partake in an activity they wouldn’t enjoy beyond the chore of taking out the trash—I realized our different but mutually respected views on religion reflected an important value: tolerance. We have agreed that if we marry we will have a civil ceremony held in a non-religious setting, and that if we have children we will raise them to cultivate their own beliefs based on the various theologies and philosophies we would encourage them to explore. While I still identify as a spiritual person who can feel God in a loving moment more often than I ever have in a church, I am grateful to be in a relationship with a man whose different point of view has affirmed my core values, not stifled or changed them.
Larissa Lytwyn is a New York City-based writer whose work has appeared in national publications Antique Trader and Goldmine, a music publication. She enjoys contemporary literature, travel, and music. Follow her at larissalytwyn.