Do you think you’ll ever “come around”?

Tonight I went to the store with my husband and daughter, and while my husband was waiting for his allergy medication, I was running up and down the aisles with my daughter. There weren’t many people in the store and we were having a lot of fun. An older lady noticed us and asked about my daughter. She said she looked a lot like me and asked if she was my only child. I realize this is the Midwest and strangers talk to each other here, but I’m not really one for small talk. I answered her questions and then joined my husband in another aisle. 

We went to check out and the lady was ahead of us in line. She looked at me and asked me what church we go to. Oh man, here we go. Unfortunately, asking someone what church they go to seems to be common small talk around here. Personally, I feel it’s an intrusive question. I told her we don’t go to church and nervously waited for her response. She said, “I used to feel that way, too.” I felt she was a little condescending but thankfully she dropped the subject.

Why do people assume one day you’ll “come around”? 

This made me think of an ex-boyfriend’s father who said, “If you’re not a Democrat by 20 you have no heart; and if you’re not a Republican by 40, you have no brain.” 

Just for the record, I’m 40 and I am not a Republican. I don’t see that changing any time soon.

Once again, we’re expected to “come around”. Is there something magical about getting older that makes you want to conform? 

Back to the church thing, do people ask you what church you go to? What’s your response? Do you feel it’s an intrusive question? 

Also, do you feel more pressure to conform as you get older? Unfortunately, the Boomers in my family are concerned about keeping up appearances, so I feel there is pressure there. I’m not saying all Boomers are like that, but I can definitely see generational differences.

Do people assume you’ll come around? I can understand older people turning to god because they’re afraid of death, but it still seems so strange to me. Can a fear of mortality make you lose common sense?


  1. John Morales says

    I’m in Australia, where this is would be an odd thing to experience, so everything I write is speculative.

    I get this anecdote illustrates the basis for your questions and that you were there and got all the subtext and tone a reader here cannot.

    Caveats aside, it may be possible that “I used to feel that way, too.” is an admission that she was too weak to avoid that particular crutch.
    Like an ex-teetolaler who is now on the booze, type of thing.

    Presumably, a Christian, who supposedly should be aware of the sermon on the mount, in particular “Judge not, lest ye be judged”.

    Anyway, no pressure on me where I live. Which is nice.

    • Ichthyic says

      “I’m in Australia, where this is would be an odd thing to experience”

      then you need to explore Northward my son. Oz is a big place, and you clearly have no experience of the evangelism that is the Northern part of your continent.

      Let me guess… city boy? probably Sydney or Melbourne?

  2. battycat13 says

    I’m 56. I haven’t come around. If anything, thanks to the Right fusing itself to religious belief, I have become practically militant in my non-belief.

    And I’m practically a socialist (I believe that quote has been credited almost every American person of letters since Mark Twain).

  3. Bruce says

    I got the intrusive church question when I lived in Alabama and Louisiana, so I think it’s part of the culture of the Ohio-Alabama-Midwest area. I haven’t heard it in the six other states I lived in. I think people should be OK to answer: that’s private.
    On the D20 R40 saying, I think it’s lazy of some people to assume that a slight trend historically is somehow a reliable rule. I think more modern sociology research indicates that people are more likely to keep their views they had when they became politically aware. But as society moves forward, people who don’t change might start off as what they think is the left, but by being stuck, they end up later being right wing, because they refused to change or grow. They are free to think that, but they don’t persuade me.
    For reference, I am 63 and wish that Bernie Sanders and AOC would be joined by people who could move them to their left. So, not all baby boomers are like the ones you mentioned.

  4. says

    You said that you don’t go to church. That’s not the same as saying that you are an atheist. She probably never considered that possibility. So not going to church only meant that you felt too busy, or not involved in organised religion, not that you didn’t believe in god.
    Not that I think you need to proclaim your atheism. IMO your reply was just right. It was completely truthful, but no more than necessary in the social situation.
    I live in the UK. No-one’s ever asked me what church I go to.

  5. sonofrojblake says

    So many questions:

    Is there something magical about getting older that makes you want to conform?


    When you were a kid, did you want to eat a bunch of sweet food, go to bed late and not clean your teeth? Rebel!
    When you became an adult, and could do that if you wanted, did you?
    When you had a kid, did you let THEM do that?

    do people ask you what church you go to?

    I live in a civilised country, so the question would seem ludicrous and a little creepy. It would be socially acceptable to laugh in the face of someone who was odd enough to ask it.

    What’s your response?

    Laughing in their face.

    Do you feel it’s an intrusive question?

    Not at all. It’s on a par with asking what I feed to my unicorn or whether I talk to the fairies at the bottom of my garden. It’s such a stultifyingly stupid question in the context of my life and my environment that “intrusiveness” would never occur to me.

    Also, do you feel more pressure to conform as you get older?

    Pressure from what? Conform to what? I’m a middle aged man with a wife young enough (just) to be my daughter, I ride a unicycle and own far more lightsabers than you’d expect. Until I broke myself I spent most of my free time walking into the sky and crossing the country on warm updrafts of air. On the flipside I have a full time job, a mortgage, life insurance, two cars, two kids and clean my teeth and eat healthily. So, yes and no, I guess.

    Do people assume you’ll come around?

    I don’t think anyone who knows me has EVER assumed I’d come around. When I announced at 45 that I was getting married, every single person I told was shocked. Happy, eventually, but invariably the first response was along the lines of “WHAT? YOU?? SERIOUSLY???”

    I can understand older people turning to god because they’re afraid of death

    Nobody I know has. Everyone I know who’s religious is that way because of one of two things:
    1. they were brought up that way and know nothing else
    2. they experienced some trauma or difficulty in their lives AND there was a church standing by waiting to prey on them.

    “If you’re not a Democrat by 20 you have no heart; and if you’re not a Republican by 40, you have no brain.”

    This makes sense and I do understand it. When you’re 20 you’re idealistic, naive and have no responsibilities. The world seems unfair and simple and you feel like you want to, and can, fix it. Also, you’re the target of various benefits the Left promise to those who need help. You want higher taxes because that’s where those benefits come from, and you need them. And if you DON’T feel like that you’re probably some kind of sociopath, or perhaps just very advanced for your age.

    By the time you’re 40 (if you’re lucky) you’ve likely had enough experience to become cynical, world-weary and you have a LOT of responsibilities. The world still seems unfair but you recognise its complexity and realise you can’t fix it and neither can anyone else. Also, you’re not the target of those benefits any more – you’re the one who pays for them all. You want lower taxes because that where your money goes, and you need it. And if you DON’T feel like that you’re probably… well, poor. And if you’re older, rich(ish), and still on the Left – well then you’re untypically unselfish.

    I’m 54. I’ve got a mortgage, two kids, and I pay a LOT of tax. And when the opportunity arises in the next year or so, I’m going to vote as I always have, for Labour. Unfortunately doing so has been very untypical for the last decade and a half, and this country (the UK) has gone to shit because of it.

  6. sonofrojblake says

    ““I used to feel that way, too.” I felt she was a little condescending ”
    I wasn’t there, but I interpret it a different way. I’d ten of my English pounds that her unspoken follow up was “until [$insert terrible traumatic experience e.g. mental illness, being a victim of a crime, losing a loved one] and God was there for me”.

  7. SailorStar says

    “What church do you go to” is definitely a midwest-southern thing. Where I live, nobody would ask that unless you told them you were looking for a new church and wanted to hear about theirs, or if you appeared in their church and they were trying to figure out if you were joining or just visiting–otherwise it’s just plain rude. The midwest-south also seem to think they’re the only ones who are polite, and that’s absolutely not the truth.
    Pharyngula once had a post about “Minnesota nice” and if you browse Youtube, you find all kinds of midwest comedians talking about their “(Place name) nice” which is just passive-aggressive and phony. A perfect illustration of this: years ago there was a documentary on PBS about how people lived in pioneering times. They had several families try to live in a rural area for a number of months. There was a young mixed-race couple, a family from California, a young couple with a toddler, and a family from the south. Everyone else was friendly enough and got along, helping each other figure out how to do the chores and cope without electricity or running water. The southern wife was just a real over-the-top jerk; she’d smile in people’s faces and run around gossiping about them behind their back. When the California family’s cow got out and the southern kids went to help the California kids go round them up, the southern mother wouldn’t let them because that would teach THEM a lesson. The other families caught on and started avoiding her and she wailed, “But we’re SOUTHERN! We’re the GOOD ONES.”
    As for the 20D/40R thing; I think it’s a Boomer saying. They grew up supported by Uncle Sam: new schools, new homes, new roads, scientific breakthroughs like television, advertising for new things aimed just for their demographic. By the time they were in their 40s, many of them were really wealthy and had no desire to share that with anyone who came behind. Their whole “thing” is pulling up the ladder behind them.

  8. another stewart says

    Variants of the quote have being going out for some time – with Liberal and Conservative it is (mis)attributed to Churchill. My riff on it was “if your not a libertarian at 20 you’ve got no ambition, if your not a liberal at 40 you’ve got no conscience”. (That was when I still believed that Libertarians cared about liberty.) I reckon it’s got about the same amount as truth in it as the original. On the other hand youthful idealism giving way to mature recognition of reality; on the other hand youthful ambition giving way to recognition of how one depends on society.

    The ur-version appears to be (in the context of 19th century France) “not to be a republican at 20 is proof of want of heart; to be one at 30 is proof of want of head”.

  9. lakitha tolbert says

    As for the 20D/40R thing, I guess this person didn’t take into account the existence of PoC, who remain Democrats their whole lives and are very obviously not stupid for not voting for people who have made it very clear that they hate them. I can only assume that that philosophy is something white men say to young white people. I have never heard an older Black person say something like that.

    I’m a 50 year old Black woman and there’s not a chance in (insert wherever you think people go after death) that I would ever vote for a Republican.

  10. Allison says

    I’m kind of the opposite of the 20D/40R thing.

    I grew up in “the ante-bellum south”, as I call it (Virginia), and when I was young, I was a supporter of Nixon and the Vietnam War. However, life has radicalized me. The older I get, the more left-wing (well, my version thereof) I get. But I also have some idea of how bad things can get (viz. Somalia), so unlike some of the bloggers here, I’m definitely not on the “burn it all down” side of things.

    As for “I used to feel that way, too,” it may be because of the bad influence of NYC culture, but I can’t be bothered to care whether someone is being condescending, as long as they aren’t actively picking on me. On the other hand, you don’t want to make enemies of neighbors. So IMHO, what you did — give a polite answer with the minimum of information, followed by a smile and an excuse — sounds like the best way to handle it.

  11. Trickster Goddess says

    I’ve never particularly been a conformist and the older I get, the less I care what anybody else thinks about that.
    Where I live in Canada it would very presumptuous to assume any random stranger is religious, let alone Christian.

  12. brightmoon says

    I’m Christian and an creative introvert who’s science literate so I absolutely hated going to church which is both boring and stressful for me . I don’t like the implied criticism and the espoused misogyny and deliberate ignorance . When I visit relatives from the south that question gets to be embarrassing and more stressful . “ You believe in that evolution?!?! Gay rights?!?! Women preaching ?!?! God help me when they realize I still like to dance “ You too old fer that and that yoga is satanic!!! That’s cuz you don’t go to church! ” Then the even more abusive criticism starts and the anger comes out . ( sigh)

  13. brightmoon says

    Hell would freeze over before I’d vote for any of the current republicans . Another Black woman but I’m pushing 70

  14. Katydid says

    I think your experiences are really down to where you are (the Midwest). During the height of the pandemic, a local church that rents itself out to several groups insisted on them having outside worship. The church is along my running route, and the black church would invite me to join them (I am not black). I told the pastor I wasn’t Christian and he said I was welcome anyway, and when they had some sort of celebration, they made me a plate to take with me. Neither them nor anyone else has hinted I’d come around. Religious just isn’t a big topic of discussion in my part of the USA.

  15. says

    “If you’re not a Democrat by 20 you have no heart; and if you’re not a Republican by 40, you have no brain.”

    I’ve always hate any version of that I’ve heard. As I get older I’m not getting any closer to being a conservative because I do use my brain and am well aware of how conservatism has failed us.

    Sonofrojblake @7
    “I live in a civilised country, so the question would seem ludicrous and a little creepy.”

    I live in Canada too and have been asked that, but it was small town Alberta so there’s that…

  16. dangerousbeans says

    I’m a visible trans woman, so those people are usually quite happy I’m not trying to be included. Saves them having to run me out

  17. springa73 says

    I was actually conservative when I was younger, and am much more liberal now. The sayings about becoming more conservative as one gets older reflect a common conservative belief that liberals and progressives are well-intentioned but hopelessly naive about how human beings actually behave and what will really work in the real world, while conservatives have the wisdom of experience. I think that some people on the left are naive about what’s likely to work well in practice, but so are a lot of people on the right, with their faith that capitalism will solve everything.

  18. says

    Here in CZ talk about churches is so rare that it rarely crops up between friends, let alone strangers. Religion is not an important part of life for most people and those who do take it seriously are outliers. And those who tend to talk about their religious practices in public are seen either as peculiar or assholes, depending on how they chose to talk about it.

  19. mathman85 says

    [D]o people ask you what church you go to?

    None have to date—at least as far as I can recall.

    What’s your response?

    I would likely say “None” or something similar.

    Do you feel it’s an intrusive question?

    Yes, but I feel that most getting-to-know-you type questions such as this are intrusive. I suspect this has something to do with my being neurodivergent.

    Also, do you feel more pressure to conform as you get older?

    No, but I do try to avoid the more reactionary side of my family as much as possible…

    Do people assume you’ll come around?

    I don’t know.

    And looping back…

    […] “If you’re not a Democrat by 20 you have no heart; and if you’re not a Republican by 40, you have no brain.”

    I’ll be 38 in a few weeks. Ten-ish years ago, I was a social democrat. Now, I’m best described as an anarcho-communist.
    I consider this bit of received wisdom to be foolhardy nonsense at worst, but reflective of some persons staking out a political position in their (relative) youth and then not changing it as they age, which inevitably leads to the same position becoming more reactionary with time, at best.

  20. says

    In Germany, religion is mostly thought to be a private thing. It’s absolutely taboo for smalltalk. Stick to the weather, there’s always some aspect of it that you can safely complain about.
    Occasionally my students ask about my beliefs, which usually shows a level of trust and being comfortable with me. I have a lot of very religious muslim students who are usually a bit shocked when I say “I don’t believe in any god”. But since they’ve long accepted me as a basically good and safe person (otherwise they wouldn’t be having a conversation with me), it broadens their worldview. One of them once ended the discussion with a friendly “I’ll guess we see who is right when we die”. We can both live with that.

  21. TGAP Dad says

    That interaction with the woman asking about your church, while standing in a checkout line, is just weird. I have no idea what motivates people to do this, aside from possibly a misguided desire to evangelize. Another oddity for me is that I grew up (through the early 80s) right next door to Toledo, in Temperance, MI, doing virtually all our shopping in Toledo, and never once had a total stranger go churchy on me. I only got that when I briefly lived in Michigan’s bible belt (roughly bound by Grand Rapids, Holland, and Muskegon, Dutch reformed church territory), for a job, where religion and the weekend’s sermon were primary topics of discussion. I also got it in school, when my family briefly moved us to a small rural town in southern Michigan. (In this case, someone actually asked name what church atheists go to!)

    • says

      That interaction with the woman asking about your church, while standing in a checkout line, is just weird. I have no idea what motivates people to do this…
      I think a lot of it is just casual conversation for them; just like “Where do you live?” “Where do you work/What’s your job?” “Where did yo go to school?” Etc.

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