Years ago I attended a civil war reenactment with my 5th grade son. While on the battlefield where the Battle of Olustee took place we were introduced to many of the customs of the 1860’s.
At one educational exhibit a docent explained the courtship rituals of the era. In the middle of her speech she dropped her handkerchief and one of the little 10-year-old boys in the front row picked it up and graciously returned it to her.
“Oh, yes,” she blushed, raising her clenched handkerchief to her face shyly. “Of course I’ll marry you.” The 5th grader stood shocked at the mere mention of the word marriage. The docent then fell out of character and justified her act. “One hundred and fifty years ago if a woman was interested in man she would give him a subtle hint, such as dropping her handkerchief. If the man was interested in return, he picked up the handkerchief. If he was not interested he ignored the handkerchief.”
I have since chuckled at this giant leap, from a mere show of interest to a supposition of marriage. It is so implausible. However, in the Latter-day Saint culture, we often make a similarly giant leap from mere interest to a supposition of marriage. The minute a young man asks a young lady out on a date, she, all her roommates, half the ward, and especially her mother, begin planning a wedding. And we wonder why young men don’t want to date.
This impetuous jump from a first date to a chosen mate will scare any young man away from the dating scene. If a young man doesn’t have the freedom to date a young lady without the pressure of imminent marriage, he might choose not to date at all.
Young men deserve time to make up their minds. They deserve time to get to know a young lady. They deserve time to determine how compatible they might be. They deserve the right to refuse the relationship if they so choose. When we, as a culture, rush young men into commitment, pressuring them to make up their minds before they are ready, they may stubbornly cross their arms across their chest and say, “Fine, forget the whole thing.”
Get on with It
Granted, young men can’t and shouldn’t wait forever to marry. As Dallin Oaks said, “It’s marriage time, get on with it.” It is a duty, and a privilege for a young man who has returned from his mission to begin looking for a wife. However we must resist the temptation to make that choice for him by prompting a young man to ask a particular girl out, or to get serious with a particular girl, or pestering him about how his relationship is progressing. If we could back off and let the relationship blossom naturally, without being scrutinized like a cell in biology, young men would be far less ambivalent about dating.
When I was in college my best friend lined me up with her cousin. Feeling obligated to win this boy’s heart (because that’s what my best friend expected) I came on very strong. I complimented him to excess. I pretended to be needy, and deferred to his manliness on many occasion. In reality, I was about as needy as a cobra. I was feisty and could fend for myself and would try just about anything without fear. But feeling pressured to act feminine and coquettish, I scared this man miles away.
Far wiser after this experience, I determined never to force a relationship just to please another person and to be authentic. These resolutions in mind, I arrived at my biology class one day with a snake in a pillowcase. The pillowcase held a four foot burmese python I had borrowed from the Monte L. Bean Science museum. After biology I was headed to a class in Persuasion Processes. I was assigned the task of persuading the class that snakes weren’t scary and encouraging them to hold my snake.
While trying to get seated with one arm full of books and the other holding the snake in a bag, I found it necessary to ask the young man sitting next to me to hold the snake. “Would you mind?” I asked nonchalantly. I placed the bag in the boy’s lap and he felt the snake squirming inside. When I was comfortably seated I took the snake back from him expressing my thanks.
This was my first introduction to the man who would become my husband. I answered his questions about the bag in a cursory manner and refrained from inviting him to come hear my speech. The weeks went by and we spoke briefly about the biology assignments and I didn’t flirt once.
After two full months of sitting together in class, he finally asked me to come over and study for a test. Ten months later he proposed.
He has acknowledged several times over the course of our 31-year marriage that he would have blushed to the roots of his hair and run the other way fast, if I had appeared interested in him the day he held my snake. Granted, I was drawn to quiet boys, and eschewed the aggressive, arrogant type. But even bold men want to make their own decisions about marriage, and not be pressured, or pushed into a relationship they are not yet sure they want.
How then, if we don’t prod them a bit, to we get men to make that very large commitment to an eternal partner? Patience. Girls who are content to casually date, without pushing for commitment can win the hearts of their true love. The couple will spend time building a friendship, having an abundance of fun together, discovering the myriad things they have in common, and realizing they treasure one another’s company. The time will come when the boy can’t bear to part with his best friend. He knows it’s time to make her his wife.
If a girl can’t win a boy over by being his best friend, they are not meant to marry. Friendship is the foundation of every good marriage. Couples who build a strong, solid friendship will find that marrying one another is as natural as blinking. No one will have to persuade, cajole, or frighten a boy into marriage. He will figure it out all on his own.
JeaNette G. Smith is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the author of Unsteady Dating: Resisting the Rush to Romance available at www.unsteadydating.com