For years one of the rights of passage that occurred when a young person turned 16 was the privilege of dating. Many a young lady counted down to her 16th birthday, anticipating that the phone would begin to ring as soon as that magical day arrived on the calendar. Alas, she moved into the Laurel class, received her driver’s license, and nobody called to ask her on a date. Should she expect to begin “dating” at age 16? Should adults expect that of her?
Years ago I was bold enough to assert that Latter-day Saint parents were sending double-messages to their youth by allowing them to become emotionally intimate, while prohibiting them from becoming physically intimate. (See “No More Double Messages: Helping Adolescents Choose Abstinence” at www.smithfamilytherapy.org) Adults were allowing, even encouraging, their youth to date steadily, then were shocked when the youth got too physical.
After a vigorous campaign, the youth in the church (as well as the adults!) have learned that steady dating in high school is entirely inappropriate and when teenagers go on dates there should be
-no pairing off
-no going steady.
In the aftermath of this vigorous campaign, we have seen little or no dating among teenagers. It seems that pre-mission youth have no concept of what a date should look like if it doesn’t look like a post-mission date.
Unlike pre-missionaries, or “premies” as I’ve heard them called, returned missionaries are encouraged to pair off, to become exclusive, to make commitments to “get on with it,” in the words of Elder Oaks. He claims post-mission dating should include the “three Ps” planned, paid for, and paired off.
The three “P”s, while highly recommended for post-mission dating, may actually inhibit premies from going on dates.
The purpose of post-mission dating is to find a life-long companion, a mate, someone to marry. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary for post-mission daters to pair off, to be exclusive, and to make commitments.
The purpose of pre-mission dating, on the other hand, is NOT to find a life-long companion, or a mate, or someone to marry. The purpose of pre-mission dating is to make friends.
Young people must to learn to make friends with members of the opposite before they learn to make love with members of the opposite sex. Unfortunately, in our society, friendship may have no place in adolescent relationships. Too often, a young person is attracted to someone, and knowing little or nothing about the person to whom they are attracted, they form an exclusive, very romantic, highly physical relationship. They become lovers, without ever becoming friends.
This refusal to establish friendships destroys the relationships of those still in adolescence, and more tragically, neglecting to form a friendship destroys the relationships of those in a marriage.
The beauty of pre-mission dating is that young people learn to become friends with members the opposite sex so that when romance is appropriate (after their missions) they do not jump right into a romance, without ever becoming adept at establishing a friendship. Pre-mission dating can help boys and girls learn how to be friends.
Since the purpose of pre-mission dating is to establish friendships, why wouldn’t young people between the ages of 16 and 18, who go on dates, go out just like they do with any of their other friends?
When 16 year old girls want to go to a movie together, they don’t pair off, they seldom plan, and they certainly don’t pay for one another. They often conceive of their plan at the last minute, their numbers are not always even, and they inevitably pay for themselves.
I presume, and the youth I interviewed concur, that more boys and girls would go on dates during their pre-mission years if young people felt they were allowed to date as friends. If teenage boys and girls could go to a movie together without pairing off, without planning and without paying, they would be far more likely to go out.
Just as adults sent double-messages a decade ago, parents may be sending double-messages today. We are telling our teenagers to go out on dates, and not to be exclusive, yet we may be encouraging them to date as if they were exclusive, where they pair off, the boy pays, etc.
This is a double-message. I assert that dating based on friendship should occur just like a normal friendship. Teenagers who want to go on dates should go dutch.
Gasp! I can hear the sucking in of air throughout the blogosphere. Is it really a date if the guy doesn’t pay? Call it a date; call it hanging out; label it whatever you want, but when teenagers are still in high school their relationships should be about forming friendships, and friends go dutch.
Dutch-Dating Encourages Friendship
Though he may deny it, when a boy pays for a girl’s dinner, or her movie, or her concert, or her airfare, he expects something in return. He usually expects her to be “his girl” and at the very least to give him a good night kiss.
Accepting a gift from a boy, whether it is a necklace, a dozen roses, or a meal at a nice restaurant, insinuates exclusivity. A wise woman knows this and she will decline, “I’m sorry I can’t accept this,” knowing that if she doesn’t, she may be communicating her willingness to be in an exclusive relationship.
If a girl lets a boy pay for her dinner and then, because she knows she shouldn’t go steady, goes out with another boy the next weekend and lets him pay for her dinner, it looks like she us “using” these boys. She may be considered “trampy” even if she does nothing more to communicate exclusivity then eat the dinner they paid for. Saying “no” to the gift (be it a meal or a necklace) allows a young woman to retain her freedom to go out with whomever she wishes without it appearing that she is “using” anybody or without any obligation to go steady.
One obvious solution is for boys and girls to go on dates that don’t cost any money. However, that only obfuscates the question of whether the relationship is a friendship or a romance. Boys and girls who are still in high school need to make it clear that they are interested in dating as friends, and friends only. A very easy, and very unmistakable way to communicate these intentions is deciding who foots the bill.
JeaNette Goates Smith is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Jacksonville Beach, Florida and the author of two books on adolescent romance.
Unsteady: What Every Parent Absolutely Must Know About Teenage Romance is available at www.amazon.com and Unsteady Dating: Resisting the Rush to Romance is available at www.unsteadydating.com