Let me take you with me for a minute into a Relief Society meeting recently held in a BYU singles ward. My husband Scot and I were teaching and we asked a question that everybody wanted to answer. The young women were clamoring to be called on and the answers spilled out quickly.
We asked them what is most stressful to you in your current life—and almost to a person, they said dating and boys. Then we went on. In a world where you have school and finances and big decisions before you, why is dating the most stressful thing? They exploded with answers.
“Being in a singles ward sometimes feels like a meat market—like I am competing with everyone for the boy’s attention. I am always wondering if I look good enough or am what boys would want. It makes me feel like I’m always on the line and I have to second guess myself to fit into what the boys would find attractive.”
“I feel like I have to look and say and do everything just right to get a date, and if I do, I am self-conscious that I won’t get asked out again unless I live up to his idea of what a girl should be like. It makes it hard to be natural.”
“I just wonder why nobody seems to want me.”
“I haven’t been out on a date in three years.”
“It is difficult to get to know boys. If I talk to a boy as a friend, he thinks I am flirting with him hoping he will ask me out.”
“I know how important it is to choose the right person to marry, and that weighs heavily upon me. How can I know that someone is right? It also means dating is a very weighty thing for me, because I know so much of my happiness depends upon it—and it doesn’t seem to be happening.”
“I feel worried because I am soon to graduate and I haven’t found anybody.”
“I feel like I can’t plan my life because if I move for school or a job to someplace where there aren’t a lot of LDS guys, will I ever meet anyone? Should I stay in Provo to be where there are many guys?”
“I am not the kind of girl boys like because I am too (ambitious, smart, career-minded, shy, over weight) fill in the blank. Guys only seem to go for one kind of girl.”
The women also told us that too many of the boys are not living the kind of lives they would want in a husband. Pornography has taken a toll on family formation amongst the Latter-day Saints.
Now, of course, these comments were all from the women’s perspective because it was a Relief Society meeting, but the men in our ward have similar feelings—that they are under great pressure to do the dating thing just right.
One of the biggest surprises to me, working with both the men and women young single adults is how little they date. Wonderful men say, “I can’t get a girl to give me a second date.” Wonderful women say, “I can’t remember going on a date.”
Here are four bad ideas that I think are inhibiting dating at BYU—and perhaps across the Latter-day Saints singles scene in general.
Sizing up a Person before You Know Them
Somehow this culture has grown up around young Latter-day Saint singles. If I date someone once, I am considering them as a spouse. If we go out twice, we are probably a couple. Three times and you are practically engaged.
This idea puts so much weight on dating, that people avoid it all together, until they find a person that they think might fill that bill. It used to be that people dated for fun, for the social camaraderie, for the chance to meet new people and share an experience or two together. They had opportunities to interact with and get to know many, many people. Dating was simply a form of social life, without overly heavy baggage attached. Consequently many singles dated often and with many people before they began to even consider marriage. That is just not the case today.
I have asked young single adult women why they won’t go on a second date with a boy, and they answer because I don’t think I will marry him. That may be clear in some cases where someone doesn’t live the standards you appreciate, but how can you begin to know someone if you have hardly interacted with them? How do you know what they really think or the depths of their soul?
The same thing is true with men asking women on dates. They fear they are signaling interest in marriage, rather than just a chance to get to know someone better.
This makes going out on a date more burdened than it needs to be. Instead of just a social outing with a friend you are getting to know, each date becomes an audition for marriage. Young single adults think they have to move fast and know quickly.
In some ways, this is surely a response for young Latter-day Saints of understanding that marriage is important, but on the other hand, ironically, this idea is a huge impediment to marriage actually happening.
You cannot know someone until you’ve spent some time with them—and early dates should not be an audition for marriage. When young singles think they are, they become terribly stressed and date much less.
You can date someone many times whom you don’t marry. It is difficult to know anyone well whom you haven’t spent a great deal of time with.
Creating a Check List
This sense of needing to move fast and know quickly also tends toward another ill. That is creating a checklist for what someone should be in order to be your marriage partner.
After all, if after the first few dates, people are expected somehow to know if this is about marriage, then short cuts are taken. Instead of knowing someone’s heart and mind, it is easy to revert to the checklist.
The problem with checklists, too, is that they reflect perfectionism. All of us are human, flawed, and growing. None is ideal. But we human, flawed people are looking for an ideal mannequin.
Marriage is about loving someone else’s very being, about understanding their impulses, about respecting their choices, about having enough shared experiences that you want to continue doing this for an eternity. It is about finding someone who loves the Lord and wants to grow with you, because you have already been growing together.
The checklist is artificially created and includes qualities one supposes one wants in a spouse. The items on a checklist are about things that one can see superficially. Too often it replaces creating that soul-to-soul connection that is the basis for an eternal relationship.
Check list items might include looks, weight, grades, charm, even hair color. (Is she blonde?) Check lists might mean you miss the person who is your friend who is standing right by you.
One young woman accepted a date from a young man that she didn’t think was her type. He didn’t fit her checklist. Then she found on the first date that they got along so well, that they laughed much and could talk about anything. That sense only grew as they continued to date. She looks at him in a way now, that she would never have supposed, had she not be open to dating him. She has thrown away her checklist.
The other problem with check lists is that they tend to make people ever searching, thinking there might be a better one out there. Even when they are dating someone they really enjoy, they ask themselves, “Is this the best I can do? Is there someone else out there who fits my checklist better?”
A check list too often means you don’t give people a chance before you write them off.
We asked one young man how his dating life was going with a particular girl. He brightened and told us that he really liked her, but then said with a touch of dismay, “but she has a puppy. I don’t think I could live with a puppy.”
Too Many People are Watching
Because marriage matters so much to us in the gospel, every one has an eye on the young single adults to see if they are dating and progressing in relationships. There’s a scientific law that is worth remembering here. It is called observer effect—and that is the theory that simply observing a situation or phenomenon changes that situation.
Others in single wards, roommates, friends all have opinions on dating in general and whom you are dating in particular. A young single woman goes on a date and all her roommates want every particular. They want to know what she thought. They have opinions about the young man. He is too this or too that. Was he interested enough? Every date becomes a topic of discussion.
The opinions of others matter too much. Their eyes upon you make you self-conscious, weighting every choice beyond what it should weigh.
With all these eyes upon the singles that are dating, it is easy, of course, to be influenced by the opinion of others. But the others have not been spending time with this person you have dated and they don’t really know.
Others can also press young singles toward moving faster than they should or making snap judgments. Yet, choosing someone to marry is a seasoned judgment, made over time, and ultimately only one person lives eternally with that decision—the person involved.
Who needs a gallery of critics or applause or those who urge them on?
Acting out of Fear
Each of these bad ideas, impact the next, and all of them lead to acting out of fear. You heard fear in the comments I quoted above from some of the young single women in our ward. Stress and anxiety, of course, are just other names for fear. These fears are very natural. These women are in college a brief time where there is a large pool of men to date, and they can hear the clock ticking. They worry that marriage will escape them.
Yet, we learn as we are spiritually striving that decisions and actions motivated by fear are often unhealthy. Fear adds urgency that shouldn’t be there. It molds and distorts us into someone else. It urges us to decisions that are faulty. It inhibits us.
We are told instead to act out of love. Love expands and opens us to others. Love trusts that the Lord knows how to do his work in our life. Love makes us friendly to others without the secret calculation about whether we will soon be dating. Love allows us to be ourselves because we are not afraid that we are imperfect. We know that God is moving us on a journey of growth, and we can feel His love for us now.
So here’s my counsel for those who are single. These may be tough to live because the culture will press you other ways when it comes to dating.
- Be a devoted disciple of Christ before all else. He will shore you up, guide you, help you, fill your bucket when it seems empty.
- Take time to get to know others of the opposite sex. Be friendly without expectation that somehow you must immediately size each other up for marriage. Everybody needs a friend.
- Abandon the idea that you are always on the line when you are dating, that you are dating a critic and judge.
- Be yourself when you are dating, because in reality, you can’t be anybody else and any pretense you put on will eventually be blown anyway.
- Abandon your checklist and instead be open to the Spirit as you seek to know someone.
- Seek to replace fear with love, faith and trust.
- Be willing to accept the Lord’s timing.
- Don’t look to the gallery of opinion for your dating life. Ultimately, your choice in marriage will be between you and God. No one else, but you will have to live with your decision.
- Focus your life on good things, seek light, and others will see the spiritual energy this brings you.