Mormon Culture: Dating
Ask anyone in Provo how they feel about dating, and you’ll probably get some exasperated sighs. So maybe there’s a Provo dating culture and a Mormon dating culture, but BYU professor Tom Robinson, who has been at BYU for 14 years and served as a YSA bishop said, “The YSAs aren’t dating because I don’t think they know how.”
The list problem
When girls are in Young Women’s, they’re asked to make a list of qualities they want in a future spouse. These lists usually include things like college grad, good-looking, good job, return missionary.
BYU Professor Tom Robinson gives firesides on dating and says these lists are part of the problem with dating in Mormon culture. They leave young women thinking that these are the qualities that will make a good husband and leave men thinking that’s what they need in order to find a wife.
“That guy doesn’t exist,” Robinson said. “He’s a figment of your imagination, and the best thing that you can do as a young woman is to throw the list away.”
Instead, Robinson says to just get to know people and figure out what you actually like about people. And a good husband isn’t a list; he’s a good person who’s a good listener and communicator.
“If my wife had had a list, she would have never went out with me,” Robinson joked.
He said if he had a list, it would’ve said “loves sports.” And if he had only looked for women who loved sports, he wouldn’t have gone out with his wife, who hated sports — and still hates them.
“I fell in love with her not because of things I had on my list, but because of the person that she was,” Robinson said. “She was kind and giving and she had a strong testimony, and that’s what I fell in love with.”
a “just dinner” solution
In his “Just Dinner” firesides, Robinson tells young single adults to just go out to dinner. “If it turns into something, even better,” he said. “If It doesn’t, that’s okay because it’s just dinner.”
Robinson said he came up with this “just dinner” idea when he was a singles ward bishop, just trying to get the YSAs out of their apartments and talking.
The Young men problem
Robinson said the problem with the young men is that they don’t know how to date. He says that when they turn 12, they are told they are preparing to serve missions, which means not dating because girls are a “distraction.” Robinson said that while the counsel is meant to “protect” the young men, the young men end up hearing, “Girls are bad. Girls will get me in trouble. Girls will keep me from being able to go on a mission.”
Is that a good mentality to teach the young men of the church? Who after their missions are supposed to change their thought process and get married? Robinson said that people in the church need to help the youth to not only prepare for missions, but for eternal marriage as well — and that begins with dating.
In the For the Strength of Youth, there’s a section on dating. In it, it says, “You should not date until you are at least 16 years old. When you begin dating, go with one or more additional couples. Avoid going on frequent dates with the same person. Developing serious relationships too early in life can limit the number of other people you meet and can perhaps lead to immorality.”
Robinson said some parents take this idea and tell their children they can’t steady date before a mission. But that’s just a personal preference. Robinson said something changed with his generation.
“Somehow, my generation — when we were growing up we were growing up — we dated, and we dated, we had girlfriends, we kissed girls, and we still went on missions, and we still ended up getting married in the temple,” Robinson said. “Now there were a few that didn’t and because there were a few that didn’t, my generation looked back and said ‘Well, maybe it would be better if our kids didn’t date.'”
getting over it and accepting the plan
Okay, but what about rejection? Even though return missionaries learn about being rejected for their whole missions, it still hurts. But Robinson brought up a good point in our interview. He asked me, what if every person said yes to a date, got married, and had a perfect life with no problems? Then he asked me, “Who’s plan in the preexistence was that? That’s not the plan we sustained. We sustained the plan where we were going to get rejected. It was going to hurt, and we would hate it. And we would date someone for seven months, and she’d break up with us, or he would hurt us. That’s the plan we signed up for. And it sucks, but that’s our Father in Heaven’s plan. We have to taste the bitter to be able to experience the sweet.”
I tried to stay professional as I felt my tear ducts start wanting to water. But I did it. No crying. But he was right. We chose a plan that would hurt, and we can only get to the sweet by tasting of the bitter.
For the women
Robinson said it’s chill for a young woman to ask a young man to dinner because it’s “just dinner.”
In a study done at Utah State University, “The Social and Cultural Construction of Singlehood among Young, Single Mormons,” young women had varying responses about dating. One said, “Right now I would like to date more, but it is okay that I am not. I guess that I am content, but not content.”
Robinson would say to that girl that she can ask a young man to dinner. So chicas, if you want to date more, go ahead an ask a guy on a date. Or just dinner.
Obviously there’s a lot of pressure to date in Mormon culture, but if you’re not ready to date, just get to know people and have fun. Or don’t. Do whatever you want. But if you want to get to know people, then just ask someone to dinner every once in a while.
questions to consider
- Am I sitting home alone? (probs … because you’re reading this)
- Who can I invite to go to dinner?
- Do I have a list of things I’m checking off when I’m with someone instead of getting to know who they really are?
- Am I afraid to ask people on dates? What’s my plan to change that?
Words of the apostles
Another serious dimension of perfectionism is to hold others to our unrealistic, judgmental, or unforgiving standards. Such behavior may, in fact, deny or limit the blessings of the Savior’s Atonement in our lives and in the lives of others. For example, young single adults may make a list of desired qualities in a potential spouse and yet be unable to marry because of unrealistic expectations for the perfect companion.
Thus, a sister may be unwilling to consider dating a wonderful, worthy brother who falls short on her perfectionist scale—he does not dance well, is not planning to be wealthy, did not serve a mission, or admits to a past problem with pornography since resolved through repentance and counseling.
Similarly, a brother may not consider dating a wonderful, worthy sister who doesn’t fit his unrealistic profile—she is not a sports enthusiast, a Relief Society president, a beauty queen, a sophisticated budgeter, or she admits to an earlier, now-resolved weakness with the Word of Wisdom.
Of course, we should consider qualities we desire in ourselves and in a potential spouse. We should maintain our highest hopes and standards. But if we are humble, we will be surprised by goodness in unexpected places, and we may create opportunities to grow closer to someone who, like us, is not perfect.
Faith acknowledges that, through repentance and the power of the Atonement, weakness can be made strong and repented sins can truly be forgiven.
Happy marriages are not the result of two perfect people saying vows. Rather, devotion and love grow as two imperfect people build, bless, help, encourage, and forgive along the way. The wife of a modern prophet was once asked what it was like being married to a prophet. She wisely replied that she had not married a prophet; she had simply married a man who was completely dedicated to the Church no matter what calling he received. In other words, in process of time, husbands and wives grow together—individually and as a couple.
The wait for a perfect spouse, perfect education, perfect job, or perfect house will be long and lonely. We are wise to follow the Spirit in life’s important decisions and not let doubts spawned by perfectionist demands hinder our progress.
Now, just one word to those of our single brethren who follow the deception that they first have to find the “perfect woman” before they can enter into serious courting or marriage.
My beloved brethren, may I remind you, if there were a perfect woman, do you really think she would be that interested in you?
In God’s plan of happiness, we are not so much looking for someone perfect but for a person with whom, throughout a lifetime, we can join efforts to create a loving, lasting, and more perfect relationship. That is the goal.
Again, may I speak frankly? The track that leads to marriage passes through the terrain called dating! Dating is the opportunity for lengthy conversations. When you date, learn everything you can about each other. Get to know each other’s families when possible. Are your goals compatible? Do you share the same feelings about the commandments, the Savior, the priesthood, the temple, parenting, callings in the Church, and serving others? Have you observed one another under stress, responding to success and failure, resisting anger, and dealing with setbacks? Does the person you are dating tear others down or build them up? Is his or her attitude and language and conduct what you would like to live with every day?
That said, none of us marry perfection; we marry potential. The right marriage is not only about what I want; it’s also about what she—who’s going to be my companion—wants and needs me to be.
Speaking plainly, please don’t date all through your 20s just to “have a good time,” thus delaying marriage in favor of other interests and activities. Why? Because dating and marriage aren’t final destinations. They are the gateway to where you ultimately want to go. “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife.”
Your responsibility now is to be worthy of the person you want to marry. If you want to marry a wholesome, attractive, honest, happy, hardworking, spiritual person, be that kind of person. If you are that person and you are not married, be patient.