Sunday, November 6, 2016

So... Let's Talk About Dating

Quick comment before I get started--how have I made it three whole years since getting home from my mission without writing a post about dating? Maybe that has something to do with what I'm writing about today.

Anyway, on to business. Last weekend I started thinking about dating. I realized that Provo dating culture kind of hands you a concept of what being single is like on a silver platter. "Here, you should know that this thing that you are (single) is bad. You should feel shame for what you are, no matter how hard you're trying or how many reassurances you get from God and those who truly love and care about you. You should resent a lot of things, including people who find successful relationships with less effort than you've put in, every girl (or guy) who turns you down, and especially "the system," which is a combination of the expectations of church leaders and other adults, including family members, and the "Provo way" of dating."

Everybody gets handed this paradigm as soon as they seriously enter Provo dating culture. Some freshman escape it, but I've talked to lots of people who have only been home from a mission for a handful of months and already feel this way. And that singleness shame shows up all over the place--it might be why I've never before written a blog post about dating, even though I think about it as much as a lot of things I do write about.

What, I wonder, would a singleness paradigm based entirely on God's love, true doctrine, eternal perspective, and realistic optimism look like? I really can't even imagine it. I think I'm so caught up in the paradigm I described above, which is partially based on true doctrine (marriage is part of God's plan for his children) but carried to unhealthy extremes (you should feel bad about yourself if you're single), that I seriously can't even imagine what the correct paradigm would feel like.

If I had this paradigm, I can guess how I'd change. I think I'd be less afraid to ask girls out and less hurt by rejection. I'd be completely comfortable spending a Friday night with friends, or at home reading a book, if I couldn't get a date. I'd be able to genuinely celebrate every wedding invite that I got in the mail without feeling jealous. But still, these are just the symptoms of the paradigm shift, and I don't know what the shift is yet.

I'd love to hear other people's thoughts about this. What is the correct dating paradigm? And how to I trade out the one I've got now for that one?

9 comments:

Cindy said...

Ah ha! A false paradigm to reject! You know I'm all about that! ;)

Jason said...

Hahaha, where do you think I got the concept from?

Brent Stratton said...

Any part of life put under the microscope and in the moment feels harder and is more painful than when viewed in retrospect

Jason said...

That's a great insight--that's definitely the way I feel about my mission. It sure felt a lot harder when I was in it than it does looking back now.

C. Beck Mayberry said...

I am surprised you haven't had more comments on this yet. I agree with you that there exist false paradigms and we ought to reject false paradigms. I'll get to that shortly, but in order for this to make sense I have to disagree with something on my way there. Many people blame *Provo* for giving us these false concepts. I have been back from my mission since 2011 and I've lived and dated in several states and even in a foreign country. My experience has shown me that the ideas don't come from Provo. False doctrine regarding dating abounds everywhere in every culture from members and non-members alike and the source is all the same everywhere. The same enemy that was against us since before the world was is behind all that false doctrine and it exists in roughly the same levels wherever you go. My friends in other places feel the same discouragement as us.

Granted, Provo has some unique challenges with dating. I would not dispute that. And I'm not trying to be contrary in order to pick a fight, but rather I'm trying to bring this problem all the way out so we can see it as it truly is. Once we stop looking at this as a 'Provo problem' or a 'church culture' problem and start being able to tackle it as a gospel-related problem, we can make better headway. Again, I'm not arguing that church culture and the city of Provo, UT don't present unique challenges for dating; they do. I'm just trying to point out that circumstances or environment don't generate the false ideas, they just change the levels at which various factors are present. Hopefully this perspective can widen our view and help us understand the problems more fully.

I'm just going to skip over false paradigms at this point and go straight to the correct doctrine. I do so in the interest of the length of this comment and also because the devil doesn't actually have his own doctrine; he only perverts what is true and what God has made. So you'll see as we go through each doctrine how it can be contorted to make us feel guilty and how we can be beguiled to look beyond the mark. Let us base our paradigm on what I call capital-T Truth:

C. Beck Mayberry said...

------------Doctrines------------

There are nine basic doctrines of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. These are published for the LDS institute of religion (see https://www.lds.org/manual/basic-doctrines/basic-doctrines?lang=eng). The doctrines that this question focuses on primarily are listed as numbers 7 and 8. We'll take a look at each of them briefly here.

***Ordinances & Covenants, (particularly that of the sealing)***

Much of this is far beyond the scope of this blog post and some things would not be appropriate to discuss in a blog post, but there are some powerful implications of the sealing ordinance and the covenants involved. Basically, what it boils down to is:

1. It's crucial and indispensable for your salvation and exaltation.
2. We haven't done it, so...
3. You've gotta get someone on board with you for this one.

This pressure can be positive when kept in its proper, eternal perspective, which is why LDS men marry at an age younger than the national average. LDS women marry, on average, at the same age as the national average (Goodman, Kristen L., and Tim B. Heaton. "LDS Church Members in the U.S. and Canada: A Demographic Profile." AMCAP 12, no. 1 (1986):88-107.)

***Marriage & Family***

Marriage is ordained of God and a prerequisite for obtaining the highest heavenly state after mortality (D&C 131: 1-4). It is therefore fitting that we should take dating and courtship seriously once we are in a position to begin considering marriage (i.e. after graduating from high school for sisters and after returning from a mission for brethren). Sexual intimacy and procreation are appropriate in marriage and only in marriage.

There are great spiritual and temporal blessings that can only be found through marriage, otherwise no one would put up with it. There are also some basic physiological and psychological needs that can be met in marriage. We naturally feel left out when we cannot have all of these things, especially when they have been promised to us through our righteousness. I think the important thing here is to focus on the opportunity we have to keep on trying rather than focusing on what we haven't got (yet). Don't let lies discourage you from thinking that you'll never progress and that you're stuck indefinitely. The atonement is real and Jesus Christ is watching out for us, too.

C. Beck Mayberry said...

------------Principles------------

These are the principles I identify below. I won't go into much detail on most of these for the sake of length, but they can be studied.

- Chastity
- Endurance
- The Lord won't give us a commandment and then no way to ever complete it (1 Nephi 3:7).

- Trust in the Lord (and His timing)
I know this may not be very comforting, but I can't give anything else more than Truth. Anything "more" than Truth is technically just a lie with some truth in it.

- The Lord Chastens (or tries) the ones He loves more.

- Don't be offended. More on this because it's one I especially struggle with.

I really liked what your friend Brent had to say above. Everyone else in the world who isn't in the position we are in has the luxury of looking from the outside in and saying "well why don't you just..." or "why haven't you..." or "why can't you just...". The world is full of ARMCHAIR QUARTERBACKS; so it has always been and so shall it ever be. They may argue that they were once single like us, but guess what? They aren't now! There is a magical, incredible thing that happens when someone falls in love and enters that enlightened spiritual state of nirvana that is a committed and mutual romantic relationship: they INSTANTANEOUSLY forget what it was like to be single. I liken it to the deneuralizer in the Men and Black movies. It is unbelievable and inexplicable. Maybe the hormones actually go in there in the brain and actually erase the neural pathways that hold those memories. I don't know, but it is true as the day is long. If they ever become single again, they will be able to re-learn what it's like (this learning can occur very rapidly), but otherwise, the emotional, full value of the memories is effectively erased. So don't take it to heart to much if they get on your case. They honestly don't remember.

Recently, my close friend Taylor - who had been married less than a month - made some insensitive comment like this. I kid you not, I almost fell on the floor. I thought to myself "seriously?? Don't you remember all the times you came to me when it was so hard for you? Don't you remember all the times you threw your hands up in the air and just gave up? Don't you remember how hard it was to know what to do and what to not do? How hard the process is finding out if she was going to be the one or not?" I had to breathe deliberately for a few moments and assimilate his words without getting defensive. So as hard as it is for us, don't get defensive. Don't lash out against parents, Provo, church culture, peers or others who may mingle scripture with their own philosophies. Be patient with them. Even when we encounter mean-spirited criticism from persons who have little regard or love for us, it can be helpful to exercise enough meekness to weigh it and sift out anything that might benefit us. Here are a few good talks on this:

https://www.lds.org/ensign/1991/03/that-ye-not-be-offended?lang=eng
https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2006/10/and-nothing-shall-offend-them?lang=eng
https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2011/04/as-many-as-i-love-i-rebuke-and-chasten.p12-19?lang=eng&_r=1

C. Beck Mayberry said...

------------Applications------------

Obviously, we must be chaste. We must watch our thoughts and actions. This will help us navigate dating with the sensitivity to the spirit that is necessary. Pornography will weaken our resolve and sensitivity to spiritual impressions.

Pay special attention to LIVING prophets. A certain talk comes to mind by president Benson whereby a man could be left feeling strongly rebuked for not being married, but that talk was given some time ago to a different body of the church in 1988 - before we were even born. They aren't saying things like that to us anymore. Focus on what the bretheren are saying in the most recent conferences. That is what is most applicable to you. Always weigh advice from leaders and peers against the teachings of the living prophets.

I am sorry, but I cannot offer a great deal of encouragement to you in this. I have been stuck in my quarter-life crisis for a number of years now and my faith has been tried as never before. I cannot even take confort in the thought that this is the worst that things will get; I don't know that. The Doctrine and Covenants teaches that our afflictions will be but a small moment, but no time frame is specified with that promise. It doesn't say 'next week, you'll realize your afflictions were but a small moment.' Some blessings come soon, others late, and some don't come until heaven. I'm not even certain when I'll be getting promised, scheduled blessings for myself, much less for you.

Here are two little bits of encouragement I can give.

1. Dating isn't dead yet and neither are you. See A Survey of Dating and Marriage at BYU
—Bruce A. Chadwick
https://byustudies.byu.edu/content/survey-dating-and-marriage-byu

2. You're talented, healthy, attractive, and tall (I've learned that this last one is pretty important to women, apparently). So I would say your odds are good for ending up more in the 'soon' spectrum of the aforementioned blessings schedule than the average guy.

My apologies for typos and errors. I haven't got time to proofread and I think you'll get it as a whole at any rate.

May the odds be ever in your favor and God bless.

- Beck

Jason said...

Beck, I feel like standing up and applauding--that was a fabulously thought out, meaningful, well-sourced response. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I especially appreciate the point that you made about how Satan doesn't want me to be successful in dating... I think it's easy for me to see that Satan would like me to have impure thoughts, or give up on college, or be angry with my roommates, and framing those struggles in that way helps me see that the correct response is to (a) recognize that those impure thoughts, doubts, or frustrations come from Satan, and (b) turn to God for help.
In dating, however, I don't think I've ever looked at my discouragements as opposition from Satan. But I think that, as long as I keep it clear that it is okay for girls to love God and still reject me, I can recognize discouragement as being from the adversary, and turn to God for help with it.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and God bless you, too.