Things to know

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Monday, March 30, 2009

First Date "Promptings of the Spirit"

Dear Bro Jo,

I go to LDS Business College in Salt Lake City. I'm happy with my quantity of dates, and most of them are pretty nice guys, but it seems like every guy wants to stroll through Temple Square on our first date, then they get all romantic, start talking about "fate" and "destiny" and "promptings of the spirit" and then the next thing I know they're talking about how we're meant to be together forever - ON THE FIRST DATE!

What is it with these guys? Do they all take the same "how to repel a girl" class?

I just want a "normal" date; is that too much to ask?

- City Girl

Dear City,

Yes. They all went to the same "How to Repel A Girl" class.

It's offered on Sunday afternoons at 4pm, with special meetings held in the Conference Center (that's why it had to be built so large - didn't you know? - because there's such a large group of guys enrolled in the class).

It's also true that none of these guys recall the story in President Hinkley's biography where Sister Marjorie Hinkley relates a similar experience. Remember? Some boy told her that "the Spirit has told me we're to be together" and she responded with "well he hasn't said anything to me!"

I don't know why guys do this, but when I was at LDSBC (a LONG TIME ago) girls used to come to class on Monday mornings with the same story. Maybe you should take it as a compliment . . . every girl I've ever known this to happen to is very, very pretty . . . so you must be too.

(Note: Sisters this does NOT mean that if this doesn't happen to you that you're an escapee from the kennel! It just means that you've been fortunate to not be hounded by overly superficial and shallow Brethren).

If I were to guess I think guys say it because they're horny. Seriously. I think it's a line. I think if a guy drops the "Spirit spoke to me" line on a first date (or even the first few weeks) it's because he's trying to get smooched.

Kiss him if you want, but I think you'll be making a mistake. Anybody that pulls something that cheesy should be made to wait.

(Heck, I don't recommend kissing on the first date anyway)

Now, I DO BELIEVE that the Spirit prompts us in all things, most especially marriage. One of the very few times I felt the Spirit so strongly I was powerless to resist was when I was prompted to propose, but I assure you it wasn't our first date. Or our third. Or our tenth. Or our fiftieth . . .

Yes, I did start to feel on our First Date that the future Sister Johnston was the love of my life, but I needed a lot more information before I was ready to act.

- Bro Jo

Saturday, March 28, 2009


Dear Bro Jo,

When exactly would you say kissing and/or holding hands on a date is OK? People say to save your kisses for that "special someone", but the rules seem kind of foggy as far as high school goes. I mean, say I go on a date with a guy I like, and he's dropping me off, and he kisses me goodnight? Is that OK? (And if not, how do I get out of it?)

- Melody M.

Dear MM,

Light up the runway; The Fog is About to Lift!

When is it OK?

If you're still in High School, I say a good-night smooch at the door is OK provided it's quick and you've been out with the guy more than a couple times.

It's OK to hold hands on the date so long as you're both not too clingy, for example: while strolling through the mall is OK, while you're trying to eat dinner is not.

No make out sessions, and don't kiss him goodnight in the car - make the lazy/horny punk at least get out, open your door and walk you to the steps.

You should also be armed with knowledge of how to get out of the un-wanted potential kiss situation. Here's somethings you can do (you'll have to judge for yourself which ones fit your personality and the situation):
  1. The Quick Goodbye. "OK, well thanks! See you later!" and in the house you go. People have to work up Kissing Courage - don't linger and he won't have the time to be brave.
  2. The Fear Excuse. "Did you see that? I think my dad was watching us through the window!" (and, Dads, you probably should be peeking occasionally) No boy wants to deal with the wrath of your father (or Mom or Grandma or Aunt or whomever else is the keeper of your purity).
  3. The Upfront. Bring it up before he's even got the car in park "I had a great time. Just so you know, I don't kiss on first twenty dates". No pressure.
  4. The Brush Off. "Thanks for taking me out. You know who you should go out with? (insert name here) I think you'd really hit it off. Maybe the four of us can double date next time. You, her, me and this boy I'm crazy about!"
  5. The Horror. (this is only if you're mean or he's really deserving) "Do you have some gum? You better chew it all the time; once a girl smells that breath she couldn't possibly think about kissing you anytime soon".
You get the idea.

A great "alternative" to Hand Holding is for the girl to take the guy by the arm. My wife still does that; it's pretty cool!

Now, if you've graduated high school (post mission for boys) and are now at the point in life where it's time to enter "Serious Dating Mode", I sing a slightly different tune.

You Young Single Adults and Single Adults need to do a fair share of hand holding and smooching. I'm still not advocating the pre-engagement make-out session, and by all means don't put yourselves in situations where you need to turn your Temple Recommend into your Bishop, but come on already!

Any good date, meaning one where you'd like to go out with this person again, should have a "kiss at the end" option, if not on the first date, certainly by the third. If you're not kissing at the end of the third date, one of you needs to ask the other what the heck the problem is.

If the attraction isn't strong enough between two marriage-age adults that they aren't interested in holding hands and kissing by the third date, Move On! Too many other fish in the sea . . .

(you can drop this notion of "only one right person out there for me" garbage right now!)

- Bro Jo

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Dating Before 16 - Part 2

Dear Bro Jo,

Why is it not okay for me to date before I turn 16? If dating is all about finding the right "type" of person for me, then why can't I start early? Please help me out!

-Young and Confused

Dear Young,

Would you settle for "Because the Prophets have said so"?

I'm sure you will, but let's kick it around a little. I mean, theoretically, it makes sense doesn't it? It takes time to find a good spouse, why not start earlier?

But then, why not do everything earlier? Baptism, Deacon Ordination, Driving, Mission, Marriage . . .

Heck, my wife's Grandma was married when she was 14! (Does that freak you out as much as it does me?) And the Prophet Joseph received the First Vision at 14, so why not drop the dating age?

Well, remember that Joseph received the Vision, but he had to wait several years before the Lord felt that he was ready to go get the plates. I think the reason the Lord has inspired the "Date at 16" rule is because he knows we need to wait.

Maybe he wants us to enjoy being a kid longer. Maybe he knows that more kids are likely to get too intimately involved if the Dating Age is lower (and less likely to develop important social skills if it's higher). Maybe he figured that if Dating started at, say, 14, then Church Dances would have to start at 12 and those kids Just Aren't Mature Enough . . .

I suppose there could be lots of reasons.

But I'll let you in on a little secret: lots (and I mean TONS) of parents have made excuses for the behavior (and by that I typically mean "inactivity") of their children with the phrase "well, my son/daughter is more mature than his/her peers" (which cracks me up, because not everyone's child could be more mature than everyone else's child - get it?). The point is this: as mature as we think we are, or even other people think we are, we're really not any more mature than anyone else.

Even when we describe a kid as "honestly more mature" don't we usually mean "more worldly"?

Some things really should wait until we're older, and there are different reasons for different people.

Enjoy the age you are now. Have fun! You'll be dating age soon, the time between now and then will go fast, and some day, when you're old and gray, you'll say "Wow! I sure got to this age fast!"

In the interim, you know what you can do? Practice talking to the opposite sex, asking meaningful questions and treating with respect. Practice being cool instead of acting like a dork (not meant to imply that you are) - those are skills that will come in VERY HANDY when you do reach dating age.

- Bro Jo

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Getting a Boy to Notice

Dear Bro Jo,

I'm in the 6th grade; how can I get this boy I like to notice me?

- In Love in The Heights

Dear Heights,

(Sigh. Readers can you hear Bro Jo's hair getting grayer from where you are?)

First of all, let me assure you that if what you really want is for him to notice you, if you've ever been in the same room, he noticed. Trust me.

Whether he "likes" you or not, he noticed. He's a guy. You're a girl. That's pretty much all it takes.

Now, if you're asking something else, as your signature implies, I'm not going to help you too much. If you're having fantasies of this boy professing his undying love for you while he stands below your balcony under the moonlight Juliet, you need to know that it ain't gonna happen. Even if he is madly in love with you, which, lets face it, at any age the emphasis would have to be on "madly" as opposed to "in love", most guys aren't that romantic, especially in the 6th grade. Put it out of your head!
What I will tell you is this: it's perfectly OK for you to have this crush, but don't expect boys your age to acknowledge the same types of feelings, most won't (and you may want to steer clear of those that do).

More to your question, here's a list of things you should and shouldn't do:

  DO talk to him. Say hello. Ask about things he likes and dislikes. Keep the conversations casual.

  DON'T profess your feelings. That'll either freak him out or elicit a response neither of you are really ready for. Play it cool.

  DO dress nice around him. Wear good clothes (not torn or with holes) that are clean.

  DON'T over dress or dress immodestly. You could definitely get his attention by dressing slutty, but believe me it's not the kind of attention you want; dress cheap and he'll think you're easy, dress nice and he'll think you're pretty. See the difference? No Church Dresses at school (unless it's appropriate, like for a concert or play or something like that).

  DON'T be overly giggly, gossipy or dumb. The giggles will make him uncomfortable (or annoyed), the gossip will make him not trust you (and you want him to be comfortable talking to you), and the dumbness is, well . . . irritating.

  DO act mature and smart; he'll respect that.

  DON'T hang out together. Being alone is like being on a date, and it's WAY TOO EARLY.

  DO socialize in groups. Try Movie Parties (PARENTS MUST BE CHAPERONS!), gatherings of a bunch of friends in the park, and YM/YW Activities.

Be friendly (which doesn't mean "affectionate" - if you need to, look that word up) but not "best buds"; the only BFF you should ever have that's of the opposite sex is a spouse.

- Bro Jo

Reader's Note - Frequency of Posts

Reader's Note - Frequency of Posts

A few have asked how often a new letter gets posted. The truth is that has fluctuated a bit. Right now I'm trying to post at least every other day (the pattern is: even-numbered days in odd months, and odd-numbered days on even months - just look, it will make sense). I do occasionally post more than one letter in that time period, particularly if the letter or it's writer has a time-sensitive need (such as an upcoming holiday or special occasion).

If you're afraid of missing the latest letters, you should be able to catch them all if you check back every 3-5 days or so. You can also look up past posts by age-group, subject, gender of letter writer, and date posted by following the links to the right.

You can also sign up as a blog follower (see the bottom of the page) or subscribe to the blog (see the icon on the right), both of which are free.

Hope this helps!

- Bro Jo

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Step By Step

Dear Bro Jo,

Can you break down for me when to transition from Group Dating to One-on-One Dating?

- Curious Dude

Dear Dude,

You bet!
  1. At 14 start going to Church Dances. Guys: Dance every slow song - with a girl (don't be weird; it's not funny) - don't "accidentally" be out of the Cultural Hall when one starts to play - LEADERS AND PARENTS: make this a REQUIREMENT! (Boys see Bro Jo's "How to Ask a Girl to Dance" for further instruction). Girls: say "Yes" when guys ask you, and make sure you ask a guy to dance on those "Girl Ask Guy" songs - LEADERS AND PARENTS: make this a REQUIREMENT! Both: Dress nice and smell good (the reasons should be obvious, but for too many teens, especially boys, they're not).
  2. At 16 start Group Dating. (Parents, refer to The Johnston Family Dating Rules for Teens located in the side-bar). We actually require/reward our boys for taking out a girl at least once a month (Car insurance and a little gas is paid for by us if they meet the requirement. Some boys raise the legitimate complaint that Dating Costs Money, and then the excuse - albeit a good one - that they're supposed to save for a mission; remove the complaint and the excuse, but stick to the rules. The goal is to have Good Guys practice Important Social Skills by taking out Good Girls; not to establish exclusive relationships, no matter how many misguided and vicariously living adults think it's "cute").
  3. Transition - After High School for Girls, Post-Mission for Boys. NO MORE GROUP DATING! You've been waiting for this, so make it happen. Guys: Man Up! You'll repel off a cliff, go on a Mission to somewhere you've never lived, camp in the wilderness; it's time to be One-on-One with a Woman. (Yes, I capitalized "Woman" on purpose: no underage girls for you! Date Women, and treat them accordingly.)

  4. Note: If you ask a girl out and she wants to Group Date, I recommend the following statement:

"Gosh, that's really not what I'm interested in; I'm asking you out because I want to spend time with YOU, to get to know YOU better, not your friends".

Or, my favorite:

"I'm a MAN asking a WOMAN on a DATE; just you and me. If you're not quite ready for that in your life, well . . . that makes me sad. Here's my email address. I'd love to take you out when you're ready".

That'll teach her.

- Bro Jo

Friday, March 20, 2009

Getting A Prom Date

Dear Bro Jo,

OK, I'll ask! As the Dad of a Daughter, how can I help her get a date to the Prom?

- Prom Dad in So Cal

Dear Cal,

Hey, some of the most beautiful girls I've ever known have missed out on Prom. I know it can be a huge social bummer, but in the long run not going is not that big of a deal.

I know, I know, try telling a 17 year old girl that.

I hope you're writing me early, while your daughter and her peers are still pre-teens. If you are, you can start now by having Boy/Girl Parties - Movie Parties, Birthday Parties, other excuses for the kids to socialize. This can start at 13 (although we waited until the summer before our oldest was a Freshman in High School). Hopefully other parents will follow suit, but you'll have to set the example and be prepared to be the only dad who's doing anything.

At 14 make Church Dance attendance a requirement. Some teens don't want to go because of shyness; some because they think they're Too Cool for Church Dances. Both of those types of kids NEED to go. Force them if you have to. Reward them for going, make it a Matter-of-Fact thing we as Latter-Day Saints do (just like going to Sacrament meeting), but get them there and get them dancing (at least the slow songs - I tell my boys that if they want a ride home they have to dance every slow song).

Encourage Dating by continuing to date your spouse EVERY WEEK. You don't have to spend a lot of money, but you do need to spend time together.

The point is that you need to create an atmosphere that cross-gender socializing is not just OK, it's encouraged, and that if done with the right perspective and the Gospel in mind it can be fun and Eternally Rewarding. By helping the LDS Teens in your area learn how to Date and how to be comfortable socializing with each other, and by stressing the importance of dating in your own life, the likelihood that your daughter will get asked out will go way up (brace yourself, dad - are you sure you're ready for that?) Plus you'll be creating opportunites for Boys and Girls to meet each other; rare is the Boy that will take a Girl to a Formal Dance that he's never met.

Now if you're a traditional dad, like yours truly, you can do all of that and still not be guaranteed that boys, good boys, will ask out your little girl.

So thus enters the "set up" temptation. How do you let boys know that your high-quality, high-value, beautiful little girl is available without coming across like you're tyring to get them to buy a car?

You could work the Parent Angle. "Hey so, who's your son taking to the Prom?" This works if and only if you come across as genuinely interested in their family. Hopefully they'll ask you the "Who's taking your daughter?" response, to which you can say "I don't think she's been asked yet" if their boy is available (if he's not, an "I'm not sure" will go a long way towards preserving her dignity), but don't, I repeat DON'T come right out and ask them to ask their son to ask your daughter to the Prom - if that gets out (and it probably will) she'll hate you way more than she'll hate not going to the dance.

You may also want to touch base with the Seminary Teacher, often they know who's going with whom and who's dating whom (yet another reason for regular Seminary Attendance). They may give you some insight, and might be a good seed planter as well.

But the best approach to take may be no approach at all. Hold off. Let nature take it's course. As I've said, every year some of the most wonderful girls (smart, pretty, fun, sweet) don't go to the big dance. Let your daughter know that her Individual Worth is in no way tied to the intelligence (or lack thereof) of the boys in her age group.

If it helps, share these two stories from my own spouse's life.

Her Junior Year, the future Sister Jo went with the first boy that asked her. She had been taught that it was the right thing to do (and she and I both still believe it is) and she was tired of waiting for the guy she really wanted to go with to ask. Of course that boy asked just two days later; three days too late.

Her Senior Year she decided that she'd learned her lesson and she was going to wait for the Boy of Choice to ask, turning down a very nice young man in the process. Even though he was a Great Guy (and good lookin' too, from what her sisters have told me - lucky for me it didn't work out) and very nice, she said "No". You've guessed it; the "special guy" never asked and she sat at home on Prom Night.

Go figure.

If I could make one more suggestion it's this: work hard to make Prom Affordable in your area. Limousines, spendy dinners and expensive flowers are a societal thing, not a requirement. Hundreds of dollars on a One-Night Date is Ridiculous. If guys aren't worried about blowing a month's worth of mission money on a formal dance, more Good Guys will ask Good Girls to go.

Oh, and while we're on the topic: don't make a lot of exceptions to your family's dating rules just because it's Prom. No all-night dates. No all-night after-Prom parties. Still date in a group. If you make a lot of exceptions to your rules, you'll be giving your children excuses for making exceptions in their standards.

- Bro Jo

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Dating Before 16

Dear Bro Jo,

I heard my friends say that President Hinkley said that it's OK for girls to date at 16. Will you please tell me where to find that so I can show my mom that it's OK for me to go to Prom this year?

- Fifteen in Florida

Dear Fifteen,


'Cause it's not true. People choose to believe all kinds of stuff in a effort to excuse or justify behavior; this is no different. Dating is after 16, not at 15.

Formal dances should be no excuse.

My oldest daughter's birthday is right around Prom time in our town, and I get asked by girls all the time if I'll let her go to Prom if it's the day before her 16th birthday and the answer is "No".

"But Brother Johnston that's so mean!"

No it's not. It's consistent.

16 is 16.

15 is 15.

If it bothers her, she should plan ahead and get on the Prom Committee at the beginning of the year and make sure Prom is after her birthday.

"But Bro Jo, we get to go to Church Dances at 14! And this is the same thing!"

I hear that every formal dance.

And no it's not. A Church Dance is a bunch of kids in a mixed up group being social. A school dance is the same way. A Formal Dance is a Date. Period.

I know there are kids that go to Formal Dances without dates. Some of you (parents and kids) are going to hate me for writing this, but going to a Formal Dance dateless is Lame. No Date? Don't go.

Not every Event is for everybody. Some things, like Prom, should be preserved as a Formal Date affair; it's one of the few times in a person's life where something like this can happen.

Which of course leads to the question: How Does a Girl Make Sure She's Got a Date for Prom?

Stay tuned!

- Bro Jo

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Spending Money on Prom

Dear Bro Jo,

Prom is expensive! How much money is a guy supposed to spend?

- Broke in Boise

Dear Broke,

More than a typical date but not nearly as much as a lot of other kids at school.

As the guy you need to buy the tickets, dinner for you and your date, and you've got to go in a Tux, so borrow if you can, rent if you must. Flowers are tradition, but I think giving her a bouquet instead of flowers to wear is nicer (Ladies, what do you think? Bouquet or Corsage?)

I'd plan on spending about $200-$250
  • $50 tickets (if your Prom Committee is charging more than $75, fire them and get a more reasonable group)
  • $50 Tux (again, try to borrow one if you can - ask around)
  • $75 Dinner (nice, but not stupidly extravagant)
  • $25 Flowers

that will all of course vary a little bit by area, and I agree that's WAY TOO MUCH DOUGH, but remember that your date's dress is going to probably be in that price range as well, so don't be Too Cheap.

Here are some cost saving ideas:

  • We live in the age of Digital Cameras, Photo Printers and Snap-shot Happy Moms and Dads, don't pay for pictures, let the parents of the group take all of the shots.
  • Consider MAKING DINNER, instead of going out. Sister Johnston can create a gourmet meal for 8 that will blow your gosh darn mind for $20 per head, and has done it for as little as $10 per person, so I suspect there are a lot of moms out there that can do the same thing. Candlelight, nice music, and you don't typically have to tip the wait staff (or eat at a bizarre hour because the restaurant's crowded) are all benefits of coming up with something creative at home. Think out of the box.
  • Borrow a cool car to drive instead of Renting a Limo. Most Old Guys are sympathetic to the plight of a Young Man trying to afford a nice Prom Date, and they tend to have great cars you can't possibly even afford the insurance on; just remember to baby the darn thing and return it washed and full of gas.
  • If you are going out to eat, look for deals on appetizers and desserts. Remember those cards and coupon books you sold to raise money for your sports teams and other activity groups? Many of them have discounts on nice restaurants; look 'em over. You may also want to consider doing "finger food" appetizers at the various homes that you and your group of guys will be picking up your dates. Hot Wings at one house, deli tray at another; you get the idea. People order more sensibly if they're not starving to death when they get to the Nice Restaurant.
  • Save Dessert for Later. Instead of $9+ per dessert at a Fancy Place, go out for Sundaes at Cold Stone or Baskin Robins after the Dance. Cheaper, and frankly, often better.

Good luck, and have fun!

- Bro Jo

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Dating Rules Challenged

Dear Bro Jo,

I disagree with your advice about Group Dating until boys are home from their mission. I'm now in my 30's and have dated a lot of LDS guys that, even though they're older, just don't seem to have a clue about how to act when they're alone with a woman. I think the Church has made a mistake teaching generations of Young Men to be afraid of Young Women and that has lead to an epidemic of Young Single Adults (and now Single Adults over 30) who either don't date or don't know how to date.

I think you should revise your "Teen Dating Rules" to included One-on-One Dating for Young Men once they turn 17.

- Over it All

Dear Over,

I'd like to hear more from you. You clearly have had some unpleasant experiences, and I'll bet you've spent time with more than one man that needs to become a regular Dear Bro Jo subscriber! (it's free, by the way)

I understand your frustrations, and the many discussions I've had with Latter-Day Saints (and non-Church members) just like you are a large part of why I started this column.

I don't think the guys you're talking about (dare we call them "Losers"???) Group Dated much, if at all, as Teens; that's the typical pattern:

  • Dodge Church Dances

  • Don't Date (Group or Otherwise) as Teens

  • Come Home from an Honorable Mission

  • Feel Totally Socially Awkward Around Women

  • Play Lots of Video Games with Friends

  • Have Girls Hang Out at Apartment watching said Video Games, Desperately Hoping You'll Get a Clue

  • Girls Wise Up and Leave (we hope)

  • Spiral Into Depression

  • Never Get Married - Consider Inactivity (as if that's going to help, which of course, it won't)

So the problem isn't that these boys didn't Single Date, it's that they never Group Dated, Never Danced, and now have too far to go to catch up (or so they think - the pattern is breakable!) And, YES, you're absolutely right, we the Parents and Well-meaning-but-Phenomenally-Wrong Church Leaders are to blame.

We came out of the Free Love 60's and 70's into the Sexualized 80's and saw the Prosti-Tots grow into the Sexually Aggressive Girls of the 90's and 2000's and freaked out that our boys would find themselves unworthy to go on Missions.

We were right to be worried, but our response was wrong.

We forgot that the Endowment is only the first 95% of the Temple Ceremony, and Totally Ignored the last 5%, the ever crucial Sealing as Husband and Wife for All Eternity. Now the pendulum has swung too far and people like me are desperately trying to get it a little closer to center.

That said, my Teen Dating Rules stand as is. There's no need for One-on-One dating in High School. The function of One-on-One is to establish a courtship, and High School is too early. Your heart is in the right place, but you're over-correcting the problem.

I encourage you to write more; I'd love to hear from you.

You may also want to suggest to your next few dates that they read this column (especially some of the back-articles for Young Single Adults) before they pick you up.

In fact, you may want to read some of the articles together On Your Date - that'll fix things for sure!

- Bro Jo

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Asking a Girl to Dance

Dear Bro Jo,

Why do you say that boys need to go to dances? We have a dance coming up and my mom says you say I should go. I don't like dances and I don't want to go. I don't think I should be pushed into doing something I don't want to do.

- Name and Town Widthheld

Dear N.T.,

I'd like to hear from you WHY you don't like dances . . .

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that you're still in "shy around girls" mode - totally understandable! Bro Jo was not always the Cool Cat around the ladies that he is today - I know it's hard to believe.

Confession Time: My first Junior High School Dance (7th Grade, we called them Junior Highs back then, 7th-9th) I was a bundle of sweat and nerves. It was in the Gym (Meridian Jr. High, Meridian, Idaho, back before it burned down) and I sat high up in the bleachers, praying no one would bother me.

One of my friends who was WAY MORE comfortable with girls than I was kept trying to get me to dance, but I kept refusing. Please understand: I liked girls (I REALLY LIKED GIRLS) but they scared the . . . . well . . . they scared me a lot. (I now know that fear is a) real, b) a good sign, and c) a pretty typical interpretation - even if not intirely correct - of ones raging hormones).

He went so far as to go up and ask a girl FOR ME. I threatened to do it, and when I saw him actually go up to her, talk to her and then point back at me (did I mention that she was a knock out?) I did what any rational thirteen-year old would do . . . I ran from the Gym, not caring about the mocking laughter of my friends, and waited at the corner for my mom to come and get me.

So my point is that I bet I know what you're going through. At some point the hormones may just override the fear, but like the fear of riding a bike without training wheels, often the best way to get over it is to just face the fear go dance.

Remember that Church Dances are pretty benign. Most any girl will dance with most any guy, and they all know you're not there to find a bride, so the pressure's off a little. (I do need to remind my readers that after giving my oldest son the "any girl will dance with you at a Church Dance" speech on the way to his first dance, the first girl he asked said "no". She was so shy SHE ran from the Gymnasium; he just looked at me and shrugged "what now?"; the answer is: Go Ask Another Girl.)

OK. The reasons I have the "Dance Every Slow Song at Church Dances" rule are this:

  1. It totally sucks to be a girl at a Church Dance and NOT get asked to Dance; it's rejection without even trying, made even worse when there are guys standing around NOT DANCING. Good Guys go out of their way to make Good Girls feel good about themselves.

  2. It's excellent practice for asking a girl out, and even later, asking a girl to marry you. Understand this: too many guys have missed wonderful opportunities with excellent women because they were afraid. You think asking a girl to dance is hard, try asking a girl to be your eternal companion, especially if you've never asked a girl to do anything - ain't gonna go well, boys. Get over your fears now with this relatively easy step.

  3. This isn't just the asking and the dancing, it's practice Talking to Girls, too. I know that's what mortifies you the most. Again, get over it.

And now, with respect to President Hinckley . . .

Bro Jo's 6 Be's of Dancing

  1. BE Clean. Clean Face, Clean Hands (wipe the sweat off somewhere - NOT your shirt), Clean Breath.

  2. BE Prepared. The Scout Motto applies to many things in life, including Church Dances. Always be surveying the room, looking for whom to ask the next time a slow song comes on (DON'T do this WHILE you're dancing with another girl, or at least don't make it obvious). Keep them (you should have more than one girl in mind) in relative visual range.

  3. BE Swift. Get over there, man! If some other guy beats you to her, ask the nearest girl to where you are standing. He Who Hesitates Looks Lost!

  4. BE Kind. No schmaltzy lines necessary. Simply say: "Would you like to dance?" and hold out your hand. Girls are genetically engineered by the creator to take a hand when it's offered, so do it (this also facilitates "Leading her to the Dance Floor" which a) looks way cooler than turning your back on her and walking out there -people who see that may think you're alone; and b) gives you a great excuse to touch a girl's hand - which is really nice - and you're going to have to do that when you dance with her anyway).

  5. BE Inquisitive. Ask her questions, and when she responds LISTEN to what she says so you can have an intelligent response. Good opening questions are: "How do you like this dance?", and general questions about school (where does she go? who are her teachers? what are her favorite classes?). Remember to tell her your name and ask her name. Then, when you ask her a question, use her name.

  6. BE Grateful. At the end of the song, BEFORE you turn her loose, say "Thank you for the Dance (and use her name again). (The reason you say this BEFORE you turn her loose is so that she can HEAR you).

  7. Get ready to do it again, Bubba!

Now, as for your personal situation: Mom's right on this one. Go to the Dance. I typically agree that you shouldn't be "pushed" before you're ready, but if you're over 14, you're ready. Follow my BE's. After the first time it gets a lot better. I know your heart is in your throat even thinking about dancing, but if you trust me this once, I promise you'll thank me.

If that's not enough for you, accept it as a Priesthood Responsibility that Good Guys like You should make certain that Good Girls don't have to sit on the sidelines and watch their friends dance when they'd like to be out there, too.

- Bro Jo

Friday, March 13, 2009

Marriage and Living Together

Dear Bro Jo,

Any recommendations for a couple that is about to start pre-marriage counseling and whose pastor will likely be telling them that they can't be living together (as they currently are) during the pre-marriage counseling?

We had actually hoped to not move in together until after we were married. Economic realities dictated otherwise and it really is quite the living marriage lesson - better than any counseling could be.

- Married Soon in Mississippi

Dear Soon -

First off, I appreciate the letter, even though you're not LDS (somethings are universal).

Secondly, I can tell you that statistically couples that live together before marriage are more likely to divorce. Even couples who believe that marriage is "nothing more than a piece of paper" and live together for years before getting married find that that little piece of paper does change things. (And I have a suspicion that the two of you are taking marriage very seriously, and that's good)

I understand the logic behind living together to save money, but if that was the supreme goal, either of you could have found roommates or moved back home. Heck, if you really wanted to save money you could live in your car and shower at the YMCA.

So, while I'm sure you're saving more money than if you were each living in your own place, ultimately the point is that you're "playing house", which of course includes sex. And this is why I suspect that your Pastor will council you to live apart until after the wedding. He's not naive, or even prudish, he's trying to help you build a lasting marriage. Sex clouds our judgement: it's a powerful, emotional thing.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not accusing you of having bad judgement, but I agree with your Pastor that if you remove the cohabitation and sexual components from your relationship until after you're married, you'll be able to more clearly focus on the love you two share.

With that, let me give you some additional, albeit unsolicited, marriage advice:
  • most couples fight about money more than anything else, regardless of how much they have or don't have

  • most fighting goes away somewhere in the 7-10 years of marriage range

  • the number one reason marriages struggle is selfishness on the part of the individuals - everything else "wrong" grows out of that
I can also tell you that marriage is on the very short list of things that no book, course, lesson or lecture can really prepare you for; you won't really know what it's like until you live it, and living together is not the same (because "Cohabitation" does not equal "Commitment").

If you both always put your partner before yourself, talk a lot, continue to date each other (especially AFTER you're married), and pray together daily (out loud and alternating turns every other day) for each other and your marriage, you'll have a pretty good shot.

What your pastor will probably also tell you is to think of your marriage as a triangle, with you and your wife at the bottom corners and God at the top. As you grow closer together, you draw closer to God - likewise, as you draw closer to God you'll draw closer together. (which is very true, BTW - my 18 year anniversary is this month).

As the husband you need to learn to apologize quickly and often and mean it. The wife needs to learn how to make her husband feel appreciated on a regular basis, and mean it.

I wish you the best of luck. Marriage is the most difficult and rewarding job you'll ever have - work hard!

And listen to your Pastor. If he tells you to move out for the next few weeks, find a way to do it. Heck, you can always camp out in your mom's back yard! The few weeks living apart will only make your marriage that much stronger, and when you've been married for a long time you'll realize that those few weeks didn't really take that long.

- Bro Jo

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The A's of Why Not To Marry

Dear Bro Jo,

I overheard you a while back listing for some youth your "reasons to not get married", will you repeat those here, please?
- Local Mom

Dear Mom,

I think I remember that very conversation (surprisingly I don't get asked this very often). To give credit where due, I came up with this answer years ago when I first heard Dr. Laura Schlesinger on the radio talking about her "acceptable reasons for divorce" (which I think are: Abuse, Adultery, Addiction and Abandonment), some of which I've overlapped here.

I was thinking "OK, that makes sense for Divorce, but how do you keep from being in that place to begin with?" Few things are life-disasters (especially for children) than the dissolution of a marriage, so why not help people as best we can from entering into relationships with that inevitability; help them to know what to look for so they can avoid that path?

So here are my (in alphabetical order)

"Five A's of Why to Not Get Married in the First Place"

Abuse. We don't recite the Traditional Vows in the LDS Church, but in most wedding ceremonies the bride and groom vow to Cherish each other. Some abusers mask this tendency until after marriage, but most will give you the signs early on. Are they physically aggressive? Do they use insulting language and think putting-down their friends is fun? Are they bossy and demanding all (or even "most") of the time? Do they flip out when confronted? And, perhaps most importantly, do they scare you?

Absolutism. Are they NEVER wrong? Confidence is attractive; we seek out those that are self-assured, and if a self-assured person tells us we're handsome or beautiful, we love them even more! But there's a line here of dangerous extremism. Both people in a marriage are going to make mistakes; you may not want someone who's wishy-washy Charlie Brown, but marriage is an act of compromise; you don't want to spend the next 50 years (not to mention Eternity) with someone who sees themselves as above reproach and apology. Marriage means saying you're sorry, even if you're not, or not sure why, if simply for no other reason than the fact that you love your spouse and want them to be happy. Smooching is good, but stay away from someone who lectures you all the time because their opinion is so much more valuable then yours because it's the talking, not the smooching, that will get you through some of life's biggest turmoils.

Addiction. Chemical, emotional, genetic or psychological, Addiction is a character flaw. It doesn't matter if it's pornography or alcohol or drugs or gambling or adrenaline, whatever the addiction, at some point the addict is going to place it ahead of you. Now, people can recover from and overcome addictions and make fabulous spouses, but that needs to happen BEFORE you get married. If you're willing to wait for the addict to conquer their demons, good for you, but if you're not seeing serious commitment and progress it's time to date someone else. You need to know that addictions never go entirely away; that's why we say addicts are "recovering" not "recovered" - it's an on-going process - but if a decent amount of time (and by that I mean months, plural, not days) has gone by without the behavior, and true repentance has been a part of that process, then you can move forward.

Anger. One of my good friends says that he proposed because the girl he was dating always seemed happy and he wanted someone with that kind of positive outlook in his life every day. I'm grateful my wife wasn't looking for someone that was Anger-free, but that's not the same as Angry-all-the-time. Watch out for that. And watch how they deal with things that are stressful and upsetting. Do they shut down? Do they totally explode? Does the anger hit the atmosphere and then calmly dissipate or does it fester and stir for days waiting for the moment of retribution? We all get upset (beware the person who seems NEVER angry), how we deal with that needs to be evaluated by a potential spouse. If you can't deal with their anger (and especially if they can't either), move on.

Apathy. I think this one, while it sounds benign, is just as bad as everything else on the list. Won't get a job, won't do their homework, won't work hard at anything . . . it's a recipe for disaster. One of the most valuable things spouses can do for each other is to encourage them in good things. Where would I be if my wife didn't support and sustain my efforts to work and to coach and to write? Even the most motivating person will accomplish nothing with someone who's totally lacking in self-motivation. Depression is real, and during the course of any marriage bad stuff is going to happen. It's OK to be sad, and miserable and depressed once in a while, but the person that's Apathetic is already pretty close to Pathetic, and this is one of those things that has to change from inside.

Now many of you may look at this list and be thinking "Well, Duh! Why would anyone pick a spouse with these traits?" but people do ALL THE TIME. See, when we're dating, especially if we grow up in a culture that encourages marriage and family (which IS good) that marriage pressure can blind people to the True Nature of the person they're dating.

If you're not sure, and you suspect that you may not be seeing clearly (which is the case of all of us when we're in love, is it not?), have an open-minded heart-to-heart talk with a mature person you love and respect. Ask them to give you a frank evaluation of the good and bad about the person you're dating. Give them a safe harbor, with no resentment or judgement or rebuttal from you, so they can give you a clear picture.
There are no guarantees. Marriage is a risk, albeit a very worthwhile one. You wouldn't buy a car without doing a little research, would you? Do your Due Diligence with a Potential Spouse as well. There is a short list of things in life for which no book or lecture or class or activity can fully prepare you; marriage is definitely on that list. However, as a friend and mentor says: "Information Precedes Revelation"; before you pray about marrying a particular person (and you should pray both on your own and together BEFORE AND AFTER marriage), get as many of the facts as you can.
People change over time, but don't go into a marriage banking on your ability to change them; that's a recipe for failure.

- Bro Jo

Readers' Note - New Tags

Reader's Note - New Tags

I've realized that I need to do something to make the letters and topics easier to search, so over the last couple days I've been adding new Tags, altering some, and deleting a lot of others. Hopefully this will make it easier for Dear Bro Jo readers to find and reference their favorite topics.

(Did you know you can email these columns to your relatives and friends? Just click on the envelope icon at the bottom of any column)

If you have suggestions on how I can better organize this site for you, please comment here or send me a message.

- Bro Jo

Monday, March 9, 2009

HH (Holding Hands)

Dear Bro Jo,

OK, like the whole HH [translation for us old people: "holding hands" - Bro Jo had to ask what "HH" meant - he doesn't speak "text"] thing has my mom totally freaked! She says I'm too young for a boyfriend, but it's totally not serious at all! We're just friends and I am 13! What do I say to get my mom off my back?

- HH in (town withheld)

Dear HH,

Like no freakin' way! Your mom is totally all over your case! She needs to take a pill!

You're like, totally 13 and all grown up and stuff!

Except that your mom is right. It may be puppy love (that's what we old people call adolescent infatuation - it's a bit demeaning, I'll admit, and we do it because we're not ready to accept the feelings of young people, but despite what you've seen in movies, at 13 you're not "in love" Juliet), but "HH" is a definite outward sign of affection (PDA!)

I don't entirely care if 13-year-olds holding hand, but I don't recommend it. You may think you're "friends", but you're not. That's what worries me here: you're pretending you're not in a relationship, and you most definitely are. If you're just being a "tease" (pretending you like someone when you don't), that's not good: you're playing with this boy's emotions (and hormones) and that my young friend is dangerous territory.

When you're 16, if you and your date hold hands on your date, I'm cool with that because to me it's a sign of affection that is certainly a lot more benign than making out, and if it's confined to the date then we may be able to escape the notion of a "committed teen-aged relationship", which, as I've said, isn't a good idea.

(and Bro Jo must admit, he likes holding hands - he liked it when he dated, and he likes holding his wife's hand now - it's like a hug)

See, here's the thing: even if You don't think You're in a relationship, and even if the Boy doesn't think he's in a relationship (and he probably does, even if he tells you otherwise - men - and boys - will lie if they think it will get them what they want from a girl - any man who says otherwise is LYING) everyone who sees you holding hands will think you're in a relationship.

Now you maybe secretly thinking that having a boyfriend is a good thing, but remember this: boys aren't interested in taking out (or asking to dance) other guys' girlfriends (OK, some will, but don't bank on it). That's one of the reasons I say to stay out of "exclusive relationships" in Middle and High School - you seriously limit the amount of people you get to know.

If you don't like this boy, knock it off; you're giving him the wrong impression.

If you do like him . . . knock it off; you're giving everyone else an impression you don't want them to have.

16+ and on a date? Bro Jo says (if both are comfortable) HH is OK.

14+ and on the dance floor? Well you kind of have to to slow dance, right?

12+ around school? Lighten up; stay a kid for a while longer. Even in High School, keep the relationships casual.

After High School? Heck yeah! Especially if you're in the "looking for exclusive" zone. Grab her hand to help her out of the car, man!

But don't tether her to you! A girl needs her hand to eat food, dude!

- Bro Jo

Good Guy Break-up

Dear Bro Jo,

What about break-up advice for Nice Guys? I'm 24 and have been seeing this girl (mutually exclusive) for about six weeks. We met here at BYU when I moved into her Ward this last semester. I think she's great, but I'm just not "in love" with her. My roommate thinks I'm an idiot for wanting to break things off, but I think I'd better hurry and do it before it becomes any more serious (the pressure to get married here is unbelievable!).

I don't want to hurt her feelings . . . what should I say?

- How at the Y

Dear How,

You ARE a good guy! (See, Sisters? There are still some left!)

I feel for you, and you're absolutely right, much better now than later, especially at Get-Married University - the longer you wait, the more everyone around you will think an engagement is pending, and that may include this nice young lady.

Here's what you do: talk, in person. Tell her exactly what you've told me. "I think you're great, but I'm not 'in love' with you. Everyone, including my roommate, thinks I'm an idiot, but I just don't think it's right to tie you to a relationship if I'm not in that place right now."

Don't burn the bridge (lest once you've lost her you realize you've made a huge mistake), take the responsibility upon yourself (don't blame her - EVEN IF SHE ASKS WHAT SHE'S DONE WRONG - you'll never get out of that trap a winner - say "Nothing! You're great! It's all me."), be sincere, and be prepared for her to marry your roommate - you are at the Y after all . . .

If you treat her right, even in the break up, you'll be better off.

And again, you're right, do it now.

Regarding the "marriage pressure" at the Y - I know it exists, there's nothing you or I can do about it. Don't let it get to you, but keep dating. You'll find the right girl soon enough.

- Bro Jo

Friday, March 6, 2009

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

Dear Bro Jo,

You give lots of advice on how to get into a relationship, but I need to know how to get out. I hate this part! When you realize it's not right, what can you say to keep from hurting someone's feelings?

I've been dating this girl for about five months. She's really nice and all, but we never said we'd be exclusive. I don't want to be a big jerk, but I met this other girl and we really hit it off, and I want to go out with her. OK, I've actually already asked her out. We're going out tonight. I told the first girl a lie about being busy (which isn't really a lie, because I will be busy, just, you know, on a date with another girl). I know I should tell her, but I don't want her to be mad, and what if the date with this new girl doesn't work out?

What should I do?

- Name and Town Withheld

Dear Dude,

These are the moments we married people are talking about when we say we're so glad we're not single anymore. Good to not be you!

You are right, though, you do need to talk to her (the first girl) and probably her too (the second girl) and the first girl (at least) could very well be hurt and angry. It's going to depend a lot on whether or not she agrees that you two haven't been exclusive.

I'm guessing you're troubled because, well . . . you're a liar. (Don't be offended, I mean it in the best possible way!)

You are seeing girl number one exclusively (Five months? Are you kidding me, here? The time alone indicates you're not casually dating!) and you feel bad because while you're in that relationship you asked out someone else!

Time to Man Up and set Girl Number One free. You're clearly not interested in her or you wouldn't have asked out the second girl - and NO, treating the first girl as your safety net back-up girl does not indicate interest. Go see her right now and confess. If you can't work up the courage to do it before your date with new girl, then cancel the date. If someone sees you with the second girl before you've talked to the first girl and it gets back to her, you're going to be looking at a whole different scale of break up (which you do deserve, by the way - I'm just trying to save your current girlfriend a little pain).

Breaking up is never easy, but it's best to be honest (meaning "be nice" and "take responsibility") and have the conversation as soon as possible. Do it in person if you can, but don't wait.

Good luck.

- Bro Jo

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Girls Calling Boys

Dear Bro Jo,

This girl keeps calling me. I know she wants me to ask her out, and I was thinking about it, but she's crossed the line into annoying.

- Not Going to Answer

Dear Not,

You've discovered (much like I did) how difficult it is to be handsome and irresistible. How will you possibly survive???

Girls: don't call boys. It's a huge turn off. Make them work for you. If you must call, keep it short and casual and very infrequent. And stop the incessant Texting; you might as well wear a big sign that declares you his slave for life.

(Note: Sister Johnston refused to call me until after we were engaged to be married. She wouldn't even call to confirm a date.)

As for you, my letter writing friend: get over yourself. Call her back, be nice and polite and take the girl out. If she continues to come on to strong, be man enough to tell her. It may wreck any future relationship for the two of you, but you will have helped her, and isn't that what nice guys do?

And who knows, maybe after you talk you'll realize that it would have been a huge mistake to blow her off.

- Bro Jo

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Reader's Note - Comments Turned On

Reader's Note - Comments Turned On

By request I've turned on the "comments" feature on this blog. While I moderate all comments for appropriateness, I have no control over the signature, so if you write it and I post it your comment will be signed as being from whomever you signed it as.

Have fun!

- Bro Jo

Getting a Guy to Ask You Out

Dear Bro Jo,

I really like this guy in my Tuesday evening Art class, but I'm shy and kind of traditional, so I can't ask him out. We talk and flirt (I think) and I think he likes me, but he hasn't asked me out. What can I do?

- Desperate for a Date

Dear DD,

Start by remembering that you're a girl! And as such you have all the power; the Good Lord made you that way (if it wasn't true Adam would still be alone in the Garden).

Remember, guys are dumb (I know, I are one); that means subtlety doesn't work on most of us. Be blunt! Here are some things that work (as offered by Sister Johnston and other girls who successfully manipulated yours truly):
  1. Say it! "So when are you going to ask me out?" Even guys who didn't realize they were interested can be lead with this one.
  2. Whine. "You know what's wrong with this school? None of the guys are brave enough to ask a girl out. I haven't been asked out in a long time". A little subtle, but it baits the hook.
  3. Compliment. "You're such a great guy! I wish a guy like you would ask me out!"
  4. Suggest - strongly. "You need to go out on more dates. There's a great movie out this Friday . . . you should take a girl to it! You know, like me!" (batting one's eye lashes, leaning in close and touching him on the arm as you say "like me" are all good ideas here.
  5. Lead him. "So, is this the moment in the conversation where you say "would you like to take me to the dance?' and I say 'I'd be totally thrilled to go with you!' and you feel warm and fuzzy inside because I'm a wonderful girl"? If the hint isn't strong, he's not going to get it.
  6. The obvious set up. "So, what would a girl have to do to let you know she really wanted you to ask her out?" Then, so long as he's not an unreasonable jerk, do word-for-word exactly what he says. Right away so the obviousness is not lost.

I know for a shy girl acting with this much confidence is frightening, but let me assure you that you have the power. He likes you already! If he didn't he wouldn't be talking to you. We men can be that shallow, you know.

Stop sitting home Friday nights. Take a little initiative.

- Bro Jo

Why Don't LDS Boys Date?

Dear Bro Jo,

OK, this dating advice is great and all, but the big problem is that LDS boys are afraid to date. They want to "hang out" or don't bother at all. They were afraid in High School, and now I'm in a University Ward and it's worse.

What gives?

- Pretty in Portland

Dear Pretty,

You're right: they're afraid. For years we adults and leaders have trained LDS guys that girls are evil, only to marvel as they've come home from missions with no dating experience and no social skills.

No, not all guys, but an awful lot of them. And it's not just LDS guys; it's all guys. The reason is lack of training, first by parents and leaders, then by girls and women.

Too many parents coddle their boys. They think they're being "safe" by avoiding danger, but what they're doing is training these young men that the reward is not worth the risk. Pre-mission guys are learning that the joy of spending time with a girl and learning how to appropriately date is too risky; as if going to dinner in a group date is going to guarantee sex and pregnancy. These same boys come back from missions with no skills and many of the same fears.

And let's face it, every High School has an unhealthy helping of slutty girls, even the ones in predominantly LDS areas, so the boys are right on some level to have a little bit of fear (remember that the Old Testament teaches that "fear" means "respect", not that these girls are respectable, but the danger they engender should be respected).

(To my parent readers: if you don't randomly stop by your child's High School and Middle School to look around once in a while, you're out of touch; you think you know what's going on in your child's life, but you don't have all the information)

In High School and after, if a boy's parents have fallen down on the required training, then it becomes your responsibility. (Sorry! That's just the way it is.)

Boys don't "date" girls because they don't have to.

(Go back and read that again - memorize it, print it out, put it above your dorm door.)

Guys today get what they want without having to buy dinner. You give it away. Loose girls give away sex; girls with morals give away companionship. Why date you if he gets the talking and "friendship" and "hanging out" (and, if you're a total idiot: "sex") for free?

Making cookies at your apartment is not a date! Neither is watching videos at his place, nor is sitting around with a bunch of people talking.

A walk through the park, ice skating, a picnic; those are dates. Be creative boys! Plan, Pick Up, Pay (but that doesn't mean you have to blow a month's tuition).

Oh, and one last thing: if you're not married, don't go on "dates" to do ordinances at the Temple; that's just weird.

- Bro Jo