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Monday, October 8, 2012

Dating Like an Adult

Dear Brother Johnson,

First let me introduce myself.  I feel that I am different than the normal demographic that reads your blog. I am a 29 year old, single, educated, working professional who teaches in the inner-city. I am a returned missionary who is active in the Church and in my calling. I consider myself to be well put together, mentally and physically healthy, and overall a very happy person. I do not mind my single status, and feel no pressure to give up or settle. I have spiritual and secular goals and a job that give my life great meaning. I wake up every day with a smile on my face ready to face the challenges of life.

But I struggle with dating.

I'm going to be very honest; being "older" and single in the church is confusing at best. I feel that this is an area where the guidance of the church has failed to give direction. The rules of dating change dramatically between the ages of 16 and 18, but very little (if at all) between 18 and up. I understand that some things just don't change, the standards of the church don't magically bend after a certain age, but there must be some difference in the way we date as we age, right? I am certainly not the same person I was 11 years ago. To be clear, I'm not looking for new rules or a new set of commandments, just guidance or perhaps just your thoughts and advice on dating as a single adult. More than anything, I feel as though I'm in a state of perpetual adolescence. Most of the time I feel like I still date like a 16 year old girl.

Months ago I was at Stake Conference, and a talk was being given about the sanctity of marriage. The speaker was discussing the special bond between husband and wife, and the sexual relationship between them. I understood what he was saying, but I was filled with sadness and bitterness to the point where I left the room.

I looked around the room and saw these young couples, girls who looked not a day over 19, married with their husbands arms around them. They take for granted the basic human interaction of sex, something that I am deprived of simply because I did not find a man to marry at a young age. They talk about sex and relationships like it's entirely sacred, used for procreation and to create bonds with your spouse, and I do believe that, but I also believe that they use it to satisfy base urges.

I will keep my covenants, I have no desire to sin, but I am so tired of hearing people talk about this. I understand why I am waiting until marriage to have sex, but sometimes I feel like people ignore the single adults, and the struggle that we feel and the things that we are deprived of because we have not found someone who we want to be with for eternity. I often feel that I am set aside as a single woman in the church. I attend a family ward, primarily because I felt the singles ward was becoming a "practice ward" for young members of the church who were figuring it out, and I wanted something more.

My family ward has been great, aside from a few exceptions. For example, my visiting teacher partner regularly sets appointments and visits women without me, when asked, she tells me that she assumes that I am too busy to go with her because of my single life. It's the little things.

I fear that paragraph will paint me as a bitter, ranting, crazy lady, which is not my intent. I simply want to voice my concerns and feelings about playing the part of the adult adolescent.

I have been in several significant relationships, with good men, but not men that I would choose to spend eternity with. So here I sit, a righteous church member with a desire to date like an adult, find a spouse, and have the life experiences that seem so basic to so many people.

Unfortunately I have no idea what any of those should or do look like.

- Sister W.

Dear Sister W,

It's true that "Dear Bro Jo" has a large teen and YSA following, for which I'm certainly grateful, but you're not the only Single Over 27 that I hear from.

I think the reasons for that are right along with what you've stated: many Latter-day Saints get married fairly young, at least by worldly standards, and for those that are still single as they cross into their mid-late 20's, Celestial Marriage options seem to dwindle dramatically. It's one of the Ironic Axioms of the Church, and I hear it all the time: "if you're not married by 25 it's tough to find anyone good because all the Good Ones are gone". Sure, it rings true on some level, but the irony is that the Church is full of Great People who will make Wonderful Spouses that just happen to be over 25 but aren't yet married.

I hear complaints about the YSA "meat market" that is prevalent in many University Wards, and that "all the guys over 25 in my Singles Ward are creeps and losers", which is of course matched by the number of "all the single women over 25 at Church are bitter and unpleasant" claims. I've met so many great people in your demographic that I refuse to believe either rant, but do you know what does ring true?

All of you are single because you're some combination of whiny, scared, and too picky. Old people like me often walk into a conference full of you guys and proclaim that we have no idea what your problem is; in the same room that you all see dozens of losers you'd never marry we see a bunch of great people that, were we younger and single, we'd feel lucky to get to date. Do you know why there's that difference? It's because we've been married long enough to realize that the things you are filtering out aren't really that important.

If you want to date like an adult, then the first thing you need to commit to is dating everyone that asks (of course meeting a limited criteria that I'll mention in a moment) and keeping an open mind. Look around your family ward; there's no such thing as a "hot 70-year old", and yet I'll bet that most all of the retirees in your ward have been married. Were they all knock-outs at 20? Nope. Are they all perfect? Heck no. Is it possible that they were all flawless spiritually, mentally and physically at 24? Not a chance!

Marriage is work. The key is not finding someone worth working for, but becoming someone who's willing to do the work that's required.

I ain't gonna lie: sex is great. But you're absolutely right that it should be saved for marriage. It's not enough of a reason to get married (though I agree that it should be at least a little motivational).

So what are the criteria that a young woman needs to keep in mind?

The same things at 30 that she should have been looking for at 19:

1. He's single.
2. He's a worthy and active priesthood holder.
3. He works hard at whatever he does.

That's it.

How about guys?

1. She's single.
2. She's worthy to take to the temple and ready to go.
3. She'll be appreciative and supportive.

Nothing more is necessary.

It's like President Kimball said:

"If two people love the Lord more than their own lives and then love each other more than their own lives, working together in total harmony with the gospel program as their basic structure they are sure to have this great happiness."

(You can read the whole talk HERE - and you should. Note that it was given 46 years ago, but still rings true as if spoken today)

You mentioned that you have been in "significant relationships with good men" but that you wouldn't chose to spend eternity with them. Unless they weren't as good as you say, I fail to see what the problem was. You chose them for a relationship, so clearly there was something there, and you said they were "good", so what was the problem?

You seem like a wonderful and thoughtful person, but with love I submit to you that if the above was true, the problem, dear sister, was you.

It's time for a self assessment; do a little grading fellow teacher. Instead of eliminating potential spouses from your life because of eternally unimportant reasons, look inward and ask "what would I need to do to be a Good Companion for that Good Person". The thing is you're NOT 16 anymore; this is not about whether or not the hunky popular guy is going to ask you to the Prom And you're not 19 anymore; the 37 year old divorced with three kids guy is no longer a creepy stalker.

Hey, if you were really "okay with your single status" you wouldn't have walked out of the room and you wouldn't have written me. I understand that finding a Good Person to marry over 30 is going to be a challenge, but it's not impossible.

Let me give you one more point to back up my argument: couples in the Church who have been married for some time and then suddenly find themselves single, because of divorce or death, when motivated to remarry seem to have much less trouble than you never-been-married people, and they come back into the dating world with way more baggage (kids, mortgages, hangups) than you do.

Figure out why that is, and you'll be much further along your path towards Dating Like an Adult.

- Bro Jo

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Having had relationships with good men is about how I would describe my dating experience, which when looked at literally, has consisted of two dates at the most with a guy and then my relationship with him was no longer a dating one (although I still saw and talked with him many times), and I wouldn't say that my dating situation has been extraordinary; so just because of the way this writer phrased it doesn't have to mean she should be ragged on because of the reasons you listed. She did say she feels as though her dating experience is still basically at a 16-year-old level, which I could also say, but that doesn't mean we're not willing to marry when we find a guy who is even basically in the right position; I might rephrase what she said to say that I haven't been on enough dates, at a deep enough level of knowledge about the person (because I had dated him before and this is date 4 or 5), to know by experience what it's like or should be like to date someone seriously, because at age 16 dating isn't serious, and my dates have been so on-the-surface that I feel I lack experience that others my age seem to have, but it's something that as far as I can tell, would come by having dated a serious way, which I have never gotten to do. I think this sister was asking for practical signs, if you will, things to look for, specific things to try or expect when she's on a date, so that either things will progress instead of end, or she can feel that she knows her way around the date instead of flailing the whole time hoping she's doing something right. I'm sure she was not asking to be told that her situation is all her fault (even if everything you said did apply, she would already know that stuff and not need to be told). What advice can you give us about how a dating scenario looks, step by step, when it's a serious date that's supposed to lead to another one, instead of a fun time that will only happen once? We can't seem to get it to happen all by ourselves and it's not a fun feeling to be older and never even really had a chance to practice, let alone be good.