December 12, 2008

Successful Dating

I was recently asked, “So why don't guys ask girls out more often? Sorry, we just had an enrichment activity that was a dating panel, and this question was asked, but I felt like there was not a good answer given...” I responded, “It varies from guy to guy, from time to time.” I went on to give a few reasons that have kept me or others from dating, so far as I saw it. But, these reasons boil down to having an enjoyable and successful dating experience. The fear of having a negative experience, or experiences that repeatedly end in disappointment, will make dating into drudgery and hopes for marriage into myth. Young men of the marrying age can have a productive, meaningful and successful dating experience as they date with wisdom and energy. Specifically, they will be most successful as they use good sense in forming dating habits according to an appropriate perspective, frequency and mode of dating. The details of these principles may be found meaningful to young women, but are primarily directed to young men.

Perspective on Girls and Dating
The way we see dating and the way we look at our dates has large sway over the quality of our dates. My roommate asked me one night, “If the church told you that you had to get married in a week for some special assignment, who would you choose?” One of us asked my sister the same question the next day. She responded, not with a name, but expressing that she would care less about how cute the boy was and more about what kind of boy he was. She said that she would approach dating very differently. We should probably all approach dating with more perspective. Perhaps as boys we don’t think very deeply about how deeply our wives will impact our lives. Your wife will help to define you—will represent you. Your wife will determine in large part who your children become; they will be like her. Your wife will be part of almost every household conversation. Your wife will be your partner in eternity and exaltation. She must be your equal and your companion. You must be a complementary pair. The attitude that we have toward the girls we date will influence who we date and finally marry.
How should we look at girls and dating? By what measure should we measure? While the tape measure is handy in making clothes, that’s never primarily been the man’s art. Values and essential characteristics: that is the measure—that is that tape—that is the whole nine yards. When we look at a girl—when we talk with a girl, we should probe for her values, we should identify in her the essential characteristics of a good wife. Richard G. Scott outlined the essentials as follows, “There is more to a foundation of eternal marriage than a pretty face or an attractive figure. There is more to consider than popularity or charisma. As you seek an eternal companion, look for someone who is developing the essential attributes that bring happiness: a deep love of the Lord and of His commandments, a determination to live them, one that is kindly understanding, forgiving of others, and willing to give of self, with the desire to have a family crowned with beautiful children and a commitment to teach them the principles of truth in the home.”1 These constitute a rock foundation for marriage, and they also direct our sights in the right direction when dating. On the same level, it is important that we are conscious of the values that those we date espouse—you will marry both. If you are in agreement on the things that you value most, your disagreements can be of little consequence. The most difficult disagreements come from difference on deeply-held values. It is important that the Spirit influences our perceptions and attractions. As we have the right perspective, we will be more likely to date girls with whom we can enjoy happiness in marriage (through the eternities) and more immediately, with whom we can enjoy a date or two, perhaps more.

Quantity and Frequency of Dates
Dating quantity (when there’s not enough of it) is detrimental to proper dating. You can’t date if you don’t date—it’s simple enough. So how much dating is enough dating? Charles B. Beckart counseled, “Experience the wonder of the weekly date. Not only does the much-recommended weekly date allow husband and wife to spend time in enjoyable activities together, it also sends the message that the relationship is important.”2 If it’s important in marriage, it is a must for single-adult dating, especially when the opportunities are abundantly available; weekly dates are not only important in order to expedite the “quest for a spouse,” they are essential for developing an active dating mindset. You’re not likely to find a spouse when you’re not talking to or meeting girls. When you buy a car, there is value in finding the best car at a price you can afford, both economically and for your peace of mind. If you know that you made a valiant effort in your car hunt, there should be no room for regret when there are problems with your car. Similarly, you can have greater confidence in a choice for marriage—when the time for asking comes—when you know that you have chosen carefully, having explored your options and acted accordingly. So, back to the original question, exactly how much dating is appropriate? Note how Dallin H. Oaks puts it, “Simple and more frequent dates allow both men and women to “shop around” in a way that allows extensive evaluation of the prospects.”3 Frequent. We should date frequently. That will yield the best experience.

Mode of Dating
It is important that we have good dates. If we enjoy it, we’ll do it again. Our dates should have a few qualities so that they’re good and sustainable. First dates are a great way to get to know someone in a noncommittal way (besides for the time commitment). Because we are counseled to date a variety of people frequently, until we enter the realm of courtship, we are better off with more dates rather than longer dates. I feel bad for the girl who accepts a date invitation only to find herself on a dating-marathon. If there is time in an evening for six hours of dating, perhaps we should divide it between two or three girls, avoiding the eternal date. A good first date should allow a couple to get to know each other one-on-one. There should be time to talk and interact. An activity should encourage interaction. Displaying affection should be far from the focus of a first date.
Dating in general must balance several aspects. The meat of dating is coming to understand another person through talking and interacting. Affection and romance should be restrained from whiting out the entire relationship. Sharing affection should have a place in dating, but it can short-circuit the development of a deeper more significant relationship if left unchecked. President Benson and his wife Flora provide a template for dating. His biographer described their dating, writing that they “talked for hours, exploring their feelings about a future together. … The more they talked, the more comfortable they felt with each other.”4 Quoting President Benson, “I discovered in Flora a great character and a rare combination of virtues.”5 If we are to recognize essential qualities in a girl (like those discussed in the perspective section) we must date in a way that allows us to see them. Our dating activities will set the stage upon which we will get to know a girl.

Finally, you can’t grow a garden by reading a book. Elder Oaks encapsulates my closing sentiment, “Start with a variety of dates with a variety of young women, and when that phase yields a good prospect, proceed to courtship. It’s marriage time.”6 Exaltation cannot be gained without temple marriage, and right dating is a vital step for that. So, plant a few garden seeds, go on a few dates. Water the soil with a few more dates, and then see which garden plant you will attempt to harvest through courtship. As young men use wisdom in their dating perspective and in their frequency and mode of dating, they will find more success and joy as life and dating happily roll along. Young men can have a more productive, meaningful and successful dating experience as they enthusiastically tend to their dating garden as wise and dutiful gardeners.