Those of you who have teens and subscribe to the New Era know that this month’s issue is devoted entirely to teenage dating. When I handed the magazine to my eighteen-year-old son, he rolled his eyes and said, “Teenage dating—now that’s an oxymoron.” First, I was impressed that he used the word “oxymoron.” Then, I was concerned. My husband and I have had several discussions about dating with my son over the past several months and my son seems to think that LDS teenagers are discouraged from dating and that he won’t do any real dating until after his mission. According to my son, the only relevant article in the New Era was the one entitled, “Is Dating Dead?” My son said, “Answer: yes,” and then handed me the magazine back.
Troubling, for sure. Is it true that LDS teenagers (and teenagers in general) don’t really date? As I write this, many high school juniors and/or seniors are preparing to go to the prom sometime in the next month. My son went to the prom last year, and he’s been to many high school dances over the last couple of years. That’s dating, right? Well, sort of. I see several problems with the high school dance date, which, btw, is very different from the high school dance dates I had back in the day.
First, nowadays, the high school dance date preparations begin months in advance, starting with the elaborate asking-out ritual. No simple phone call to issue an invitation allowed; the more creative and cutesy the better. I hate these invitations, and so does my son, who feels the pressure to come up with something original and convoluted each time. A girl once asked my son to Sadie Hawkins by giving him a bowl of live goldfish (“You’re not just any fish in the sea, will you go to the dance with me?”) and I spent the next month feeding those fish and changing their water, trying mightily to keep them alive, only to have one fish after another go belly up while my youngest daughter cried. A few months before that, I opened the front door late one night to find a baby doll on the porch with a plastic knife through its chest and ketchup dripping from the wound. Hands shaking, certain that someone was threatening us, I was about to call the police when my son found the note: “I’ll die if you don’t go to morp [another girls’ choice dance] with me.” Turns out the doll was meant for the boy down the street, so we left the doll on his porch so his parents could have heart attacks, too.
And then there’s the elaborate date itself. The boys have to find a group to go with, because everyone goes in groups, and these groups have to be lined up way ahead of time so that the boys can have several planning sessions akin to the Big Three strategy talks of WWII. Because the date itself isn’t just dinner and dancing; it’s a social marathon, with the couples committing to spend the entire day as well as the evening together. The festivities begin with the “day date”—something fun and casual, like bowling or roller-skating or having a paint ball war. And then they go home and change and prepare for phase two, the dinner. After dinner they all go to the dance, mainly to have their picture taken and mill around and promenade—I don’t know if they do any actual dancing or whether they dance as couples. And then, in the final phase of the date, they go to someone’s house to play games or watch a movie and have dessert.
Which all sounds exhausting to me—and intimidating, if you’re an awkward teen. The trouble with these dates is that a lot of teenagers I know put most of their effort into these dance dates and do little other dating. Maybe boys think that they can’t ask someone out unless they decorate a girl’s car with Oreos or put a message in a balloon. Maybe they think a date has to be a big event. And yes, teenagers get together to hang out and they do a lot of group activities, but I can count on one hand the number of times my son has actually planned an informal double date, called a girl, and taken her out. He has a hard time finding friends who will plan a double or group date with him in lieu of just hanging out, and he claims that if he were to ask a girl out by herself—even to just go bowling or see a movie—she would read more into it than there was, and others would assume they were “an item” and he’d be ridiculed for going against the For the Strength of Youth booklet (we live in Provo). So in his mind, he won’t really date until after his mission.
I see several problems with this. If our children don’t do a lot of dating until they’re in college or they’ve served missions, they could skip the casual, one-on-one dating phase so crucial to their social development and jump into a steady dating relationship—and maybe marriage—without having dated much. Also, perhaps our teenagers’ lack of dating experience and skills contributes to the “hanging out” problem we’re seeing amongst the twenty-something crowd living in perpetual singlehood.
After my son gave me back the New Era, I read it cover to cover, trying to figure this whole teenage dating thing out. And there were lots of great articles, which I’m going to keep trying to get my son to read. But I did notice that all of the dating advice advocated only group dating after sixteen and single dating in one’s twenties, when steady dating leading to marriage is appropriate. No mention was made of casual single dating during the teen years. I’m not advocating steady dating for teenagers or pre-mission boys, but I wonder if, in our zealousness in promoting the group-dating-only standard for teens and our kids’ focus on the big dance dates, we’re actually contributing to dating’s demise.
So, tell me what you think. Is dating dead? Has the single dating pendulum swung too far in the group dating direction? How can we help our sons take the initiative and do more casual dating while still upholding the standards in the For the Strength of Youth booklet? And, what is the most outrageous/amusing/clever dance invitation you’ve heard of?