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Teenage Dating–An Oxymoron?

By Melissa McQuarrie

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?

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About Melissa McQuarrie

(Advisory Board) grew up in Australia and California and now lives in Provo, Utah with her husband, four children, and their dog, Daisy. She served a mission in Peru and has a BA and MA in English from BYU. She loves reading, writing, and quiet afternoons. She does not love grocery shopping. Now that two of her children attend BYU and her youngest children are in high school and junior high, she is trying to adjust to this "emptying nest" stage and still wondering how it snuck up on her so fast.

81 thoughts on “Teenage Dating–An Oxymoron?”

  1. Oh my goodness! I had NO idea that this all went on. I'd heard about the "hanging out" thing being a problem among the Young Adult crowd, but I didn't know there were so many social conventions to be adhered to! Good grief. It was bad enough in the day to get the courage to ask a girl out; now the poor boy has to have some super creative idea to go about doing the asking? Poor guy. I ignorantly thought this article would mention the fact that teens aren't allowed to drive (at least in CA) until they are nearly adults, which would put a damper on single dating, but I am apparently socially lost. I have a couple of years to catch up on this phenomenon. Thanks for pointing it out! I can't wait to read everyone's thoughts.

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  2. We have different problems in England, the opposite actually. We struggle to stop our children dating. Of course the teenagers have the Strength of Youth booklet and know the rules and standards advised by the church. However reality is that everyone else is dating at around 13 over here, and by that I mean pairing off together. The problem isn't so much that the youth want to date each other very early, it is school relationships that are the problem. Many wards only have a handful of youth anyway and they tend to be friends and stick together at church a lot. In the real world dating is far more of an inviting temptation than say alcohol or cigarettes.

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  3. I went to high school in Salt Lake not that many years ago. I went on 4 dance dates, 2 of which were girls' choice, and 1 casual date during my time in high school. This was not very normal at my high school, most people went on a lot more dates than me. When I got to college, I went on only a handful of dates as a freshman. During my sophmore year, I started hanging out with this great guy, an 18-year old. We didn't go on dates, really. We just spent all our time together. After a while, we were "dating" even though we never actually went on official dates. I was his first girlfriend, and he was my first boyfriend. We fell in love. He went on his mission. I waited foe him and didn't date anybody else while he was gone. He came home, and we got married, by which point I had graduated. Four years and two kids later he is still my favorite person ever, my very best friend, and we are very happy.

    Not dating is not the worst thing in the world. Marrying your first serious relationship does not automatically doom it to fail. I was an exception, though. The majority of people in my high school dated significantly more than I. Quite a few of them paired off. I was definitely an anomaly at BYU in my lack of dating.

    I do think the extravagant weird-asking dance dates are kind of ridiculous (it seems to be a regional phenomenon, as a side-note, and is definitely not nation-wide). But I thought the ones I went on were fun anyway.

    I don't know if I really have much to add, other than to not lose hope for your teenager. He might just surprise you and turn out just fine.

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  4. i agree–dating is dead, and not so much replaced with group dating as simply hanging out. i haven't minded it so far, as the only other alternative i've witnessed is the other swing the pendulum–pairing off and getting too serious too soon.

    most outrageous invitation? i don't know, but recently i heard tell of a thousand-dollar prom dress that made my jaw drop open. and once i got a phone call from a lovely older woman clear across our hill who had found a cherry pie on her front doorstep. apparently it was intended for our son. i was amused…

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  5. morp–prom spelled backwards.

    my senior daughter just went on a date last week with a senior high-school boy. maybe it was precipitated by the New Era issue. but, the gawky awkward stage of high-school is addressed with hanging out, school dances and an occasional date.
    i have six married children and two dating children. it's been fun to watch them evolve into more socially comfortable people.
    this modified way of going about pairing off seems to work as well as when i made the simple phone call to the sadie hawkins dance way back when.
    off topic, but my feeling is that texting a conversation is about as artificial as it can get. no inflections of voice, no facial expression, no practice in quick response. it's sterile, impersonal, plastic. our children are inept in conversation skills as well as the constant hummm of a phone during family time because they are now so easily accessible.

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  6. My dating in high school (1991-1995, UT cty) was almost exclusively the group dance dates — there was one each month for my junior and senior years, alternating btw girl's and boy's choice. I once gave a boy a frozen chicken to ask him to something (can't remember HOW I made that "clever").

    It was awesomely fun at the time, and I never minded going on few single or double dates in between the big ones — we went to football/basketball games weekly and then the "victory" dances held after each. Then there were study groups and club activities (NHS, Thoreau Society, seminary stuff, etc).

    Looking back, I think most kids are too immature in high school to hand serious "casual" dating, and why should they? They'll grow up soon enough and with our church culture's emphasis on eternal marriage, they'll figure it out when it's time — as long as they're firmly committed to their goals and standards — which commitment has almost nothing to do with whether they have "experience" asking people out but rather with being genuine friends with the opposite sex, imo.

    I think the elaborate dating rituals (my dad always joked that there was a rule book somewhere for all this) are really fascinating and healthy (from an anthropological viewpoint). Compare to the elaborate country dances of the Victorian era and the formal courtship rules of almost every past era (like bundling).

    At the same time, the rituals (which include almost never being able to say "no" — so both boys and girls end up going out with a wider variety of people than would occur otherwise) provide a secure structure within which to practice dating.

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  7. Now I'm nervous about my kids growing up in Utah–I had no idea things were so crazy!

    I grew up in Southern CA in an area with few members. There were only a few member boys my age who went to my high school, and I was totally nerdy so I was definitely not date material. I didn't want to date any of the non-members becasue 'dating' mostly meant going steady and getting sexual (or hanging out and drinking). I did go to prom because I asked a boy to go with me; I just called him up and asked. He was our bishop's son and really the only member guy I could go with, and the night was actually kind of awkward since we weren't very compatible. That's pretty much the only date I went on in high school. I don't remember a lot of dating among the church youth though; like I said, in the regular culture 'dating' meant something different and there were so few youth that most of us just didn't date at all.

    My first few years of college weren't much better as far as dating goes. Part of it is the fact that I was socially awkward and not that comfortable around guys. I did compete on the College Bowl team (trivia) and most of the other members were male so I did have a group of guys to hang out with. I met my husband after my mission and we were each others' first serious relationship. We didn't date that long before marriage either, but it's worked out OK I guess.

    I can see how the elaborate dating thing can scare some people off. If a 'date' means you have to invest tons of time and money, why do it? I think the biggest thing I'd like to change for my kids is the fact that I was so scared of boys. I was really not comfortable around them forever because I was so worried about them being attracted to me (or not) and about the fact that I'd been taught that they 'only wanted one thing'. I think I missed out on a lot of good opportunites for friendship by not realizing that guys are just people and that we can be friends

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  8. I think the problem is that casual dating is dead. In my experience in high school (and middle school), there was almost no casual dating. Because it was so rare, going on a date with someone definitely implied that you liked them. Otherwise it was either hanging out in groups, or pairing off as a couple, aka "going out". This includes doing everything together, hand-holding, kissing, etc. I think casual dating needs to come back as the in-between stage of getting to know people, instead of immediately going from hanging out in groups and then becoming a couple.

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  9. Great post, and great questions. Even my less-active teenage sons did not "date" the way I did when I was in high school (we rode pteradactyls…), but did the "hanging out" thing, and this was 8-10 years ago.

    My oldest daughter, who is active, and now a college senior, was very careful to group date only in HS — though not from Utah, she had a large circle of LDS friends with whom she spent most of her time.

    When she got to BYU and faced Dating, she was petrified, and had plenty of unrealistic expectations for the boys she dated. (I wish this is because she had such an awesome dad that she could find no one to measure up, but I suspect it's because of her views of her experience with her brothers, but also her lack of one-on-one dating experience when she was younger.)

    #2 daughter's dating experience has been more mellow — she did a little bit of one-on-one dating in HS, and has had a positive dating experience at BYU, as well.

    Sad that Dating is Dead.

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  10. My kids were mightily disappointed recently when we were doorbell ditched with a poster covered in Hershey's kisses intended to ask out the teenage girl next door. Double-checking addresses for these invitations would be wise!

    I agree with you, that casual dating in high school is tricky, and seems to indicate more of a relationship than intended. In my pretty recent day growing up back east, you had to be "going out" with somebody in order to go on a date with them, and if you went on a date with somebody, you were assumed to be "going out." And we didn't have any of those dances! Prom and homecoming, so maybe four dances after age 16. But now I'm raising my kids in Utah, so thanks for raising issues I'll need to confront.

    I really enjoyed reading "Unsteady: what every LDS parent should know about teenage dating" by JeaNette G. Smith. She has some great ideas.

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  11. When I was at the high school dating age, you had two choices: 1: Be friends 2: be a couple.

    There was just no in between whatsoever. You were either laughing, having a great time, or you were engaged in physical experimentation with a slog of social/emotional mess to go with it. As a "good LDS girl" why would I choose option 2?

    I went on very few casual dates that weren't in a big group. Two in fact, at which point this boy left on his mission, wrote me every month and figured I would wait for him, even though I had almost no connection or interest in him at all. Because I had agreed to two casual dates- I was automatically "coupled". Ick!

    College wasn't much better, and long story short- I met my husband young, married young, and nine years later am happy that I did.

    Today's youth aren't thinking marriage at age 16-24. They are thinking education and partying. It is a rare handful who are seriously considering that life-goal at that young an age. Society doesn't encourage it- when I announced my engagement I was asked by several family members and friend why we didn't just live together. Marriage was for 30 year olds, not 20 year olds.

    Hanging out in groups is about the only socially acceptable way to remain chaste and still have a good time. I wish it weren't so, and I get why the Brethren want youth to date, but that is just not the socially acceptable thing, so it is yet another uphill battle. Current trends being what they are, telling young people to date when what the world calls dating would probably threaten their ability to hold a temple recommend is confusing!

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  12. I grew up in Provo, so the whole date dance thing is what we did, and I thought it was fun, but I never knew how my parents really thought of it. The most creative asking I did was to have my brother who'd just returned from his mission to Scotland dress up in his kilt and do a Scottish jig for the guy I wanted to ask, and then hand him a note. It was pretty entertaining (My mom videoed the whole thing). Other than those dance dates, I don't think I ever went on a single date with or without a group. We all hung out a lot, but there wasn't the formality of a date. I think hanging out is almost as good as dating for teenagers because they are still getting the interaction between opposited sexes, but without the intense relationships that go with having an actual boyfriend or girlfriend. I do wish I had dated more once I got to college. As a young adult I think there is a real place for dating and getting to know and experiecne a variety of personalities.

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  13. What you are describing is what dating (especially dance-dating) looks like in Utah. I've been out of high school more than 15 years, and it looked like this even then. I have since lived in a variety of demographics, and married a man NOT from Utah and my perception is completely different.

    The marathon dances (which take place every 6 week at Utah high schools) and the attendant money spent practically encourages steady dating. Young men and women will seldom invest such time and money unless they are crazy about one another. Half the girls I knew in high school "sent" missionaries out. I also had somebody "wait" for me on my mission–it was probably one of the biggest mistakes I ever made. Proper focus is nearly impossible for a missionary who has somebody they've left behind.

    In my mind, the problem is that the Young Women's Program is using lesson manuals originally written in the 1970's, with few updates. The lessons heavily emphasize marriage, with the unstated assumption being that most of these girls will be married by age 20. On the other hand, the young men's program is focused entirely on creating missionaries. This difference in focus causes the girls to be looking for true love by age 17, and the boys to be uninterested in (and in some cases even afraid of!) dating. Girls will fill in the vacuum with boys who will date (mothers make them? not really interested in a mission? just nice guys? steady boyfriend material?) or boys who aren't members.

    I like what you are advocating here–casually dating in high school as friends–but I wonder whether a lot of high school kids are mature enough to date this way? Especially in our hyper-sexualized culture? Aren't most of the boys, even the ones that eventually turn out great, mostly interested in taking out the prettiest girl? Aren't the girls, even the ones that eventually turn out great, looking for the kind of "true" love that is found in the Twilight books?

    Stereotypes are unfair, certainly, but we are talking about GENERAL advice from the Church here. Certainly the contents of the magazine are meant as general guidelines. Even "For the Strength of Youth" is a set of guidelines designed to help us keep the law of chastity. The guidelines themselves are not the doctrine.

    It will be interesting to see how I feel about things when my own kids are teenagers. My opinions here are not entirely uninformed (I've taught in secondary schools in very different parts of the country, served a mission and have spent the majority of my adult life in singles wards or working with the young women), but they are almost entirely observational. I appreciate that the practice of parenting is very different than the theory of parenting!

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  14. I'm enjoying all of your comments—interesting thoughts. MelissaPete, you are right to bring up the driving age in California, because it definitely does affect teens' ability to date there—I have nephews and a niece in California who can attest to this.

    Kay, somewhere in the New Era it discussed the trend you talk about, the rush into serious dating—it's such a shame that teenagers are bypassing casual dating. I agree with Melissa that the problem is that casual dating is dead, and although in our LDS community we usually wait until after the teen years to steady date, I do see problems with going from hanging out in groups to steady dating. I see this trend at BYU; my daughter tells me that most people date serially, that is, they date one person exclusively for awhile and call them their "boyfriend" or "girlfriend," and then they move on to date someone else. It's becoming more uncommon for people to casually date a variety of people at once. I find this trend troubling.

    Cristie, I agree with you on the texting issue, and I believe it plays into the dating issues we're discussing here.

    Shannon, interesting thoughts about our dating rituals from an anthropological perspective—I hadn't thought about how those mores provide a safe structure for dating.

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  15. If casual teenage dating is dead in Utah (and it might be), I think cell phones and texting are more to blame than the crazy dance-date rituals. I could count on both hands the number of single dates I went on before I got serious with my now-husband; that was after high school and three years of BYU social life!
    Of course, I did "hang out" A LOT, and even one-on-one with boys, so maybe I didn't count dates that I should have counted. Our perception of dating is just so different than other places around the world.

    Now, for crazy asking/answering – as the fifth of twelve children I have seen my fair share. I've even seen changes over the last ten years. My older sisters were "showered with roses" (roses hanging in the shower) and serenaded, asked with fruits/eggs/chocolates where they had to find and piece together the names. My younger siblings have had teachers, coaches, police officers and the STAKE PRESIDENT involved in the asking/answering process. It seems to be getting more elaborate.

    My favorite "asking" was for my Junior Prom. I went to an art gallery for a class, with two friends that were in the class with me. In the art gallery was a big poster collage that said "Rachel, will you go to Prom with me?"
    I about died from the excitement and cuteness.

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  16. I have to agree that the problem is that casual dating is dead. When I was in middle & high school, everyone just had "girlfriends" and "boyfriends." I went on two or three dates in high school, period. Most people were too busy being paired off to do any casual dating. That said, my younger brother is in high school now and I think that the LDS youth his age are doing a good deal more dating than when I was there.

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  17. I think there was a good mix of casual dating and group dating and going to school dances when I was in high school (though the dances were not such an ordeal as you describe) 10 years ago, but in college I saw a shift from dating to just hanging out. I did hardly any dating until my now-husband and I declared ourselves a couple. Then we started going on dates frequently with each other. I remember shortly after we were married seeing a lot of things aimed at the young adults encouraging them to stop just "hanging out".

    I think part of the problem is that the high school dances entail so much! Perhaps the boys are simply too exhausted from all the school dance prep that they have no desire to just invite a girl to see a movie. Maybe they think that the girl will expect something more elaborate and be disappointed by such a simple gesture – and maybe the girl will (which is a whole other problem).

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  18. Okay, I already talked enough, but I wanted to bring up something my parents did that I came to really love: it was the three strikes and you are out rule.

    We were only allowed to date the same person three times in a row before going out with somebody else. It worked great with my older brother who was generally obedient, and never really found a girl he wanted to be permanently paired with. For me it worked great because the only boy in high school who wanted to date me more than a couple of times was a boy I didn't really want to see anymore. The rule was the bad guy and I didn't have to hurt his feelings. My sibling that this rule was the LEAST enforced with ended up in some serious trouble.

    We are still years away from dating being appropriate around here, but we have already decided that free strikes and you're out will be our mantra.

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  19. Nan, interesting that you would bring up the Young Women's manuals and their possible connection to this issue. I do think that the manuals should be updated, for sure, and I can see how the emphasis on marriage in the YW lessons might be encouraging our girls to marry young. In my ward, for example, most of the young women are getting married by the time they are twenty. This is not a new phenomenon, of course, but I do wonder how much the current trend of going from group dating/hanging out in high school to steady dating in college plays into this. Certainly cultural expectations play a large role, as well. And I love your parents' three strikes rule. I think that's a great guideline for teenage dating.

    Alison, I agree that the elaborate dance dates and the effort involved discourage boys from asking girls out on casual dates—they seem to save all of their dating efforts for those big events. That is a problem.

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  20. Oh, this is going to be a VERY popular post!

    First of all, you didn't need the parenthetical phrase "we live in Provo" because by describing the elaborate asking/planning/exhausting dating process, I already knew your exact location. Unfortunately, dating will be like that for your son unless you move.

    I don't think there is anything at all wrong with the dating experiences you described. The occasional big, fun, all-day group date is how the teens in Provo date. And your son is right about not asking one girl out on one date, they'd quickly be labeled an item, whether or not anything happened. Once, in high school, I spent about an hour sitting and talking to a male friend of mine. Soon, I was deflecting rumors about us being an item. It didn't matter to the rumor factories that we were talking about a girl he was madly in love with who wouldn't give him the time of day. Pairing up isn't necessary. Group dates keep the teen pregnancy stats down as well! 😉

    Dating will happen for your son, but dating is culturally influenced. And if your son's high school culture isn't dating-friendly, there's no need to encourage him to do things differently (conformity is the name of the game in high school). If he doesn't date until after his mission, he'll be in good company. My husband didn't either. Good luck!

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  21. Our family rule for highschoolers is the ABC rule: you have to go out with B and C before you can go out with A again.

    When my now-missionary son was a relatively popular high schooler (among his geek-D&D-orchestra-chess-coed scouting crowd), he was forever having to explain the rule to his many member and non-member friends, but once they got the concept, one of the young ladies in his orchestra section took on herself to manage his social calendar so that she could be assured a date with him more often. It was funny, but it meant he went on a lot of dates.

    My third son is a highschooler now is fond of the old saw about not spending money on someone else's wife. But he also isn't interested in more than church dances until the time he can do his own driving for a date (which here is 6 months after getting your license).

    It's the driving laws plus the spending that killed the 50's era concept of dating that we're mourning. Time for a new concept.

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  22. My story is rather similar to FoxJ (#8). I wasn't datable material in high school and didn't care to conform to teenage standards to become such. I also had a very small youth group in my ward which was scattered across several high schools; there was nearly no one to date.

    I also didn't see the "point" of dating at that age. YW emphasized "marriage marriage marriage" and I definitely was not going to be marrying anyone I met in high school.

    College was peppered with a few dates – but it was generally long stretches of no dates followed by sprints of male interest. (Generally movtiated by dozens of men all realizing at once that they would be graduating from college in four months without a wife – quick! gotta get one!) Based on the experiences of my friends and roommates, I really don't think I was an anomoly in that experience.

    It might have helped if I'd had more experience in flirting or dating when I was younger instead of learning by trial and error in my twenties.

    I've always dispised the productions and three-act dates associated with major dances. It makes it seem like you're being cheap or lazy by just calling someone on the phone and saying, "Hi! Would you like to go out to dinner on Friday?"

    There was also immense pressure in the LDS realm of singles. You were expected to figure out if you liked or disliked a person in one date. If you went out on a second date than it's perceived to be that you like-like the person. If you go out on a third date than it's perceived that the two people are now a 'couple.' Four dates, and the jokes about engagement begin. It's also extremely quick for a person to gain a reputation. (Example: see the person who is known to have gone out with every other person of opposite gender in the ward – except those three- or the person who hasn't gone out with anyone else at all.) As such, I've seen most people just abandon casual dating entirely for fear of sending the wrong message.

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  23. "As a young adult I think there is a real place for dating and getting to know and experience a variety of personalities." Jill T (#13)

    I couldn't agree more with that! You learn a lot about what you want and about who you are through the process of dating a variety of people. It's not strictly necessary, but there definitely is a place for it.

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  24. I had heard of the crazy invites out west from my teens, I still think it is rediculous. It reminds me of the lengths they went to in the 1800's with formal invites etc.

    When I think about it, I never casually dated either. I would either "hang out" with a group of friends or be too emotionally involved in couple relationships.

    We would struggle with double dates for my son because there really isn't another boy his age in our ward/area. There are useful skills and development as part of this process, but it may end up waiting until after his mission. I'm not entirely sure that is a bad thing; boys in general mature more slowly and a mission helps with that.

    Food for thought – thanks for the blog post.

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  25. Leah commented, "When I was at the high school dating age, you had two choices: 1: Be friends 2: be a couple."

    Yes. That is exactly how it was for me, too. I grew up in Michigan. Dating for me was practically non-existent. The wasn't a large number of LDS youth in our area and to be honest, some of my non-member friends had higher standards then those in my ward. So I was actually grateful for the hanging out trend. I was still able to be social, with no pressure of exclusivity. Through my entire time in high school, I went to one dance with a boy in my stake. We didn't know each other well and the whole evening was just awkward.

    I always heard stories of dance dates out in Utah. As a teenage girl, I WISHED I could live in Utah just so I could have a chance to go to one!! I couldn't fathom having lots of LDS friends who had high standards who just wanted to go to a dance for fun. As far as the crazy asking? Yeah, it's ridiculous, but as a sixteen year old struggling with self-esteem, knowing that someone went through *that* much work to ask ME to a dance? It would've been a nice boost.

    I agree though, it does put a lot of pressure on the boys to come up with a new and exciting and ridiculous way to ask the girls out. Maybe the pendulum will swing the other way and simply calling on the phone to ask will be "in" in the near future (?)

    Anyway. Utah is funny. But I'm glad to live here. My kids will have different dating challenges than I had, and that is just fine with me. 🙂

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  26. When that issue of the New Era arrived, I said to my 12-year-old son, "You might want to read that so you'll be ready to date in a few years." He said, "I already read it. I always watch for things like that and read them first." CUTE, right?! It turned out my 9-year-old daughter had also already read the issue cover-to-cover. Now I just hope that they won't be disappointed by how hard it is to apply those ideas when the culture is SO geared towards either pairing off or (here in Utah) the crazily inflated complexity you described. I remember HATING marathon dates as a teen and college student; in fact I have already lectured my son that he *must* consider first the convenience and comfort of the young women he asks out. (I particularly loathed invitations such as "be prepared to get wet" or blindfolded/kidnapping type dates. Yikes, that sounds so sinister, doesn't it? But it wasn't sinister, just deeply tacky.) I think the Utah-style elaborate invitations can be kind of fun if kept somewhat in check, and I think they arose because it's less scary to plan a big set-up than it is to actually pick up the phone to call someone, but I hope I'll be able to encourage my kids both to avoid the most elaborate invitations and marathon dates, and also to get practice at the scarier direct ways of inviting.

    I am DEFINITELY teaching my kids that it is okay to say no. I've explained to my daughter that it might seem rude in the short run but that she can and should follow her instincts, and never ever spend time with a guy if she feels even a little uncomfortable about it.

    I find I have many more opinions on this (funny how one has lots to say when one has tedious chores to avoid) but here are two parting thoughts:

    1) I'm starting to think the idea of casually getting to know lots of people is at odds with the idea of finding an eternal companion, so I think I'd at least encourage my kids to ask people out that they ARE attracted to and interested in. But then again, I've told my son I do expect him to date a lot in high school and college b/c girls need the chance to date, and I hope he won't pair off before a mission, sooo . . . I guess I don't have definitive wisdom on this, just contradictory ideas. Oh, and I've told my son that, while I want him to avoid really extravagant expenses, he also should plan to spend a pretty decent chunk of his earnings on taking girls on dates, because it's good preparation for sharing his income with a wife and children.

    2) While I was a missionary in French-speaking Belgium, a French elder overheard me telling someone about a guy I had dated before my mission, and afterward he told me "You can't use that term or people will assume you were sleeping with the guy." I said, "Okay, what's a better way to say that I was just dating someone but not sleeping with him?" He thought about it hard and then admitted, "I guess there isn't one"–there wasn't any concept (at least in his experience of the culture) of young adult courtship that didn't involve the assumption of sex. I thought that was pretty sad. (I think I also stopped mentioning my pre-mission dating experiences at all.) And as much as I loathe the crazy elaborate Utah dating constructs, I definitely prefer them to that alternative.

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  27. I'm not sure there is "right" way to date. (Though I'd say there is definitely a wrong way.) When that issue of the New Era came I was hoping they didn't just traslate it and stick it in every issue of the Liahona, because the way dating is presented in that issue of the New Era is so American. Luckily they did not. The Russian issue was on courtship, but very different, addressing it in a way that makes sense culturally. The fact is that dating as we percieve it in America just isn't how it has to work. The most important thing for teens is to learn to socialize with the opposite sex–and feel comfortable doing so.

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  28. "When that issue of the New Era arrived, I said to my 12-year-old son, “You might want to read that so you’ll be ready to date in a few years.” "
    That's adorable. I hope my oldest is like that with his little sister lol!

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  29. I'm so glad to see comments with perspectives about non-Utah/non-U.S. dating. I'm amazed that there wasn't even a word in French for dating but not sleeping with a guy. Talk about culture shock!

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  30. I agree entirely with Janell.

    This is what I see with my son. He did a lot of casual dating in college and after his mission. He wanted to find a wife, but all that dating got him was a rep as a "player." I admit that he is picky (so was I), but he never led anyone on at all or even took a girl on numerous dates unless he felt the relationship had real potential. He would just date a girl two or three times to see if there was a "click." (BTW, once you've dated a girl once or twice, you can't date a friend of hers or you're a jerk, which begins to narrow the dating field pretty quickly in a singles ward.)

    These days, he dates much less. He just "hangs out" most of the time, because he doesn't want to give anyone the wrong idea. It's sad, because the player rep really doesn't fit him. He is sincerely trying to find a match. And that's a lot harder now that he is so reluctant to ask anyone out.

    I think we have a broken dating culture. When I was young, everyone dated whomever they pleased…sometimes different guys both nights of the weekend and still other ones for lunch. Unless you were "going steady," anybody was fair game. If you do this type of dating today, you're considered a "player." It's crazy. It's as if a date or two were a major commitment.

    Really problematic.

    "/

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  31. We live in the S.F. Bay area and my 16-year old daughter mainly socializes with her high school drama group. She has been on very casual dates
    (to a birthday party etc.) There are about 4 young men in our ward (none of whom she would be remotely interested in). Stake dances are few and far between and not well attended with the exception of the "Mormon Prom" attended by 4 stakes. When she went to the "Mormon Prom" she hung out with her 2 nonmember girlfriends she brought. None of the boys asked her to dance even once. That seemed odd to me because she is very pretty and quite popular at school. I guess we'll just hope she gets into BYU.

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  32. I agree with Marintha, there is no one best way to get to know members of the opposite sex. In high school (in Utah) I hung out with large co-ed groups and got to know lots of guys without being in danger of pairing off/becoming a couple/making out. The dances were a chance to make a date a big occasion. Sure it has pitfalls but you could say that about any form of human relations.

    There is something in your post that really bugs me though, and it's probably because my daughter and I had a long heart to heart last night about how difficult it is to make friends of any gender with standards where we live (not Utah). She is the only member in her high school. She said she doesn't have to worry about dating because the guys at her high school have such vulgar language/dress/manners. Having a girl friend over is difficult because many work or have responsibilities at home so their day to hang out is Sunday. Add to that her early morning seminary and early bedtime and you have a very difficult social situation.

    So what I really feel like saying to your post is – Your son has friends and the means to do these big dates, and has plenty of like-minded friends to do it with. Get over the details. In the end your son is making the choice to not date traditionally, no one is forcing it upon him. Someone has to be the one to buck the trend if it's ever going to change, why not him?

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  33. I agree with your comment on teenage dating. I think it is good for teenagers to group date or casully date before missions so they have those basic dating skills for after their mission.

    In my opinion, speaking from a twenty-something year old perspective, dating is pretty much dead. In my age group guys, save one or two, do not ask girls out on dates. (Granted, I don't live in Utah and I am older which might make a difference).

    Most guys just want to "hang out", which I think it good for teenagers but older YSAs need to go on real dates- which just isn't happening. And it might stem from the lack of dating during teenage years. Also, I think that the LDS emphasis on marriage might be part of the problem for lack of dating. We want to get it absolutely right and therefore avoid dating people we don't like right away…maybe? That's just my opinion.

    I know for me growing up, the guys in my YM/YW group dated all the "pretty girls" who were not in our ward. My friends and I were just considered friends and nothing more to the guys.

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  34. Doesn't sound a whole lot different from how it was when I was at BYU (1999-2001) or even how it is now, dating (well, not-dating) in my 30s. Either he'll date or he won't–and he probably will eventually date. And even if your son does end up single for a couple decades, he'll probably turn out like a normal person. Like most of us.

    I realize it's expected for us in our culture to date and marry, and yes, it's a good thing to marry and have babies and all that, but when I hear married people bemoan the state of singles, I can't help but get a little annoyed.

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  35. In thinking more about this topic, I was just thinking of how often and urgently I pray that my kids will find faithful, wonderful people to marry, and I realized that means I'm praying for all of you, for your success in parenting. And you are probably praying the same for me, which is kind of nice to know.

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  36. I think dating as I knew when I was a teen is no more. It has been traded for middle school go out. I always thought that was an oxymoron till I realized what it actually meant. It begins with kids in groups and can last all the way through high school. They learn to behave according to the expectations of their group. I don't know if this is healthy or not. But some people think the hanging out in groups rather than one on one encounters has killed dating.

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  37. Zina, yes! I agree that we should be rooting for each other to be good parents, one of the reasons being that our children are going to be marrying people who we hope and pray have been raised and taught well. Thanks for the reminder to pray for one another's success.

    Whoa, France. That's all I have to say about that.

    Marintha, I'm so glad you brought up cultural differences, and I'm so glad the New Era adjusted its content for those differences. Good to know.

    Jendoop, I agree that my son can buck the trend instead of complaining about it. It's harder to do, however, when you're a somewhat insecure teenager who feels constricted by the prevailing culture. As bth (#21) said: "Conformity is the name of the game in high school." But, yes, you have a point, and we have encouraged him to challenge the culture and organize some casual double dates. That might have to wait until he's at BYU this fall, however.

    I wish I could respond to each of your comments, but I am enjoying the dialogue and am learning a lot! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences.

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  38. Oh boy…I don't want to be going against the wisdom of our church leaders here, but I sorta have a problem telling our kids not to date–1 on 1–until they're of marriageable age. On the one hand I get the wisdom–your less likely to get into trouble, less drama, etc–but on the other hand, you just can't help your feelings, who you like and who you fall in love with sometimes and to restrict young people from simply hanging out and being together just doesn't seem natural…or normal or something. I can't put my finger on it. Not to mention there are a handful of people I know who are married to their high school sweethearts–so just because you're not of marriageable age, doesn't mean you don't find the one you end up marrying. I can stand behind not letting kids go on actual dates until they're 16, but trust me….even a lot of crazy thing can happen when kids are in a group. So I don't know…I'm really conflicted.

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  39. "I can see how the emphasis on marriage in the YW lessons might be encouraging our girls to marry young. In my ward, for example, most of the young women are getting married by the time they are twenty."

    And marrying young is wrong because . . .? =)

    Just had to put that out there. I personally believe that children ought to be mature, smart, and ready for responsibility as soon as they graduate from high school. For young men and many young women, that will mean missions. For young women, that should mean that they are prepared to marry when they meet the right person, whether they are 19 or 29.

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  40. My oldest son (18) was extremely excited for my second to turn 16 simply so they could go on casual double dates together.

    You're right Melissa, the extensive prep put into dances cripples kids socially. My sons' friends now want to have planning meetings for every date- even if it's just a hot dog roast in the canyon.

    I'm constantly pointing things out to my boys that would be good casual dates– a free concert at the U, a walk to the local cafe for eclairs, a tour of the old Salt Lake Cemetery. And to some degree, they listen.

    My oldest has an adorable girlfriend (absolutely perfect, everything I always prayed for) and they have tortured themselves through high school trying to date other people and avoiding "going steady." They never seem to last more than two weeks apart.

    She has been an incredible influence for good in his life. Much of his desire to do well in school and to keep the standards of the gospel have been inspired by his affection for this girl. So would I tell him, "Three strikes and she's out."? Absolutely not.

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  41. I really believe that the elaborate rituals, creativity, crazy activities could be local. As a teenager in the 90's, living in Wyoming, I dated often. But the elaborate invitations and wildly creative dates didn't exist. Getting invited to the prom was as simple as a phone call.

    What I'm seeing in New York is that dating is still pretty casual–when it happens. And kids tend hang out.

    The over-the-top invitations should die. Seriously, that's just ridiculous and puts too much pressure on teens.

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  42. The silliest one I'd heard of was my friend J asking a girl to Homecoming with a jar of warm, shaken apple juice with the caption "'Urine'-vited …" Don't worry, he knew the girl would think it hilarious and that her family wouldn't object.

    I grew up in Arizona in the mini-Utah zone. It was fun to have good friends who held the same expectations and standards. But I didn't personally feel that asking my friend out on a date would make him feel like I was trying to date exclusively, or vice-versa. It was fun and we all seemed to just know who liked who(m?) and didn't worry about it.

    Now, I wasn't a girl who wanted guys to spend lots (or any) money on her, but the mantra not to spend money on other men's wives… Well that was always a little insulting. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's like, 'oh – you know for sure you aren't going to marry me? You see in the future and I'm not worth $5?' But I know that's petty, so I try to keep it at the back of my mind. I'll just teach my son to spend his money wisely and not wildly.

    I loved the college dating scene. It was nice to go on dates with my friends or my friend's friend and just get to know new people. You never know what's going to happen or who's going to strike your fancy. And I learned that it's ok not to go on a date with every guy – some guys you just know it's not going to work out. Gut feeling.

    Getting married young is an interesting issue. On one hand we argue that at 18 you are officially an adult. Make your life happen; make decisions based on what you know. On the other we have pressure to NOT make big decisions until the universe aligns and we are deemed able by those around us. Sure some kids are silly for marrying right away, but who are we to make their decisions for them?

    My husband went on one date in high school: Prom. He wasn't interested in the social expectations at his Southern high school and decided to worry about getting good grades, having fun with his friends and being as good of a kid as he could be.

    One more thought. From my pretty recent experience in college dating, the group hang out things are the opening to dating. For some guys, they just need to get to know a girl a little more before they feel brave enough to ask them out. And it solidifies friendship. So I guess we'll figure out what dating means nowadays when we reflect on it in ten years.

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  43. The elaborate date dance ritual is definitely an LDS/ Regional thing. I agree- its really over the top and unnecessary.

    In Illinois only 8 years ago dances were nothing like that. And if you weren't dating someone seriously, you could go with a group as just friends with your date. But that was the only time- if it was any other weekend guys only asked girls they were interested in and wanted to "hook up" with. Thus as an LDS girl whose reputation/ values proceeded me- I was rarely asked out- and when I was my date was sorely disappointed haha.

    LDS guys were free to ask out any girl they wished though (that drove me nuts!). I was so thankful when I finally got asked on dates at BYU-I and date I did!!! Despite not dating in high school, I'd say the dating I did in college was enough time to have fun and find out what I wanted and didn't want by the time I met my husband.

    So I say just let the kids hang out in high school and leave the dating to college. They will figure it out by that time.

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  44. One more thing- I remember dreaming of living in Utah where boys would date me because they liked me and not because they thought I would make out with them. The elaborate all day dance dates I had heard about sounded so wonderful.

    So I have to agree with what some others have said- just be glad your kids feel they can date group, casual, serious one on one, elaborate- whatever. At least they can. I sat home most weekends.

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  45. I enjoyed the OP and the comments. I immediately knew where this was taking place; that's not the culture here in Illinois.

    I can see how the elaborate asking and answering rituals could be fun, but to hold to those to the exclusion of more simple, casual dating I think is a problem. As a guy, for me to ask a girl out was always a daunting task. It's not fun facing that very serious risk of rejection. Being rejected is bad enough when it's a simple phone call. I can't imagine going to elaborate–and very public–lengths to ask some girl out and then being rejected. I'd want to go crawl into a hole somewhere and die. So if I were your son, I think I'd have the same attitude he has. There's no way I'd take that very public risk unless a girl gave me some pretty solid evidence that she liked me and would say yes to a date.

    I happen to be a fan of hanging out. That's what my son did, and it was great for his social confidence interacting with a lot of different girls in a casual and low pressure kind of way.

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  46. "I personally believe that children ought to be mature, smart, and ready for responsibility as soon as they graduate from high school. For young men and many young women, that will mean missions. For young women, that should mean that they are prepared to marry when they meet the right person, whether they are 19 or 29." Handsfullmom, I agree that the "right person" may come along at any time, but I am concerned that our youth aren't getting the dating and social experiences they need in order to recognize that right person when he/she comes along (and I'm not saying there is only one right person, of course). At nineteen, I didn't know who I was, much less know what kind of person I wanted to marry. In general, I think it's wise to date a number of people before committing to marriage. And most teens I know aren't "mature, smart, and ready for responsibility" as soon as they graduate from high school. Egads! It would be great if they were, but many of them are not.

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  47. Hanging out is great EXCEPT it can mean hanging out and making out without the respect that dating brought.
    If you realize that American teens are hanging out and having sex, and Mormon teens are probably hanging out and making out, it is still treating the physical relationship casually and is hurtful to their development.
    I think parents may be very clueless about what their teens are doing while hanging out.
    I was a teen in the late 80s. Dating still happened, but so did just hanging out. I have to say that in my single years in high school and at BYU there were times when a boy and I kissed and then the next day he ignored me, or the boy who kissed me and the next day he ignored me for a long time and then told me he wasn't interested anymore, a boy who kissed me and never called me, and one where he called me but I told him I didn't want to go out with him.
    I'd like to point out that in all these situations I was not crossing any lines, it was just kissing. My longest relationship before my husband was 6 weeks, so I had long periods of time to meet people and try to develop relationships with them.
    Anyway, I am pretty sure that "hanging out" does not mean there isn't physical stuff or romantic stuff going on. I view it as dangerous because it mimics the casual sex of the outside world which boys/men seem to do better with.

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  48. One thing I wanted to add — if (casual) dating is "dead" — when/how long exactly was it "alive"? It has to be a relatively recent cultural phenomenon, right? I mean, Joseph and Emma didn't "date," did they?

    I just am not too worried about it, and if I were (my oldest is 9 and I've lived in NYC, Cairo, Japan, Florida in the past 12 years), all I can say is that I am happy to live back in Utah now where my kids will have the chance to make friends with so many kids whose parents have similar values and goals to mine.

    I know kids can have great experiences and grow up to be wonderful people anywhere in the world, and probably my kids will be as eager to leave Provo as I was after BYU, but in the meantime, this is the childhood and adolescence I want for them.

    Finally, my mom had the So Cal 1970s dating culture and I had the 1990s Utah dating culture; we each married our husbands within 4 months of meeting them; she dated hundreds of boys. I dated a few. We're both really happy (I count myself lucky, too) in our marriages.

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  49. (I should begin this by telling you that I'm sixteen.)

    Casual dating is EXTREMELY uncommon.

    That said, there are a few LDS guys around who get the idea, and I think that's really cool.

    My first date was when a few of my friends and I were already planning to hang out, and one of my friends turned to me and asked if we could go as a group date, and I would be his date.

    It was no pressure, very casual, and really fun…but I am one of very few girls my age who has actually been on a date with no commitment afterwards. But I wish more guys would follow my friend's example.

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  50. I agree with jks' comment: "If you realize that American teens are hanging out and having sex, and Mormon teens are probably hanging out and making out, it is still treating the physical relationship casually and is hurtful to their development." I just wanted to add that it wasn't until I came to BYU that I learned about the particular phenomenon known as the "NCMO": the Non-Committal Make Out. There are still rumors around campus about a website where you could sign up to meet another willing person in a certain place on campus and make out with them for half an hour, and then go your merry ways. When the administration found out about it, I think it got shut down pretty quickly (so the rumors say). The NCMO culture is still alive and thriving at BYU, though, which I think indicates something about how people immersed in BYU view dating: it's something to be pursued "seriously" (as in, you've found someone and you're about to get married), or something to be taken super casually (i.e., "NCMO."–not that NCMO is dating. I think it's more like replacement-dating when you don't want to deal with the pressures of a real relationship, which, as casual as it is, usually involves some degree of commitment). I think this mentality contributes to the "dating is dead" problem, because it doesn't leave any room for "casual" dating. It's not really seen as culturally acceptable either to date multiple people to learn what you like or even to date just one person, steadily but "casually," to also learn what you like. Instead, it seems like dating is either one-on-one heading towards engagement, or supercasual non-committed making out. I guess I feel like that's a contributing factor to the NCMO problem and the dating problem: no one (in high school or, I think, in college) really feels like they can date around or date "casually" because it goes against the norm. It's either full commitment or zero commitment, and I think that's a problem.

    Anyway. I'm not very articulate on the internet. Sorry! These are just my observations…I might be out of line and they might have nothing to do with this fabulous post 🙂 Also, I mostly just think the acronym is funny (NCMO is pronounced "nick-mo"). And I did hear someone say the other day that "NCMO tears the soul apart," so maybe there's hope after all for dating among young single Mormons 🙂

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  51. kyliemm, I think you're extremely articulate on the internet. Your arguments are compelling and are making me more aware of the social traps I and the rest of students attending BYU could become ensnared in.

    handsfullmom, I'm wondering if you were married at nineteen or thereabouts (hence posting under the name "handsfullmom").

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  52. Que, thanks for sharing your perspective! I am 23 and got married when I was 18 to the first person I seriously dated. I certainly don't regret getting married when I did, because it was the right person and the right time for me. I do regret not having more dating experiences though. Not dating more in college was my choice, but I definitely would have liked to date more in high school. Going on casual dates is just fun! I went on 3 big dance dates in high school and probably 3 or 4 casual dates. It was just too difficult to arrange casual dates without it implying too much.

    The only positive to my experience is that I was able to avoid getting physically involved with anyone. (It was my personal goal to not kiss anyone while in high school.) Although there were certainly still opportunities, I think not ever having a boyfriend was a definite factor in that. I just wish that you could still have fun dating opportunities without the commitment.

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  53. It's nice to hear from some of you young people! Sharing your perspective helps me better understand today's dating culture, so thanks for chiming in. You sure sound articulate and intelligent to me. =)

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  54. anon, why yes, I did marry young, at 19, after one year of college. I still graduated and have had a very happy and full life. I was completely ready for it, as was my husband, who had returned from his mission just nine months before our marriage.

    Melissa, I agree that many of our youth are NOT ready for responsibility after high school, and I think it's really sad. However, I have also met some amazing people that age and I hope my own kids will be like them, ready to move on with their lives.

    I don't know that I agree with the premise that dating more necessarily equals being better able to choose a good spouse. I recently read a book review in the Wall Street Journal about a book called "the Art of Choosing." I haven't read the book yet (I've got in on hold at the library), but the article was fascinating. The premise is that sometimes we have too many choices and that contributes to discontent. For one example, they looked at cultures where arranged marriages are common and compared them to marriages where the spouses married "for love." After ten years of marriage, guess which couples were more in love? It was the ones that had their spouse chosen for them.

    I do agree that the over-the-top dance dates and the pressure to ask in a brand-new creative way is too much, but I think hanging out in groups in high school is a great way to include lots of people and that steady dating should be reserved for after high school.

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  55. I grew up in Pennsylvania and yearned for Utah culture…at least the dating part of it. Being in Utah now, I hope my kids don't get involved in the silly "creative dating"; it has absolutely no pertinence to real relationships. And the fact that it carries over into BYU makes me roll my eyes. I want sincerity and fun and getting-to-know-you in a relationship, not balloons or stabbed babies (!).

    So here's how I'm teaching my kiddos about dating (the oldest is only 11, so I have no idea if my theory will work out): My husband and I "date" our children. Individually, with conversation, an activity, and something to eat. They love it now. I hope they'll copy it later.

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  56. i just need to clarify that i was not in any way knocking utah in my previous response. despite its quirks, i am glad i live in utah. i LOVE seeing my kids hang out with many good friends who have similar values. where i grew up (not utah) i spent so many weekends all alone because most all my school friends were out partying. it wasn't like i was happily dating away my high school years elsewhere.

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  57. I wanted to write about this but thinking about teenage dating made me *shudder*. I moved to a new state the month before I turned 16 – from a place where I was settled with friends and would have gone on at least a few dates to a place with very few LDS kids who decided to shun the smart-but-not-as-pretty new girl. Those three years were the worst of my life. I didn't realize that I could be liked for who I am – let alone be attractive and date-able – until I went to college. Bleh.

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  58. Dalene, you make a good point. I definitely don't want people to think I am bashing Utah. I think my children would be quite unpleasantly surprised if we moved somewhere else. I am grateful that my children socialize with other teenagers who have similar standards and values. Unfortunately, it's easy to take this aspect of our culture for granted. Thanks for the reminder!

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  59. Oh, and Handsfullmom, I meant to say that I think the idea you mentioned about how having too many choices can foster discontent is fascinating, as well, and I'd be interested to learn more. I still think it's best to have a variety of dating experiences before settling down; however, being the parent of a twenty-year-old and an eighteen-year-old, I'm also thinking arranged marriages might not be a bad thing. =)

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  60. I had a boyfriend in high school. I married him 7 years later after we both had served missions. It's been 13 years of happiness. I felt incredible guilt for loving this boy, yet I could not deny that I did. It was difficult, but dating in high school (versus the hanging out, which I also did) taught me:

    1. To learn to trust another person with my heart.

    2. To care for someone as much as I do myself.

    We did hug. We kissed. And it was wonderful! We were able to keep things under control. Had I not married this boy, I still would have felt like the young love I was so deeply in, was a good thing for me. Maybe I just dated a good guy? Maybe I did. All I know is my own experience. Interesting post.

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  61. The elaborate asking and accepting practice is largely a Utah thing, in my experience. It's something that I wasn't exposed to until I got to BYU. While it was amusing to watch as others had fun with it, it was something I saw no reason to participate in.

    Group dating was a headache and I never liked it. I'd rather have a conversation with one person I want to know better than play ultimate frisbee with a half dozen other awkward teenage miscreants trying to avoid sexual tension. And since the only kind of "good" dating was group dating, I just didn't date much.

    I'm just glad I managed to get engaged without going on a single awkward date. If we can manage marriage the same way, even better.

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  62. After reading this, I have all kinds of thoughts that probably need to go into my own blog post.

    We live in CA. My daughter is 17. Not once has a boy asked her out and sadly the kids aren't hanging out, either.

    This has been such a struggle FOR ME because my daughter is cute and fun and deserves to have experiences like this before she goes to BYU.

    I am totally concerned that all of her dating will be done outside of our home and there will never be any parental guidance-in the form of talking about the date or emotions, etc. because she will be far from home.

    Part of the problem is there are very few kids in our ward her age, but three wards combine for seminary and none of these kids are hanging out, either. In fact, I once tried to host a seminary party and only got about 6 of the girls to come.

    I am sure there is some elaborate asking out going on for proms, but not too much. Our area hosts a "Mormon Prom" and my daughter went alone in a group, but the joke was whether or not these kids could even talk to one another or if they would break off into their usual boys here and girls there.

    So frustrating!!

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  63. My little brother mainly hangs out with his girlfriend, and they had been hanging out for at least 6 months before they became girlfriend and boyfriend, and they ocassionally go out on dates. the good thing about hanging out is they are usually at my dads, or my place.

    On another note, I live in Utah know of people who wanted to be different in asking someone to a dance so they just said "hey, want to go to prom with me?" talk about creative.

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  64. It always amazes me that these conversations can take place without any reference to personality types. For guys who are way out on the introverted side of the extrovert/introvert scale casual dating is unappealing and painful. This is true for both teenagers and adults. So do introverts never have relationships? Of course they do, but for them dating usually comes after friendship and not before.

    The model of dating outlined in the New Era, if it still exists at all, looks like something designed by extroverts. They enjoy it and the introverts mostly won't participate so there is less competition. Plus, if an introverted teenage guy does make a connection with someone he likes, he'll get lots of guilt heaped on his head because he wants to be with her rather than participating in lots of casual interactions with people his has no interest in. So most likely he'll just avoid the whole situation, which will make mom and dad happy until this pattern continues far into adulthood.

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  65. As an 18 year-old boy living in Provo, this was an interesting article for me to read (It was very well written, by the way). When the New Era on dating came out I didn't really read it or take it seriously because (at first glance) it only pointed out the major dating flaws in Mormon Provo culture that were so obvious to me. I didn't think it provided any definitive solutions to "the dating problem" outside of the standard "the first presidency advises you not to steady date in high school" stuff. However, after examining some of the articles more carefully, I think I can see what the church authorities are trying to do. As adults, parents, or anyone who is beyond their own era of dating can advise the youth all they want but nothing will actually change unless the youth, the generation that should be dating now, really understand the sacred nature of temple marriage. Of course, I may think that because I'm a teenager who (like all teenagers) feels, to some extent, like the advice of all those "older people" are limiting in some way. It is extremely difficult for married persons or experienced daters to accurately and effectively convey WHY the For Strength of Youth says what it says about dating. The purpose of dating is ultimately to prepare individuals for temple marriage. So why date if you don't understand temple marriage? The problem is, no teens can truly and completely understand temple marriage because they haven't experienced it yet. It's a huge leap of faith for teenagers to trust in the advice of their parents when pretty much all the teenage mind hears is "don't do this [girlfriend/NCMO/etc] – you'll thank me later" from the parents. So then what? As much as parents wish they could do everything for their children, every good parent knows that sometimes you have to let your kids find out how to walk by themselves. I'm not suggesting that parents and youth leaders stop trying to help teens to date properly, but I do think that the problem can't be solved by parents or other leaders by themselves. The youth really have to decide for themselves if they think the prophet's guidelines for dating are something that is worth committing to. No culture can change unless the individuals within that culture decide to change themselves. Then, eventually, the culture will be impacted. So how do parents get teens and young adults to date properly, or to date at all? THEY can't. But parents always have to keep trying, and never give up. Maybe someday a large enough proportion of high school kids will be committed to dating properly that the cultural norm will change from "marathon dating" to "proper dating," and casual dating will be reborn. Then again, maybe not, because we live in a pretty imperfect world. However, Christ taught to "be ye therefore perfect," so even though current dating culture probably won't be morphed into what we would want it to be ideally, youth everywhere still need to try because it's the actions of the individual that ultimately effects the population.

    This feels a little scatterbrained. But did any of that make sense? I hope you get what I'm trying to say.

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  66. OxyMoron, you sound like an intelligent and articulate young man. You are right that it's up to today's youth to change the current dating trends, because we can't do it for you. Like you said, we can encourage and teach you, but you are the ones who have to implement those teachings. I hope you will! I think you and others like you can influence the culture by being proactive instead of being swept along by the hanging-out current. So go organize a couple of casual dates and have fun!

    Lisa, I hear you. I don't think your situation is unusual. My Californian nephews didn't really date until they came up here to BYU. My sister-in-law has mentioned how disconcerting it is to have her sons be far away, having their first dating experiences, without being able to give them guidance or feedback. She has felt left out of the loop. My daughter didn't really date until she went to BYU, either, and I feel some of those same left-out-of-the-loop feelings since she's older now, and wants to figure things out on her own. Tears!

    nMah, interesting thoughts about personality types and how the New Era model seems geared toward extroverts. I hadn't thought of it that way before, but you have a point.

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  67. anon #53, you are very articulate as well! As are you, OxyMoron. I really like the introvert/extrovert idea; as an introvert, I was never a part of the high school dating culture. It was mostly the extroverted, super social/"popular" kids who were into dating. None of my friends were. We were a little bit sad about it, especially since so many lessons in our young women's classes seemed geared towards the dating crowd, but we got over it, for the most part. Unfortunately, I still think the same thing goes on at BYU–the extroverts are the ones doing most of the dating, while people like me and my roommates have always been pretty left out of the dating circle. I think it's true that we need to be more proactive (although I did read in the New Era that it's "not appropriate" for girls to ask boys on dates except for to girls' choice dances, which I thought was weird…it is 2010, after all, not the Victorian Era), but at the same time, even the most proactive and social of my rather studious, introverted roommates has only been asked on one date in the past year. For me, this indicates more of a problem with the BYU dating style than with her, and one of the culprits is, I think, the introvert/extrovert issue.

    Anyway, I don't mean to raise more issues. What a fascinating post!

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  68. The comments about parents being out of the loop from their children's first dating experiences interest me.

    I really don't care for the fact that I met my now-DH and dated him completely without his parents or my parents being involved. At nearly-30 and living in entirely different time zones, neither of us really _need_ their involvement. but it somehow it seems there ought to be more parental involvement when adding another, adult person to the family.

    Even prior to that, they'd never met a single guy I dated nor did I feel comfortable (or want to) talk about such things with them.

    Thinking forward, I really would like to be able to be a sounding board and guide in my future children's lives. (Children, distance, etc permitting.)

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  69. I'm skipping ahead to write my comment, but will go back and read everyone else's comment. Promise! In the meantime, apologies if I say stuff that's been said before.

    To be blunt, so far as I'm concerned, the end of dating couldn't come soon enough. Dating did not generate any of my serious relationships, including my happy 20-plus-year marriage. I know it's different for many others, but for me, the best place to interact socially was the BYU science fiction club and magazine, where many of us fairly socially clueless geeks (male and female both) were able to interact as friends before entering into higher-risk (as we saw it) romantic relationships. Not surprisingly (to me at least), many marriages came out of that group–because we were free from that social pressure. My wife and I only went on two official "dates" before getting engaged–but we had been friends for four years.

    I worry sometimes that in encouraging dating as a means to move young adults past their fears toward more serious relationships, we may be stressing the means rather than the end–a means that works for some people but not others. Must we truly have only one approved pattern of social development? For those kids who are utterly miserable at dances and dates, why make them go? They won't be at their best there, and thus quite unlikely to attract any potential mates. (Speaking of which, I'd like to see a study of how dating ties into marriage patterns for different people…)

    It's also true that there's a lot of variation from place to place. Casual dating in the area where we live (western Wisconsin) isn't a possibility for the LDS kids, because in the local culture, if you go out twice with someone, the two of you are going together. Period. Going out with someone else after that gives you a bad reputation. That being the case, I was just as happy when our oldest child decided not to date at all until college. (The fact that there wasn't a large choice of LDS kids here for him to date was a factor too, I'm sure.)

    A final story: I just heard from an LDS friend living in Iowa about her son's (a senior in high school's) upcoming prom experience. He has a date to prom. But he and his (male) friends are getting together for the prom dinner on their own, while she and her friends are going out to dinner on their own. I think they're all meeting at the dance. Which kind of eludes the whole point, as far as I've ever understood it…

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  70. Another comment (as I've now read through what other people have said):

    Several people have commented on the importance of dating many people so you know what it is that you want in a partner. But I'm not really sure that dating is a good way to do that. Friendship, at least for some of us, was a far better medium for getting to know people than dating was. And yeah, friendship and dating can go together in some cases, but honestly I think it's better preparation for marriage (and a relationship that can lead to marriage) to have good friends of the opposite gender and to do things together with them — not just fun things, but meaningful real things like working on projects together. For that matter, playing Dungeons and Dragons in a group (if you like that sort of thing) probably gives you a *much* clearer picture of a person's character than going on a date with that person.

    Do people who go on fewer dates take longer to marry? Not from my (highly unscientific) observations. I remember the friend from my freshman year of college who went on the most elaborate dates of anyone I knew. He dated all the time. He still isn't married.

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  71. Jonathan Langford does make a great point that it may be a false assumption that one's marital potential dependent on one's dating history.

    For me, a variety of dating experiences helped me say, "Ok, now that I know him well, why would I and why wouldn't I want to live with him for the rest of eternity?" My first boyfriend was always the basic unit of measurement and thereafter they were often weighed for and against one another. It helped me learn to recognize and weigh the qualities of a suitor. (Things like respect, ambition, commitment, planning, etc.) Maybe I might have also learned those skills if I'd had a wider friend base as opposed to the trial and error of dating 🙂

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  72. Melissa–there is an interesting article in the NYT about how the changing trends in how we communicate with each other affects our relationships. It's mostly about younger children and how it affects their friendships, but from what I've observed and some of the comments I've heard from young adult women, I suspect the trend can affect dating-type relationships as well. Here's a link to the story. The question they pose: …"whether all that texting, instant messaging and online social networking allows children to become more connected and supportive of their friends — or whether the quality of their interactions is being diminished without the intimacy and emotional give and take of regular, extended face-to-face time." intrigues me.

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  73. Dalene, your link didn't come through, but I would like to have it posted here, so if you can link the article, that would be great. I think technology certainly does play a huge role in social/dating relationships. I've watched the younger set text their boyfriends/girlfriends almost continuously, it seems, and it keeps them in constant contact, yet they aren't actually speaking or having face-to-face contact. I have wondered if this adds an element of, for want of a better term, artificial closeness or skewed intensity to their relationship. Interesting to think about.

    Jonathan Langford, you have a point. True, we shouldn't stress the means over the end, and many people find their spouses through avenues other than traditional dating (however we define it these days)–and these avenues may be preferable for many, especially those of us who are introverts. BTW, I think I knew you at BYU. Were you there around 1985 or so?

    Great comments, everyone! This has been an interesting discussion!

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  74. Melissa,

    Yes, I attended BYU from 1978-1980 and again (post-mission) from 1983-1990, where I got a BA and MA in English, together with a fairly well-deserved reputation for eccentricity. (One that has apparently been passed on — our oldest son, now on a mission, was the Cloak Boy of the BYU silliness a couple of years ago, if you happened to read about that.)

    I'd be interested to know where you remember me from and trade reminiscences. Email me at jonathan AT langfordwriter DOT com. (I hope including an email address in this fashion is acceptable here…)

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  75. I didn't date in high school, and didn't really date in college, either.

    What I had instead were friendships, which fulfilled my social and emotional needs.

    I met and married my husband at 21 (having been a fully-formed, self-supporting person from 17 on); he, too, was a fully-formed, self-supporting person, ready to be married and have a family.

    We don't encourage our four children to date at all. Friendships? You bet! Actual productive time spent with a variety of people in situation with adults present as mentors? Yes! Hanging out and playing video games? No. Serial monogamy? No.

    American 1950s-style "dating" is not necessary for social fulfillment, good social skills, emotional health, or marriage. I promise.

    I'm very excited if there is a "retrenchment" movement in LDS dating! The over-the-top expectations are really unhealthy, in my opinion, and lead teens to expect serial monogamy as a norm, and "giddy" as preferable to "joy."

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  76. I went to high school in the D.C. area, my husband in Provo. Our teenage dating experiences were radically different.

    My husband's worst experience with an elaborate "asking" ritual was when he found a bowl of goldfish crackers on his porch. His name was on the bowl, but there was no other information about who had put it there or why. His family munched the crackers up, and thought nothing of it . . . until a girl showed up on his porch for their date.

    Apparently one of the goldfish crackers had a tiny note stuffed inside of it — but it was eaten up!

    The girl was from my husband's previous high school (so he didn't even know about the dance), and had been too shy to call him and find out his response. He, being the good lad that he was, put on a suit and tie and went to the dance — but everyone else was in a tux, had a nice dinner, limo, etc. So, awkwardness was in full force for the evening.

    After that, my husband decided to reject the elaborate date altogether. A bunch of guys from his high school started a faux-fraternity called "Gamma Delta: The Brotherhood of the Cheap Date," and would compare notes as to who could come up with the most creative, fun, low-budget dating ideas. (I still mock him mercilessly for this admittedly-kinda-adorable idea.)

    As for me — I didn't date at all until college at the University of Utah in the mid-90s. There, I found this peculiar phenomenon: I was more likely to be asked out on casual dates by non-LDS guys. These were young men who had grown up around church members, and so were well aware of LDS standards, fine with it, and were happy to go out for a date or two, enough to find out if we clicked. (We didn't.)

    The LDS guys I met at the Institute made dating feel like a job interview, especially if they were a recently returned missionary and looking for an Eternal-Companion-with-a-capital-E. I had one date where the conversation was essentially a list the young gentleman made of all his likes and interests, then frowning a bit when mine didn't match up ("This is my favorite kind of food. How does it taste?" "Do you like discussing history and economics? That's what I like to discuss." In the car: "Listen to my favorite radio station. Do you like 80s music as much as I do?") I felt kind of cheated — he wasn't really getting to know me this way!

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  77. Brooke Shirts, lol. I wonder how many dance invitations have gone unnoticed or gone to the wrong person, resulting in zany mix-ups and misunderstandings like the one you describe.

    Also, at BYU I dated many "interview boys" like the ones you encountered at Institute. One of my prospective blind dates interviewed me over the phone before he even asked me out, asking me how many children I wanted, whether I read my scriptures daily, and—the weirdest question of all—whether I was patriotic. Needless to say, that one didn't work out.

    Jonathan Langford, my BYU coed daughter was very excited to learn that Cloak Boy is your son. She says he's a folk hero on campus.

    NotMolly, I appreciate your thoughts—I agree that friendships, rather than serial monogamy and hanging out, are key, whether one is dating in the traditional sense or not. I also think it's great that you and your husband were "fully formed" when you met—I wish more of our youth were that prepared for marriage.

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  78. Aside: WHY OH WHY do we still use the term "coed"?? It's kind of sexist. Women were integrated long, long ago into college life, and it really emphasizes how women are the "other"–men are just students, but women are coeds. It's kind of a strange language artifact.

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