Lately I’ve been discussing our need to understand the fundamentals of dating because clearly we don’t understand them. If we did, we’d spend less time complaining how hard it is and more time having fun.
That can be challenging, though. A task can loom so large we wonder how we’ll ever accomplish it. But often once we start taking action, we find what once intimidated us easily under our thumb.
One of my former stake presidents often said, “The hardest part of home teaching is getting off the couch. But once you get in the car, home teaching becomes very easy.” Most tasks are like that — easier to do once we start doing.
Nephi exemplified that attitude. He faced every challenge confident the Lord would help him do what was needed. And some of his finest hours demonstrating that example occurred while he was single.
Be inspirational while single
Many LDS singles wonder how they could ever do what looms large before them. They know full well the Lord’s plan involves marriage and family. What they don’t know so well is how that plan will unfold for them.
“Who would ever go out with me?” some wonder. Others wonder how to navigate the terrain pain-free. The longer questions linger, the more needed the answers to those questions can feel.
Enter Nephi stage right. For the first 15 chapters of 1 Nephi, he was single. Think of the examples we find there.
Look at all Nephi accomplished while single. That example has inspired literally millions of people. Your faithful example can likewise inspire.
Step forward with faith
Although Nephi’s record portrays him as perfect, I have to believe Nephi was as human as the rest of us. We see him bemoaning his weaknesses in 2 Nephi 4. But we never see those weaknesses play out.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not losing sleep because I can’t see Nephi choosing wrong. I just sometimes feel he’d be easier to relate to if I could see him as the walking construction zone I know I am everyday.
Notwithstanding, we should still emulate Nephi. He always looked to the Lord. He always believed the Lord would help him do what needed doing. He also never questioned the tasks he received from the Lord. He stepped forward with faith.
Many LDS singles can follow that example to do what the Lord has given them. They know the Lord expects them to find an eternal companion and have a family. And awed by the awesomeness and apparent impossibility of the task before them, they need not refrain from taking action.
Just take action
In such moments, Nephi’s example is sustaining. The tasks he needed to accomplish seemed so impossible his brothers routinely provided more hindrance than help. But Nephi walked by faith. He didn’t always understand how he’d do what needed to be done. But he trusted the Lord would show Him the way. And he demonstrated that trust by taking action.
Case in point: Nephi confesses he crept back into Jerusalem for the plates “not knowing beforehand the things which [he] should do” (1 Nephi 4:6). It wasn’t until the drunken Laban lay before him that Nephi realized the path the Lord prepared for him required Laban’s severed head.
We all know how the story ends; Nephi did what seemed impossible in securing the plates. But he didn’t know the end from the beginning before he started. He simply took action. It was in the act of doing that the next steps became clear.
Likewise, many LDS singles face seemingly impossible tasks. They wonder how they could ever secure the eternal companion they seek. As impossible as dating might seem, we should all take a lesson from Nephi and simply start doing.
We don’t need to know the end from the beginning before we take those first steps. That’s what walking by faith is all about. If we trust the Lord and always look to Him the way Nephi did, the Lord will help us. Once we start doing, we’ll find doing becomes easier. What once seemed impossible can actually have a happy ending. And that will bring more joy in our journey.
Dating is easy when you understand the fundamentals. It becomes difficult when you don’t. Today I’m addressing a common difficulty among LDS singles — the dreaded friend zone.
We all want to belong. In the context of LDS subculture, that means experiencing the cultural rite of passage we call temple marriage. Accordingly, many LDS singles focus their efforts on securing that cultural rite of passage so they can belong.
It’s therefore discouraging to hear, “Let’s just be friends.” What we really hear is “You won’t belong.” After all, we’re not accepted within LDS subculture for having lots of friends. We’re accepted for having an eternal companion.
What’s more, friend doesn’t mean friend. Friend really means acquaintance. Most if not all interaction between you and this other person essentially ends. It’s an effective banishment from one’s social circle. No wonder the friend zone is despised.
Do we even know what friendship is anymore? Here’s a good definition: Friendship means accepting people for who they choose to be and leaving them better than when you found them. Correctly understood, the friend zone should be embraced.
We’re not interchangeable parts. Yes, I know President Kimball said any righteous man and woman can make a celestial marriage. But in that same discourse he also acknowledged the role of preferences in selecting a spouse.
The price to make a marriage work depends on how well aligned the couple is. There’s always a price to pay no matter who you choose to marry. Any two people can make it work if they’re willing to pay the price. But you won’t pay as high a price if you don’t have to work as much to align yourself with your chosen companion.
Some compatibility is desirable. Thus, those you casually date might not make the agreement with you to enter committed dating. Not being interchangeable parts means sometimes you don’t fit.
But it shouldn’t also mean being complete strangers. Being true friends with those you decide won’t go further with you in your dating journey reaffirms a special truth. The differences between you might mean they won’t be your partner, but those same differences don’t mean you reject them as people, as sons and daughters of the same Heavenly Father.
When we decide someone won’t go further with us in our dating journey, we should keep in touch. Doing so affirms their eternal worth doesn’t depend on their progress in their dating journey.
We need that continued contact for the second part of friendship — leaving people better than we found them. Often that means lending needed support. How can you do that unless you interact with others?
Yes, the time you spend with friends will diminish as you progress in your dating journey. You’ve decided to advance with one person, so you’ll rightly spend more and more time with that significant other.
But that doesn’t mean spending zero time with anyone else. True friends support each other. They know what’s happening in each other’s lives so they can give that support. And often the needed support comes in very small and seemingly insignificant ways.
I once had a relationship with someone we’ll call Brenda. After losing that relationship, I struggled emotionally. In that struggle I received an unexpected visit from another woman I had casually dated before choosing to enter committed dating with Brenda.
It was a chance crossing of paths. Our conversation lasted no more than ten minutes. But that helped me to feel my worth didn’t depend on having a certain relationship. As broken as I was at the time, I needed to feel that. But the good accomplished in that moment would’ve never happened had someone I once dated not been that true friend.
Be where you are
Our culture will never change unless we change. If we want a different reality, we must change the way we think so we then change the way we act.
Our focus always determines our reality. If we keep focusing on the end of the dating journey even though we’re still in the midst of it, we’ll be living where we aren’t. That creates confusion obstructing us from achieving our righteous desires.
We need to be where we are. Whether that’s casual dating or committed dating, being a true friend to whoever we decide won’t journey further with us can provide them with the self-worth and support they need to continue their own journey.
We should embrace the friend zone. And we can when we embrace true friendship as part of our character. Being that true friend with everyone will make us a more attractive and better companion to the one we do decide to journey on with. And that will bring us more joy in our journey.
Lots of things in life come in pairs, especially food. Apples and oranges. Peanut butter and jelly. Biscuits and gravy. Bacon and eggs. Grilled ham and cheese. On that note, my favorite pair is probably vanilla and chocolate. Yeah, in true Brigham Young tradition, we’re talking ice cream.
Of course, there’s more flavors of ice cream. But these two staples provide the foundation for the rest of the ice cream pantheon. As good as many other flavors are, it’s hard to appreciate fully other flavors without the two foundational flavors vanilla and chocolate.
In like manner, dating has two foundational “flavors.” And you can’t appreciate fully what dating is or how it’s done without the foundation.
Last week I described how dating is easy when you understand the fundamentals. Understanding the two “flavors” of dating is one of those fundamentals. After all, how can you successfully navigate the terrain when you don’t have clear markers along your path?
And no, the two “flavors” aren’t celestial dating and worldly dating. I’m talking about casual dating and committed dating.
Keep the start casual
Too many LDS singles place too much commitment at the start of the journey. They treat an invitation to go out like a marriage proposal. And the confusion they create obstructs their journey towards an essential ordinance.
Casual dating is just that — casual — so the commitment level is really low. Once the date ends, so does any commitment. And a date is just an agreement to participate in a specified activity at a specified time with a specified person.
What would happen if all LDS singles approached casual dating for the casual activity it is? There would be a lot more dating and a lot more fun.
Yes, dating leads to marriage. But filtering every dating decision through that lense places high levels of seriousness at the start of the journey that make it hard both to be ourselves and to enjoy the ride. We need stage-specific filters for our journey.
Good decisions usually require good data. It’s easier to differentiate when you can make good comparisons. That’s why casual dating is so important. If singles give each other the liberty to date other people early in the journey, they can get the data they need to make their best decisions regarding committed dating.
Commit to inquire well
The transition between any two consecutive stages of the dating journey is an agreement. When you agree to date one person who in turn agrees to date only you, you’ve left casual dating and entered committed dating. In contrast with casual dating, where all commitment ends with the date activity, in committed dating you’ve made a commitment that extends beyond any one date activity.
Casual dating is about narrowing your field of options down to one. It involves multiple experiences with multiple people in order to identify which one you most want to know better.
But committed dating is about evaluating the one option you’ve selected for the role of spouse and parent. Committed dating is about having multiple experiences with just one person in order to identify whether you want to share lives with that one person. You’ll share your life with your spouse who will in turn share his or her life with you.
Committed dating is a time for deep questioning. Elder Dallin H. Oaks has taught, “If you want to marry well, inquire well.” Committed dating is the time for that inquiry. Is this person traveling in an agreeable direction? Will this person’s priorities support who you want to become?
Be where you are
Dating is easier and more fun once you understand the terrain of each stage of the journey. That understanding allows you to practice this dating fundamental: Be in the place where you are.
If you’re in the early part of the journey, don’t act like there’s some huge commitment with what you do. There’s no huge commitment in the early stages. Likewise, if you’re in the later part of the journey, you should act in accordance with the higher level of commitments found there.
When everyone has the same map that matches the terrain of the journey, there’s no need for DTR. We know exactly where we are because we know what agreements we have and haven’t made. And we know what next step we need to take to progress in our journey.
We also free ourselves from worry over what someone else will think or feel. We can just be ourselves and enjoy the experience dating should provide. And that will bring more joy in our journey.
Why does dating have to be so hard? Thus has been the cry of many single Latter-day Saints. Everything’s complicated. Saying the right words could be significant. But so could saying the wrong words. Or nothing at all.
And, goodness me, you better not sit next to someone unless you’re a couple. And watch those knees. Touching signals scandal. And in like manner, a date signals marriage intentions. After all, what’s the point of dating someone who you know won’t do? Asking someone out on a date must mean something.
Of course, lest we forget, we eventually always encounter that pesky DTR. (For those living under a rock, that’s Define The Relationship.) Anything could mean anything, so we have to clarify what every little thing means. No one likes these awkward discussions which almost always end with someone disappointed. I mean, who really wants another friend?
Many LDS singles think this way. I used to be right there with them. For these folks dating is hard. But it doesn’t have to be if we understand the fundamentals.
The importance of fundamentals
Walking illustrates well the importance of fundamentals. Most of us can walk without any problem. We don’t lose sleep worried whether we’ll ever walk well enough or fear the future because of our lack of walking.
Why is this? We’ve mastered the fundamentals of walking. In fact, we’ve mastered walking so well we have no concerns about our ability to walk whenever needed. Walking is easy for us because we’ve mastered the fundamentals.
Conversely, seeing toddlers fall down doesn’t really surprise anyone. They’re still learning how to walk. They haven’t yet mastered the fundamentals of walking. For them, walking is challenging.
Everything in life — including dating — works the same way. When we understand the fundamentals of what we’re trying to do, we can execute with ease. It’s when we don’t have the fundamentals mastered that we encounter challenge and struggle.
The fundamentals of dating
This discussion now begs the question: What are the fundamentals of dating? LDS dating has conventions we all at least intuitively understand. But if we can’t speak them well enough to teach them to others, we don’t really understand like we think we do.
The ultimate purpose of dating is marriage, but that doesn’t mean marriage considerations should guide every decision in our dating journey. After all, dating starts with friendship, but what friendship offered only to those who hold the potential of offering something in return is considered true?
Yes, the dating journey has stages. To understand the fundamentals of dating, we must understand the fundamentals of each stage and how we move between stages.
Dating starts with Friendship and then can move in turn to Casual Dating, Committed Dating, Engagement, and Marriage. Agreements connect these stages together. If you don’t agree with someone to progress to a certain stage, you don’t progress to that stage.
Each stage has its own agreement. To progress to Casual Dating, you must agree with someone to go out on a date, which is simply a commitment to spend a set time with a specific someone doing a specific activity. Once the date is over, there’s no more commitment; that’s why it’s called Casual Dating.
For Committed Dating, you must commit to date only one person who in turn commits to date only you. For Engagement, you must agree to marry someone who in turn agrees to marry you. For Marriage, you must demonstrate your agreement by accepting the ceremony together.
The freedom of the fundamentals
This very brief description of the stages of the dating journey is just the tip of the iceberg in understanding the fundamentals of dating. You really need a whole book to get all the details.
Fortunately, I’m working on just such a book and will release it as soon as it’s ready, together with a book about habits and their role in LDS singles life. Progressing in our dating journey becomes even easier when we add together an understanding of how we’re biologically hardwired to function and an understanding of dating fundamentals.
For me, the greatest benefit from understanding the fundamentals of dating is the freedom. I’m not concerned what the other person is thinking. I don’t need DTR. I know exactly where I am in my dating journey because I know what agreements I have and haven’t made. And because I know what the next agreement I need to make is, I know what my next step in my journey is.
Dating is hard when we don’t understand the fundamentals. But when we do, dating becomes easy. And that will bring more journey in our journey.
Howdy! I'm Lance, host of Joy in the Journey Radio. I've been blogging about LDS singles life since 2012, and since 2018 I've been producing a weekly Internet radio show and podcast to help LDS singles have more joy in their journey and bring all Latter-day Saints together. Let's engage a conversation that will increase the faith of LDS singles and bring singles and marrieds together in a true unity of the faith.
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