Perhaps most importantly, it really made me think about the perspective driving many LDS dating decisions and the resulting challenge it creates. Far too many filter decisions about not just who to date but who they talk to through the perspective of the natural man or natural woman. Seen only through those eyes, we’ll never see the truth that everyone is beautiful.
A demanding lifetime pursuit
Let’s start with a disclaimer: In the words of Indiana Jones’s father, “I’m as human as the next man.” Conquering the natural man or the natural woman takes a lifetime, so we shouldn’t expect anyone to be completely covenant men or covenant women during their dating journey.
But we can expect improvement. When I compare the man I am today with the man I was 10 or 20 years ago, those men were definitely more aligned with the natural man. I’m not completely a covenant man, but I’ve made gains in that direction, and I’ve got the receipts to back that up.
That said, I still have work to do. That’s part of the value I gained from watching this documentary. When I first saw a full body shot of Lizzie, I recoiled. I wasn’t seeing the beautiful soul of the person within, just the shell of flesh and bone that encased it. The portion of the natural man still within me found that shell repulsive.
A common blind spot
I’d expect most LDS singles to respond similarly because that’s how most people respond. Natural men and women see only the exterior. Those inner qualities of character which have value in eternity have no value to the natural man and natural woman.
When that natural mindset drives dating decisions, LDS singles will always discount worthy potential companions who’d be ideally suited for them because those options aren’t “top shelf.” They could be sitting next to the very person who could make them maximally happy and never know it.
Worse still, most LDS singles aren’t even aware of how natural their mindset is. They equate conquering the natural mindset with keeping the standards, and because they keep the standards, they don’t see themselves as a natural man or woman. That self-image blinds them from seeing how well their dating decisions actually align with the natural mindset. And it’s that mindset obstructing their dating journey. They’re blind, and they think they see just fine.
A more joyful view
That’s where this documentary enters stage right. Natural men value youth and external beauty. Lizzie has neither, so of course she’s single. But as I listened to her story with an open mind and an open heart, I experienced a transformation. I began seeing more and more the beauty living inside her. And that inner beauty colored my view of her exterior. After an hour and 18 minutes, what at first seemed repulsive had become welcome in my inner circle.
What changed it for me can change it for LDS singles in their dating journey. Far too many insist so much on having “top shelf” they won’t even give the time of day to anyone perceived to be less. But the truth is everyone is more. And you’ll never see that vision until you embrace an open mind and heart while spending sufficient time with someone.
Everyone is beautiful. Acting on that belief at first is an act of faith. You act as though you see that truth even though you don’t. Pressing forward in that walk of faith, eventually you reap the reward of your diligence and patience as the vision opens up to you. And that will bring you more joy in your journey.
The natural man and woman (and yes, they are worth distinguishing) drive the dating decisions of far too many LDS singles to prize the worldly over the eternal. The natural mindset informs our assumptions about what’s acceptable, which in turn drives our dating thinking and dating behavior. When you view the bigger picture, it’s not hard to see we need to reject the natural mindset.
Begin with awareness
This may shock many, but it needs to be said because awareness is the first step towards positive change. The vast majority of LDS singles make decisions about dating with the natural mindset. They prioritize self and attributes that don’t really matter in the hereafter (or even very long in this life, for that matter) over what will truly matter in the eternities to come. Their thinking is all about this life and more specifically, their life.
In contrast, the covenant mindset prioritizes making and keeping sacred covenants. Covenant men and women value consistently living the restored gospel. Having a covenant-minded partner is more important to them than physical attraction, money, fame, or status. Covenant men and women will choose to date someone who may lack in those attributes but who has that commitment to the covenant lifestyle.
Now, I want to make clear I’m not suggesting any two active LDS singles should come together on that basis alone. We’re not interchangeable parts. We’re all unique, nuanced individuals, and our dating decisions should acknowledge that individuality. But that individuality finds best expression within a covenant relationship with someone who prioritizes covenant living.
Recognize the danger
Yet many LDS singles prioritize finding someone who today excels in desired attributes. They want perfection up front when the perfection they insist on having really comes only after a lifetime of work. It’s an impossible standard leaving many singles unnecessarily single.
And there’s a dangerous assumption lurking behind that standard. It’s the assumption your marriage is all about you — your happiness, your life, your eternity. But correctly understood, your marriage is not about you.
Yes, it has to do with you, but it’s not entirely about you nor even principally about you. Your marriage is about your companion and your children — the family you’ll create together. That often means giving up something you want for yourself in order to prioritize something for them.
That’s why the natural mindset is so dangerous. Thinking your marriage is all about you engenders a selfish approach to dating and marriage, one that prioritizes what you want over making and keeping sacred covenants. What do you expect results from that approach? It’s exactly what we increasingly see — more and more singles remaining single and more and more singles who do get married struggling to make their marriage last. You don’t get maximum happiness outside covenant living, and the covenant lifestyle doesn’t work when you prioritize self over covenant living.
Correct your thinking
And that’s why the natural man and the natural woman are enemies of God. When you prioritize self over covenants, you prevent families, which play a key role in our Heavenly Father’s plan, from being created and nourished.
The real obstruction is the insistence on having nothing but the best in a companion. It’s the associated idea that “settling for second best” can’t lead to happiness that prevents us from having our maximum happiness. Only inside sacred covenants can we find maximum happiness. Happiness is about giving, not having. So few of us are genuinely top shelf by worldly standards anyway that allowing the natural mindset to drive our dating decisions under the false belief that “settling for second best” leads only to misery is what’s really making us miserable.
If you want your dating journey to lead to maximum happiness, reject the natural mindset. Start by learning what you need to reject. Consciously choose to act with a priority of covenant living rather than selfish desire. And embrace Christ’s wondrous Atonement. When you do, He’ll purify your desires so that what you sincerely want is what you should want. Then making the right choices becomes easier. And that will bring you more joy in your journey.
That said, the deal breaker lists many LDS singles have align more with worldly values than eternal ones and are anything but short. For all the talk in church about being spiritual, evidence that LDS singles are influenced by the dating culture of the world abounds in the choices LDS singles make when dating. But when you understand their effect, it’s easy to see we need to scrap dating checklists.
Dating is not shopping
For anything in life, some approaches are simply more effective than others. Part of what makes an approach more effective is the joy it can provide throughout your journey and not just how quickly it can get you to the end. Case in point: The shopping list I mentioned earlier. Here’s a ready example of how we should not approach dating.
Although every relationship has a transactional aspect, romantic relationships are not as fulfilling and ennobling if they’re entirely transactional. In fact, purely transactional relationships always eventually break down. That’s because a tit-for-tat approach never produces the best relationships. They develop as each partner freely gives to the other without expecting anything in return.
Approaching dating with a shopping attitude promotes just the opposite. The relationship you have with the worker at the checkout stand is purely transactional. You’re not looking for anything long-term or complicated. You’re looking for a quick way to exchange the value you have (your money) for the value you want (the items in your cart) and then to walk away.
It’s not hard to see how that approach to dating isn’t all that effective, and yet our language betrays us. Language always reveals thinking, and when we talk about people who are no longer available to date as “off the market,” we’re clearly thinking of dating like shopping.
It’s how you think
That’s not the only way we approach dating like shopping. We talk about potential dating candidates in terms of their “market value,” with top shelf candidates having high market value and others having low market value. We scroll through dating apps and online dating profiles the same way we shop for something online. And we constantly think of dating as the search for someone with qualities we want, very much like the way we think of shopping as the search for something with qualities we want.
That thinking of dating as shopping naturally drives us to make a list. As I said previously, lists aren’t necessarily bad. If it’s short and contains only deal breakers aligned with eternal values, a dating list can be very effective. That said, the lists many LDS singles have are anything but short and often contain few if any items aligned with eternal values. For example, your partner’s height has nothing to do with eternal progression, and yet how many singles insist on dating only those who meet a minimum height requirement?
Proper lists for dating
As I said before, the best relationships come from each partner freely giving to the other without expecting anything in return. That doesn’t mean we’re interchangeable parts. Dating does have a transactional aspect, and using a few essential items to build a foundation for your relationship can satisfy that transactional aspect. That’s where the short list I mentioned earlier can prove effective.
The problem comes when that list isn’t short. We don’t want just anyone, so we add deal breakers to a list to qualify candidates. But every item we add reduces our dating pool and with it our probability of success. In this way, long lists of deal breakers assure singles stay single.
That’s why we need to scrap dating checklists. They represent a less effective approach that decreases the probability of success. In their place, we should embrace a new dating attitude, one less focused on finding perfection and more focused on supporting others to become more perfected. We could even extend that to ourselves focusing more on what we bring to a potential relationship than what we want to have. Making these changes in our thinking will produce more effective actions which in turn will yield more effective results. And that will bring us more joy in our journey.
Write your best story
Our reality is simply the combination of our results in life and the meaning we ascribe to them. A story is essentially a description of that reality. Stories are how we make sense out of life. That’s why we all have a story.
And that’s why, when your life starts going off plot, it’s natural to freak out. The story you’ve been using to make sense of your life doesn’t match reality. “Wait a minute!” some cry. “I’m supposed to be married by now. This isn’t how my story is supposed to go!” Or maybe you weren’t supposed to get married to a “consolation prize.” Or maybe you weren’t supposed to get divorced. Or maybe your spouse wasn’t supposed to die so soon. There’s endless ways to detail the difference between the story you’ve been using and the one you’re experiencing.
But Christ can make up the difference because He is the difference. Your goals determine your direction, and direction determines destination. How can you embrace the best destination unless you embrace He Who is the only Way to that best destination? Sister Johnson acknowledged that truth as she began her remarks with an invitation:
Partnering with the Lord is the only way to your best life on both sides of the veil. You simply can’t write your best story without Him.
Understand why you hesitate
As simple as that answer is, it isn’t easy. Partnering with the Lord often means surrendering your will to His. And the natural man and woman are nothing if not unwilling to be ruled.
Combine that truth with our biological hardwiring to resist change, especially uncomfortable change, and you’ve got obstacles to becoming your best self before you even begin. Sooner or later, we’ll all sense that accepting His will instead of our own will mean accepting some uncomfortable outcome, deviating the story of our life away from the story we’ve told ourselves is the one that’s supposed to be.
This is essentially why we hesitate to turn our story over to Christ. Sister Johnson said as much in her remarks:
Christ knows you and your potential so well He will guide you to what will help shape you into your best self, and He won’t allow anything to come into your life that you can’t leverage for that end. Sister Johnson confirmed these truths when she taught,
Embrace your best story
So it really comes down to this: Are you willing to let Christ write a story for your life far better than any you could write on your own? You can stay in your comfortable hovel believing in your own story and denying any deviations life will always eventually present. Or you can embrace the discomfort that will lead you to your best life by letting Him prevail in your life.
The truth is we don’t know everything we think we do. As discomforting as a turn in your story might seem, if that turn comes from Christ, embracing it will turn you more into your best self and your life more into your best life. As Nephi taught, “He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him” (2 Nephi 26:24).
Let Christ author your story. Partner with Him, and He’ll make more out of your life than you ever can on your own. Whatever discomfort you experience from so doing will turn around to your gain. When that day comes, you’ll look back on your decision to let Him prevail with gratitude. And that will bring you more joy in your journey.
Realize the difference
To understand the real roots of ghosting, we need to understand the difference between the natural and covenant mindsets and how they manifest in dating decisions. Although encouraged to be not of the world, LDS singles still live in the world. As such, without sufficient awareness, LDS singles more easily succumb to being of the world in their dating decisions.
The natural and covenant mindsets differ mainly in what they value most. Natural men and women most value self-gratification. What satiates the desires of evolutionary biology to pass good genetic material to the next generation dominates decision making. In contrast, covenant men and women most value making and keeping sacred covenants. They’ll give up some things of this world to have the things of the world to come.
That difference cannot be overemphasized. Placing higher value on the desires of evolutionary biology essentially turns the heart towards this fallen imperfect world and our mortal life in it. That priority says temple marriage and the world of eternity are acceptable only if natural desires are fully satisfied in this world of mortality. Exactly opposite, the covenant mindset places higher value on the desires of discipleship and turning the heart towards the eternal world to come.
Understand the values
Ghosting plays right into the natural mindset. But women ghost more than men because the natural woman doesn’t have the same values as the natural man. Both most value self-gratification, but what gratifies the natural man often doesn’t gratify the natural woman.
Natural men value youth and beauty because these women are more likely to bear healthier children. But natural women don’t value youth; men can play their part well into old age. Instead, natural women value looks, muscles, money, and status because these things make it more likely the woman will bear healthier children or the woman and child will receive support after the birth. It’s all about perpetuating this life in this world.
Ghosting plays right into that mindset. Because of what she values most, the natural woman is always looking for a better option that’ll make it more likely she’ll bear healthier children and/or have support after the birth. That’s what ghosting essentially is. It’s exchanging someone less desirable for someone more desirable based on perceived ability to perpetuate life in this world.
Choose the covenant
Conversely, the covenant mindset seeks to perpetuate eternal life in the world to come. Because it’s not natural to think that way, the covenant mindset requires conscious choice and discipline along the road of covenant discipleship.
King Benjamin taught as much in his classic discourse to his people. Mosiah 3:19 teaches how to overcome the natural man. The same prescription works for the natural woman. Just replace all the masculine words with their feminine complements. Either way, putting off the natural mindset requires conscious choice. And we do it through the Atonement.
But you can’t choose the covenant if you aren’t aware. Without awareness, we’ll all simply do what comes naturally. The world, either in ignorance or rejection of the covenant, fully embraces the natural mindset. This is the world where LDS singles live. Being not of the world means recognizing that influence and consciously choosing against it.
We can start by chasing away ghosting. That’ll take time and patience. After all, no one’s perfectly in the covenant mindset. We’re all both the natural and the covenant according to we’re at on the path of eternal progression. But when we start by recognizing that truth and then increasing our awareness of which decisions the natural mindset dominates and which the covenant, we can let Christ and His Atonement into every aspect of our lives. And that will bring us more joy 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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