Older LDS adults try to find a place in the dating game

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A guy and a girl sit awkwardly on a date. Some LDS single adults in their late 20s and 30s believe the dating game is outdated, while others use their experience to meet others weekly. (@DatingFLL/Twitter)

Dating in the LDS young adult world can be like a real “Holy Grail” quest. From recurrent marriage talks to wedding advertisement to ring promotions on the radio, the pressure to get married is tangible for many in Utah.

But there is no age to enter or leave the dating game. Whether it’s by choice or not, groups of “older” LDS adults are still in the running to get married, and their extra years put them in a spot to play a more challenging game than those younger than them.

They attend YSA ward activities, use apps like Tinder or join dating websites. Some have found ways to remedy the challenge of finding their better half by using new approaches.

Zack Oates, a 29-year-old BYU graduate who has published over 150,000 words on dating in his blog, firmly believes in his “three points rule” when it comes to pursuing another in the dating sphere. Oates says the three points rule, as described in his YouTube video, “is all a game.”

Oates says a man and a woman each start out with zero points, and their dating actions, such as calls or gifts, award them certain points. Once someone hits three points, they’ve done enough to try contacting the other person.

For instance, a text or call constitutes one point. A Facebook message or post is half a point, while leaving a voicemail or stopping by someone’s apartment is two points. “Whenever you get to three points, you’re done. Do not contact them,” Oates said. According to him, if a man calls a woman, he now has one point. If he then drops something off at her apartment, he has two points, giving him a total of three points. He’s done.

Oates, who advises others to use his three point rule, or his “dating game,” said it serves as guideline to know when to give up pursuing a person.

Zack Oates and Taylor Church at an event. Older LDS singles can find it difficult to find a place in the Mormon dating culture. (Taylor Church)

Oates is now engaged, and he said before that his approach was to date as many people as he could at once. “It was a terrible idea,” Oates said. “I equate it to a little boy putting 10 different kinds of candy in his mouth at the same time and then trying to figure out which was his favorite.”

UVU graduate Greg Vandagriff, 30, said his approach is to pick two or three girls outside his ward and to date them simultaneously. “This can prevent you from being too clingy and invested while shielding you from blowback of ward drama,” he said.

Whatever the approach, being single in one’s late 20’s or 30’s in a culture that intensively focuses on marriage and family does not come without challenges and heartaches.

Vandagriff said he often feels disconnected and has a hard time fitting in with friends his age, the majority of whom are married. “It’s hard to see my friends move on with their lives while I’m in a state of arrested development,” Vandagriff said. “I feel so far behind my peers.”

Vandagriff said many of his older single LDS friends left the church as a result of this disconnect. He said married couples can find many practical incentives to stick with the gospel because they are raising a family, but it can be more challenging for single adults.

This disconnect and feeling of loneliness is felt in moments spent with younger people at YSA ward activities or at church, according to Vandagriff. In his situation, as a 30-year-old active in the professional world, it’s hard to find a place during game nights when he is asked to play Signs or Mafia.

“The older you get, the more infantilized everything feels,” Vandagriff explained. “It reinforces the feeling that you’re not a full adult unless you’re married.”

Finding a place between the YSA ward and the family ward can generate frustration and confusion in older single member’s lives.

Stephanie Tenney, a 32-year-old church member, said other people’s remarks can be hurtful as well. “Someone said to me once, ‘Maybe you’ll be able to marry an apostle when his wife dies when you get older.’ I hate getting compared to older single women in the church. I’m only 32, not 50,” Tenney said.

An advertisement on Taylor Church’s Kickstarter video about his book, “I’m Trying Here.” Some older LDS singles find comfort and inspiration in putting their stories out there. (Taylor Church)

Taylor Church, a 28-year-old from Utah, decided to put his heartaches and dating experience down on paper in a book titled “I’m Trying Here: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Misadventure.”

In his book, he talks about the last five to six years of his life being single. While most books on the topic of dating give tips, Church simply wanted to tell his story to reach people who can relate to his experience. The book is available on Amazon and at Pioneer Bookstore on Center Street in Provo.

When asked about his opinion on the dating scene in Utah and his experience, Church said Utah is a perfect example of the paradox of choice. With two crowded universities of single adults looking for the same thing (marriage), it becomes an endless choice, making it difficult to choose and be satisfied.

“People often have deal breakers lists and high expectations, but it comes down to biochemistry,” Church said. “It’s important to love yourself, be yourself and do what works for you.”

For Church, writing his book on his love misadventures allowed him to exteriorize his cynical feelings and find himself.  More information on his book and experience can be found on his Kickstarter page.

Those who choose to look on the bright side may find the difficult wait and heartache also comes with advantages, as maturity and life experiences can play in their favor.

“You can afford to go on nicer dates,” Vandagriff said. “You don’t have to worry about school and can afford more interesting experiences that are more memorable than going to the tumbling gym or Comedy Sportz for the 94th time,” he said.

Oates said people are a lot more open and honest as they get older. “When you’re older, you just know what has and hasn’t worked and don’t feel like there is enough time to play games,” he said.

As Oates explained, the search for a companion can be heart-wrenching hard at times, but dating never works until it does. “Every date you go on, except with the last person you’ll ever date, will end in failure,” Oates said. “It took me over a 1,000 dates to find my fiancee, and she and I happened because we were both ready for love, not because we were both looking for love.”

Church said people need to be open to getting hurt because it’s part of the process. “Every life experience will help you with the next one,” he said.

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