Dating at BYU, coping with loneliness

Sydnee Gonzalez
BYU students opened up about their feelings of inadequacy that came from the pressure to date and marry at BYU. When it didn’t happen right away, some felt discouraged. (Sydnee Gonzalez)

It was 2017, and London Rhodes had just finished high school. After months of deliberation on where to go to school, she decided to attend BYU. In her community, it was a cause for congratulations. Her admittance also became the subject of light teasing.

Her bishop at the time teased her about dating in her ecclesiastical interview. “The next big meeting you’ll have with a bishop is when you’re getting married!” At the time she was only 17, but rumors of dating culture at BYU continued to fly and became a constant remark when others discussed her choice of school.

Rhodes realized quickly when she arrived this wasn’t the case. Despite having an open mind about dating her freshman year, there were few opportunities. Weekend after weekend she was home, studying and doing homework while other ward members were getting engaged.

“There was pressure from the stereotype alone,” Rhodes said when reflecting on this time. “I felt like I needed to be dating frequently so I could find an eternal companion quick, even though I wasn’t truly ready.”

A Boston University survey of college students across the country revealed that half of students in fall 2020 screened positive for depression and/or anxiety. Two-thirds of those students struggled with loneliness and isolation. Amid a pandemic and increasing school workloads, dating is still a central part of BYU culture and still causes stress.

Madi Michaels, a music education major, knew before even arriving at BYU that there was a robust dating culture here. “You go there expecting everyone to be dating like crazy,” Michaels said.

However, when she started school and met her peers, she also felt that the reality was different than her expectation. “In my ward, none of the guys were as friendly as I had hoped. I felt like it would be easy to go on a lot of dates, but in reality, I needed to put in a lot of work,” she said.

For others, it wasn’t the lack of dating that caused stress. Genetics student Hailey Kim had unique experiences dating at BYU as a woman of color. Even though she dated frequently before her mission, she felt like coming home made her see the dating scene in Provo in a new light.

“I never feel white enough for the guys here, because the majority of people here are white,” Kim said. “On the other hand of that, there was almost a fetishization of women of color. If a guy served a mission in a certain country, they wanted to date women from that country.”

The feeling of being either disregarded because of her race, or sometimes being praised for it alone, made Kim feel like she was in limbo. Along with this stress, coming home from her mission caused a deep pressure to date and marry quickly.

When relationships she pursued after coming home didn’t work out, she realized maybe she needed more time to work on herself and that dating wasn’t something she needed to do right away.

Commercial music major Nathan Winters also struggled with post-mission dating expectations. For him, coming home early from his mission complicated much of his dating at BYU. “After I was home, I tried to go out and date and make friends. That did not happen,” Winters said.

With so many feeling discouraged about their dating experiences, Bishop Miles Pitcher stressed that in his YSA wards he occasionally sees what he calls “discouraged daters.” “One’s self-worth shouldn’t be judged or measured by how many dates you go on,” Pitcher said.

BYU English student Brianna Miller experienced self-esteem issues from the pressure of dating and felt a push to rush relationships. “There was this feeling of ‘Oh, I need to get married soon because I know so many people who are,” Miller said.

Brianna Miller shares some advice for dealing with dating culture at BYU. (Lindsey Reese)

For many, the journey of acceptance and patience is something that will take time.

In a recent general conference address, President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve, spoke to single adults in the Church and gave hope for those who may feel discouraged. “Marital status has nothing to do with one’s capacity to serve. The Lord honors those who serve and wait upon Him in patience and faith,” Elder Ballard said.

In reflecting on how the culture surrounding dating can change, Miller felt like it was important to go at her own pace and not compare herself to others.

“The reality is, not everyone is doing that…It is okay to take your time,” she said.

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