Readers’ Forum: A comparison of BYU dining and dating

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Anyone who walks into the Cougareat this semester is familiar with the hiring advertisements.

“$50 for referring a friend!”

“Free smoothie upon hire!”

“Great working conditions and free food!”

All of these are appealing ideas. In the past, the Cougareat hasn’t struggled to be fully staffed, even with COVID-19 restrictions. So why this semester?

I asked myself that question as I was walking around — if I wasn’t already employed, why wouldn’t I work here? The simple answer — I didn’t want to. I had tried working in the food industry before, and it was not a fun experience for me. It didn’t matter that the last job I had working in food was a vastly different environment — classy sit-down restaurant versus food court — nothing about working there seems like a good fit for me. But surely, not everyone would feel the same way. Not everyone was booked on jobs like I was, right? So why weren’t people applying?  

The same thing seems to be happening in Provo dating culture. Ask any single student what they think of the Provo dating culture. After rolling their eyes and groaning, they’ll probably say something like “it’s the worst.”

Here at BYU, most students are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which teaches that marriage and family are some of the highest priorities. While it may not seem like it as wedding announcements stack up on your fridge, the rate of BYU students who graduate married is declining. How is that happening? Nearly everyone is hiring, so to speak. Mutual profiles boast of excellent baking skills or the promise of comfortable hoodies — not unlike the desperate pleas of the Cougareat. Everyone is hiring, but no one wants to work there. 

Why is it that thousands of BYU students, who want to date and get married, aren’t? When looking at an individual basis, it could be as simple as the answers their married friends tell them: “It’ll come with time, you just haven’t met someone who is right for you yet.” That may be true. But thousands of us? We’re more like the staffing issues on campus than we realize. The reasons why students won’t work at the Cougareat are similar to the problems with dating culture in Provo.

First, lots of students feel like they can get a better paying job somewhere off campus. Why work in a food court for around $10 an hour, when you could work at a grocery store as a bagger for more than that?

In dating, we tend to fall for a common mentality — there might be something better if we just wait it out. Sure, your ministering brother is nice, but maybe if you just flip your hair in the right way, his roommate will finally notice you. The girl in your dance class is fun to be around, but you’re pretty sure it won’t go anywhere based on the two times you’ve danced with her. We all know that the concept of soulmates is “a fiction and an illusion” according to President Spencer W. Kimball, but this mentality of just waiting for something better is a soulmate-seeking mentality. 

Of course, there’s a difference between ignoring good options that are right in front of you and avoiding disastrous relationships that may be abusive, toxic or even just not fulfilling. I’m not suggesting that you ask out people you don’t even like — I’m suggesting that we all need to stop making snap judgements when evaluating our peers. Can you really say that you don’t get along with someone, or that “it wouldn’t work” when you haven’t even talked beyond the typical hometown/major/mission/year in school discussion? 

Another reason students might be avoiding the Cougareat is the work involved. Like I mentioned, I am not particularly fond of the food jobs myself. Dating is exhausting work for most of us. Taking the time to set up a date, plan everything, get ready and mentally psych yourself up to go is practically a marathon some days. Once you have put all of your energy into getting to know this person, you have to do it all over again — whether with them or somebody else — until you finally find someone to marry. 

I understand the exhaustion of dating. I keep a running total of people I have gone on dates with since I came home from my mission in December 2018. As of this article, the number is 53 dates, and that’s not including the two months I dated someone. I haven’t found anyone to marry, so I must keep going. It is exhausting, but especially when I have the mentality of sorting through a haystack to find a particularly attractive needle. 

Tammy Hill, Preparation for Marriage (SFL 223) professor and licensed marriage and family therapist, tells her students that focusing on becoming friends is a good rule of thumb. If you just focus on making friends with others, it becomes a lot easier to stop thinking about the small things that we often sweat. Now, I can hear what you’re thinking — it’s not that simple. And you’re right, it’s not. That is, it’s not simple without practice. If you can practice seeing those around you as potential friends instead of potential spouses, pretty soon, it’s very easy to be friends. When you’re friends with someone, it’s a lot easier to ask them on a date to get to know them better without the pressure to put a label on it by date three. 

The last problem facing the hiring department of BYU Dining Services is the perpetual hopelessness that is felt as the staffing issue stretches on week after week. Every time I see the Wendy’s grate down, or see the largely empty vending machines, I shake my head and think “something has got to change, but the person to change it isn’t going to be me.” I avoid eating in the Cougareat because the lines are so long. Everyone knows it’s a big problem, and it seems like it’s quite literally a problem for someone else to fix. 

After about six months of exhausting first dates immediately following my mission, I decided to take a break. Jumping back into the dating scene had a very similar feeling to approaching the Chick-fil-A line at noon — painful and long. You don’t even need to take a break to feel this way, all it takes is a lesson from your bishopric on the importance of marriage. You’ll find yourself looking at the sea of people in your YSA ward and feeling incredibly overwhelmed. After all, you know what it’s like to be rejected or go on a terrible date. Why even try? 

This feeling is one of the hardest to overcome. I wish I had a quippy piece of advice that would entirely change your perspective on the hopelessness. Unfortunately, I feel it just as strongly some days. The one piece of advice I do have for you is to remember that the Cougareat will get staffed. The vending machines will get filled. If things look particularly bleak right now, hang in there. Don’t give up completely. Do take care of yourself and take breaks as needed, but one day you’ll get to the front of the Chick-fil-A line of dating and realize that it was worth every excruciating minute. 

Claire Gardner

West Jordan, Utah

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