The dating circumstances in Provo are unlike any other place in the world. Thousands of young adults hoping for love, happiness and success are all shoved together into a four-mile radius between BYU and UVU.
With The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ emphasis on eternal marriages and families, the abundance of friends getting engaged (within three months of meeting each other) and married almost every single day of the year, and the soon to be 10+ temples within 50 miles of the city, the idea and prevalence of marriage is potent in the valley.
Adding on the fact that almost every single ward activity is focused on getting to know others (especially those of the opposite gender) and constant talks by YSA bishops about how they met their spouse and how to get a spouse, the pressure to get married is overwhelming.
In the most recent General Conference, President Russell M. Nelson said, “If it were possible for me to speak one-on-one with every young adult, I would plead with you to seek a companion with whom you can be sealed in the temple.” He went on to discuss all the blessings that come with being married in the temple.
Let’s be real, being married is a wonderful thing. Sharing your life with someone who you love and having them be your best friend who supports you throughout life sounds absolutely amazing to me. I wholeheartedly agree that everyone should heed the prophet’s words and seek an eternal companion.
But in this pressurized bubble of Provo where you are often only considered successful if you have a ring on your finger, couples get put through the ringer, individuals’ self-esteem gets slashed and potential relationships are ended before they even have a chance to begin.
From my own experience and from speaking with many of my friends, dating in Provo …. is kind of the worst.
BYU advertising professor Tom Robinson used to serve as a YSA bishop. While he was bishop, he realized that no one was really dating anymore and people were too scared to ask each other on dates. He started speaking at firesides about how we need to take the pressure off of dating because “it’s just dinner.”
He has been asked to give his dating presentation at several ward firesides and has also started a podcast called “It’s Just Dinner” with another BYU communications professor, Bob Walz. Robinson and Walz discuss in their podcast the “dysfunctional nature of dating in the LDS community” and how youth and YSA’s can have better success in dating.
Robinson believes that too often young adults in the Church don’t know how to date because they were always taught to not date growing up. Once they are all put together in BYU and being told constantly to date and find a spouse, they get scared because they don’t even know how to date.
Every single date seems to have such high stakes attached to it. You tell someone that cute boy from FHE asked you on a date and immediately the girls in the room all say “you guys would be so cute together!” and assume that it’s a done deal and you’ll have a ring by spring.
On the other hand, if you ask someone on a date, that person sometimes immediately assumes you like them and want to be “officially” dating them when honestly you just wanted to get dinner and get to know them.
Frequently people assume that all dates have to end in a second date and because of that, many just avoid the first dates altogether. They look at the person and say “I don’t think I could marry them because of this, this and this,” and push off any potential before they even have the chance to get to know them.
I’ve gone on many dates that Provo would consider “unsuccessful” because it never turned into a second date or a boyfriend. But if I went on a date, got to hang out with someone for a while, got to know them better and had a good time, how could I not consider that successful?
I have multiple friends who are so scared to ask someone on a date because they don’t know yet if they want to “officially” date that person further.
But isn’t that the whole point of dating? You go on dates to get to know the person. You start steady dating to be in a relationship and see if the relationship could go further and turn into a marriage.
“Dating is a happy consequence of going to dinner and marriage is a happy consequence of dating,” Robinson told The Daily Universe.
The whole point of being in a relationship is to learn about each other and become better together. Yet in Provo, it’s almost assumed that if you are dating someone, you are going to marry them.
The fact that dating turned from having fun to just about being married is backwards, Robinson said. Pressuring yourself into thinking every date has to have a perfect outcome because every date is someone you could marry, is damaging.
Forget about the idea that every person you go on a date with is a potential celestial mate, Robinson said. “Because quite frankly, they’re not.” Not every person is going to be potential spouse material for you.
Instead, his philosophy for young single adults is to just get out of the apartment and talk to people, to go out and do something. It can be dinner but it could also be anything else simple that allows you to have fun and get to know the person. By going into the date with no romantic or long-term intentions, young adults can get over the nervousness and scariness of dating.
Robinson said dating should be about having fun and it shouldn’t be about marriage. Dates are about becoming acquaintances or friends with someone, it isn’t about finding your eternal spouse one night over dinner.
It’s as if as soon as you put the label on the relationship, it gives everybody in the immediate vicinity the green light to ask “is he the one?” “Do you think you’ll get married?” Or my favorite “Why aren’t you engaged yet? You’ve been dating for two months now!”
Because this questioning and assumption of marriage is so ingrained in Provo society, it makes many individuals in relationships feel like they are behind in the marriage game. They feel that because they don’t know if they want to marry someone by month two of their relationship, then the relationship isn’t going anywhere and it should end.
Barely blooming relationships that are just starting to work are pushed into ultimatums and pressure from others who make them try to decide too soon if the relationship can turn into marriage.
A lot of people will attribute all of this to the ideology that they are “dating to marry.” If you are dating to marry, you are only going to date the people who you would want to marry. But if you haven’t even dated that person yet, then how do you know you don’t want to marry them?
The other issue I sometimes have with the “dating to marry” method is it makes so many individuals in relationships focus on the future rather than being in the present. People are so worried about whether they see themselves getting engaged in five months that they forget to work on and be actively engaged in the relationship they are currently in. Thinking about marriage so early can ruin your own intentions and damage any potential relationships, romantic or platonic.
Obviously, yes our goal should be to find someone we could eventually marry. But why is Provo so insistent on rushing that? Can’t we just focus on developing the current relationships, both romantic and platonic, that we have right now instead of worrying about whether we will get married in the next year?
Every single relationship you are in you learn. Whether it ends in heartbreak, mutual parting or marriage, dating is valuable to your growth as a person. You learn more about yourself and how to communicate, interact and mesh your life with someone else’s. You learn how to work together toward a common goal and you focus on improving everyday.
No one has to be ready for marriage when they say yes to a date. I suggest Provo learns to ask others on dates more and pressure each other less.
Let’s stop ending relationships before they even have a chance to begin. Because after all, it is just dinner.
— Cassidy Wixom