Dating and marriage occupy an inescapable part of BYU culture: classes discuss improving marriage and family relationships, the cliché “ring by spring,” and refrigerator doors plastered with wedding announcements. However, this focus on marriage can weigh heavily on those who continue to hope for an eternal companion to materialize, especially as graduation nears and then passes.
“At first, graduating single, I thought I was a failure,” said Blair Francis, who graduated in 2016. “I thought that I hadn’t done something right or that I wasn’t good enough since I didn’t find an eternal companion among all of these Mormon students.”
However, Francis’ situation isn’t as uncommon as stereotypes would lead people to believe. Roughly one quarter of BYU students are married, although that percentage increases the further along students are in their education. Among BYU seniors, 38.3 percent of students are married, leaving 61.7 percent single. At BYU’s December 2016 graduation ceremonies, 44.6 percent of all graduates were single. Individuals need to keep this in perspective both before and after graduation. Marriage isn’t the only measure of success.
“I realized,” said Francis, “that even though the majority of my friends are married, … that doesn’t mean that I have failed. I’m realizing that graduating single gives me a lot of freedom. Also, even if I had dated seriously or gotten married during my education, I probably wouldn’t have done as well academically. I know that God knows me because I am not married, as odd as that may sound. He knows how I am when I am in a relationship and that I would have had my priorities mixed up. So, now that I have graduated I feel fine about being single. I have faith and confidence in the Lord’s timing and I’m grateful He has blessed me to exercise my agency.”
There are many ways to stay positive and keep things in perspective as graduation nears.
Work towards goals and interests, but don’t choose hobbies or interests just based on improving chances of dating or marriage. “Do what you can to better yourself, and put yourself in places where you can meet new people,” says Kristin Hardester, who graduated with a degree in elementary education. “Don’t worry about what you can’t control. You can’t control who will be interested in you, but you can control where you are, and the kinds of people you are meeting.”
Don’t date someone out of a fear of ending up alone. It is easy to become nervous about marriage and dating the closer graduation gets, and this nervousness can bring an urge to settle with the first person who shows any interest. Francis cautions against this, and reminds students there are life lessons they can gain by living life to the fullest, single or not. “You are young,” she says. “Live your life. Meet new people, meet lots of people. It’s wonderful that some people find their spouses so early, but I have learned to appreciate dating so much, because it has helped me figure out what I like or dislike, and what works or doesn’t work for me. Going on so many dates has helped me to shape what I am looking for, and most of all, what I deserve. Dating is a time of self-discovery: take advantage of it and don’t rush it.”
Dating and marriage do not define a person’s self worth. Everyone should feel needed and valued for who they are. “Dating is such a big part of BYU culture, and if you aren’t dating you start thinking about what you’re missing or what’s wrong with you if you’re not dating, and there’s more of a focus on that,” said Kate Fruehan, who graduated with a degree in history. “Now I’m a lot more comfortable with myself so the way I look at dating is different. I don’t put as much pressure on myself or the other person for it to be something amazing. I see it more as a chance to get to know them and for them to get to know me.”
Accept that everyone will have an opinion. It can be frustrating to be struggling to find “the one,” and be constantly reminded by friends, neighbors, family members, church leaders and complete strangers that “the one” has yet to arrive. According to Francis, the trick is to keep perspective and remember everyone has their own path to walk. “I was just at the temple last week and a temple worker who was performing confirmations was getting to know me,” she said. “I told him I graduated from BYU and that my roommate is going on a mission. He asked me if I was going as well and I said no, and then he asked me if I was taking the marriage route. I confidently held up my left hand to show him my empty ring finger and said ‘working on it, but for now I’m taking the grad school route.’ It was an interesting experience, and it continues to be, as people ask me about my relationship status after college.”
Don’t give up. Graduating single does not equal staying single forever. “For me, the end goal has always been the same: eternal marriage,” said Fruehan. “The journey is just different now. I still want to get married, I’ve always wanted to get married. I just put a lot less pressure on myself now than I did in college. I know I don’t want a shallow relationship and now I’m more willing to wait and find someone. I want to enjoy myself.” There is still life after graduation. There are still new things to experience, new people to meet, and new lessons to learn. “If you’re worried because you aren’t dating, do something about it,” said Francis. “If you are worried because you are dating and no one seems to fit, patiently wait.”
By Shaye Mullen
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