When is dinner just dinner, and when does mutual interest become a relationship?
In BYU dating culture, emphasis is placed on finding an eternal companion and getting married. However, by being so fixated on the marriage aspect of dating it becomes easy to overlook the importance of casual dating. An innocent invitation to dinner can easily be twisted to somehow become a declaration of romantic interest.
This often overinflates the significance of the invitation, which may in fact have come simply as an interest to get to know someone better. How can we reclaim dating, making it less about getting married and more about having fun and forming meaningful and lasting relationships and friendships?
For the Strength of Youth, an LDS Church publication for youth and young adults, offers insight into the purpose of a date: “A date is a planned activity that allows a young man and a young woman to get to know each other better.” It doesn’t say that the purpose of dating is to get married, or that all dates need to lead to a romantic relationship. Nowhere does it say that both parties need to be looking to get married, or that agreeing to a first date indicates a desire to go on a second. Sometimes, it really is just dinner.
“Guys, she’s not committing to be your wife,” said Tom Robinson, a professor in the BYU School of Communications “It’s just dinner. Quit thinking about it as a romantic encounter; it’s just dinner. She’s committing an hour to you to eat and to talk. That’s it. For the girls: it’s just dinner. If he doesn’t call you ever again, that’s fine. If you don’t like him, that’s fine. No matter what your roommates say, you’re not an item. It’s just dinner. You’re just having a meal.”
How can singles change their mindset about relationships and learn to enjoy casual dating again?
Take it Slow
If singles are unsure about their level of interest in another person, it does’t hurt to take it slow and treat a date as just that: a date. They don’t need to jump directly into a relationship with that person, or think that they must decide right now if there’s marriage potential.
“Just stop stressing over it,” said Robinson. “This is what’s destroying the culture at BYU, this is what’s freaking everyone out. Stop thinking, ‘Oh I’ve gotta get married, I’ve got to find the perfect person.’ We’ve just got to stop the pain that’s coming with dating because it’s supposed to be fun. A young man or a young woman can easily go up to someone and ask, ‘Are you going to eat tonight?’ to which the other person will obviously answer ‘Yes,’ and they can reply ‘Well I’m going to eat tonight too, you want to do it together?’ And then you go eat, and you go talk. It’s that simple.”
Not all relationships are meant for marriage, but all relationships provide opportunities for individuals to learn more about themselves and what traits they appreciate in a partner. While a dinner date can reveal a lot about a person, it won’t prove whether they are marriage material. As singles take it slow, and recognize there is no need to rush into a relationship or a marriage, they can appreciate how dating offers them opportunities to grow and progress as an individual.
Be open to possibilities
“This is the way I see dating at BYU,” said Robinson. “You identify all the people you would want to get married to, eternally, and those are the people you decide you want to date. This is totally backwards. You should date a ton of people, and you figure out who you like, the things you like, the ideals you like, and then you find this person from all these people you date. You don’t do it the other way around. If you do it backwards, you are limiting yourself and the opportunities you have to meet people and have fun.”
While singles might know what they want, they don’t always know what they need. While it’s easy to make a list, saying an ideal partner will be tall, dark and handsome, that might not be what will have the best long term results. Singles also need to realize there is no such thing as a type, especially when considering physical characteristics or interests. Looks fade with time, and hobbies and pastimes don’t reveal the true character of a person.
“I always hated the thing where they would encourage you to write out a list of all the qualities you’d want,” said Robinson. “That’s the most destructive thing you can do. Now, if you want to put something like has a testimony, and loves me more than life itself, those are two things you can have on your list. But beyond that, you really don’t know what type of person you like until you get to know someone.”
As individuals seek to actually get to know the people around them, they will find that they appreciate characteristics and attributes they had never even considered important before.
“You’ve got to give people a chance,” said Robinson. “If you limit yourself, if you have a list and you limit yourself based off that list, you’re not having the opportunities that you should. I hate people creating a false expectation of what their mate should be, because then you’re not giving yourself enough opportunities to meet people, and get to know a bunch of people. You don’t have a type. You don’t know if you like him or her until you actually get to know him or her.”
Unfortunately, going on lots of dates leaves room for lots of rejection. Whether recognizing someone isn’t the one, or being recognized as not the one, rejection can sting and be hard to get over. However, it’s important singles recognize the value rejection has in the long run.
“Getting rejected hurts, but the only way we would know how great it was to find the right person is if this happens to us,” said Robinson. “It’s the only way we know how great things can be is if we have experienced how bad things really are. If every person you asked out to dinner said yes, and every date you went on was perfect, and you met the right person, he or she went to the temple with you and you had perfect children, and you never had any problems, whose plan in the premortal existence was that? That was Satan’s plan. That wasn’t our Father in Heaven’s plan. Our Father in Heaven’s plan was that we get hurt, have problems and get rejected. I know it hurts, but you have to be prepared to deal with it.”
If the spark just isn’t there after going out to dinner, just be honest with the other person and tell them that while it was nice getting to know them better, there won’t be potential for a future date.
“Try to have dinner with those that you think you’d like to get to know better,” said Robinson. “If you like them and they like you, then go on a date. Maybe at that point you realize that you don’t really like them all that much, but that’s OK. Remember, the definition of a date is to get to know someone. And then, if the person asks you and you’re really not interested, just be honest with them. It hurts, and it’s going to hurt them, but just tell them. You’ll both get over it and move on.”
Remember, accepting a date doesn’t mean committing to a future together any more than extending a date invitation does. There is no obligation between the two parties for anything beyond the date, so individuals should feel comfortable expressing whether they are interested in continuing to get to know the other person. If not, be clear but kind when turning someone down. Don’t make it awkward later by avoiding interacting with them in public places or gossiping about them to friends. Just as people should feel free to express a lack of interest, people shouldn’t feel ashamed to express that they want to get to know someone better.
Have fun and keep it simple
Above all, singles need to learn to relax and enjoy the stage of life they are in. Dating becomes a chore when it is done solely with the intention of finding an eternal companion.
“Loosen up and have some fun in your twenties,” recommended Robinson. “Life gets so serious after you get out of school and you have to pay a mortgage and bills and student loans. Right now just take it easy. What happened to fun? What happened to having a good time? What happened to getting to know people, enjoying life and interacting with someone of the opposite gender? What happened to that? We need to get past the obsessing about marriage stuff, because marriage just happens. It’s a happy consequence of dating, and you just end up with the right person.”
Not every date will lead to an eternal marriage, and it doesn’t need to. Don’t look at every person that extends an invitation to go out, evaluating their potential as a celestial mate. Just have fun, and get to know them.
Be OK with not having it all figured out right from the start. Embrace the unpredictability and the ambiguity. It’s OK to not know where things will go right after a first date. But don’t fear the risk. Go on that date, give them a chance and be open to what could come after.
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