There is more than one reason to date, but BYU students are often separated into two camps: those who want to get married and need to know if they’ve found “the one” by the third date, and those who don’t want to get married right now, so they just don’t date at all.
Professor Larry Nelson from the School of Family Life explains, “We have this mindset that the purpose of dating is to find whom you’re going to marry.”
However, this is not the sole purpose of dating. Nelson lists five reasons young adults should date:
1. For fun
Yes, dating can eventually lead to marriage. But dating also brings the opportunity to take advantage of two for one night at the Quarry or Color Me Mine. Don’t take it too seriously.
2. To help us become the right person
Nelson clarified this means a person needs “to develop skills that will help (them) be a good spouse.” He listed examples like learning to budget time and money, and learning to listen to others.
“Even if you have a horrendous date, it can end up being a success because you learned something about yourself. And you can go on a date purely with that in mind – I need to be in a setting where I can learn and grow. It will also help you as far as your identity in figuring out, who do I want to marry.”
3. To figure out what kind of person you are wanting to marry
This reason to date is tied to its predecessor. Before you can use the skills you’ve honed while dating to be a good spouse, you need to discover what kind of person you want to be your future spouse.
“We don’t marry a group of people,” Nelson advised. “We marry one person, and there are something things about individuals that you never see in a group setting.”
4. To learn to commit
Going on a first, second or even third date does not mean you are ready to commit to a person for life. Like Nelson said, “Dating is a chance to practice.” A chance to practice being committed to someone for two hours at a time (any longer is pushing it). Practice this kind of devotion by not texting someone else during the date and being genuinely interested in the person you are with.
5. To find somebody that you want to marry
Notice that finding someone to marry is the last number on the list. Don’t feel pressured to fit marriage into a certain timeline set by others, or even yourself. If you don’t click with someone, don’t continue to date him or her. However, be sure to give everyone a fair chance – just because you don’t think somebody is “marriage material” doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t date.
“What a terrible mindset to think, I’m going to ‘waste time’ by continuing to date someone,” Nelson said.
Don’t let the idea of marriage keep you from dating, Nelson counseled. It’s an opportunity for “skill development, learning about yourself and others.”
Associate professor Brian Willoughby said dating is about goals, and “There’s not necessarily a bad or good way to do it.”
Willoughby said that once you figure out why you want to date, it will change how you date and who you date
MAKING THE CHOICE TO COMMIT
The next step in dating is commitment. Whether it’s the commitment to date exclusively or to marry. Both decisions can be frightening. Here are a few rules to make the choice easier:
Stop looking for your soul mate
In a 1976 BYU devotional address, President Spencer W. Kimball asserted “ ‘Soul mates’ are fiction and an illusion.” He also said that any good man and any good woman can be happy together if they are willing to work and sacrifice for each other.
Stop waiting for outside forces to decide for you
Waiting to feel fireworks, or for God to tell you that a person is right for you, is waiting to be acted upon.
“We are to study it out in our minds, we’re supposed to be active. We’re supposed to be doing the deciding. Then we make a choice and then we take that choice for confirmation,” Nelson said.
Stop worrying about ‘missing out’
Clinical psychologist Scott Braithwaite observed that sometimes people approach dating and marriage with a “shopping mentality.”
“It’s the idea that when we’re choosing whom to marry (or date), we’re going on a shopping spree and we’re trying to get the best deal for our dollar,” he said, declaring this kind of behavior to be shallow.
Nelson shared a similar thought, but instead used the term “consumer approach.” He said that often people approach marriage and dating like they approach buying products. People wonder “am I getting equal value? Am I paying too much?” And wonder about other options.
Nelson also pointed out the danger of the consumer approach or shopping mentality.
“There’s this mindset that if I commit and I’m not happy, I chose wrong,” Nelson said.
Relationships take work. While Nelson, Willoughby and Braithwaite all agree that relationships can work better or worse with different people, all relationships can be successful if you are willing to work for it. But the choice is yours.
Willoughby explained, “It’s not about ‘is this the right person for me’ it’s about ‘is this relationship the right one for me.’”
There is no such thing as a perfect person, and waiting for a perfect person is unhealthy and leads to unhappiness. Instead, approach the people or person you date with realistic expectations.
“Instead of approaching it like ‘how can I find the perfect person for me’ it’s more about ‘how can I find someone that has faults and weaknesses that I can stand,’” Willoughby said.
The mentality sounds negative, but in truth it can be helpful. According to Willoughby, this approach changes the way we view the people we date. Rather than seeing the things your partner does as wrong and a reason why you can’t be with them or marry them, it’s an opportunity to reflect and think “is this something that I’m willing to deal with and work on with this person.” Remember you have weaknesses too.
In order to judge people fairly and honestly, Braithwaite also recommends taking a long, hard look at your “list” if you have one. Figure out things that are truly important to you and cross off things that are shallow and inconsequential.
“There will always be flaws. You will marry (or date) someone who is flawed, and you are also flawed,” Braithwaite said, “The trick is not to find the perfect person, it’s to find someone who is in some way perfect for you.”
Don’t forget that relationships, and especially marriage, are just the beginning. It’s about growing and learning together.
“It’s not about finding this person that’s going to make me happy all the time, it’s about finding someone that I’m willing to build something with in the future,” Willoughby explained, “Instead of finding this perfect end-product, I’m building something with someone.”
Maybe it doesn’t sound romantic, but there is more than one person out there for you. Don’t give up hope, and stop worrying about making the wrong choice.
Nelson said, “Make a choice and then make it work together.” Commitment is about finding a person that you want to make it work with, in spite of your flaws, their flaws, and everyday problems.
“You can be the real you, warts and all, and the other person is like, that’s cool, I love that about you,” Braithwaite said.
And remember, just because you love someone doesn’t mean you have to like them all the time.
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