Interactions with the opposite sex at BYU tend to fall under three stages before a committed relationship is established.
Casually gathering in a group for an unplanned activity. Members of the opposite sex have no commitment to one another (i.e. are not paired off and do not have an obligation to leave with a specific member of the group).
Reciprocal affection (aka “Do you want to share a blanket”): This is the informal stage where one member of a potential couple tests how interested the other person is. A common way to do this is to ask if someone wants to share a blanket while watching a movie. If the other person accepts, then the touch barrier is broken and you can assume there is at least a basic level of romantic interest.
A paired off and planned activity where the couple is either alone, or together in a group of other couples. In this scenario there is a temporary (for the duration of the date) commitment to each other.
Hanging out is the most common type of social interaction at BYU. According to a 2002 research survey by Bruce Chadwick, 28 percent of men and 23 percent of women hang out in a group at least six times a week. Elder Dallin H. Oaks addressed this practice and the “demise of dating” in his May 2005 CES fireside.
“Knowledgeable observers report that dating has nearly disappeared from college campuses and among young adults generally,” Elder Oaks said. “It has been replaced by something called ‘hanging out.’”
Elder Oaks referenced four opportunities young single adults miss out on when they shun frequent, casual dating in favor of hanging out:
The ability to “‘shop around’ in a way that allows extensive evaluation of (one’s) prospects.”
More opportunities for conversation
The chance “to see how you treat others and how you are treated in a one-on-one situation.”
More “opportunities to learn how to initiate and sustain a mature relationship.”
After his fireside, it became apparent that young single adults need to reevaluate how they approach their social interactions with the opposite sex and break down obstacles that may be hindering the dating experience.
“I think we know in the back of our heads that we need to be dating instead of hanging out because that’s what our leaders (like Elder Oaks) tell us to do,” said Mitchell Boberg, a sophomore studying psychology.
One perceived obstacle to dating that young adults need to overcome is the assumption that a date implies significant commitment.
Date means commitment?
“As soon as you put the label ‘date’ on it, it becomes an eternal companion interview,” said Wes Curtin, a junior studying computer science.
Many young adults choose to hang out instead of going on dates to avoid this appearance of serious interest.
“I know people who are afraid to call a date a date (even though it is) because they’re not sure about someone and they don’t want it to seem like it’s moving towards a relationship if they don’t know,” said Austin Anderson, a junior studying supply chain management.
Elder Oaks encouraged young adults to avoid this obstacle by not reading too much into a date in the first place.
“If we are to persuade young men to ask for dates more frequently, we must establish a mutual expectation that to go on a date is not to imply a continuing commitment,” Elder Oaks said.
Another obstacle to dating in today’s culture is the practice of hanging out with someone too much and not transitioning into casual dates.
Too much just hanging out
You’re together all the time, you text constantly and one of the best parts of your day is being with that one “friend.” But the thought of dating and having it end badly (and therefore losing your original friendship) keeps you from progressing out of hanging out.
Elliott Miller, a senior studying economics, said he understands being afraid to take the relationship to the next level because you might lose a friend or hurt someone’s feelings. However, it’s important to consider the big picture before you rule out the risk, he said.
“If you try it and do lose them as a friend, you probably weren’t going to be best friends for the rest of your life anyway,” Miller said. “It’s worth the risk (to try now).”
In the end, neither of you will know if it can work unless you try. Leaving the hang out zone is a risk, but so is staying where you are and looking back with regret when your friend walks away.
An additional obstacle to dating at BYU is the assumption that a date needs to be a formal, lavish affair.
One of the allures of hanging out is the informal, low-pressure atmosphere it fosters. But what BYU students don’t realize is that dates can (and should) have this atmosphere too.
You don’t need to ask a girl on a date with flowers, you don’t need to spend lots of money (or any at all) and you don’t need to act like a different person just because you’re on a date. All you have to do is follow the three ps:
“A ‘date’ must pass the test of the three ps: (1) planned ahead, (2) paid for and (3) paired off,” Elder Oaks said.
Those are simple guidelines to help you create a good time for you and your date. They aren’t there to constrict you or make you follow a rigid pattern; instead they aim to help you have the optimal experience for getting to know someone.
“Just make it light,” Boberg said. “If you’re laughing, being social and having fun, it won’t feel awkward or serious.”
Hanging out has its place
Hanging out can be a great way to meet people and enjoy your friends’ company; it is not inherently bad. When mixed with dates, hanging out can help you develop healthy social relationships.
“I don’t think it makes sense to feel like you can only go on dates or only hang out,” Curtin said. “Why not increase the dates and the hanging out and just be social?”
Hanging out only becomes a problem when it begins to replace regular, casual dates that allow you to get to know someone.
“My single young friends, we counsel you to channel your associations with the opposite sex into dating patterns that have the potential to mature into marriage, not hanging-out patterns that only have the prospect to mature into team sports like touch football,” Elder Oaks said.
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