Being a Southern California native, I am surprised that after four years in Provo I can say that I am not ashamed to live in this town. I don’t hate Provo. I don’t hate Utah. You might even say that it has grown on me throughout the years. Utah offers a unique culture, a fantastic countryside, and some of the best snow on earth, if you are into that kind of thing. I love to promote these attractions. There are also a lot of things that continually draw complaints: the predatory tow trucks, judgmental personalities, but one aspect of student life has continued to issue more complaints and more late night tirades among roommates than almost any other subject and it continues to plague our town—dating.
We grew up our whole lives being told the same thing. Don’t date in high school. Don’t even date when you get to college. Not going “steady” anyway as they say in Bye, Bye Birdie, or in our case, Sunday School. Only date when you are ready to get married. That’s the official standard. Of course not all of us followed this rule, but some of us have. Some by choice and others by unfortunate happenstance; however, all of us grew up having received this and similar counsel in the course of our LDS careers. The most liberal dating advice I have ever received was from a young men’s leader: “You can look once to see what she’s got, but that’s it.”
Dating is for marriage, and that’s all there is to it. Right? We’ve all heard the talks. Menace to society. Eternal salvation. The New and Everlasting Covenant. Marriage starts sounding less like a respectable goal and more like the treasure in Indiana Jones V. And for those who have been so lucky to have finished their “best two years,” they are sent home with pamphlets of pick up lines and the admonition to get married or be damned.
Regardless of your background, anyone who has been to church in Provo has heard dating and marriage preached from the pulpit at sacrament and stake conference by unforgiving bishops and fist shaking stake presidents. I can’t speak for the girls, but I would bet there is hardly one guy in Provo who has not been pressured, mafia style, to date by his bishop. I am half expecting to wake up on my twenty third birthday with a severed horse head in my bed and a list of all the single girls in my ward’s phone numbers pinned to my headboard.
Fall semester comes and the pressure is on. Winter semester passes by and I find myself one of the few people on campus not coupled up, openly and bitterly decrying the PDA of those with the gall to flaunt their affection. By summertime I have a growing stack of wedding announcements on top of my fridge, many from people I haven’t talked to since freshman year, but I keep them, because I like the taste of self loathing with my oatmeal in the morning.
“Jake + Jessy = Eternity.” “Save the Date!” “We did it!”
But that is not the worst. The worst is when the wedding announcements stop coming, because there are only a handful of your friends left who aren’t engaged or expecting their first child. The result is something we have all felt. Dating stops being fun. Dating stops even being an obligation; it becomes an all out battle royale, except the greatest shame is to be the last man standing. The men live under this constant pressure, fighting for our lives, leaving the women feeling like pieces of meat.
“There are so many girls in the ward who aren’t getting asked out. It is your priesthood responsibility brethren to take them out. Let’s step it up.” Tell that to the five girls who rejected me last week, I say.
It is tearing at our unconscious. We tell ourselves that we don’t want to date. We tell ourselves we don’t want to get married, and eventually we believe it, but we can’t fool the women. They smell it on us. “Do you want to get lunch with me?” becomes, “let’s be exclusive.” A “DTR” means, “he could be the one,” and “going steady” for more than two months merits a talk about “where this is heading.”
Of course I speak in over-generalizations. And I am not saying that men and women are completely different in this regard. We are both guilty at perpetuating the stereotype of overly eager marriage hungry, baby starved, celestial kingdom hunting archeologists, but I venture to say that most of us only suffer from this stereotype, we don’t live it.
I repeat, I am not ashamed to live in Provo, but I am ashamed of the consequences of this kind of thinking. I am ashamed to live in a culture that uses the terms “ward activity”, and “meat market” interchangeably, where sacrament meeting is referred to as a “fashion show” and where “one date” means nothing other than “eternity.” This leaves me where we began – staying up with my roommate until one in the morning talking about all the stupid girls in our lives until we are stuck on repeat.
I get it. Marriage is important. I think I picked that up somewhere between singing “Families can be Together Forever” in sunbeams and looking at the picture of the temple we had hanging in my living room. Everything after that was just a nail in the coffin that I have to work with my therapist to undo. But then again, falling in love is something that we all hate to do, so I understand why it is pounded into us so often.
But this isn’t a rant. It is a plea. Honestly, I don’t want to get married, or at least I am in no rush. I am just a kid. I will always be a kid. And when I get married and have children I will be a kid with an intelligent wife and amazingly good-looking children. But what happened to dating for fun? What happened to “just seeing where this takes us?” In my experience, love chooses you. You can’t choose it. So why are we hunting it instead of just trying to learn from each other until it does work out?
We can’t stop our parents from asking us if we are engaged yet. We can’t stop our bishops from pressuring us to date and we can’t stop the talks about celestial marriage (really, what else do they have to talk about?), but we can do a little rewiring of our own brains and stop making the one thing that is supposed to give us the most joy, be the most stressful. We are the future and the buck must stop with us. We have a plague among us, but this isn’t a rant so I will only say one more thing, Stop it!