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Navigating the Dating Wilderness


The Family: A Proclamation to the World  teaches us that "marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God... Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan" (¶1, 7). Most young adults have a desire to marry and one day have a family of their own. However, the process of dating and seeking a marriage partner can be daunting, and sometimes finding your spouse can seem an impossible task. Don't give up hope! It is possible to successfully navigate the wilderness of the dating world and make it to the promised land.

Enjoy Being Single

Sometimes singles become too focused on their goal of marriage, and they don't enjoy their years on their own. While marriage is a righteous goal to be sought after, we should take time to enjoy our journey to reach the goal. Our years as a single can be meaningful and happy ones. You may be familiar with the counsel to become the kind of person you want to marry. In this way, you will attract that sort of person to you. Your time as a single can be a time of personal development and enrichment. Some of the most important areas in which to develop include our emotional and mental health, our self esteem, and our ability to control our impulses (Holman, Larson, & Stahmann, 2000).  Remember that we do not need to be perfect in order to have a happy life and a strong marriage. If we are aware of these areas and striving to be our best, that is enough. We should remember that we are worthy of love, and that other people are usually accepting and approachable (Holmes & Johnson, 2009). Taking this perspective will help us build healthy friendships and relationships with others in our lives, a valuable skill that is crucial to life beyond just the dating world.

What to Look For

While the idea of a soul mate is a romantic one, there is not one perfect person out there waiting for you to find him or her. Each of us probably has numerous people in the world with whom we would be very happy. None of them will be our perfect match. Some compromise is inherent in all dating. It is important that we remember this; if we focus too much on finding our perfect soul mate, we may be quicker to write off a dating relationship when conflict arises, instead of trying to work things out (Hall, 2006).

Instead of looking for a soul mate, we should look for someone similar to us in background, values, attitudes, and beliefs about marriage. Research has shown that couples who are similar in these areas tend to have higher marital quality and stability (Holman & Larson, 1994). These areas are key to a person's identity, which means that when a couple differs in these ways, compromise becomes difficult. When you and your partner are similar in these ways, you will be able to understand one another better because you are coming from the same perspective.

With that said, realize that differences are not necessarily a bad thing. No one is exactly like you, so you shouldn't be looking for your exact clone. There will definitely be some differences between you and your partner. Remember that compatibility is not just about sameness, but also about complementarity. The Proclamation reminds us that some differences between men and women are built into the divine design of marriage and family stewardships.

While you are searching for your mate, remember that no one is perfect. Be careful not to keep a laundry list of required traits that your mate must have. While there are some things you should not compromise on, such as shared values or kindness, you can be more flexible with other things, like whether someone has your exact taste in movies, whether they are a certain build or have a certain hair color, or whether someone is a master chef.

Initial Attraction

Sometimes the most difficult part of dating is finding someone who you are attracted to and who is attracted to you as well. Attending social events such as dances, parties or singles religious activities can be a way of meeting other singles. How do you catch someone's attention? Start by being friendly. Eye contact, a big smile and a confident posture (no slouching!) can make you look more approachable (Cunningham & Barbee, 2010).

Don't be afraid to approach someone you are attracted to. You don't need a first class opening line to talk to someone. A simple "Hello" is often more effective than a cheesy pick-up line (Cunningham & Barbee, 2010).

How do you tell if someone is interested in you? Some signs you might notice include someone leaning towards you, smiling, making and keeping eye contact, staying near to you, orienting his or her body towards you, and frequent gesturing (Afifi & Lucas, 2010).  Often people have a pessimistic outlook when trying to judge another's interest. That is, Mike may be too scared of rejection to ask Sally for a date, even though he is interested in her. Meanwhile, Sally assumes Mike must not be interested since he is not asking her, never stopping to think that maybe he is afraid. What is the solution for this? Choose not to let your fear hold you back. You may face rejection, but you may also find that your potential date has been anxiously awaiting you to ask her or him out. You won't know until you try. Ladies, remember, we live in a time where we are allowed to do the asking too.

If you are shy, the process of attracting someone, approaching him or her, and figuring out whether or not there is mutual interest, may sound like a difficult process to go through. Don't be afraid to ask your friends for help. Set-ups and blind dates are a great way to skip the stress of finding someone and go straight to a date|just be sure you trust the person setting you up. At social events like parties or dances, consider going with a more social friend, who can act as a bridge for you to meet others, by being the one to start conversations with those you meet.

Casual Dating

The dating climate of today may be different from the climate our parents and grandparents faced. Some modern researchers have argued that hanging out has replaced dating, making dating obsolete (Colllins & van Dulmen, 2006). However, dating is a valuable way for teens and adults to come to know someone on a more personal level. Dating can also help you develop a better idea of the traits you want in a future spouse (although those with limited opportunity to date can still make a wise mate selection).

Consider dating to build friendships and have fun, instead of focusing just on finding someone to marry. Casual dating allows dates to be laidback and fun, without commitment attached from the get go. Seeking friendship first results in lower pressure in your dating experience. When you are more relaxed, it is easier to be yourself, have fun, and get to know the other person better. Friendship dating may also lower your chance of facing heartbreak and disappointment, since you are not quickly becoming emotionally involved (McLaughlin, 2007).  A romantic relationship may evolve from friendship dating, and its base of friendship may be stronger than a relationship built only on mutual attraction (Barelds and Barelds-Dijkstra, 2007).

Although you decide to date casually, you may still encounter pressure from parents, friends, or even your dates to define your relationships early on, instead of keeping things casual. You cannot control the reactions of people around you, but that does not mean you should avoid casual dating. As with other areas in your life, in dating just do the best you can, even if at times it goes against the norms of modern society.

The Decision to Become Serious

So you have been dating for a little while, and you are wondering whether or not to get serious. How can you know when you are really in love? Noller describes the difference between immature love and mature love (as cited in Holman et al, 2000).

Immature love is possessive, easily provoked to jealousy, and anxious that the relationship might end. A person experiencing immature love may be obsessed with his or her partner. Immature love includes a belief that love is something beyond your control; an external force like Cupid's arrow causes love. Immature love is selfish and focused on satisfying one's own needs.

In contrast, mature love involves a lasting passion, a strong desire for companionship, and contentment with the relationship. A person experiencing mature love knows it is something you must decide. Mature love means commitment, trust, sharing, and sacrifice. It allows space for a partner to grow and change.

Unhealthy Dating

While we should not have unrealistic expectations for our future spouses, we should also be careful not to settle for an unhealthy relationship. Below are signs of emotional, psychological, and physical abuse in a relationship. If your relationship has some of these characteristics, you should seriously consider ending the relationship. You deserve to be with someone who values you and treats you with respect.

Emotional and Psychological Abuse

 Saltzman, Fanslow, McMahon, and Shelley (2002) give the following list of behaviors which constitute emotional and psychological abuse:

[H]umiliating the victim, controlling what the victim can and cannot do, withholding information from the victim, deliberately doing something to make the victim feel diminished or embarrassed, isolating the victim from friends and family, and denying the victim access to money or other basic resources (p. 61).

This list is not comprehensive. Your partner may do or say other things that hurt you psychologically or emotionally. The important thing is to notice how the way you are treated makes you feel.

Domestic Violence

Domestic violence involves "the intentional use of physical force with the potential for causing death, disability, injury, or harm" (Saltzman et al., 2002, p. 35). Any physical force can qualify as domestic violence, but some examples of violent behaviors include:

[S]cratching, pushing, shoving, throwing, grabbing, biting, choking, shaking, poking, hair-pulling,

slapping, punching, hitting, burning, use of a weapon (gun, knife, or other object), and use of

restraints or one's body, size, or strength against another person (p. 35).

Some potential warning signs that violence can occur later on include extreme jealousy, controlling behavior, or verbal threats (Choose Respect). If you notice these in your relationship, you might be wise to end it now before things escalate into a worse situation.

If you are in an abusive relationship, you should know that many resources exist to help you:

  • The National Domestic Violence hotline can be reached at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) anytime day or night, 365 days a year. The hotline also has a helpful website at http://www.ndvh.org. This website features a red panic button that automatically directs you to a non-related page at a moment's notice. In this way, you can protect yourself if your partner walks in while you are visiting the site.
  • The Center for Disease Control offers information on intimate partner violence and prevention here.

When a Relationship Ends

If you are the one ending the relationship, remember to be gentle and kind when you do so. Holman et al. (2000) recommend bringing up the subject with kindness, meekness, and love. They also recommend being clear that the relationship is ending, so your partner is not confused or left with false hopes.

If your partner initiates the breakup, take care not to try to force him or her to keep dating you (Holman et al., 2000). Be respectful and allow the relationship to end. Breakups hurt, but don't lash out and take out your hurt on your ex (Holman et al., 2000).

After the breakup, give yourself time to heal. You may find it helpful to vent your feelings to a friend or family member. Journal writing can also be helpful. Young adults often rely on media (like music, movies, and television shows) to help them process and reflect on their breakups (Hebert & Popadiuk, 2008).

While this isn't necessarily bad, be careful what media you consume|it may prolong your sadness if you fill your days with depressive media.

Immediately after a breakup, you may find it painful to contemplate dating someone else in the future. Or perhaps you feel that you will not meet another potential mate.  Give yourself time to heal from the breakup. How much time you need will vary from person to person. But realize that someday, you will meet someone new. This was not your one and only chance for love. An optimistic attitude that you can find someone else will help you move on (Spielmann, MacDonald, & Wilson, 2009).

Dating can seem a daunting task at times, but never give up! Enjoy your time as a single. Enjoy dating, and consider friendship dating to take off some of the pressure. Do what you can to seek dating success, and don't worry about the rest. Dating can be a fun experience rather than a stressful one, if you choose to make it so.

Written by Shelece McAllister, Research Assistant, and edited by Jason S. Carroll and Stephen F. Duncan, professors in the School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.

References

Afifi, W. A., & Lucas, A. A. (2010). Information seeking in the initial stages of relational development. In S. Sprecher, A. Wenzel, & J. Harvey (Eds.), Handbook of Relationship Initiation(pp. 135-151). New York, NY: Psychology Press.

Barelds, D., & Barelds-Dijkstra, P. (2007). Love at first sight or friends first? Ties among partner personality trait similarity, relationship onset, relationship quality, and love. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships24(4), 479-496.

Center for Disease Control. Choose Respect. http://www.chooserespect.org

Collins, A., & van Dulmen, M. (2006). Friendships and romance in emerging adulthood: Assessing distinctiveness in close relationships. Emerging adults in America: Coming of age in the 21st century (pp. 219-234). American Psychological Association.

Cunningham, M. R., & Barbee, A. P. (2010). Prelude to a kiss: Non-verbal flirting, opening gambits, and other communication dynamics in the initiation of romantic relationships. In S. Sprecher, A. Wenzel, & J. Harvey (Eds.), Handbook of Relationship Initiation (pp. 97-120). New York, NY: Psychology Press.

Derlega, V. J., Winstead, B. A., & Greene, K. (2010). Self-disclosure and starting a close relationship. In S. Sprecher, A. Wenzel, & J. Harvey (Eds.), Handbook of Relationship Initiation (pp. 153-174). New York, NY: Psychology Press.

Hall, S. S. (2006). Marital meaning: Exploring young adults' belief systems about marriage. Journal of Family Issues, 27(10), 1437-1458.

Hawkins, A. J., & Fackrell, T. A. (2009). Should I keep trying to work it out?: A guidebook for individuals and couples at the crossroads of divorce (and before).  Salt Lake City: Utah Commission on Marriage.

Hebert, S., & Popadiuk, N. (2008). University students' experiences of nonmarital breakups: A grounded theory. Journal of College Student Development49(1), 1-14.

Holman, T. B., Larson, J. H., & Stahmann, R. F. (2000). Preparing for an eternal marriage. In D. C. Dollahite (Ed.), Strengthening our families: An in-depth look at the Proclamation on the Family(pp. 32-47). Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft.

Holman, T. B., Viveiros, A., & Carroll, J. S. (2005). Progressing towards an eternal marriage relationship.  In C. H. Hart, L. D. Newell, E. Walton, & D. C. Dollahite (Eds.), Helping and healing our families: Principles and practices inspired by "The family: A proclamation to the world"(pp.44-49). Salt Lake City, UT: Shadow Mountain.

Holmes,  B. M., & Johnson, K. R. (2009). Adult attachment and romantic partner preference: A review. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 26, 833-852.

Kirk, A. (2002). The effects of divorce on young adults' relationship competence. Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 38, 61-89.

Lewandowski, G. (2009). Promoting positive emotions following relationship dissolution through writing. The Journal of Positive Psychology4(1), 21-31.

Martin, S. P. (2006). Trends in marital dissolution by women's education in the United States.Demographic Research, 15(20), 537-560.

Mahoney, A., Pargament, K., Tarakeshwar, N., & Swank, A. (2001). Religion in the home in the 1980s  and 1990s: A meta-analytic review and conceptual analysis of links between religion, marriage, and parenting. Journal of Family Psychology15(4), 559-596.

McKenna, K. Y. A. (2010) MySpace or your place. In S. Sprecher, A. Wenzel, & J. Harvey (Eds.),Handbook of Relationship Initiation (pp. 235-247). New York, NY: Psychology Press.

McLaughlin, N. C. (2007).  Managing desires: Dating styles of Latter-day Saint male returned missionaries. In Woodger, M. J., Holman, T. B., & Young, K. A. (Eds.), Latter-Day Saint courtship patterns: Studies in religion and the social order (pp. 71-87). Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, Inc.

Saltzman, L. E., Fanslow, J. L., McMahon, P. M., & Shelley, G. A. (2002). Intimate partner violence

surveillance: Uniform definitions and recommended data elements, version 1.0. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

Simpson, J., Collins, W., Tran, S., & Haydon, K. (2007). Attachment and the experience and expression of emotions in romantic relationships: A developmental perspective. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology92(2), 355-367.

Spielmann, S., MacDonald, G., & Wilson, A. (2009). On the rebound: Focusing on someone new helps anxiously attached individuals let go of ex-partners. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin35(10), 1382-1394.

Tashiro, T., & Frazier, P. (2003). "I'll never be in a relationship like that again": Personal growth following romantic relationship breakups. Personal Relationships10 (1), 113-128.

Warren, N. C. (1992). Finding the love of your life: Ten principles for choosing the right marriage partner. New York, NY: Pocket Books.

Wilcox, W. B. (2009a). Evolution of divorce. National Affairs, 1, 81-94.

Wilcox, W. B. (2009b). State of our unions: Marriage in America. Charlottesville, VA: The National Marriage Project.

Yoshihama, M., Horrocks, J., & Kamano, S. (2009). The role of emotional abuse in intimate partner violence and health among women in Yokohama, Japan. American Journal of Public Health99(4), 647-653.​

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Navigating the Dating Wilderness


The Family: A Proclamation to the World  teaches us that "marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God... Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan" (¶1, 7). Most young adults have a desire to marry and one day have a family of their own. However, the process of dating and seeking a marriage partner can be daunting, and sometimes finding your spouse can seem an impossible task. Don't give up hope! It is possible to successfully navigate the wilderness of the dating world and make it to the promised land.

Enjoy Being Single

Sometimes singles become too focused on their goal of marriage, and they don't enjoy their years on their own. While marriage is a righteous goal to be sought after, we should take time to enjoy our journey to reach the goal. Our years as a single can be meaningful and happy ones.

You may be familiar with the counsel to become the kind of person you want to marry. In this way, you will attract that sort of person to you. Your time as a single can be a time of personal development and enrichment. Holman, Larson, and Stahmann (2000) recommend developing yourself in the areas of impulse control, emotional and mental health, sociability, and self esteem. These four areas have a significant influence on later marital success.

  • When you control your impulses, you stop before you act to consider the consequences your actions may have on yourself and on others. 
  • Good emotional and mental health occurs when one is free from "abnormally high anxiety, clinical depression, irritability, self-consciousness, and hostility" (Holman et al., p. 34). If you are struggling with one or more of these issues, consider seeking the help of a professional counselor.
  • Being sociable does not mean that you need to be the life of the party, but that you can relate well to others, and that you are fairly comfortable in social situations. People who are sociable tend to develop good communication and conflict management skills, which will be beneficial in a marriage relationship.
  • When you have good self esteem, you understand your individual worth and have respect for yourself. Low self-esteem can lead to "selfishness, inconsiderateness, and an inability to support others emotionally" (Holman et. al, 2000, p. 34). In contrast, those with high self-esteem often are "unselfish, considerate of others, and supportive" (Holman et al., 2000, p. 34). A professional counselor or a religious leader can help you overcome problems with low self-esteem.

Another area we can work to develop concerns how we build our relationships with others. Different attachment styles exist through which we connect to other people. A secure attachment is the healthiest. A person with a secure attachment style views him or herself as worthy of receiving love. He or she also believes that other people are usually accepting and approachable (Holmes & Johnson, 2009).  Such beliefs help you to realize your worth is not connected to your dating life, but something inherent within you. Viewing other people as accepting and approachable makes it easier to reach out to others to build new friendships and relationships, a skill that is crucial to life beyond just the dating scene. If this is an area you struggle with, you might benefit from speaking with a professional counselor or a religious leader to help you establish a secure attachment style.

Remember that we do not need to be perfect in any of these areas in order to have a happy life and a strong marriage. If we are aware of these areas and striving to be our best, that is enough.

Fear of Divorce

Currently in the United States, about 40-50% of marriages end in divorce. Some may feel that this statistic represents the chance one has of a happy marriage, but this is not the case. The numbers reflect a current trend in the country, but they do not determine one's likelihood of a happy marriage; that is within our own control. Besides that, these numbers can be misleading.  Divorce rates are lower among couples with better education and higher religiosity, and who wait to have children until after they are married (Mahoney, Pargament, Tarakeshwar, & Swank, 2001; Wilcox, 2009).

In a culture where divorce is so prevalent, many young adults have grown up fearing divorce.  Perhaps children of divorced parents are especially afraid. A study by Kirk (2002) examined young adults from divorced homes and young adults from intact backgrounds. Young adults whose parents had divorced were more likely to be afraid of divorcing themselves, but despite this, these young adults were found to be equally competent at relationships compared to their peers from intact families.

You are not destined to divorce, no matter what your background. The best divorce prevention happens before marriage. The most common reasons reported for divorce include: "'lack of commitment,' (73%)... too much arguing (56%), infidelity (55%), marrying too young (46%), unrealistic expectations (45%), lack of equality in the relationship (44%), lack of preparation for marriage (41%), and abuse (29%)" (Hawkins & Fackrell, 2009, p. 44).  You will notice that some of these reasons can be addressed now. For example, you can learn more realistic expectations for marriage. You can also learn better communication skills and conflict resolution skills, to help prevent arguments in your marriage. Other reasons are not fully in your control, but careful choice in who you date and who you commit yourself to can help you avoid marrying someone abusive, unfaithful, or verbally aggressive. Of course, your spouse will still have agency to act for his or herself, and there is no absolute guarantee that you will not experience divorce.  But taking steps like these can improve your chances for a healthy marriage.

Many people from conservative faiths tend to marry earlier than the average American. It should be noted here that the risk factor of marrying too young refers to marrying as a teenager.

Soul Mates

The 2009 State of Our Unions reports that 94% of singles feel that first and foremost, your spouse should be your soul mate. Eighty-eight percent of singles believed that there was one person specifically destined to be their spouse. While the idea of a soul mate is a romantic one, there is not one perfect person out there waiting for you to find him or her. Some compromise is inherent in all dating and marriage. Belief in a soul mate, when taken too far, can be detrimental to you. A study by Hall (2006) found that belief in a soul mate was linked to "fewer positive coping strategies, more hostility during conflict, and lesser satisfaction and relationship longevity when a new partner did not immediately come across as a perfect match" (p. 1444). That is, if you believe you have one perfect match waiting for you somewhere, and you encounter conflict in a dating relationship, you are less likely to try to work through it, and more likely to end the relationship.  Someone who believes strongly in soul mates may be more likely to believe his or her relationship's problems are simply because he or she is with the wrong person.

What to Look For

You should not look for your perfect soul mate to complete you, but what should you look for? Larson and Holman (1994) found that couples with similar backgrounds, values, attitudes, and beliefs about marriage tend to have higher marital quality and stability. Barelds and Barelds-Dijkstra (2007) also found that similarity in personality traits can lead to higher relationship satisfaction.  All of these areas are core to a person's identity. When you and your partner are similar in these areas, you will be able to understand one another better because you are coming from the same perspective. Conversely, if you differ in these areas, compromise will be very difficult since these areas are core to who you are.

With that said, realize that differences are not necessarily a bad thing. No one is exactly like you, so you shouldn't be looking for your exact clone. There will definitely be some differences between you and your partner. In fact, the Proclamation reminds us that some differences between men and women and their roles in the family are divinely appointed. Part of compatibility is complementarity|that is, when a couple's different traits complement each other, rather than causing conflict. For example, Bill might be energetic and daring, while Lucy is more laidback and cautious. Bill's vivaciousness might inspire Lucy to participate in fun, high energy activities she would not have sought out on her own, while Lucy might help temper Bill's risk taking when he becomes carried away.

While you are searching for your mate, also remember that no one is perfect. Be careful not to keep a laundry list of required traits that your mate must have. While there are some things you should not compromise on, such as shared values or kindness, you can be more flexible with other things, like whether someone has your exact taste in movies, whether they are a certain build or have a certain hair color, or whether someone is a master chef.

Initial Attraction

Sometimes the most difficult part of dating is finding someone who you are attracted to and who is attracted to you as well. Attending social events such as dances, parties or singles religious activities can be a way of meeting other singles. But how do you catch someone's attention? Start by being friendly. Men are more likely to approach women who make repeated eye contact with them and who smile frequently (Cunningham & Barbee, 2010). A big smile and a confident posture (no slouching!) can make you look friendlier, more helpful, and more responsive (Cunningham & Barbee, 2010).

What if you are the one doing the approaching? Sometimes people feel as though they need to have a first-class opening line in order to catch someone's attention. Cunningham and Barbee (2010) refer to three different kinds of opening lines: the direct approach, the innocuous approach, and the cute-flippant approach. The direct approach is an open expression of interest, often accompanied by flattery, self-effacement, or self-disclosure. An example would be "I feel a little embarrassed about this, but I'd really like to meet you (p. 107)". The innocuous approach is a basic pleasantry, such as, "Hello. How are you?" The cute-flippant approach is the stereotypical pick-up line, usually involving humor. An example might be "Are you from Tennessee? Because you're the only ten I see." Research suggests that women respond best to the direct or innocuous approaches.  However, men respond well to all three approaches (Cunningham & Barbee, 2010).

How do you tell if someone is interested in you? Some non-verbal signs you might notice include someone leaning towards you, smiling, making and keeping eye contact, staying near to you, orienting his or her body towards you, and frequent gesturing (Afifi & Lucas, 2010). It is human nature to have a bit of a pessimistic bias when trying to tell if someone is interested in you. That is, if Mike is interested in Sally, he may be too afraid of rejection to ask her out. On the other hand, if Sally is interested in Mike, and he is not asking her on a date, she will probably assume he isn't interested, without stopping to think that maybe Mike is just afraid (Afifi & Lucas, 2010). What is the solution for this? Choose not to let your fear hold you back. You may face rejection, but you may also find that your potential date has been anxiously awaiting you to ask her or him out. You won't know until you try. Ladies, remember, we live in a time where we are allowed to do the asking too.

If you are shy, the process of attracting someone, approaching him or her, and figuring out whether or not there is mutual interest, may sound like a difficult process to go through. If you are introduced to someone by a mutual acquaintance, you can skip the stress of attracting a stranger's attention and then approaching him or her. An introduction allows you to start a conversation without going through those steps (Cunningham & Barbee, 2010). So, if you attend a friend's party, don't hesitate to ask the host to introduce you to anyone who catches your eye|the host will even be able to tell you whether or not your target is available. Or, attend a party with a more social friend, who can serve as a bridge for you to meet others by being the one to start conversations with other guests. Set-ups and blind dates are another way to skip the stress of attracting a stranger's attention and then approaching them, but take care that you trust the person who is setting you up.

Casual Dating

The dating climate of today may be different from the climate our parents and grandparents faced. We lack many of the socially defined dating norms, rituals, and relationship milestones that existed in the past (Holman, Viveiros, & Carroll, 2005). Some modern researchers have argued that the practice of hanging out informally with members of both sexes has "rendered obsolete the dating patterns" of the past (Collins & van Dulmen, 2006, p. 221). However, dating is a valuable way for teens and adults to come to know someone on a more personal level. Dating can also help you develop a better idea of the traits you want in a future spouse (although those with limited opportunity to date can still make a wise mate selection).  

Different people practice different styles of dating. A study by McLaughlin (2007) characterized four categories of dating styles: romantic, minimal, friendship, and commitment avoidant. While the study looked specifically at male LDS returned missionaries, the findings may apply similarly to faithful men from many religious traditions who value marriage. One of these dating styles was found to be more successful than the others.  As you read through a description of the various styles below, see if you can predict which style is the most successful.

  • Style one: Romantic dating|Men who practice this style are focused on finding a marriage partner, often to the point that they don't stop to consider the responsibilities that come with marriage. They are excited about dating, and they feel ready for marriage. Because they are so interested in marriage, these men tend to seek exclusive romantic relationships immediately, without building a base of friendship first. Perhaps as a result of this, this dating style usually does not lead to marriage or to long-term relationships. Instead, romantic style daters tend to experience fast paced relationships which end quickly, or they date a lot of people in a short time span.
  • Style two: Minimal dating|Men who practice this style are often tired of dating. They may fear rejection or simply be dissatisfied with the dating process. Sometimes they do not feel ready for marriage. In any case, these men do not actively pursue dating, although some may be open to the idea of a relationship happening, if the woman initiates it. Minimal daters do want to marry eventually, but for now, they are taking a break from dating.
  • Style three: Friendship dating|Men in this style take dating a lot more slowly than romantic daters. They seek to date to build friendships and have fun, not necessarily to find a mate right away. Often they do not ask girls out for more than one or two dates. When they do get into a relationship, they allow it to proceed slowly, and they delay physical intimacy. These men are more comfortable with the idea that their relationships may dissolve, or they may proceed into marriage.
  • Style four: Commitment avoidant dating|Commitment avoidant daters are laid back and easy going about dating, but they are careful to avoid situations that could lead to marriage. Often these men do not feel ready for marriage. Although they want to marry someday, they don't see marriage as a desirable event in the near future. These men tend to go on lots of dates with lots of different women. If they do form relationships, the relationships tend to be short term and based on either physical intimacy or fun.

Which of these styles is the most successful? The study found that dating styles often change over time, Men often began in the romantic style. When their quest to find a wife did not immediately succeed, some men then shifted to minimal dating, to avoid further rejection, and to recover from the high pressure of romantic dating. After some time to heal, minimal daters often moved to friendship dating. The sequence did not always go in this order, but the study found that once men started using the friendship dating style, they stayed with that style. It appears that friendship dating feels more comfortable and safer than the other styles, which may explain why it is more appealing.

Consider practicing the friendship style of dating. This style allows you to meet and get to know individuals as friends first. Your parents or religious leaders may have reminded you that you marry who you date. However, friendship dating helps you remember that you do not marry everyone you date; that is, a date can be casual and fun, without commitment attached from the get go. Seeking friendship first results in lower pressure in your dating experience. When you are more relaxed, it is easier to be yourself, have fun, and get to know the other person better. Friendship dating may also lower your chance of facing heartbreak and disappointment, since you are not getting emotionally involved as quickly as in the romantic style.

By getting to know someone as a friend first, you may get to know them more authentically that you would have otherwise. A romantic relationship may evolve from friendship dating, and its base of friendship may be stronger than a relationship built only on mutual attraction. Barelds and Barelds-Dijkstra (2007) compared couples who were friends before they dated to couples who experienced love at first sight. They found that lovers at first sight reported relationship quality similar to that of couples who were friends first. However, lovers at first sight had relationships high in passion, but not as high in intimacy and commitment as couples who were friends first.

The Decision to Become Serious

So you have been dating for a little while, and you are wondering whether or not to get serious. How can you know when you are really in love? Noller (1996) describes the difference between immature love and mature love, breaking love down into three parts: emotional, belief, and behavior.

  • Emotional: Immature love is possessive and easily provoked to jealousy. Those experiencing immature love may be anxious that their relationship will end. These people may be more infatuated than in love, and thus they may be excessively preoccupied with their partner. In contrast, those experiencing mature love have a lasting passion and a strong desire for companionship. Rather than feeling jealous or anxious, they feel content with their relationship.
  • Belief: A person experiencing immature love tends to believe love is something beyond his or her control. An external force like Cupid's arrow strikes and so we fall in love. Immature love also takes the view that love is blind to a partner's faults. A person experiencing mature love, however, sees love as something that you must decide. Mature love involves commitment, trust, sharing, and sacrifice.
  • Behavior: Immature love is selfish and focused on satisfying one's own needs, rather than the needs of one's partner. This may be manifest in different ways. Immature love can be focused on lust and objectifying the partner. Immature love may also be manifest in clinging, over dependent behavior, or by a controlling attitude, when one demands obedience from one's partner. Mature love builds an environment where growth and development can take place. It allows space for a partner to grow and change.

Unhealthy Dating

While we should not have unrealistic expectations for our future spouses, we should also be careful not to settle for an unhealthy relationship. Below are signs of emotional, psychological, and physical abuse in a relationship. If your relationship has some of these characteristics, you should seriously consider ending the relationship. You deserve to be with someone who values you and treats you with respect.

Emotional and Psychological Abuse

 Saltzman, Fanslow, McMahon, and Shelley (2002) give the following list of behaviors which constitute emotional and psychological abuse:

[H]umiliating the victim, controlling what the victim can and cannot do, withholding information from the victim, deliberately doing something to make the victim feel diminished or embarrassed, isolating the victim from friends and family, and denying the victim access to money or other basic resources (p. 61).

This list is not comprehensive. Your partner may do or say other things that hurt you psychologically or emotionally. The important thing is to notice how the way you are treated makes you feel.

Emotional abuse can affect more than your self-esteem and emotional well-being. A recent study suggests that emotional abuse causes negative health effects, comparable to those caused by a combination of both emotional abuse and physical and/or sexual abuse (Yoshihama, Horrocks, & Kamano, 2009).

Domestic Violence

Domestic violence involves "the intentional use of physical force with the potential for causing death, disability, injury, or harm" (Saltzman et al., 2002, p. 35). Any physical force can qualify as domestic violence, but some examples of violent behaviors include:

[S]cratching, pushing, shoving, throwing, grabbing, biting, choking, shaking, poking, hair-pulling,

slapping, punching, hitting, burning, use of a weapon (gun, knife, or other object), and use of

restraints or one's body, size, or strength against another person (p. 35).

Some potential warning signs that violence can occur later on include extreme jealousy, controlling behavior, or verbal threats (Choose Respect). If you notice these in your relationship, you might be wise to end it now before things escalate into a worse situation.

If you are in an abusive relationship, you should know that many resources exist to help you:

  • The National Domestic Violence hotline can be reached at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) anytime day or night, 365 days a year. The hotline also has a helpful website at http://www.ndvh.org. This website features a red panic button that automatically directs you to a non-related page at a moment's notice. In this way, you can protect yourself if your partner walks in while you are visiting the site.
  • The Center for Disease Control offers information on intimate partner violence and preventionhere.

Healthy Dating

After reviewing all the signs that your relationship is unhealthy, you may be wondering how to know if your relationship is healthy. The Center for Disease Control has a website (http://www.chooserespect.org) designed to help teenagers recognize healthy and unhealthy relationships. Although it was originally written for teenagers, it can be helpful to adults as well. Choose Respect gives the following signs of a healthy relationship:

  • Mutual respect
  • Trust
  • Honesty
  • Compromise|Give and take, rather than a power struggle.
  • Individuality|Your relationship should not completely define either one of you. You should still cultivate friends and interests outside of your relationship.
  • Good communication|Be honest and open.
  • Anger control|Anger is handled in a healthy way, instead of being taken out on a partner.
  • Problem solving|When a problem occurs, you work through it together.
  • Fair fighting|When you argue, stick to the subject, and don't insult your partner. Take a break if things get too intense.
  • Understanding
  • Self-confidence
  • Role model|Is your relationship a good model for others in your life (friends, siblings, etc.)?

Online Dating

Modern technology has opened up a new method of meeting people: through online interactions. Multiple websites have been created which are dedicated to bringing people together for dating relationships. Other social networking sites such as MySpace or Facebook have also become a medium through which some relationships are formed. Be cautious when meeting people online. McKenna (2010) describes a "strangers on a train" phenomena that occurs in internet interactions. That is, people tend to feel safe making deeply intimate disclosures to complete strangers, because they do not know ourselves or our social network, and we will probably never hear from them again. Derlega, Winstead, and Greene (2010) note that the internet may increase the information we disclose about ourselves, both due to the relative anonymity of the internet, and to the fact that internet communication does not reveal physical appearance or social skills deficits. When individuals reveal more intimate details of their personality on the internet than they do in the offline real world, they might come to believe they are more their  "true self" online. Particularly for shy individuals, internet communications might lead to more accelerated relationship development than happens for them offline.

A danger to this is that the relative anonymity of the internet allows us to represent ourselves falsely if we so choose. You may think that you are talking to a cute girl your own age, when in truth your friend is a man your father's age. Some caution must be exercised in online interactions. Don't reveal too many of your personal details. The other person may be seeking such details in order to take advantage of you or even cause you harm. If you decide to meet, meet in a public place, and take friends with you to ensure your safety. Also, realize that while the internet may be one way to meet someone, a strong dating relationship with potential for marriage cannot be formed without interactions in person. The internet can be a medium through which you communicate sometimes, but you should interact offline more often than online.

When a Relationship Ends

If you are the one ending the relationship, remember to be gentle and kind when you do so. Holman et al. (2000) recommend bringing up the subject with kindness, meekness, and love. They also recommend being clear that the relationship is ending, so your partner is not confused or left with false hopes.

If your partner initiates the breakup, take care not to try to force him or her to keep dating you (Holman et al., 2000). Be respectful and allow the relationship to end. Breakups hurt, but don't lash out and take out your hurt on your ex (Holman et al., 2000).

After the breakup, give yourself time to heal. You may find it helpful to vent your feelings to a friend or family member. Journal writing can also be helpful. A study by Lewandowski (2009) found that writing about the positives that have come from your breakup can help you feel more positively about what happened. Young adults often rely on media (such as music, movies, and television shows) to help them process and reflect on their breakups (Hebert & Popadiuk, 2008). While this isn't necessarily bad, be careful what media you consume|it may prolong your sadness if you fill your days with depressive media.

Immediately after a breakup, you may find it painful to contemplate dating someone else in the future. Or perhaps you feel that you will not meet another potential mate.  Give yourself time to heal from the breakup. How much time you need will vary from person to person. But realize that someday, you will meet someone new. This was not your one and only chance for love. Spielmann, MacDonald, & Wilson (2009) report that an optimistic attitude that you can find someone else will help you move on.

Dating can seem a daunting task at times, but never give up! Enjoy your time as a single. Enjoy dating, and consider friendship dating to take off some of the pressure. Do what you can to seek dating success, and don't worry about the rest. Dating can be a fun experience rather than a stressful one, if you choose to make it so.

Written by Shelece McAllister, Research Assistant, and edited by Jason S. Carroll and Stephen F. Duncan, professors in the School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.

References

Afifi, W. A., & Lucas, A. A. (2010). Information seeking in the initial stages of relational development. In S. Sprecher, A. Wenzel, & J. Harvey (Eds.), Handbook of Relationship Initiation(pp. 135-151). New York, NY: Psychology Press.

Barelds, D., & Barelds-Dijkstra, P. (2007). Love at first sight or friends first? Ties among partner personality trait similarity, relationship onset, relationship quality, and love. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships24(4), 479-496.

Center for Disease Control. Choose Respect. http://www.chooserespect.org

Collins, A., & van Dulmen, M. (2006). Friendships and romance in emerging adulthood: Assessing distinctiveness in close relationships. Emerging adults in America: Coming of age in the 21st century (pp. 219-234). American Psychological Association.

Cunningham, M. R., & Barbee, A. P. (2010). Prelude to a kiss: Non-verbal flirting, opening gambits, and other communication dynamics in the initiation of romantic relationships. In S. Sprecher, A. Wenzel, & J. Harvey (Eds.), Handbook of Relationship Initiation (pp. 97-120). New York, NY: Psychology Press.

Derlega, V. J., Winstead, B. A., & Greene, K. (2010). Self-disclosure and starting a close relationship. In S. Sprecher, A. Wenzel, & J. Harvey (Eds.), Handbook of Relationship Initiation (pp. 153-174). New York, NY: Psychology Press.

Hall, S. S. (2006). Marital meaning: Exploring young adults' belief systems about marriage. Journal of Family Issues, 27(10), 1437-1458.

Hawkins, A. J., & Fackrell, T. A. (2009). Should I keep trying to work it out?: A guidebook for individuals and couples at the crossroads of divorce (and before).  Salt Lake City: Utah Commission on Marriage.

Hebert, S., & Popadiuk, N. (2008). University students' experiences of nonmarital breakups: A grounded theory. Journal of College Student Development49(1), 1-14.

Holman, T. B., Larson, J. H., & Stahmann, R. F. (2000). Preparing for an eternal marriage. In D. C. Dollahite (Ed.), Strengthening our families: An in-depth look at the Proclamation on the Family(pp. 32-47). Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft.

Holman, T. B., Viveiros, A., & Carroll, J. S. (2005). Progressing towards an eternal marriage relationship.  In C. H. Hart, L. D. Newell, E. Walton, & D. C. Dollahite (Eds.), Helping and healing our families: Principles and practices inspired by "The family: A proclamation to the world"(pp.44-49). Salt Lake City, UT: Shadow Mountain.

Holmes,  B. M., & Johnson, K. R. (2009). Adult attachment and romantic partner preference: A review. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 26, 833-852.

Kirk, A. (2002). The effects of divorce on young adults' relationship competence. Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 38, 61-89.

Lewandowski, G. (2009). Promoting positive emotions following relationship dissolution through writing. The Journal of Positive Psychology4(1), 21-31.

Martin, S. P. (2006). Trends in marital dissolution by women's education in the United States.Demographic Research, 15(20), 537-560.

Mahoney, A., Pargament, K., Tarakeshwar, N., & Swank, A. (2001). Religion in the home in the 1980s  and 1990s: A meta-analytic review and conceptual analysis of links between religion, marriage, and parenting. Journal of Family Psychology15(4), 559-596.

McKenna, K. Y. A. (2010) MySpace or your place. In S. Sprecher, A. Wenzel, & J. Harvey (Eds.),Handbook of Relationship Initiation (pp. 235-247). New York, NY: Psychology Press.

McLaughlin, N. C. (2007).  Managing desires: Dating styles of Latter-day Saint male returned missionaries. In M. J. Woodger, T. B. Holman, & K. A. Young (Eds.), Latter-Day Saint courtship patterns: Studies in religion and the social order (pp. 71-87). Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, Inc.

Noller, P. (1996). What is this thing called love? Defining the love that supports marriage and family. Personal Relationships, 3, 97-115.

Saltzman, L. E., Fanslow, J. L., McMahon, P. M., & Shelley, G. A. (2002). Intimate partner violence

surveillance: Uniform definitions and recommended data elements, version 1.0. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

Simpson, J., Collins, W., Tran, S., & Haydon, K. (2007). Attachment and the experience and expression of emotions in romantic relationships: A developmental perspective. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology92(2), 355-367.

Spielmann, S., MacDonald, G., & Wilson, A. (2009). On the rebound: Focusing on someone new helps anxiously attached individuals let go of ex-partners. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin35(10), 1382-1394.

Tashiro, T., & Frazier, P. (2003). "I'll never be in a relationship like that again": Personal growth following romantic relationship breakups. Personal Relationships10 (1), 113-128.

Warren, N. C. (1992). Finding the love of your life: Ten principles for choosing the right marriage partner. New York, NY: Pocket Books.

Wilcox, W. B. (2009a). Evolution of divorce. National Affairs, 1, 81-94.

Wilcox, W. B. (2009b). State of our unions: Marriage in America. Charlottesville, VA: The National Marriage Project.

Yoshihama, M., Horrocks, J., & Kamano, S. (2009). The role of emotional abuse in intimate partner violence and health among women in Yokohama, Japan. American Journal of Public Health99(4), 647-653.


Navigating the Dating Wilderness


In the world, dating patterns have shifted. Young adults hang out or jump right into relationships instead of going on casual dates. Cohabitation has become an accepted social norm. Sexual morality is no longer valued by most. Marriage occurs at later and later ages. In this environment, LDS dating stands out as unique. In talking about the dating environment today, Elder Russell M. Nelson (2008) has said:

"Against this backdrop of spiritual decay, you young adults of the Church enter the stage. You have a firm foundation of faith. You are role models, both in courtship and in marriage. You know what's right and what's wrong! You hold the line! ... We are very, very proud of you!" (p. 38).

Although the search for an eternal companion can seem a daunting task, dating can and should be a fun experience. We have received prophetic counsel to help us navigate the dating journey safely.

Life as a Single

Most LDS young adults value marriage and seek to find a marriage partner. Sometimes, however, marriage does not come when we planned. Elder Dallin H. Oaks (2003) has said:

"The timing of marriage is perhaps the best example of an extremely important event in our lives that is almost impossible to plan. Like other important mortal events that depend on the agency of others or the will and timing of the Lord, marriage cannot be anticipated or planned with certainty" (p. 15).

Sometimes young adults may feel frustrated that the Lord's timetable does not match their own. However, we should move forward with faith and trust that if we do our best, everything will work out in its proper time, whether that is in this life or the next.

Sometimes when marriage does not seem forthcoming, young adults may question their own worth. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf (2009) counsels us "do not wait for someone else to make your life complete. Stop second-guessing yourself and wondering if you are defective. Instead, seek to reach your potential as a child of God" (Will I Ever Find My Soul Mate? section, ¶ 22). Referring to this topic, Sister Julie B. Beck (2008), General Relief Society President, has said, "You do not need to live a life of waiting and wondering. You do not need to lose the momentum and enthusiasm that you now have and that the Lord needs from you in order to build His kingdom"(The Blessings of Abraham section, ¶ 10). She recommends four activities we can do as singles in order to unlock the keys of the blessings of Abraham: serve others, share the gospel, participate in temple and family history work, and prepare for our futures. Doing these things, Sister Beck says, will "keep you in the right places, doing the right things with the right people, and they set you apart as disciples of Jesus Christ" (The Blessings of Abraham section, ¶ 12).

Dating vs. Hanging Out

In the modern culture, hanging out has begun to replace dating. Elder Oaks (2005) has defined hanging out as "numbers of young men and numbers of young women joining together in some group activity" (Dating versus Hanging Out section, ¶ 4). In contrast, he describes dating as "pairing off to experience the kind of one-on-one association and temporary commitment that can lead to marriage, in some rare and treasured cases" (Dating versus Hanging Out section, ¶ 5). While hanging out can be a fun and acceptable way to build friendships, it is not an effective way to build a romantic relationship.

President Uchtdorf (2009) counseled:

"While there is nothing wrong with getting together often with others your own age, I don't know if you can really get to know individuals when you're always in a group. One of the things you need to learn is how to have a conversation with a member of the opposite sex. A great way to learn this is by being alone with someone|talking without a net, so to speak" (Will I Ever Find My Soul Mate? section, ¶ 16).

 Elder Oaks (2005) has laid out the three P's that define a date: "A "date" must pass the test of three p's: (1) planned ahead, (2) paid for, and (3) paired off" (Dating versus Hanging Out section, ¶ 12).  Further, Elder Oaks (2005) has said "Simple and more frequent dates allow both men and women to 'shop around' in a way that allows extensive evaluation of the prospects"(Dating versus Hanging Out section, ¶ 9).

Casual Dating

Sometimes, when someone is asked on a date, he or she panics. "I'm not sure I'd want to marry this person!" she may think, "Should I go on a date with him?" Elder Jeffrey R. Holland (2000) has said, "If you are just going for pizza or to play a set of tennis, go with anyone who will provide good, clean fun" (p. 4). While you should be careful not to accept dates from anyone who would harm you during the outing, it is not crucial to be wildly in love with everyone who takes you on a date. Dating is meant to be fun, and not only a precursor to marriage. There is no commitment attached to going on a date. Elder Oaks (2005) has noted that "As dates become fewer and more elaborate, this seems to create an expectation that a date implies seriousness or continuing commitment. That expectation discourages dating even more" (Dating versus Hanging Out section, ¶ 8).  Dates don't need to be particularly elaborate or expensive. President Uchtdorf (2009) has said, "Relax. Find simple ways to be together...The goal is to get to know one individual person and learn how to develop a meaningful relationship with the opposite sex" (Will I Ever Find My Soul Mate? section, ¶ 18).

Casual dating is a fun, important step towards marriage. But remember not to stay in this phase forever. President Gordon B. Hinckley (1990) counseled "Don't go on endlessly in a frivolous dating game. Look for a choice companion, one you can love, honor, and respect, and make a decision. Think of marriage and family in the terms that leaders of this Church have taught since the very beginning" (p. 2).

Soul Mates

While ultimately we should seek to find a spouse, dating is a process, and we should not put pressure on ourselves to find someone as soon as we enter college or return from our missions. We should be wise in who we date, because someday we will marry someone we have dated. However, we should not take this to mean that we will marry everyone we date. Just because someone does not seem like your future spouse at first glance, does not mean you should not date them. Even if you only go on one date, it will probably be a fun experience (if you choose to make it so) and you will probably learn a few things from it. You may even learn that you do really enjoy being with this person, and something deeper may develop if you give it a chance.

Sometimes young adults may get caught up in the idea of a soul mate|that somewhere in the world, there exists one person who is their perfect match. Concerning soul mates, President Uchtdorf (2009) said "I know this may be a disappointment for some of you, but I don't believe there is only one right person for you... I don't believe [my wife] was my one chance at happiness in this life, nor was I hers" (Will I Ever Find My Soul Mate? section, ¶ 6).  President Boyd K. Packer (1973) has counseled:

"While I am sure some young couples have some special guidance in getting together, I do not believe in predestined love. If you desire the inspiration of the Lord in this crucial decision, you must live the standards of the Church, and you must pray constantly for the wisdom to recognize those qualities upon which a successful union may be based. You must do the choosing, rather than to seek for some one-and-only so-called soul mate, chosen for you by someone else and waiting for you. You are to do the choosing" (p. 11).

As you date, take care to only date those who treat you with respect. Elder Holland (2000) has cautioned us that "In a dating and courtship relationship, I would not have you spend five minutes with someone who belittles you, who is constantly critical of you, who is cruel at your expense and may even call it humor" (p. 4). Elder Oaks (2007) reminds us that "[t]he best way to avoid divorce from an unfaithful, abusive, or unsupportive spouse is to avoid marriage to such a person" (p. 73, original emphasis).

Finally, remember Elder Holland's (2000) counsel:

"Do you want capability, safety, and security in dating and romance, in married life and eternity? Be a true disciple of Jesus. Be a genuine, committed, word-and-deed Latter-day Saint. Believe that your faith has everything to do with your romance, because it does. You separate dating from discipleship at your peril" (p. 6).

Written by Shelece McAllister, Research Assistant, and edited by Jason S. Carroll and Stephen F. Duncan, professors in the School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.

References

Beck, J. B. (March, 2008). Unlocking the door to the blessings of Abraham. CES Fireside for Young Adults.

Hinckley, G. B. (March, 1990). "Thou shalt not covet." Ensign, 2.

Holland, J. R. (February, 2000). How do I love thee? BYU Devotional. http://www.byub.org

Monson, T. B. (October, 2004). Whom shall I marry? New Era, 4.

Nelson, R. M. (March, 2007). Faith and families. Ensign, 36-41.

Oaks, D. H. (October, 2003). Timing. Ensign, 10-17.

Oaks, D. H. (May, 2005). The dedication of a lifetime. CES Fireside for Young Adults.

Oaks, D. H. (May, 2007). Divorce. Ensign, 70-73.

Packer, B. K. (1973). Eternal love. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company.

Scott, R. G. (May, 1999). Receive the temple blessings. Ensign, 25.

Uchtdorf, D. F. (November, 2009). The reflection in the water. CES Fireside for Young Adults.