Thursday, September 23, 2004

Dysfunctional Mormon Dating

One of the young ladies in my ward recently co-authored the following condemnation of the dating practices of some of the brethren. This little piece of amateur sociology is especially interesting to me since I've been in the church for less than a year and am still learning what social practices are acceptable (or prevalent but unacceptable) within the LDS community.

http://www.meridianmagazine.com/singlethought/040916duty.html

The first few paragraphs give you the gist of it:


It has recently come to the attention of the wardens that there is a troublesome trend spreading across the young, careless, and free LDS singles of society. This intolerable trend must be brought to light and shared with the unprotected and innocent bystanders. This trend is known as “Duty-Free Dating.”

Duty-Free Dating occurs in safe public places, e.g. parties, dances, ward activities, the church foyer. These events and happenstance meetings occur in lieu of “good old fashioned dating,” as some may call it. “Good old fashioned dating,” for those unfamiliar with the concept, is when one person calls a member of the opposite sex directly and communicates that they would like to spend some time alone with them. The first party invites the second party for a set period of time in a ritual called courtship.

....Duty-Free Dating, or “DFD” as it is sometimes known among researchers who study the phenomenon, is the practice of flirting, consorting, investigating, and fraternizing continuously in a public place with a member of the opposite sex with little to no follow up or commitment. The instigator of this device, or the aggressor, or predator, frequently tends to be male, although exceptions in nature have been found. The female is generally more timid and less aggressive in instances of DFD. She tends to be a naïve participant and propagator of DFD. While she may create Duty-Free Dating environments (Sunday night group dinners), she did not invent DFD.


I myself have seen signs of "duty free dating" here and there in my ward, and I think it has served to further remind me that Mormons aren't perfect people, and that Mormon dating practices, on average, aren't as morally superior to the dating practices of the rest of the world as we would all like to think.

For starters, it's certainly not morally upright for brethren to intentionally lead on a number of young ladies at once without committing. And at the same time, I'd like to bring up the question of contibutory offense: it seems that some of the young women in my ward are most attracted to the "duty free daters," and flirt with them extensively while ignoring the rest of the available brethren. I doubt that they intentionally set out to get burned; many of them probably fantasize about "taming a wild beast"... usually, to no avail. Indeed, just as when I hung out with a bunch of cynical agnostics in my college days, it seems that a lot of good women are more attracted to jerks than to decent upright guys.

However in some cases, "duty-free dating" may simply lie in the imagination of the young lady, mistakenly thinking that a guy is hitting on her, even though wishful thinking does not make it so. I suspect that the authors of this article may be attempting to give the reader the sense that "duty-free dating" is more rampant than in actuality, in order to try to lasso the brethren into some state of submission and/or guilt. Which isn't encouraging to me. The last thing we need in the church is a battle between the sexes.

(One personal example: a few months ago, I nearly lost my then-girlfriend [an extremely sweet and moral recently returned missionary] to a guy who usually wore T-shirts with inscriptions such as "It's not my fault you suck" to Institute and had a personality to match. She confessed to me that she couldn't stop thinking about him and thought that he was constantly flirting with her when I could clearly see that he was not. The whole thing still strikes me as weird.)

I personally don't see why brethren would consciously engage in "duty-free dating," either. I mean, sure, at certain times we want to keep our options open before committing to one girlfriend (or none at all), but in the long-term "duty-free dating" sounds about as exciting as playing poker for pennies.

Well, I'd be very interested to hear opinions and anecdotes of everyone else on dysfunctional dating practices you've seen (or been a victim of). If nothing else, do it for me, because I'm still new to the church and hope to become less clueless. :)

23 Comments:

At 9/23/2004 06:26:00 PM,

"Mormon dating practices, on average, aren't as morally superior to the dating practices of the rest of the world as we would all like to think."

Ain't it the truth? Chris, we need you and those like you to offer the proper perspectives that keep us in line.

I need clarification, though: "DFD", as it is described, seems more like the necessary pre-date ritual than a special classification of actual dating. Would anyone, after one or more “DFD’s”, claim that they were actually “dating” the other participant?

Perhaps part of the issue is that people in the dating world who do not abide by LDS (or similarly abstinent) standards, have a narrower spectrum of cues to indicate how a dating relationship is progressing. I suspect this may contribute to shorter courting periods, as well. When people around you are engaged to be married by the third date, it follows that even an informal meeting is considered a giant leap in a relationship.

 
At 9/24/2004 11:43:00 AM,

I think a major contributor to the DFD phenomenon is the fact that singles wards have turned into quasi-religious groups with an emphasis on social interaction (i.e. church sanctioned meat markets). Long breaks between classes are acceptable (sometimes encouraged) and extra-curricular activities (i.e. FHE, Institute, Ward Prayer, Treat nights, Munch 'n Mingle, Break the Fast, you name it) that were once planned as a safe environment for mixed-gender socialization have become the norm for Mormon dating interaction.

Guys usually get the bum rap for not dating enough (or for DFD), and I have to admit that, overall, we tend to have lazy habits (back-to-back SportsCenter not excluded). However, my experience is if a boy really likes a girl, he knows EXACTLY what to do. DFD might just be a term used by girls who haven't been asked out in a while. As for the guys -- well, if there are brownies, we will come (but only for the brownies).

 
At 9/24/2004 01:52:00 PM,

Along the lines of what Doug was saying, I think that girls in the church have odd expectations. A good number of them refuse to ask guys out themselves for whatever reasons, and yet those same girls complain constantly about how it's the guys fault for not asking them out. Why can't the lonley-heart club girls of the church quit their whining and actually do something other than invent theories about why they aren't going out with anyone?

 
At 9/24/2004 05:02:00 PM,

I very much agree, Chris Last-name-omitted. There's really no need to adhere to the old tradition of men asking out women and never vice versa.

After all, when the woman does the asking (or at least drops hints that she'd like to be asked out), she's more likely to snag a quality guy who might have never gotten around to asking her or may have never even considered it. I'm friends with one girl who has used this technique to great effect, and is often dating respecatable, good-looking guys while girls prettier than she sit home watching TV in their pajamas on Saturday night.

 
At 9/25/2004 08:01:00 PM,

I have to agree, the DFD is a real phenomenon. It happens all the time, but I too believe it to be a "pre-dating" ritual that is very important. How else are you going to figure out who you want to ask on a date?

Guys do need to do more actual asking out though, it makes your intentions clear that you want to be more than just "hang out buddies".

 
At 9/25/2004 08:14:00 PM,

When I was at BYU a few years ago. (OK 10. I'm getting old. I admit it) Anyway, when I was there they had a few polls which showed something like 20% of all the singles were doing most of the dating. At the time of the poll I was probably in the 80%, truth be told. It seemed to me, and others can jump in and correct me, that people only asked each other out, by and large, when they had some idea that they'd enjoy dating them already. And I think that's a fairly widespread view.

I tend to think it a bad view. Indeed I now regret those years a fair bit.

Later, I ended up doing a lot of this casual dating, flirting and even kissing. Yet I met many more people, had a far better time, honed my social skills that before were somewhat lacking, and ended up much the better for it all things considered. Yes, I can see how those who think anyone taking any interest can get hurt. And I always tried to avoid those situations for misunderstanding. But I really think that there is a bit of a problem where perhaps we take dating a tad *too* seriously. i.e. the main thought on our mind is marriage. That causes all sorts of uncomfortable situations. I can think of a few in my own past that make me truly cringe.

 
At 9/25/2004 08:18:00 PM,

Just to add, the "meat-market" bit always makes me roll my eyes. What is wrong with that kind of socializing? It seems to be a comment made by those who dislike people who date a lot and who are out having a good time. You don't have to go out with people who ask you. And you don't have to go around socializing, going to parties, or dating. I'm not sure why some see those things as bad things or necessarily somehow inconducive to the gospel.

Me thinks those making those comments (and I'll confess I've said it too) have an overly idealized view of dating where someone comes, sweeps them off their feet, and it all happens as by chance. Trust me from past experience and with a wife I truly love. It almost never works that way. All those romantic movies you grew up with? They are lies. Yeah you might intellectually agree. But I think many down in their gut buy into the lie of some sort of weird romantic fate.

 
At 9/25/2004 08:35:00 PM,

DFD? Good grief!

Dating is a lot like missionary work. There's the finding (flirting) pool, the teaching (dating pool) and the baptismal/fellowship (engaged/married) pool.

I'm not going to ask a girl out before kicking the tires a bit! Would the young ladies who wrote this article propose that flirting is unethical? Why should I commit to an entire evening and the associated financial expenses right away, and potentially waste her time and lead her on further, if the potential can be ascertained earlier in the process?

 
At 9/25/2004 09:52:00 PM,

Going on a date is just such a big deal among Mormons that it's really scary. I feel like I need to have a really good idea of whether we'll hit it off before I ask somebody out. What's wrong with getting to know somebody more casually? Don't those conversations count toward building a friendship, one that would really help if you do start going on dates? I think articles like this one in Meridian, and similar talk about dating that goes on all the time, informally, make the problem worse. The more it seems like it's a big deal to go on a date, the more you better know it's really going to be worth it if you ask somebody out! All kinds of people start jumping to conclusions, including people in the neighborhood who you might want to go on a date with. This can really mess up your plans if you ask out the wrong person first. Especially in a singles ward, where everybody knows everybody. So because it is such a big deal, guys are more cautious about asking women out, but then as a result going on a date seems like even more of a big deal! Ugh.

 
At 9/25/2004 10:01:00 PM,

"Dating is a lot like missionary work."

Oh, man. Let me just say: don’t you dare use the commitment pattern when proposing, if you know what’s good for you.

I figure, T.R., that you didn’t intend your statement to reflect the argument that I’m about to counter. My issues regarding dating within the LDS culture would be solved if the process were seen as a mutual investigative process, instead of a one-sided seek-and-convert operation like the LDS mission. Does anyone really think that the women are just there to be found? What else can we assume by the one-sided pressure to date?

 
At 9/26/2004 11:48:00 PM,

Responding to Mark's comment about the one-sided LDS missionary "seek and convert" opperation-- I don't think missionary work (at least missionary work done correctly) employs this methodology at all. Real missionary work must take place as a dialogue (both on the intellectual and on the spiritual level). This is something I think the brethern are trying to emphasize in removing the draconian "one-size-fits-all" discussion format for teaching the gospel.

I think dating is the same way. It has definitely not been my experience that LDS women are the docile, Molly-Mormon couch potatoes many of the responses to Chris' post have made them out to be. Rather, they are just the opposite-- as skilled as any other women at the complex balance of pursuing and letting yourself be pursued. And if that balance involves "DFD" then so-be-it. I think this is a helluva lot less reprehensible than the DFS (Duty Free Sex) practice of much of the rest of the world. Frankly (though this might be my ethnocentrism talking, and the fact that I myself am quite a practicer of so-called DFD), I can't see any othe way of doing things.

--JD Payne

 
At 9/27/2004 10:04:00 AM,

"Guys do need to do more actual asking out though, it makes your intentions clear that you want to be more than just 'hang out buddies'."

I wonder how long it will be until (if ever) women are expected to "do more actual asking"?

 
At 9/27/2004 07:20:00 PM,

How far is too far when it comes to kicking the tires pre-date stage? My methodology for deciding whether to ask a woman out consists by and large of a friendly interrogation, perhaps focusing on a woman's politics, her approach to religion related church issues (if, e.g., we are in the same ward), or in my more decadent moments, basically anything she is willing to show support or appreciation for. I try not to be cruel, and I don't think I am. I smile, and they all smile during this process. But the sense I get from a lot of women I speak with in this date recommend interview (don't get the idea of formality; this works the best, I think, if she doesn't know what is coming and when) is that they are not used to potential suitors speaking with them as if they have anything terribly valuable to contribute to a thoughtful conversation. That's not always the case, I hasten to add, and maybe it's not a majority. My sense is that most women enjoy this pre-date dialogue, especially if it is a little unnerving. Again, I don't think I am ever cruel in this process. My motivation is clear: while body type and other perishable attractions will wither like Peter's flower of grass, when we are old and either fatties or frail wraiths, I hope to still enjoy at least a good thoughtful conversation. Not to mention the fact that if our intercourse (verbal!) is all one-sided, or an utter failure, any real "dates" that materialize will be the worst kind of torture.

 
At 9/28/2004 05:49:00 PM,

As to many things Jason says, to this last comment I add an emphatic, "Amen!"

 
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