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By Michael D. Williams
There is simply no replacement for intentionally spending planned time together, for building important relationships.
That simple phrase leaves men-young and old alike-quaking in fear. Young women wait anxiously by the phone and mature women sigh with nostalgic longing.
Okay, so I'm exaggerating a bit. But the truth is we've lost touch with the fine art of dating. Having grown up here in south eastern Idaho I dated a lot all the way through my high school years. I considered it my Aaronic Priesthood duty to plan and go on fun activities with young ladies, without concern about going steady or having a "girlfriend".
We were encouraged to double or even triple date because it was more fun as a group (though it was tough to get 6 people in the front of my pickup even before seatbelt laws). We were always paired off for the evening, but there was a good chance that the pairing would be different the next time the group of us went out together.
My freshman year of college was more of the same. We were strongly encouraged to date for fun and to get to know others better. The most enjoyable dates were those that required little cash but a good degree of creativity.
Fast forward thirty years.
I was very surprised to return to this area and to find that people generally do not date as they once did. They have generally adopted the traditions of the world around us. I was very disappointed to see that thoughtful dating practices had been replaced with "hanging out, making out, and dropping out".
Elder Dallin H. Oakes has addressed this important issue a number of times, even touching upon it in the most recent conference. He advised students to stop hanging out, as it is a very ineffective means of preparing for marriage and for choosing a marriage partner. As a marriage therapist I have to concur; hanging out does nothing to help one prepare for the challenges and opportunities of marriage and does very little to us make an educated guess as to whether someone is likely to pair well with us for a lifetime.
Elder Oakes clarified that an actual date differs from hanging out in several ways. A date is planned, paid for, and the participants are paired off.
Planning requires actually coming up with a clear agenda and making important decisions in hopes of creating a satisfying experience. It communicates an interest in the comfort and enjoyment of the other. While hanging out requires little effort and the success of the event is dependent upon all present, when a young man plans a date he is assuming a degree of responsibility for the experience of the young woman he has asked to share the event with him.
While it may seem obvious, providing the resources to pay for the date also conveys commitment. This is not always a financial burden; some of the best dates require very little or no cash but will require allocating other resources to make it worthwhile. Again, it implies that this young lady is a worthy investment.
When couples pair off, even the for evening, they are practicing commitment to one another. Even if it is only for a couple of hours they have committed to contribute to and attend to one another. They are practicing commitment in a world that suggests that to commit means to limit oneself. Well, that is true, and we are practicing in some small way for an exclusive relationship with someone that will last a lifetime.
Hanging out, on the other hand, is a low risk activity with very limited promise of return. It does little to help us get to know others in a variety of situations. It does nothing to practice the skills that will be critical in marriage.
Students in marriage preparation classes have wisely pointed out the correlation between the markers of dating-planned, paid for, paired off-with the responsibilities for husband outlined in the family proclamation-to preside, provide and protect.
Do you see how planning and learning to make adjustments on dates helps us to practice skills to lead or preside in our families? Planned, thoughtful dates are not just sales techniques, but opportunities for couples to practice their ability to work together to this end.
Can one really expect a man to be a practical and effective provider after marriage when he was unwilling or unable to pull together the resources for reasonable and effective dates? I have spoken with a number of deeply disappointed women who found that their husbands were not the motivated providers they promised to be. These patterns began as they hung out and did not change afterward. They had no right to expect otherwise.
One wise young woman pointed out that when she pairs off for a date she is expecting that young man to be her protect for the evening. He is to protect her from dangers on the road, challenges throughout the duration of the date, and most especially from the temptations either of them might encounter as they grow closer. The man develops and demonstrates his commitment to serve as a protector through proper dating.
But dating is not only for the single; courtship must continue long after the "I do's ".Continued courtship is fundamental to a happy, enduring marriage. Date night is still the opportunity for couples to be their best selves and to rekindle the feelings that brought them together in the first place.
I am grateful that I married a dater. We prepared for marriage the old fashioned way by planning and engaging in a variety of activities which helped us to see one another in a range of situations. We learned and recovered from goofs and mistake along the way. We not only came to know each other but actually became better people and better prepared for marriage through intentional dating practices.
So next time you think of date night, remember this is your opportunity to shine and to grow for that special someone...whether you know that special someone yet, or not.