I gave the following talk in church on June 28, 2009; I thought I'd pass it on for fun (although it may not read exactly as heard in person):
I'm very humbled to speak today, especially given the potentially sensitive nature of my topic and my relative inexperience and inadequacy with respect to it. My words will try to elaborate the importance of balancing our lives while dating, giving dating the appropriate place and priority in our lives. So, basically, I'm going to talk about dating!
To start things off, I'd like to read a poem written by Sir Francis Bacon around the turn of the 16th to 17th century entitled, "Life."
The world's a bubble, and the life of man
Less than a span:
In his conception wretched, from the womb
So to the tomb;
Curst from his cradle, and brought up to years
With cares and fears.
Who then to frail mortality shall trust,
But limns on water, or but writes in dust.
Yet whilst with sorrow here we live opprest,
What life is best?
Courts are but only superficial schools
To dandle fools :
The rural parts are turn'd into a den
Of savage men:
And where's a city from foul vice so free,
But may be term'd the worst of all the three?
Domestic cares afflict the husband's bed,
Or pains his head:
Those that live single, take it for a curse,
Or do things worse:
Some would have children : those that have them, moan
Or wish them gone:
What is it, then, to have, or have no wife,
But single thraldom, or a double strife?
Our own affections still at home to please
Is a disease:
To cross the seas to any foreign soil,
Peril and toil:
Wars with their noise affright us ; when they cease,
We are worse in peace: —
What then remains, but that we still should cry
For being born, or, being born, to die?
Now, hopefully most, if not all, of us are not nearly as pessimistic and cynical as the poet, Sir Francis Bacon. Rather, I hope that each and every one of us at least possesses an ounce of optimism with respect to life, its twists and turns, and its purposes.
Dating, as a means to eventually fulfilling one such obvious purpose of life, should be a component of each of our single lives. Does this mean that dating is easy? That's up to us...
I wish to draw on a well-known talk given by Elder and Sister Oaks to illustrate what I mean... and yes, I'm referring to the famous, or infamous, "Dating versus hanging out" talk, given at a fireside in Oakland, California a few years ago. Elder Oaks makes an interesting point when he actually defines dating and its purposes: "Unlike hanging out, dating is not a team sport. Dating is 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."
Later he says, "Dating involves commitments, if only for a few hours. Hanging out requires no commitments, at least not for the men if the women provide the food and shelter."
And additionally, he says, "... 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." (or rugby, if I have already converted you!)
Although Elder Oaks offers several other insights into dating and hanging out, allow me to articulate it as plainly as possible: dating is not hanging out. It is more formal and purposeful than this. Nevertheless, dating is not courtship either. States Elder Oaks to the single, young men of the church: "Start with a variety of dates with a variety of young women, and when that phase yields a good prospect, proceed to courtship. It's marriage time."
Just as Elder Oaks distinguishes between "dating" and "hanging out," I feel it just as important to note that he distinguishes "dating" as different than and preparatory to "courtship," or exclusive dating with the intent to marry. Perhaps our definition of dating needs to be modified; perhaps the implications of dating someone need to be softened. Dating, as defined by Elder Oaks, is what we would call "dating around" and not "dating exclusively." It's time to update our vocabulary and similarly our perceptions.
So what exactly am I suggesting here? What can we single young men and young women do to optimistically approach dating in the proper light?
First, I wish to offer a few words to us men. Though I say that dating is not courtship, I do not wish to diminish the man's responsibility in the least. We should pursue dating with courage and purpose. It is our duty and privilege, our opportunity to reaffirm to the young women around us that they are literal daughters of God. Do whatever you can or must to remember that dating isn't about you, about where you are going, about the expense involved, or about what activity you choose to do... it's about your date and the chance you have to get a small peek into what further commitment to her would be like and would feel like.
The experience itself, as Elder Oaks stated, only represents a temporary commitment. And so, brethren, dating isn't a long-term commitment but rather a short-term experiment. And hopefully one day, such an experiment will lead to greater commitment, even courtship.
So what should we do to improve our dating pursuits? I suggest that planning ahead is the best action to take. We can create a list of good restaurants, fun places to go, and other ideas for activities well in advance. We can appropriate our money so that it isn't difficult or attention-drawing to pay for a date. Doing these simple things will build confidence and foster motivation to realize the last critical step: actually asking a young woman to go on a date with you... "pairing off" as Elder Oaks calls it. And if your planning doesn't go so well, you know you can always ask her, in anticipation of a date, what she would enjoy doing!
Remember, it's about her... not about you...
Second, I wish to speak to the women in frankness about their responsibility in this whole matter. Yes, you must discourage "hanging out," and while that may sound easy, that's not all: you must encourage "dating" as Elder Oaks said, not "courtship" from the start, but "dating"... and all this while avoiding "hanging out."
So what can you do to assist in the dating experiment? Well, let me assure you that Adam Pontipee or one of the Pontipee brothers won't all of a sudden come singing down from Rock Canyon to steal you away and make you his bride! On the contrary, and perhaps more realistically, it may feel like the young men you have your eye on don't even seem to know you exist! Perhaps you feel somewhat 'cast by the wayside' while all of your friends appear to be dating. Whatever the case may be, I say, "Don't wait for the cows to come home without calling them!"
Be proactive; make it easier for young men; express and show your desire to date. Ironically, you women of today are empowered like never before, and yet with respect to dating, the temptation is to feel or even act powerless. Remember, however, that a date is a mutual affair, not a one-sided effort. Do what you can to generate interest: initiate conversation; say hello; smile! By small and simple means are great things brought to pass. Yes, it is the man's responsibility to ask you out... but remember, men need help! Even our Heavenly Father knows this! ... There are small and simple things you can do to help.
Now, if you are making a conscious and continual effort yet not getting asked out, then don't give up but make sure to keep the rest of your life moving forward as well. Elder Oaks counsels, "If you are just marking time waiting for a marriage prospect, stop waiting. You may never have the opportunity for a suitable marriage in this life, so stop waiting and start moving. Prepare yourself for life—even a single life—by education, experience, and planning. Don't wait for happiness to be thrust upon you. Seek it out in service and learning. Make a life for yourself. And trust in the Lord. ..."
Third and finally, I wish to conclude by offering some thoughts to all of us, men and women alike. As many of you may recall, Elder Oaks said that "a date must pass the test of the three p's: (1) planned ahead, (2) paid for, and (3) paired off." While these parameters are obviously important, I would submit that they are primarily the young man's responsibility and can be completely covered before the date even happens. In an effort to remind all of us that a date is a mutual event, however, I would like to present my "three s's," applicable to both men and women, to build upon the "three p's": (1) keep it Simple, (2) make it Significant, and (3) be Sincere.
I once again quote Elder Oaks: "Simple and more frequent dates allow both men and women to "shop around" in a way that allows extensive evaluation of the prospects. The old-fashioned date was a wonderful way to get acquainted with a member of the opposite sex. It encouraged conversation. It allowed you to see how you treat others and how you are treated in a one-on-one situation. It gave opportunities to learn how to initiate and sustain a mature relationship."
Brothers and sisters, keeping our dates and dating habits simple will remove the majority of the intimidation, awkwardness, and anxiety that we often feel. We will be able to better plan and anticipate dates, because they will be simple, cheap, more frequent, and probably even more fun! ... Keep it simple.
Simple does not mean boring, uninvolved, or insignificant. As we strive to instead participate in good conversation, interact in new settings, and find ways to 'make the moment' for each other, then will our simple date become a more memorable and meaningful experience. ... Make it significant.
Perhaps the best way to give special meaning to a date, if only for a few hours, is to be yourself. How else will we be able to discern whether we want to advance to courtship in the future if only one or neither person presents his or her true self to the other? Do whatever it takes to date with pure motivations in an unassuming and optimistic manner. ... Be sincere.
I bear testimony that the Lord loves each and every one of us. He knows us personally. He is completely aware of our individual situations. I know that, for this reason, he blesses and guides us as much as He can so that we may reach our ultimate potential. Dating is a small means in this equation, to eventually receive eternal life. I know that the Church is true. I know that Joseph Smith is a true prophet. The Spirit testifies of these things. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.