Is One Date Enough?

Lisa Ray Turner Culture, love, marriage 33 Comments

I’m thinking about weddings a lot recently. Probably because I’ve been going to lots of them. Many friends and family members are getting married, announcing engagements, and thinking about marriage. ‘Tis the season.

It’s led me to think a lot about the peculiar way we “peculiar people” find and marry our mates. Here are some things I’ve noticed (in a totally non-scientific, non-sociological, strictly-observational way):

  • · Courtships are fast. Couples who barely know each other get engaged.
  • · Young girls (say, around 18-19 years old) think a lot about marriage, way more than girls of this age who aren’t LDS.
  • · Most Mormons have no problem with 19-year-old girls getting married.
  • Young Mormon males are considered ready to get married after a mission. Schooling is usually not really taken into consideration.
  • · Lots of young Mormons (especially girls) have a fairy tale view of marriage. One young woman I talked to discussed with zeal her love for the Disney princesses, then proceeded to carry on a spirited debate about how many children she would have when she married (five). She just turned 18.
  • · Returned missionaries aren’t told to get married six months after they come home, like they were twenty years ago, but they still clearly understand that marriage is the next step in life.
  • · Young married couples no longer are having babies within the first year of marriage. Some do, of course, but it’s acceptable to wait a year or two.
  • · Spiritual attributes are highly prized when searching for a mate. A family member broke up with an otherwise promising guy because he didn’t read his scriptures enough.
  • · BYU is still the happy hunting ground.
  • · The decision to marry is often made abruptly. A friend’s daughter is marrying her “best friend.” They’ve known each other for many years, but had never dated … except for one date — before  deciding to marry. My friend’s question to me is the title of this post. “Is one date enough?”
  • · Mormon couples are quite savvy about sex. Much more than they used to be. (I’m not saying they’re doing it before they get married, but they know a lot about it … and want it. Blushing brides and shy grooms are the exception, rather than the rule.)

I talked recently with a marriage and family therapist who said she considers the Mormon method of marriage to be a system of arranged marriage. And if you think she has a problem with that, you’d be wrong. She says she’s worked with so many clients who shun commitment, slide into cohabitation instead of marriage, hang out instead of date and hook up instead of have real relationships, that the marriage-centered culture is a great thing. Mormon marriages, have a lot to offer, despite the quirks and problems.

I’m wondering whether my observations align with yours. What have you noticed about Mormon marriages, engagements, and the world of the in-love? And if you’ve been married a while, how have things changed?

Comments

comments

Comments 33

  1. “Mormon couples are quite savvy about sex.”

    Of course, I’m going to skip right down to the juiciest tidbit. This has not my experience with the young couples I know (although I guess it depends on your definition of “savvy”). What leads you to this conclusion? I continue to hear first-hand accounts of very awkward honeymoons, etc. Similarly, I am consistently surpised at how many folks in my position (pardon the pun), married now for nearly 14 years, consider sex a taboo discussion topic. I always chalk it up to those years spent in YM/YW where the idea that sexual sin is nigh unto murder pervades. Is my experience unique?

  2. 1. Courtships are fast.

    This goes along with your therapists perspective. It was also my own experience. Many young church members are well prepared adulthood and have an expectation for marriage in the LDS culture that can be easily met when the right person enters the picture.

    2. Young girls (say, around 18-19 years old) think a lot about marriage.

    My wife says this phenomenon is heavier in the Mia Maids and Laurels years, then wanes after graduation when more opportunities in life open up.

    3.Most Mormons have no problem with 19-year-old girls getting married.

    It was interesting to watch my sister’s discomfort with her 19 year-old getting married. It was in the temple to a guy with education and career prospects. She was just not comfortable with her own 19 year old getting married that early in life. 9 years later, it is still going well.

    3. Young Mormon males are considered ready to get married after a mission. Schooling is usually not really taken into consideration.

    This is what is preached, but both parents of grooms and brides typically have an expectation that males have a career pathway of sorts in place (from my non-scientific observations).

    4.Lots of young Mormons (especially girls) have a fairy tale view of marriage.

    My wife actually had a disillusioned view of marriage and her LDS friends from her teenage years (not the popular Laurels in their ward young women’s programs) were fairly realistic in their view.

    5. Returned missionaries aren’t told to get married six months after they come home.

    I was never told this 20 years ago, or if I was, my selective hearing ignored it. I was counseled that it was an important step and that I should take the search for a mate seriously.

    6.Young married couples no longer are having babies within the first year of marriage. Some do, of course, but it’s acceptable to wait a year or two.

    Agreed

    7. Spiritual attributes are highly prized when searching for a mate. A family member broke up with an otherwise promising guy because he didn’t read his scriptures enough.

    This is another individual thing. One person’s marker of spirituality is mediocre for another. My LDS college roommate rejected the idea that he date a girl from our student ward because he deemed her “too spiritual”.

    8. BYU is still the happy hunting ground.

    This has not been the case for any of my parents children or grandchildren. Some parents even frown on BYU as a hunting ground because of the likelihood their children will marry someone from a distant location (i.e. Canada) and decrease the possibility of having their children/grandchildren living near them.

    9. The decision to marry is often made abruptly. A friend’s daughter is marrying her “best friend.” They’ve known each other for many years, but had never dated … except for one date — before deciding to marry. My friend’s question to me is the title of this post. “Is one date enough?”

    This is still true. I know of a relationship that turned into an engagement my long distance text-messaging and cell phoning.

    9. Mormon couples are quite savvy about sex. Much more than they used to be. (I’m not saying they’re doing it before they get married, but they know a lot about it … and want it. Blushing brides and shy grooms are the exception, rather than the rule.)

    Though I don’t think they are savvy about it from discussions with parents…

  3. I think your observations are spot on. I also think there is a heavy reliance on what people have done/do as an indication of their character. I am referring to someone who served a mission, attends church regularly, or having an esteemed calling as an indication of personal testimony/spirituality. That reliance can be misleading.

    I heard a mom of marriageable kids say they had a “four seasons” rule in their family–you have to date some through four seasons before getting engaged. I like that.

  4. A girl in our ward got married last year after just turning 19. Part of me was screaming “What are you doing?” Live a little, move out of the house and just be on your own for awhile. But, the other part of me remembers being in YWs and the emphasis on getting married. I remember being 19 and watching my friends get married and feeling left behind in some way. I met my husband when I was 17 and wrote to him while he was on his mission. We got married when I was 20. It worked for us, but I see many couples that it hasn’t worked for.

  5. · The decision to marry is often made abruptly. A friend’s daughter is marrying her “best friend.” They’ve known each other for many years, but had never dated … except for one date — before deciding to marry. My friend’s question to me is the title of this post. “Is one date enough?”

    Of course- in the situation describe above. On the other hand, one date with a stranger resulting in engagement is probably a bad idea.

    However, I think you are incorrect about girls marrying young being viewed as acceptable. It is by Priesthood leaders, and men in general tend not to have strong opinions about it. Married Mormon women tend to be more supportive of marrying young then most mothers, but I think there is a serious divide- and a lot of young women intend to not marry young.

    I don’t know how many women said something to me along the lines of: I’m not going to make the mistake my mother did, I’m going to graduate before getting married.

  6. I think one other thing – young mormon women are more paranoid about never marrying than their counterparts in the world – and there is more competition early on.

  7. Post
    Author

    Shawn, you asked why I felt young LDS engaged couples were savvy about sex. Perhaps I should have said more savvy about sex. I remember “in the olden days” when I was in college, how very naive some of my friends and fellow college students were. They barely knew the basics of sex, literally. I don’t think that’s the case now in our more open society. They’ve been putting condoms on bananas in high school classes and they know about the basics of the sex act. Of course, they still have a lot to learn, but I think the whole topic is far more familiar.

  8. I am not sure this is all so unique to Mormondom. As a DJ, I do a lot of bridal shows and I talk to a lot of brides. Since we are a military town, there are plenty of young brides. As they walk away from me, sometimes I ask myself, “when do you graduate middle school?” They look and act so young. Also, in the course of sitting down with prospective clients, you can see by the interaction of the couple whether it is going to make it or not. Sometimes, it is obvious to me that there is a problem in the relationship. The other thing is that at the bridal shows, about one in three is pushing a baby stroller or has a kid in tow. Sometimes, multiples.

    You may worry about 19 year old LDS brides, but with a gospel upbringing, they stand a much better chance of making it work.

  9. “Returned missionaries aren’t told to get married six months after they come home, like they were twenty years ago, but they still clearly understand that marriage is the next step in life.” Of course, I’m in the twenty years ago camp, but there were two versions of the final interview with president: 1) go home and play the field/take your time deciding whom to marry or 2) you’d better pounce on the first one that will have you. The dividing line between who got which talk falls pretty much how you might expect.

    My pet peeve not on your list is more specifically a 19 year old bride with a significantly older groom (e.g. 25 or 26). Maybe in Jane Austen’s day this was a good norm, but I am skeptical of the motives of a much older man in seeking a bride among those who have so little life experience. It seems like he may want to control or mold her. Obviously, that’s a stereotype, but it’s also something I was cautious about at that age. And IME, no one that much older who was interested in me really knew the first thing about me (or he would have run the other way!).

  10. 25 to 26 being “much older”????? Anyone in France would laugh, but neither of you is in France so it is not funny to you. Let me just say that I am smiling as I type my message ;o)
    Hope you don’t take it the wrong way. I am not making fun of you I am just laughing because of a cultural difference.

    Anyway, the sad thing that I have noticed for a lot of young women in the church is that getting married is a kind of social step. They quickly look down the other women they talk to if they are not married and gather in little groups with other married women as if they belonged to a private club.

    As they grow older this tends to disapear but it may take a good 15 years to disapear.

    I remember this specific “girl” I knew from young women who got married and who moved in my ward like four years ago. We talked about a stupid subject of which I don’t remember specifically but that had to do with life with the opposite sex. She is younger than me and she laid her hand on my knee in a very grand mother way and told me “you’ll see when you’re married”. I froze, I almost shouted “Girl, I lost it before you did and according to your angel like way to look at life I am pretty sure that I know more about it than you do”. Then this girl thinking that being married gave her a special authority close to what priesthood is thought it would be smart to mingle with my sisters’ situation and our parents issue. She messed up so bad that it all ended up in the bishop office and she left crying. My mother was told by her husband that she had be mean. She had not, she had been blunt and had put the naked truth in front of her face. She has started learning from then.
    This is pretty stereotyped but this is also very common.
    I can tell you about this other woman in my ward that I remember as a little girl who pretty much take in consideration only married women when she talks.
    And it is the same all over my country. It is not a rule but it is extremly frequent.
    When I was younger it made me sick. Now it makes me laugh.
    This is why I have always loved to talk and to be friend with older people, they often know that the things that are a big deal to the younger generations won’t matter in the long run or will matter very differently as time passes by.
    In my ward we are also lucky to have two women over 60 who are just the greatest and who both went through a rough time when married, so they know better ;o)

  11. Twenty-five or twenty-six is definitely not old, but in terms of life experience there’s a fairly significant difference between theirs and that of a 19-year-old. Someone in their mid-20’s has lived away from home for a while, may have served a mission, gone to college and possibly graduated, probably dated a lot and had a heartbreak or two, worked, etc. A 19-year-old is one year out of high school.

    I also understand what you mean about young brides turning into authorities. I had the same experience when I was in college and my best friend got married. Two weeks after her marriage, she was patting me on the knee and saying the same kind sof you’ll-understand-when-you’re-married comments and talking to me as if we lived in different worlds.

  12. It’s true. Being a YSA myself, I’ve seen a lot of my friends get married over the last few years, and an overwhelming majority seem to think they’re joining ‘the marrieds club’ and I and my other still-single pals are somehow inferior. ‘The marrieds’ only socialize as couples, they stop associating or even talking with the singles, (the women like to refer to ‘my husband’ so much I know it’s just because they like saying the word) and many of the new brides act like they’ve learned a big secret that us single gals can only imagine about. Luckily not all of the newlyweds treat me like the child I’m not, so I’m not too bitter about it.

    But I did just have a pair of Mormon friends decide to elope. I thought they’d been broken up for awhile and were moving on with their lives (the guy had even taken some interest in me). Then I find out one Sunday afternoon they eloped. Despite my attempts to keep in contact, I haven’t heard a word from them since. But their wedding video is on YouTube.

    I remember reading in Seventeen magazine years ago an article with profiles of teenagers from around the country, and the one girl from Utah was the one of a few who mentioned marriage, and she went as far as to say that her goal was to be married by 21. I laughed at this when I first read it, but in recent years have found it to be more or less a trend with some Mormon young women. They *need* to get married by 21 or they’ll be an old maid. I think too many people put too much emphasis on the supposed Brigham Young quote about getting married before 25 or you’re a menace to society. I’ve known a handful of young men – most of them wonderful – who think they’re failing their priesthood because they’re 28 and not married. If you live your life right, serve a faithful mission, and get called as Elders Quorum president you should be married within six months, right? Not so much.

  13. @10:

    “Anyway, the sad thing that I have noticed for a lot of young women in the church is that getting married is a kind of social step. They quickly look down the other women they talk to if they are not married and gather in little groups with other married women as if they belonged to a private club.”

    Maybe that’s the pervasive influence of Pride and Prejudice on our culture!

  14. “I’ve known a handful of young men – most of them wonderful – who think they’re failing their priesthood because they’re 28 and not married.”

    I don’t know if this is truly the issue so much as the fact that as you get older without marriage you start to think about a lot of things.

    Things like:

    Will my grandparents still be alive to see me get married?

    Will my father live to see my children grow-up and marry? Even my oldest?

    Will my children be able to remember their grandparents?

    Will I live to see my grandchildren get married?

    Will I live to see even just my oldest grandson serve a mission, or get married?

    As you approach age 30 without being married the probability of all these things begin to greatly decrease, and any sensible man would start to worry about them.

    Not to mention the issue of how many children are you going to have. This is particularly true for women. Suppose you are looking to have 5 or 6 kids. As a woman, if you aren’t married by 25 or so, that becomes an increasingly harder thing to accomplish.

    All these things are normal and appropriate things to worry about. But our surrounding culture dismisses these things as of lower importance. That is why Mormon culture and the surrounding cultures give such very different answers about the appropriate age to marry.

    If your family life is the center of joy in your world, then you will naturally want to marry younger for a multitude of rational reasons.

  15. Cicero – you’re very right. There are a lot of issues involved, but in the more simplified discussions I’ve had with others about this, one small explanation becomes the blanket for a lot of concerns.

  16. I married a good friend. She started writing me while I was on my mission. We decided to get married when I came home. We did get married 3 months after I returned. We had been on two VERY mediocre dates before I left on a mission that didn’t work out, so we decided to go hang out with our friends.

    This October will be our 18th anniversary. We have 6 kids and it was very difficult making ends meet most of the time.

    I would recommend getting married to someone like I did, but I would also recommend NOT having children until people are done with their career education.

  17. Lisa, just for perspective on individual situations – not the norm, but individual cases:

    I met my wife when I was 16; she was 15. We didn’t date until she turned 16 – six months later, but I knew within a week that I would marry her. There was no doubt in my mind – none whatsoever. That was weird for me, since I was convinced before we met that I wouldn’t meet my wife until after my mission.

    Everything changed the instant I saw her. It just clicked. It felt like coming across your best friend whom you hadn’t seen in years – no awkwardness, no trying to figure out how to talk or what to say, no sense of doubt or concern, nothing like that. It was as close to love at first sight as I can imagine – the ancient concept of split-aparts – of finding your other half. That was 26 years and 6 kids ago.

    Those experiences are not unique to Mormons, but I think we are more prone to accept it and get married, whereas others who accept it are more prone to wait, live together for a while, etc. It’s important in this discussion, imo, to recognize that discrepancy right up front. One of the biggest reasons we marry younger simply is that we don’t accept the alternatives.

  18. It strikes me as I read all of this how little has changed since I was a youth in the church over thirty years ago. The only difference is that now I can see a certain kind of wisdom to it. Compared to the culture at large, Mormons are still very marriage focused. Single Mormons generally see marriage as the hoped for ideal and generally are open to the idea of it sooner rather than later.

    This is simply not the case in the larger society. Compared to 20 million single people in America in 1960, there are 90 million singles today. The implications are staggering and too numerous to mention in this writing. A very good case can be made for marriage, individually and societally. There are immature marriages and sometimes they mature and sometimes they break up. There are worse things than marrying young. Ideally, we marry wisely at various stages of life.

  19. I am skeptical of the motives of a much older man in seeking a bride among those who have so little life experience. It seems like he may want to control or mold her.

    And we all know the job of controlling and molding should be held exclusively by the wife! 😉
    Oh no he di’n’t go there! Oh SNAP!

  20. I have my suspicions that the routine issuance of a marriage deadline to returning missionaries is a story that is always set sometime in the legendary past. It seems like when I finished my mission almost 30 years ago, people were even then talking about how in years past, missionaries *used* to be issued a deadline.

    Perhaps the story originated from missionaries who just *acted* like they had a deadline.

    My mission president didn’t give me a deadline when I was released, but he did instruct me to keep my hands off the breasts when I was on a date. That might have been good advice for some, but for an introvert who resisted dating, it was kind of pointless. He might just as well have counseled me not to punch Queen Elizabeth in the mouth whenever I visited her.

  21. Lisa – Great topic and observations.

    We do have a unique culture in the church. I can identify with so much that has been said thus far.

    I started dating my wife in April, we were engaged in June and married in Septemeber. There has been some very trying times and on occassion I look back and attribute it to our youth. 25 years later things are fun and well…….comfortable.

    My 19 year old niece was married recently. I was so concerned for her until I was in the sealing ceremony and listed to the sealer speak to them. I was overcome with the feeling that they were doing the right thing. It was a fantastic experience. They have one baby with one on the way, they are struggling and very much passionate about the struggle they are engaged in. Committment to each other, their growing family and making the gospel their focal point.

    After all I have experienced as a dater, friend of daters, fiance’, Youth Leader and Bishop I think the ideal is when you find someone and you are committed to marry that you get to know that person for a year. I would always get concerned (still do) when a couple sets a date a ways off to get married then two weeks later they have moved up to six weeks later (Translation “no way can we wait to have sex that long”). I cannot tell you how many young couples came into my office to let me know they were concerned that they were getting to physical and what should they do. My response was always the same. “Get it under control or call it all off”. That always took them aback just a little.

    My mission president never told me to get married within 6 months but I think that was a 70’s deal. That is what my older brothers were told but it took them both almost a decade. Those that I know personally that told me they were given that instruction are now divorced. If it was given it was not very wise counsel.

    Our young people are more sexually aware. It is all around us TV, Internet, School, friends etc. I really think we do our kids a disservice in this area. When I taught seminary and when I was a Bishop we had very blunt discussion about boundries and what is appropriate and what isn’t. We also spent time discussion intimacy without being physical and how fulfilling that it can be.

    We truly do have a marriage culture and I think that it is a great thing. The one thing that does sadden me is how many sisters that are great people spend their lives alone and no this is not a plug for polygamy.

  22. Great perspective, ThomasB. The kids in your ward had a bonus to have the “blunt discussion about boundaries” and the discussion of intimacy without being physical. A few years ago I was a leader in YW and I felt the discussions were not nearly blunt enough. Many of the leaders were in the 70’s mode of trying to define “heavy and light petting” when these girls were in a high school culture where oral sex was perfectly acceptable. I thought we leaders were out of touch, but others did not agree and wanted to keep it “appropriate.” We need to be real.

    I also like your idea that couples who are committed to marry get to know each other for a year. But is that realistic for most couples? I’d like to hear more of your thoughts on this and why you were concerned when couples set a date far away, then moved it up. This is very common from what I’ve seen.

  23. Lisa Ray,

    Thanks for the kind words. I think I was open with the youth for all the reasons that you pointed out. Our youth find out more about sex on MTV than I learned about it between the ages of 7 – 17. It is important to be direct and succinct with them or they think that you are stupid.

    One of the most positive experiences of exposing me to this teaching was at a youth conference in the late 70’s in Oakland, California. The speaker told a standing room only crowd of young men and women in detail the physical differences between men and women, the sacred nature of those differences and what was taboo. In a very succinct way he left nothing to the imagination.

    As far as waiting a year to get married. I do not know if it is realistic. I did not do it and I am not sure if I would have married my current wife if I did (do not read to much into this because I love her dearly and would be lost without her).

    I think the point is as has been stated earlier. We just are not that mature when we are in our late teens and early twenties and getting married quickly because we cannot stop rolling all over the floor together every night seems like the wrong reason to be getting married. After all are we not to keep our appetites within the boundries that the Lord has set? Just something to ponder.

  24. Why does your family therapist friend think Mormons have an arranged marriage system? I do not disagree with any of your points (though I have no opinion on some), but do not think they add up to arranged marriage.

  25. She feels it’s similar to arranged marriage systems because parents send their children to places and arrange opportunities where they will meet potential spouses. Then those children get married without knowing their mates very well since the courtships are so fast. Incidentally, she thinks this is a pretty good system that works well. She’s worked with people from other cultures who have had real arranged marriages and she said those also work amazingly well much of the time.

  26. Great article. One point I would add is my wife’s experience. We dated for 1 1/2 years prior to getting married (an absolute MUST in my opinion BTW), however after we married, her feelings of lossed opportunity grew and grew and really was a significant strain on our relationship. Lossed education, lossed experiences (mission, travel, etc.), etc. It didn’t help matters that we had our first child before our first anniversary… I always mention our experience to young couples so that they can appreciate that life isn’t a complete bed of roses after you say “I do”, but if you take the time prior to getting married to date for an extended period, have a decent length engagement (3-5 mo.), and take at least 6 months after getting married before starting your family that it will help to strengthen the long-term help of your marriage relationship. I too have a difficult time with the ‘naive’ couples running off to get married, as if the act of marriage is the most supremely sought after event in their entire lives – one that should be siezed upon regardless of any systematic reason or plan. I mean 10 years down the road, will anyone even care or even rememnber if you had waited a few more months before tying the knot? Nope – didn’t think so.

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  28. Well guys & girls, gettin’ married sounds so cool, and sounds like tons of fun, of course it has sacrifices too but, actually what I fear is marrying someone that gets angry so easy or extremely impatient.

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