The first visit to a new ward can be stressful. New people, new church leaders; it’s a lot like the first day of school, just with 100% less recess and 100% more Jesus. It was on such an occasion I found myself surrounded by a group of young men sitting in Elders quorum- the topic of dating came up as it always does because this is a singles ward and that’s what happens. The young man teaching that day casually dropped that it would be good practice to ask the girl to get married on the first date…this was followed by laughter by the class, “oh good he was only joking lolz” one would think. If you thought that, the joke was on you, because he then explained why this is a good idea: It weeds out the fakers you see, the casual girls who are not ready or thinking about marriage. It leaves you with the good girls who take marriage seriously. I should also mention the bishopric was sitting in on this lesson and could interject something (anything) whenever they pleased, but they didn’t. I know what you are thinking- “But people say crazy things all the time in church that are not true.” It’s true, so I gave him a pass and brushed this crazy under the mental rug in my brain (it’s really crowded under there).
I did think about this approach however and how bizarre it was for multiple reasons; I won’t get too much into detail because you can figure them out on your own. But asking someone to get married on the first date accomplishes a few things,
- You successfully make an awkward first date even more uncomfortable.
- “Good” girls could easily find your cave man approach off-putting even if they had marriage on their brain.
- Do you really expect someone to say yes? You would want to marry someone who would say yes?
- What if she says yes but you didn’t want to get married to her after 1 more date? It seems like way more negative comes as a result than positive.
There is a bigger issue here of course in your attitude about marriage if you think this is honestly a good idea- how could marriage be important if you throw it out to just anyone based just on principle? Is it even possible to have an honest proposal ever if you throw them out like candy at a parade?
A few weeks later I was sitting in a different meeting in that same ward and another person (a man) threw out this exact same idea…I’m not sure if he came to this conclusion on his own or if he heard it in Elders quorum like I did and thought it was worth sharing but I sure as heck wasn’t going to find out. I left that ward after that and never went back.
Even though I have never heard that practice advocated again, the idea of it is still there, and it’s one I take big issue with. There is an overabundance of focus (I feel) in young single adult wards about marriage and how we all need to be married right now and –OMG why are you not married now? Are you still sitting there reading this?!?! Go outside, meet a nice boy or girl…GO! Why U no Married yet? Why does Pandora think I am always in the market for engagement rings? Has it been talking to my bishop?
I’m one who is perfectly fine to be by myself. I don’t need anyone and that’s ok, it works for me. So I let marriage lessons wash over me like a wave. I don’t begrudge anyone who has marriage as a priority of course, if it’s important to you; you need to do what makes you happy. I think you should be entitled to at least that much.
My concern is how marriage is being presented to young adults. I have perceived that there is a disconnect there, and it’s as wide as the Grand Canyon.
On the one hand we are taught not only that your partner is going to be with you for the long term, not only as a support but as an equal partner in all things and the person you would raise a family with, and also that a temple marriage is essential to our salvation in the highest level of the Celestial Kingdom (please note there is an exception to everything I listed here depending on individual circumstances). A decision like that warrants some gravitas, no doubt- the consequences are meant to be eternal by design in God’s plan. In my understanding this decision is one of the most important I will ever make in my life, because that is the way it has always been advertised to me. A decision to rush? Probably not.
That’s only one half of what is taught about marriage though; the other half is asking every girl you fancy to enter into this decision-quickly. Recently I was informed of a humorous story that was shared in my current ward’s Relief Society meeting. The speaker was sharing the story of her daughter who was 22 and having a rough time because all she wanted was to get married and it just wasn’t happening for her (good luck getting sympathy for her in a room with lots of 30 year olds). Well the girl’s parents were called to serve a mission abroad, and as they were nearing the end of said mission they get a call from their daughter. Guess what? She has been dating a nice guy for a few months and they are going to get married! WooHoo! She informed her parents they were going to wait the 4 months until they returned home so they could be there for the wedding. Nice gesture right? Oh, except her parents refused this and told her she should not wait for them because marriage was too important to be put off. Family is everything in the church and marriage is not to be taken lightly, or you could easily Photoshop your parents into your wedding pictures or whatever…
If marriage is eternal and so important and rushing that decision is part of the process my brain is not going to do the mental gymnastics necessary to reconcile the two different narratives. It has to be one or the other, but not both.
I am happy that there are success stories if you marry quickly or have a long courtship. If you did marry quickly I am not trying to antagonize your decision- different things work for different people. That’s my point; we have to find what works for us. We are often taught that “Well this worked for me, so it works for everyone.” Making such generalizations I believe is taking a toll on the attitude people are taking towards marriage.
While the divorce rate in the church is lower than the national average, the age people decide to get married is on the rise. In 1970 the age men and women got married in Utah was 20 for females and 22 for males. Today this age is now 22 for females and 24 for males. In an informal survey conducted by the LDS Institute of Religion at the University of Utah males said that age 30 was the best age for marriage. Sure there are other factors at play, a fickle economy, personal fears, but I don’t believe those are the only reasons, it’s hard to come keep a clear head when you are bombarded with so many mixed messages.
Next time you find yourself in a lesson about marriage and some member of the high council is telling you about how marriage was so different in the 1960s because they just went all in and didn’t think anything of it, remind yourself there is never going to be a one size fits all approach to marriage- the most important lesson is learning what works best for you.
Source for the ages on marriage: