"When you get a little older, you'll see how easy it is to become lured by the female of the species." - 1960's Batman TV show
Question #89473 posted on 04/27/2017 6:20 p.m.
Q:

Dear what-if-you-were-single?

I've been going on dates with someone that I really enjoy spending time with them (and they seem to enjoy spending time with me). But I'm scared of dating/people/commitment/marriage. Everyone tells me to take things one step at a time: if I enjoyed the date, then I should go on one more date with them. And if that goes well, then I should go on one more date with them. And if that goes well, then I should go on one more date with them...
But eventually, I'll have to decide if I want to stop dating them or if I want to ONLY date them.

Questions:
1. How should I/do you decide to date someone exclusively/get married?*
2. What do you look for in a significant other?/Spouse?
3. What do you avoid in a sig other/spouse? Are they big enough turn-offs that you'd think about breaking up with them if you later found out they had these attributes?

--Member of a Provo YSA Ward

PS Yes, I have gone on many many first dates and I've been in multiple exclusive relationships in college.

PPS I'm also never sure about anything. I'm the person who seriously considers changing their major EVERY SINGLE DAY, deliberates for 15+ minutes before picking a flavor of ice cream, and thinks every human being is a really nice person and hates saying "no" (especially when asked on dates).

*and yes, I know I probably worry too much about marriage, considering that I am single.

A:

Dear Moapysaw,

 1. I used to wring my hands quite a bit about making the optimal decision. THE. RIGHT. CHOICE. And oh, the anxiety. But a wise friend once told me that the universe doesn't care what choice you make. Every choice has benefits and drawbacks. Just make the choice and deal with the consequences one way or the other. Of course you should be choosy and wise, especially about marriage. But if you know that you already know how to swim, sometimes you just have to dive in.

Or maybe you're scared because part of you doesn't really want to get married? That's a valid way to be, too, and a good question to ask yourself.

 2. After almost ten years of marriage, I would give others the following advice:

  • Marry someone who has a comparable energy level to you. Not far more active than you, not far less active. Physically, socially, creatively, and so on.
  • Marry someone only after you've been through some life crud together. You will both inevitably grow and change. Make sure that you can grow in parallel, complementary ways. 
  • Marry someone you can disagree with in an open, supportive way. This goes well with the one above (as life crud and change tend to come with growing pains). It's okay to be angry or sad at each other, but you shouldn't walk away from a disagreement feeling like the foundation of your relationship is unstable. You shouldn't feel like you need to keep anything secret from them.
  • Marry someone with whom you can be completely and unabashedly yourself. They should really get you, and vice versa.
  • Marry someone you can rely on. You should know that they always, always have your back. And vice versa.

Honestly, I'd recommend marrying Sauron if I wasn't so selfish.

3. Some of my red flags are implied in the above list (e.g., someone with a vastly different activity/energy level, someone who makes you feel small or shaken up when you disagree, someone with whom you can't be you). I would also be wary of anyone who isn't fully forthcoming with you (about financial stuff, past dating stuff, spiritual stuff, whatever) or who seems oblivious to your needs.

You can do this. If marriage is something you really want, you can make it happen.

Much love,
Waldorf (and Sauron) 
A:

Dear Member ~ 

The best advice I can give on who to marry is someone you can be absolutely comfortable with. Look for a best friend. Look for someone who you can cry on their shoulder. You want somebody who will sacrifice their own pleasures for you. 

Society tells us that we should marry someone who is super attractive. Or somebody who brings roses and chocolates out of the blue. Or somebody who will take extra time to do their hair and put on make up and look their best just for you. Those things are nice, but they are also superfulous. 

My favorite Mother's Day present? When my basement was being finished and all of our storage was in our family room. I was super pregnant and really just wanted a clean house again. While I was gone, yellow moved all of our storage out to the garage so that I could come home to a clean house. Way better than flowers or breakfast in bed, in my opinion. 

Yellow always has my best interests in mind. He does dishes every night, simply because he knows how much I hate doing them. When we discovered that I need significantly more sleep than he does in order to function as a normal human being, he started getting up with our (non-breastfeeding) kids at night. Even when our babies were breastfeeding, he would get up and change their diapers before waking me up to feed them. He encourages me to go to Girls' Nights.

Find a person to marry that builds you up. That you can confide in. That sacrifices just to make you happy. That does the things that aren't storybook romantic, but are real-life heart stoppers.

So really, don't go out dating worried about finding the perfect person that makes your heart do flip flops. Those are good things. But instead, focus on finding a best friend. Someone you want to be with, even in 10 years when metabolism slows and wrinkles stay past the smile. Because most of the time you spend in marriage isn't looking at a person, but being with a person.

~ Dragon Lady

A:

Dear but I am super single:

I'm kind of obsessed with the behavioral economics of marriage, and how assortative mating (people marrying those more similar to themselves) is contributing to rising income inequality. Marriage Markets was my favorite read on this topic. I'm also obsessed with the numbers game that is modern dating, and I can post a reading list over on the Board Board if anyone is interested. 

Because of the lens through which I view even my own love life (I mean maybe texting about Tverskian System I versus System II thinking is what passes for me being flirtatious), I don't know that my tastes, much less my decision-making processes, are anything but deeply quirky and purely anecdotal. True to assortative form, I've never dated a guy who had less than a college degree. All but one have been Caucasian, they have ranged from having lower to upper middle class backgrounds, and almost universally had professional careers in a STEM field. 

One way I'm like you though, I think it's safe to say that I have been hesitant to commit. I'm sure there could be vast dissertations compiled on that subject, but a few factors seem relevant:

  • My mother never completed her degree and died prematurely, and she left me with a sense that being self-supporting and not being "beholden" to a man were moral imperatives. 
  • Because of this life circumstance, I have a full-blown phobia of my own wedding.
  • The Recession ravaged my cohort, making our career trajectories less geographically stable and meaning a lot of my relationships have not been able to withstand these demands. 
  • None of these men were active LDS and thus we were not in a rush to the altar per se

My father put it best when he asked in all seriousness, "do you even want to get married, period?"

Because of the above-stated advantages to both economic and social stability and mobility, my answer is a resounding "yes." Especially in the United States, no other relationship arrangement comes close. 

So how do I go about making decisions? I don't think I'm particularly indecisive or a wallflower. However, I'm learning what being assertive means for me and about how some of my own attitudes (my more-brittle edge, my competing needs for ego differentiation/mutual support, my fears about living in a post-Trump landscape) are at least worth acknowledging even if they don't change. 

If marriage is a life goal for you, then I think it's positive to own up to that—women, especially, are sometimes painted as "desperate" by some for that desire. But, if you're still hemming and hawing over Graham Canyon versus Mint Chocolate Chip, I feel like having more experiences—declare a major, study abroad or get an internship, read a lot— will help you discover who you are and I think marriage is too important a decision to make lightly.

---Portia

A:

Dearest,

Those above me have some fantastic points, so I'm going to skip straight to the "avoid" section--because that section is the one I have the strongest thoughts on.  In Western culture, we teach some really unhealthy ideas about what a "good" romantic relationship is, and it can lead to heartache down the road and manipulative behaviors from you and whoever you choose to marry.

I'm coming from a very different mindset from LDS dating/relationship philosophy here, so keep that in mind--but I think it's still valuable information to have.  I am in an open relationship, not a monogamous one, though it's often monogamish. 

-AVOID: Jealousy from the other person that gets blamed on me. If someone is feeling jealous about the time I spend with someone else, and then blame it on me, I confront that in a comfortable, safe environment.  Why are you feeling jealous? Are you feeling neglected in some way? What needs or wants do you have that you are expecting me to fulfill? Are those acceptable things to need or want from me? Weighing out whether it's a feeling of unimportance, comparison between the other person and my partner, etc.  Jealousy comes not from without, but within, my friends.

-AVOID: Prying. If I say, "I don't want to share that right now," they better darn well back off.  They can say, "Ok, but can we talk about why later?" or something, but if I'm not comfortable letting someone use my phone and they push to use my phone, I'm talking to someone and I want to not share that conversation with my partner, etc, I want to be respected when I say no.

-AVOID: Boundary-pushing.  This ties in with above.  If someone pushes my boundaries when I have said "NO," I become a stubborn mule.  This had to be learned the hard way from being guilted and coerced into things by people for years and years.  If someone is not respecting your boundaries of where you don't want to be touched, what you do not want to share with them, or is repeatedly saying "please" or "Are you sure?" until you relent and say yes, RUN.  Do not pass Go, do not collect $200, just book it outta there. You are Joseph, and this person is Potiphar's Wife, and you do not deserve to have your standards and personal boundaries trampled by someone you're supposed to trust the most in the world.

-AVOID: Shaming tactics, guilting tactics, blaming tactics. We all do this to others--but you want someone who recognizes when they do and tries to correct.  You deserve to feel unashamed, guilt-free, and without blame from your partner.  Any shortcomings that you or your partner have that need to be addressed can be done from a place of compassion and collaboration better than they can be addressed from a place of shame. Whoever you are in a partnership with, you both are eternally growing, so you need to feel safe enough to mess up around your partner, be silly around your partner, be imperfect around your partner, without having them shame or blame you.

If you've found "the one" and they do these things--address it before you get married, please! Or as soon as you start noticing it.  Addressing these things has led to healthier, happier relationships for me every time I've done so. 

-Yog in Neverland