Dating, relationships, and marriage are not quite what they used to be. Dr. Scott Stanley explained this trend while speaking to students, faculty, and alumni at Brigham Young University (BYU) on Thursday, February 7, 2019 during his presentation at the 15th Annual Marjorie Pay Hinckley Lecture.
Looking back 40 years ago or so, there were pretty clear steps or stages that signalled where a couple was in their relationship with one another. Dr. Stanley reminisced, “In my day, you asked a girl out, and you went out a few times on dates. The next thing was one of you would say, ‘You want to go steady?’ ‘Sure.’ And that’s the whole discussion.” But there have been dramatic changes in the last few decades in terms of the ways relationships, marriages, and families do or don’t form.
Current Dating Culture
Today’s dating culture has become one of fear, anxiety, and unrealistic expectations. It is like being on a teeter-totter with a playmate who casually decides to roll off their seat when their feet touch the ground—leaving their partner to come crashing down.
Rather than committing to something that doesn’t meet a person’s “sky-high” expectations, people often simply delay making committed relationship choices or opt to commit only half-heartedly to a relationship. As a result, the number of people choosing the path of marriage has plummeted in recent years while ambiguous relationships like those created by cohabitation and undefined commitments have increased instability for children and families. Even in societies where marriage is still a common practice or goal, many of the current dating trends can still appear.
A Christ-centered Standard
Marriage is becoming less common, but it is increasing in status. Marriage is viewed as a somewhat unattainable “gold-standard.” It is particularly difficult where populations believe that they are unlikely to achieve economic and cultural security. Dr. Stanley noted that exceptions are found primarily in highly educated or highly religious environments or cultures—like those created at BYU or by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In such belief systems, the importance of marriage tends to outweigh the social trends of the day. See a new channel on YouTube “How To.lds.org” and check videos such as Help with Marriage and Parenting.
For example, “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” clearly states the beliefs of the restored Church of Jesus Christ about marriage: “THE FAMILY is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity. Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Signalling, Ambiguity, and the Big Delay
Where social norms or patterns used to exist to help signal and define the status of relationships as they progressed, there now exists a seemingly purposeful lack of defining signals in dating. “Secure commitments are clearly signalled … but ambiguity is the flavour of the age,” Dr. Stanley noted. The results are a phenomenon of ambiguous and often asymmetrical relationships where one partner is more clearly committed than the other.
Listing three main types of people in play on the relationship fields of today’s world, Dr. Stanley explained: there are the seekers, those actively looking to find a partner—which he joked was likely most of the BYU student population; the delayers, those who are determined not to get tied down to any one person or relationship; and the wanderers, those who are just in and out of the dating scene without giving much thought to what they want.
But even among those who are actively seeking committed relationships, fewer people overall are getting married nowadays. Additionally, those who are getting married are doing so at later ages than ever before—a phenomenon he referred to as “The Big Delay.”
Advice for Singles
In his conclusion, Dr. Stanley explained that marriage would continue to become a stronger and more powerful signal of the best relationships over time. As such, working toward marriage is still an economically and socially wise goal. It is particularly important for those populations who are guided by their beliefs toward marriage.
For those still in the dating scene, Dr. Stanley concluded with the following dating tips:
Take it slow. “Don’t go too fast, keep your eyes open, and gather information.” Some people search too little, and some search too long. There are consequences for both, but slower is better.
Look for valid signals. Signals will vary between different groups and cultures, but you need to stop and think. Sometimes the best signals will come in the “unscripted” moments when people simply reveal who they really are and what they want.
Pay attention to red flags. A person’s little behaviors can reveal a lot about them.
Look for someone who shares your beliefs and values.
Avoid high-cost slides. Dr. Stanley noted the importance of making future goals rather than simply sliding into new situations that will increase the relationship constraints.
Do premarital training. It’s something everyone can benefit from, and it’s better to do it early.
Dr. Stanley concluded: be realistic about potential mates; don’t look for perfection. Rather, look for someone who can be a good partner.
In making important life decisions, Elder Ronald A. Rasband, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, strongly advises, “I plead with you to set aside worldly influences and pressures and seek spirituality in your daily life. Love what the Lord loves—which includes His commandments, His holy houses, our sacred covenants with Him, the sacrament each Sabbath day, our communication through prayer—and you will not be troubled” (“Be Not Troubled,” Ensign, Nov. 2018).