English is limited. Angel speak is much better, but we aren’t there yet, so we are stuck with the relative ambiguity of terms we get in English. There are a lot of words that mean different things to different people. Probably the worst, most devastatingly frustrating terms is the one that mid-singles suffer with: dating.
What is dating? Well, depending on who you ask, and the geographic area that they hail from, it could be completely different. One person’s “dating” is a relationship, another’s “dating” is “hanging-out.” There are too many different definitions of what this word, a word that instills horror and, for some, chills and cold-sweats, is or means. To complicate things, I believe the basic problem comes down to not only what it is, but what it is not. So, using the powers of philosophy, logic, and past trauma experience, I will explain what I believe dating is, and try to create a potential reference and guide for those confused on the matter.
People also talk about dating as if it is something they are doing or not doing. To most, it is a light switch, you either are or you are not. I hear people exclaim with great frustration, almost homicidal resentment, that they are DONE dating. No more, not taking the time, not wasting the energy. Chicks/guys are just stupid. I find this fascinating.
That gets to the problem. There are perceptions of what “dating” implies. You will hear one person say they have been dating someone exclusively for a year. Others will say they are dating multiple people at the same time without commitment. People will ask me “Hey, are you dating her?” and I am always confused, because I don’t know to which “dating” paradigm they are referring. I could say yes, but they may think we are in a relationship. I could say no and they think they can swoop in and block me in the chase (which leads to a completely different conversation on the lack of bro-code in the LDS single world).
So, to clear the field and make a bold statement, dating isn’t a thing. It is not an activity, a status, or a condition. You can date or not date, but the reason someone says that is because they don’t understand the fundamental nature of what dating really is, they see it as one of the previous states. But dating is none of them.
Dating is a process.
Dating is not supposed to be a title, a condition, or an activity. If you are not dating, you are not in the process, which means you don’t go out with people. You stay home, keep to yourself, and are resistant to entering relationships with anyone of the opposite sex, including friendships. Essentially an anti-social hermit.
If, however, you tell people that you are not looking for a relationship (which is a lie I will address in a future post), you are not dating, but you are willing and happy to “hang-out” with the opposite sex, you are, in fact, in the dating process.
What do I mean “dating is a process and not a thing?” Dating is supposed to be the state of being available for the potential of a meaningful relationship. It means a process of getting to know someone on terms that you are comfortable with. It is a process that starts with many acquaintances, and whittles down to several friendships, to a couple close friendships, to one exclusive romantic relationship, to marriage. That is dating.
Since most of us have, instead, accepted the paradigm that dating is the pursuit of a romantic relationship by immediately pairing off and going straight for a romantic connection, we are all clumsy dachshunds trying to climb the same beachball. We start out with expectations and plans of where this will go, and start feeling overwhelmed, and then feeling withdrawn from the process. It is daunting, terrifying, and hugely crushing to our egos and self-esteem when they don’t go right. And it should: it isn’t a natural way of getting to know people.
Thus, the importance of a singles community. Doing community activities gives the herd of stampeding singles a safe place to corral and get to know each other. Dances kind of suck for that, because it is loud, requires you to touch people, and is oppressive with the dark sharks (the guys that lurk on the perimeter waiting for slow dances) looming in the shadows. They aren’t conducive to getting to know people, they do exactly what everyone considers to be dating: pairing people off in an uncomfortable and unnatural way. Aside from being a great place to wiggle maniacally with little judgement, they emphasize the trauma and self-destructiveness of dating.
However, group activities allows for people to start the process. Making acquaintances. Then from there, start hanging out with friends they identify with. As time progresses, those friendships begin to blossom into something more, ultimately, you find a few people you really like. When you find yourself wanting to be touched, kissed, or held by one specific person, that’s the transition time. Then you get to know that person on a more intimate (within the bounds of LDS standards, of course) level and really test compatibility.
Dating is supposed to be an arduous process, it does have, after all, eternal ramifications. But the idea of people suddenly pairing off with strangers is difficult and often leads to bruised feelings and damaging experiences. If you are paired off with someone romantic, yes, you are dating by process, but your status is “in a relationship.” If you are going out with different people, yes, you are dating by process, but your status is “hanging out with friends.” If you are getting to know someone that is an acquaintance, you are dating as a process, but you are “getting to know each other” as a status. All dating is a process, and all dating is looking for a relationship. Once the process is embraced, and the confusion of terms is addressed, it is easier to not have that panic when people ask you your status. It also helps in communicating where you see yourself in the process, which is essential for two people to move forward.
Ultimately, it has to be done in the Spirit. All things in the gospel are a process, so is the process of dating. It is OK to pray before, during, and after a date. You need that spiritual guidance through this process as well. We know that accepting the gospel is a process of study, searching it out in your mind, and prayer; why is dating any different?
So, relax, breathe, and take your time. Processes take time, the Spirit works in time, we have all sorts of time. Just do yourself the favor of letting go of the paradigm of dating and embrace the process, and everything will work out as it should.