Mormon Dating: Invisible Women

by: hawkgrrrl

April 30, 2013

I never went on any date at BYU that went this well.

I considered myself unpopular at BYU.  My hair was very short, kind of a punk rock ‘do with bleached bangs.  I often wore tie-dyed jeans and a men’s thrift store blazer with a concert tee underneath.  In Pennsylvania, I never had a shortage of guys who were interested in me, including lots I thought were totally out of my league.  Men hit on me all the time.  Maybe they thought I was easy because I didn’t wear a prayer bonnet.  Whatever.  When I got to college, I expected this male attention to continue; instead I felt like I disappeared completely.

I have read a few female Mormon memoirs that resonated with my own experience.  In Therese Doucet’s A Lost Argument, she describes feeling invisible inside the church, particularly at BYU, and contrasts that with being noticed by men outside the church who had deep discussions with her.

The strangest thing of all, though is that he can see me.  I’m invisible to nearly everyone here.  I’m used to people’s eyes passing over me as if they saw right through me.

In Elna Baker’s New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance, she talks about her string of failures with Mormon men until she takes the advice from a book her mother was given in the 1970s.  The advice makes her totally successful with her Mormon male target, FHE “Dad” Brady:

If I wanted to make a relationship with Brady work, I didn’t have to flat out lie–all I had to do was pick up on what he wanted and pretend that this was me.  “Did you serve a mission?” Brady asked me.  I waited for him to tell me what he wanted to hear.

Of course, there’s the distinct possibility that the non-LDS men are primarily interested in sex and simply using conversation and feigned interest as a form of seduction.  When you take premarital sex off the table (so to speak), on what basis do single men engage with single women?

The man of my dreams, er, nightmares?

I had a dream during my freshman year at BYU that I was in an arranged marriage, honeymooning in my parents’ house (ah, the romance!).  When it was time for bed,  my new husband came into my room wearing flannel pajamas with horses all over them.  He was a total dork, utterly devoid of any sexual attractiveness, but I remember thinking in the dream that I was obligated to be in this marriage because he was worthy.  I felt like Elizabeth Bennett on her wedding night if she had married Mr. Collins.  Time to lie back and think of England!  But part of me felt guilty for not being able to look past his dorkiness to see the divine potential within and to make this marriage work.

When you marry to fill a role, the theory is that anyone will do, so long as they are worthy.

The other phenomenon I noticed at BYU was that some guys seemed to be waiting to be swept off their feet.  There were so many girls who wanted to get married that the “worthy” or desirable men could have their pick.  Some men would go out with dozens of different girls, as if they were holding an audition for the role of future wife.  Many men I met didn’t have a very realistic view of what they brought to the equation.  Their doting mothers hadn’t taught them humility.  And truth be told, many women were very eager to get married, even while very young.  Many were pursuing soft degrees that could be easily abandoned if they got married before finishing.  They were ready and willing to jump into wifery if someone offered.

Eugene England wrote in Dialogue about the effect a belief in eventual polygamy has on Mormon marriages.  He described Mormon spouses investing less in our relationships in the here and now.  After all, if you’re going to have to share your spouse eventually, that’s an assumed theoretical wedge in your intimacy.

Another wedge to intimacy is the notion of filling divine roles rather than knowing and being known and creating a love based on who we really are, flaws and all.  When worthiness is the most important quality we seek, there’s a lot of incentive to hide our flaws and our true personalities in the process.

  • Were your Mormon dating experiences like mine, Elna’s and Therese’s or were they different?  If you are a woman, did you feel invisible or interchangeable?
  • Do you think the focus on roles and marriage results in more or less interpersonal intimacy in dating?  For the men out there, does / did the focus on “roles” make you feel like a commodity (that you are attractive based on your earning potential only)?  For the women, does / did the focus on roles make you feel like a commodity (that you are attractive based on your fertility and willingness to be at home)?
  • Does the absence of sexual possibility create deeper relationships that are not merely physical or simply push people into commitments with little knowledge of their prospective partner?


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26 Responses to Mormon Dating: Invisible Women

  1. Hedgehog on April 30, 2013 at 2:25 AM

    “When you marry to fill a role, the theory is that anyone will do, so long as they are worthy.”
    There is an SWK quote to that effect, I think. This was pushed quite a bit when I was in YW, and I believe was very damaging. My 17th birthday interview my then bishop wanted to know why I hadn’t got a boyfriend and did I want to finish up a nun! I have seen a frightening number of marriages of my then peers fail over the last 20 years, some after only a few years, others in the past few years. It is so sad.

    My experience – as teen I was not unpopular with the foreign guys we did orchestra exchange trips with in France and Germany. I wrote to quite a few of them. But in Britain, no such luck. My sister told me I was just too scary, and ought to smile more. And anyway, at the time I was pretty outspoken about not liking children, and intending to be a scientist. So no interest at shown in me at church, or school, before I went away to university.

    University – well I had gone and picked out a science and technology institution, so there were way more guys around than there were women for sure, and my husband was one of them. He was also a very new convert when we first met, which did happen to be at church. I suppose you could say we dated a long time before we married; nearly 7 years in which we were best friends, often on the opposite side of the planet since he isn’t British either. I always felt foreign to the local guys, because they would have expectations, and much more at home with people who expected me to simply be myself, and didn’t have expectations. It’s kind of unusual I suppose, that he is pretty much the only guy I dated, though there were others I was friendly with. Not a typical story I imagine.

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  2. Kevin Barney on April 30, 2013 at 5:50 AM

    I don’t remember ever worrying about who was particularly worthy or willing to stay home or anything along those lines. My calculus in BYU dating was trying to figure out who might be amenable to saying “yes” to a date request from me. At the time I thought that was a pretty small set, so I sort of agonized over it; looking back on it in hindsight the set was probably much bigger than I imagined. But when you’re a high school geek trying to reinvent yourself at university you don’t always perceive reality as it is.

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  3. hawkgrrrl on April 30, 2013 at 6:42 AM

    Kevin brings up a great point. How much of our perceptions of others in dating years is our insecurities meeting their insecurities? I suspect most of it.

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  4. Howard on April 30, 2013 at 7:49 AM

    I dated a very bright and accomplished business woman from Sri Lanka who’s arranged marriage had recently ended. She had absolutely no concept of what to do with a relationship of her own choice and felt awkward insecure and childish with this new freedom. From my perspective it was like dating a high schooler! Much of her life including her business success was focused on others and her personal growth had been sadly left far behind. This is not much different than dating many Mormon SAHMs who’s first marriage has just ended.

    Becoming one with God logically demands that we throw off the natural man and grow as individuals to close the gap becoming more like him. Early marriages designed to last are growth limiters unless one goes through a series of them! Why growth limiters? Because our brains are incomplete until at least 25 and when one partner grows faster than a glacier pace it threatens the other partner and therefore the marriage! Apostolic advice to choose quickly and marry young erodes my testimony of their claim to divine council. How adults who act like innocent high schoolers merge into a oneness with omnipotent God simply by doing their callings, home/visiting teaching and focusing on their LDS check lists while enduring to the end is beyond me! I think it requires considerable naivete or a huge lack of introspection to believe such a thing. But it is *very easy* see how early temple marriages follow the pattern of the less enlightened past or the idyllic and LDS revered but Pollyanna-ish 1950s and how this policy would contribute to the tithe paying membership base of the church and the church’s building projects.

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  5. BrotherQ on April 30, 2013 at 10:21 AM

    Aren’t we generalizing here a bit? It seems like every person comes from a different background, with different expectations, with different experiences. I served as a Bishop at BYU for five years (in the early 2000s), and attended BYU in the early 1980s. My perception is that most people came to BYU young, in the process of forming opinions about a lot of things, free from parents for the first time, hopefully having their minds expanded a bit (often for the first time)(as much as that can happen at BYU!). Some seemed to be way too focused on getting married (for a variety of reasons). Some seemed focused on other things. I wonder if people tend to see only what they are looking for when analyzing the whole BYU dating/marriage thing: there is this cliche of the newly-returned missionary anxious get married above all, and the freshman female in a “soft major” looking to become a SAHM, and soon. Is that really how it is, in general? Can any one person conclude anything of general application based on their own limited social experiences and feelings? Can they read the hearts and minds of others at BYU?

    But for what it is worth, that was not my experience as a student or Bishop at BYU (generally). There surely were people like that (looking for marriage, and fast). There were people who got married (in my opinion) way too quickly, and I worried about what would happen to them. But for the most part, I didn’t see or experience the social patterns (generally) described in this post. I am curious if there are any studies or statistics out there which provide the facts about how quickly BYU students marry compared to others (and then, how successful or not those marriages turn out to be). I don’t claim to be an expert, and I can only speak to what I have seen. I did get to know failry well over 1000 BYU students as their Bishop, and as a student and graduate of BYU I interacted with what I would hope is a typical number of fellow students. My opinion is that the BYU marriage/dating cliche is to a great extent just that: a cliche, a fable that we like to make fun of, or even sometimes use as an excuse or explanation for our own choices that don’t turn out well.

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  6. Howard on April 30, 2013 at 11:28 AM

    I am curious if there are any studies or statistics out there which provide the facts about how quickly BYU students marry compared to others…

    Well here are the others so you can compare this with your experience: Between 1965 and 1993 the median age at first marriage rose almost 4 years to 26.5 for men and 24,5 for women.

    Is similar to your experience at BYU?

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  7. Howard on April 30, 2013 at 12:28 PM

    When two happy healthy people find chemistry by coming together, that is often a marriage made in heaven and is probably the ideal that the LDS model is created from ans aspires to achieve.

    When a relatively healthy but innocent person dates or marries a relatively dysfunctional person they are often bewildered by the dysfunctional behavior of their mate because in their naivete they made the mistake of assuming others to be generally as healthy as they are, they don’t understand dysfunction.

    When two dysfunctional people come together with “chemistry”, at first it seems like magnetism and fireworks but it is actually the short term fit of their dysfunction that is causing the attraction (they play each others psychological games). Later their combined dysfunction prevents closeness or intimacy, generates a lot of drama and often destroys the relationship.

    Depending on who you have been in these examples chances are you cannot comprehend the other extremes on any tangible level.

    Healthy people in healthy relationships need only learn a few simple coping skills to get along with each other. They tend want to project these simplified nuggets of wisdom as solutions onto dysfunctional people who are really struggling. This is often done from the pulpit. The believing dysfunctional person then burns up years of their lives getting nowhere by attempting to live this trite advice because they are experiencing a level of compulsion that the healthy pulpit dwellers never encountered or tangibly considered. Dysfunctional people need deep therapy to become more healthy first, then find a compatible relationship with a person at a similar level of health.

    Simply telling young people in mass to pair up for early marriage is fraught with predictable disaster! Of course the pulpit dwellers can always blame the disasters on not living the gospel.

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  8. Mormon Heretic on April 30, 2013 at 1:41 PM

    In my study of polygamy, I have learned of several quotes in which church leaders said that marriage for love was the wrong kind of marriage. Marriage for covenant was much more important. Additionally, divorce didn’t have the same stigma as today, and Utah held the most lenient divorce laws in the nation in the 1800s. Brigham Young got divorced, for heaven’s sake! But remarriage was also much easier in the polygamy era too. This idea that 2 righteous people should be able to live in harmony has been around much longer than Spencer W. Kimball. Early church leaders said romantic love was not real love.

    I dated a lot in college, but never could figure out how to get serious. When I liked a woman, she didn’t like me and vice versa. My wife went to BYU, dated a lot, but didn’t get married until her 30s. I went to a school in Utah, and likewise didn’t get married until 30s. (Curiously, most of our non-mutual friends didn’t get married until late 20s either, so perhaps the people we hung around with had some influence on us. Both of us have good friends who never married.) So, I don’t know what that means for dating at BYU or not.

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  9. Howard on April 30, 2013 at 2:43 PM

    Mitt Romney wants you to get married in your 20s Also, get a ‘quiver full’ of kids!

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  10. Glenn Thigpen on April 30, 2013 at 3:26 PM

    I cannot relate to your experience, because I am a male and because I went to BYU briefly when I a gawky, introverted, socially inept teen who had not even had a first date yet. Also, I expect that my generation was a bit earlier than yours and probably things have changed dramatically since my short sojurn there.

    However, there was already the legend going around that BYU was Marriage U. But, in my own little world, I did not see that. The ladies that I interacted with had many different aspirations, although marriage was usually one. But not at the expense of an education.

    I don’t think that all of the women going to BYU are cut from the same cloth, in general, nor are the men. But, maybe I am generalizing here.


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  11. Jeff Spector on April 30, 2013 at 4:20 PM

    I am not really sure why some think the BYU marriage ritual is so unique. We were taught from an early age, LDS and non-LDS, that we should be married. How this is to be accomplished is pretty much the same. However, introversion, looks, and other factors play pretty much the same role anywhere.

    The actual reasons to get married were/are pretty much the same:

    1. Love, yea, it happens
    2. Regular sex or sex at all (depending on religious/moral persuasion)
    3. Someone to talk to, bond with, share your life with.
    4. To have kids (yes, some still beleive this)
    5. Expectation to be married (bad reason)
    6. Eternity? Not sure many think about this at the time
    7. Trophy – It probably occurs to some, both male and female.
    8. Advanced dating – Heck, if it does work out, there is always divorce.

    In reality, it is a combination of some or all os the above. BYU ain’t so unique.

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  12. Annika on April 30, 2013 at 6:14 PM

    I was the only young woman in my very small branch and none of guys ever looked at me or talked to me, but dated non members. I went to SVU for college and in two years only went on two dates and the guy was from a different university. I used to think I was either invisible or somehow dirty to LDS guys. Now I’m just over it.

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  13. Elizabeth on April 30, 2013 at 6:45 PM

    I grew up outside the Corridor and always had a boyfriend from 12 on. BYU was a rude, painful awakening. It was as if I became invisible! I always thought it was because I wasn’t cute/skinny/Molly enough. All summer long I’d date LDS and not in my local area, but the second I hit Provo, zippo.
    My junior year, I was told by a member of my bishopric I was too intimidating and self-confident for most of the RMs in the ward and marriage might be not be in my immediate future. He was trying to be caring-he wasn’t saying ‘dumb down’ so much as he was saying I might need to be around older guys.
    I dated mostly non-LDS men, and wasn’t having sex with them. They tolerated that because, well…I don’t know. I guess because I was awesome in other ways that LDS men for whatever reason didn’t appreciate. These were educated, self-confident men. Their LDS counterparts were….stunted. The 27-35 year old single LDS men were not appealing to me.
    I think at BYU I wasn’t initially particularly career-focused; although, by the time I was a junior all my original roommates were married, so it seemed like a good idea to be ready to support myself. I didn’t get married until I was 27, after grad school. To a non-Mormon. I work part time in a professional capacity. We have beautiful children. I attend the temple regularly and my oldest one does, too, now that she’s old enough. We make it work.

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  14. IDIAT on May 1, 2013 at 7:41 AM

    MH – “Early church leaders said romantic love was not real love.” What do you make of this quote from President Packer? ““Everyone hopes to experience romantic love Rightly, it is not only a part of life, but literally a dominating influence of it. It is deeply and significantly religious. There is no abundant life without it. Indeed, the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom is unobtainable without it.” (Boyd K. Packer, Eternal Love, pp. 8-9; ACM p. 165) Was he spot on or just expressing a well reasoned opinion? I don’t really know the answer, but sometimes, in light of our sealing policies, I, too, believe that the romantic love part isn’t quite what marriage and eternal sealings are all about.

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  15. Mormon Heretic on May 1, 2013 at 10:07 AM

    IDIAT, I think Packer is spot on, but Packer’s opinion is an evolution of thought on love in marriage. BYU Professor and former Mormon History Association president Kathryn Daines wrote a book “More Wives than One” in which she outlines early church attitudes that “romantic love” was to not godly love. From page 64,

    Believing the religious aspect of marriage was most crucial, Mormons downplayed the role of romantic love. In 1853, Orson Pratt wrote that love was not “such as is often described in novels, which acts irresistably, forcing all the other powers of the mind into subjection.” Charles C. Rich was even more pointed in his criticism of romantic love in 1877: “When a person is love struck, there is no reason in them. We should never be struck very bad.”37

    This nineteenth-century view of romantic love that set the couple apart from the community and tended to displace God was hardly compatible with Mormon beliefs. “Never love your wives one hair’s breadth further than they adorn the Gospel,” Brigham Young preached. “Never love them so but that you can leave them at a moment’s warning without shedding a tear.”39 Love was supposed to be guided by and subordinated to religious purposes.

    To be sure, love was crucial to marriage. “No woman should be united in marriage with a man unless she have some love for him,” Orson Pratt wrote, but he added, “Any woman who loves righteousness can and does love a man who works righteousness; and she can, but cultivating this love, be happy in his society, as a friend and as a brother; and if she were united to him in marriage, she could love him as a husband;”

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  16. Jeff Spector on May 1, 2013 at 10:53 AM

    While I don’t wish to speak for Brigham Young, but I would hardly doubt that he was speaking against the principles of love and marriage as stated in the scriptures. There is a religious purpose which should not be lost.

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  17. Howard on May 1, 2013 at 11:15 AM

    Romantic love evolved starting in Europe in the late 1800s. So it appears our leaders were just echoing secular enlightenment state-of-the-art of their times.

    Also note that as humankind grows and becomes more enlightened so called gospel principles necessarily change and grow along with them. My Willie handcart pioneer ancestors were very, very tough people but not very feeling or introspective, they sacrificed for group survival rather than personal fulfillment. So it’s a mistake to casually label such principles eternal. Eternity is a very long time, I suspect little we know it truly eternal truth.

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  18. IDIAT on May 1, 2013 at 11:48 AM

    I’ve read many “sources” that speak to romantic love being a Johnny Come Lately kind of thing. However, didn’t Shakespeare speak of love in his plays? Didn’t Jacob love Rachel first? I think romantic love has been around a long time, and while some people married for dynastic or political or other reasons, I think the average, every day run of the mill marriage involved real feelings of love between two people. And even in those instances of arranged marriages, I would think couples developed a true affection for one another pretty quick.

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  19. Howard on May 1, 2013 at 11:51 AM

    Sure. But there’s a big difference between concept, experimentation, social acceptance and common practice.

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  20. Stu on May 3, 2013 at 1:18 PM

    You’re a good writer and I like your writing. But after reading your first paragraph, I had to pause for a moment to announce the weather forecast over the next 3-5 mouse wheel scrolls:

    “Well folks, the forecast for the next 3-5 wheel-scrolls looks like we’re in for quite a hailstorm of some heavily hyped hackneyed-ery. Chance of precipitation hovering around 98-99%. And don’t put away those winter galoshes yet — we’ve got a high chance for some frigidly frigid drops in the logicometer tonight, leaving us with some icily-irrational front steps tomorrow morning and into the coming scrolls. So button up, batten down, and careful stepping!”

    Essentially, this entire post could have been condensed down into one line:

    “I want to have my cake, eat it (too), and any Y-faring chap that gets in the way of this is the he-devil.”

    I could go on and address each point I’ve mentally responded to, but sensing that most probably don’t want to hear my sermon on the blog, I’ll sum it up with this —


    “Funny, I’ve always believed that the world is what we make of it.”

    I have been in oh so familiarly-frustrated dating shoes while at BYU — from countless woes of number-giving girls ignoring phone calls and texts, to fiery hoops of game-playing demanded jumping through, to the increasingly intricate “passwords” of conveyed amounts of interest required (and at just the right moments), to yadda, yadda, and a little bit more yadda.

    It’s often made me want to drop to my knees, rent my shirt, and shout toward Brigham’s beardless statue, “WHY HAST THOU FORSAKEN ME?”

    That’s right. Often.

    But I’ve never blamed BYU or Brother Brigham or the Church or Mormon culture or apostolic quotes or heck, even The Bachelorette (but I’ve been close). If there’s anyone I’ve “blamed” in all of this madness, it’s been myself.

    But “blame” isn’t the right word, which is why I threw it in quotes. I don’t blame myself, per se, with the negative connotation that I’ve somehow done something wrong, or that there’s something wrong with me, or that it’s all my fault because I just haven’t swiftly stepped in line with the BYU-foxtrot. Instead, I not only accept that I am a colorfully unique butterfly, but that the reason for my seemingly “harder” time in this seemingly endless conga-line of dating woes is that, surely, there must be another equally colorful and unique butterfly out there for me, and me for her. And it’s in -lieu- of these unique “differences” from the seeming majority that I (humbly) relish. I’m glad that I’m not able to run out my front door and somewhat-happily marry the first 9/10 women I see. And that doesn’t make me better or worse than anyone else, it just makes me a bit left’er or a bit right’er (directional) than most. Statistics.

    I’d say that most who know me would agree that, as a willful contender in the seemingly endless cougar-conga-line-for-exaltation, I appear to be housed within the slim, far tail end of the bell curve. It doesn’t matter which end of the bell curve I’m in — left or right — as the weight and connotation is merely a matter of self-perception that -I- choose and -I- label. What’s important is that the colorfully unique butterfly for me is likely in that other tail end of the curve. It’s perhaps going to be harder for me than most to find her (note: I don’t believe in “the one” her). But when I do — mushy naiveté be danged — I know that I’ll know.

    I know, I know — someone pass the tissues and a box of chocolates. But really. It all comes down to perception — a choice. A choice.

    Growing up in New York, I became accustomed to the “world” being busy, cold, and closed off from each other. But then I served a mission in Polynesia and had my soul’s eyelids crowbarred open that I had surely been wallowing in the jaded dregs of outer darkness my previous entire life.

    Coming home to New York, I feared I would revert back to my old east-coast’en ways, losing the outright happiness, love, and joy that the Polynesians have for other people. Clawing my way through congested and ornery international airports while homeward quickly aided in the pulling out of this tender-hearted carpet I newly stood upon. I could feel the icy scales freezing their way back up and over my heart.

    But I was soon given a bit of a jolt, with this wisdom imparted upon me, in and for all things — that a true disciple with true strength comes from they who -still- love those that spitefully use them — or spitefully ignore them, or spitefully don’t call them back, or spitefully text while on a date, or spitefully yadda, yadda, and one last bit of yadda.

    K, I’ll stop.

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  21. Douglas on May 4, 2013 at 10:18 PM

    Reading another thread about dating at the “Zoo” makes me glad I went to Fresno State.
    Dating was never complicated but I baptized my then-wife.
    Once a Bulldog, always a Bulldog.

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  22. Zara on May 5, 2013 at 3:09 AM

    Hawkgrrl, you have perfectly encapsulated my efforts to date Mormon men, and specifically my experiences with BYU transplants in the NYC singles ward. Lots of entitlement from the guys, who expected to be courted and thought they were God’s gift despite no real exceptional qualities. It was really weird and off-putting. If I’d tried to date only within the church, I’d have come to the conclusion I was defective.

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  23. AceGrace on May 7, 2013 at 10:51 AM

    This is why I did not go to BYU since I had a perception (mistaken or not) that it was an artificial culture too focused on getting married. Then I found out the Institute group where I did attend was a smaller microcosm. I still married a “worthy” RM, but it did not turn out well for other reasons (his lack of maturity in both gospel and life.)

    There unfortunately does seem to more power on the men’s side of the equation in our current LDS culture (especially in the Mountain West.)
    However, I still believe that a temple marriage is the ideal. I wish we focused a little more on personal development for the men and as well as the young women. They are taught how to be missionaries and skills in Scouting, but not enough about dating manners. Maybe this has improved in the last 20 years however since I am talking more about the 80’s and early 90’s.

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  25. Makena Boyer on February 26, 2014 at 12:12 PM

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  26. New Iconoclast on February 27, 2014 at 9:13 AM

    I think, had I had the experience to attend and date at BYU, I’d have been among the few that would have asked the Zaras and Hawkgrrrls out (always assuming I could have worked up the nerve). My wife, although I wouldn’t call her “avant-garde,” is who she is with little concern for what others think of her. She’s pretty secure, and that’s one of the things that attracted me to her – and still does.

    It’s a shame that men, and women, in and out of the Church have been so conditioned as to what they “should be” wanting and looking for that they can’t get to know and appreciate others for who they really are. The more I age, the more I come to really enjoy people for themselves.

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