I should probably break this up into two posts, but I’m too lazy to do so. Incoming wall of text (and a link to another post of mine) with lots of links. You’ve been warned.
This is a post I wrote up for a friend’s blog. Emily is my best ex-girlfriend (when she said “let’s just be friends” she actually meant it and we do stay in touch) and when she told me she was writing a collaborative blog on feminism I was intrigued, and decided to write that post about double standards in dating and relationships. Go ahead and look at their blog, there’s some good stuff there. And if you want to comment on my guest post there, do it on their blog. They would love to have more participants.
My personal history with feminism is a bit complicated. I used to be of the opinion that feminism was bad—women demanding in the LDS context that we pray to Heavenly Mother or extend the priesthood to them, that sort of thing. I think I first started thinking about feminist issues back when my mother was attempting to teach me to be a gentlemen. “Why do I have to open doors? They’re perfectly capable of opening them themselves!” Then I started going on dates, trying to figure out what women want, how to give it to them, and then to get them to go out on multiple dates with me. (Still have no clue.) That led to how culture wants me to treat women, which led to what culture makes women think of themselves, which led to should culture be making women think of themselves the way it does. Then I started to run across books like Who Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women and What Our Mothers Didn’t Tell Us. I discovered that, like all large groups of people, there are wildly varying degrees of feminists. A large part of what I disagree with is called “second-wave feminism.” I certainly don’t disagree with first-wave feminism (suffrage), and the ever ambiguous third-wave feminism seems to basically be “life is complicated and sometimes you can’t have your cake and eat it too.” Certainly that’s a lesson that we can all learn, and there are even movies about it. Eventually I decided that the general aims of feminism were good—equality between the sexes is how it should be, with the caveat that equality doesn’t equal homogeneity—and now carry the label of “feminist.*”
Another source of my interest in feminism really stems from LDS theology. It was an eye opening moment on my mission when a Columbia University Grad student asked why we call God a man and I was able to easily respond with “because He is.” We have a doctrine of a Heavenly Mother, though not an authoritatively strong one. We have a doctrine of gender being essential to ones premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose (though I think the correct term should be “sex” in the Family Proclamation). And further we have a doctrine that only married couples can inherit the highest degree of glory in heaven. All of these lead directly to discussions that feminists can contribute to, and I’m happy to have them along as much as anybody else. Because, as we can see, sometimes with all these different doctrines running around it can seem that the church is all over the map on these issues. Discussion is good. I like it. I don’t want it to ever end.
Anyway, thinking about gender equality usually comes up in my life when dealing with dating, which I’m required to do if I want to get married. As an American, my current culture says that I initiate dates, follow-up, am the one that “pops the question” to get engaged, etc. This is a rather recent culture, one created with healthcare, longevity, access to contraception, the industrial revolution, and the movement of marriage from an relationship based on economic advantage to a relationship focused on love.
Dating should be a simple matter. If I like you, I ask you out. If you like me, you say “yes.” We continue until we decide to start going out steadily as boyfriend and girlfriend, and continue that until we decide to break up or get engaged.
Oh, that it were actually that simple.
I have two major complaints about LDS dating in general. First, there’s no LDS equivalent of “going for a cup of coffee.” It would be really useful to have a standard option for a quick, get-to-know-you kind of date with no strings attached. Since there seems to be no equivalent any date has strings attached and isn’t really usually quick or that much get-to-know-you.
Second, there seems to be a weird spot when you’ve gone on a few dates, but aren’t yet boyfriend or girlfriend. It almost seems like there is an obligation to say if you’re not going to ask the girl out anymore, but do we really want to have a Define The Relationship talk after a date or two? Last year I took a girl out on a date and had to very much dance around one of her friends before I could ask the friend out. This has also happened recently to a roommate of mine. It seems that between the 1-4 date range there appears to be an obligation to the person, yet there really shouldn’t be. Perhaps this is the same thing as the benefit of no-strings-attached discussed in the cup of coffee discussion.
Of course, it always goes without saying that communication is key. All these games we play are making the theoretically simple process of The Ask or Say “Yes” If You’re Interested model of dating substantially more complicated than it needs to be. And I feel that things would be simpler if we just communicated more. My sister Rebecca tells me I’m crazy for expecting more communication, but I can hope for a better world, can’t I?
And I haven’t even started to talk about the idea of false expectations. Needless to say I have two friends, one of whom very much dislikes Jane Austen and one who calls Jane Austen her patron saint, that I want to see duke it out over the issue of expectations. But I’m not sure I want to see a pitched battle in a book club. (Or do I?)
Now that I’m back in the dating game, I remember why I hate it so much. My friend Allan once explained the dating cycle as such: You go on dates because you’re lonely. Then you get your heart broken and don’t want to go on dates. Eventually the pain of loneliness eclipses the pain of heartbreak, and you start dating again. It’s a vicious cycle.
There’s a reason it feels like “Once more unto the breach, dear friends.” I get to look forward to staring at the phone for about half an hour just trying to work up the courage to ask a girl out. Maybe I need more of the Courage Wolf Meme (Warning: some language) in my life, like this one:
And to anybody reading this blog that I’ve dated, just FYI that I’ve only had one date that was neutral, and it was back in high school. I’ve had no bad ones, and lots of good ones. Dates are fine. Girls are fine. Hanging out with girls on dates is fine. It’s the institution of dating I hate. Is it weird to hate something of which you enjoy every individual part?