Monday, November 8, 2010

Ethics and Dating in the LDS Context

I minored in philosophy in college, and I was captivated by the study of ethics. Bioethics, legal ethics, business ethics, it didn't matter. I found it all fascinating. In fact, while I was on hiatus from law school, I almost decided to abandon a legal career altogether to become a bioethicist.

I recently read a blog post by Hugo Schwyzer discussing whether or not the "pick-up artist" phenomenon is compatible with feminism. This led me to thinking about dating ethics in general and within the LDS context specifically.

In the church, there are some specific issues surrounding dating that are different from the community as a whole. The biggest one is the doctrine of eternal marriage. The fact that we believe that families can be together forever isn't what sets us apart. The big difference is the belief that (heterosexual) marriage is necessary for exaltation.

This belief imbues relations between men and women with a certain degree of sexual tension. Instead of seeing members of the opposite sex as colleagues, friends, or acquaintances, there is a temptation only to see them as potential mates - potential tickets to the highest degree of Celestial glory.

I've seen this at singles' activities, but the biggest place I've seen it is in interactions with my fellow ward members. I've been set up on blind dates, and it's been awful. The conversation will go like this:
Well-meaning ward member: Hey, Keri, my son/nephew/grandson/cousin/landscaper is single.
Me: (knowing where this is going) Oh.
WMWM: Do you want to go out with him?
Me: What's he like?
WMWM: Well, he's single, returned missionary, goes to church every week. Oh, and did I mention that he's male and single and LDS?
Me: (against my better judgment) Sure, I guess.

Then the date happens. Usually being single, LDS, and members of the species Homo sapiens is all we have in common. It's an awkward experience for both of us. Then the date ends politely, with the two of us mutually deciding against a second date.

Then, WMWM corners me after church. The conversation goes something like this:
WMWM: How did your date with my son/nephew/grandson/cousin/landscaper go?
Me: (not wanting to have this conversation) Fine.
WMWM: Are you going to go out again?
Me: Probably not.
WMWM: Why? He's such a nice young man.
Me: Yes, he is, but we don't really have anything in common.
WMWM: What do you mean? You're both single!

I wish I were kidding. This always struck me as a bit insulting. People are not fungible! Whenever I bring up that point, WMWM will usually throw back the quote (I don't remember if it was Spencer W. Kimball or Ezra Taft Benson) that any good man and any good woman can have a decent marriage.

That quote has always bugged me, and today I figured out why. The attitude espoused by WMWM treats people as means to an end, as objects instead of subjects. Immanuel Kant, the father of modern ethics, stated in the Second Formulation of the Categorical Imperative:
Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.
I firmly believe this. The man who WMWM was treating as fungible should not be merely a means to my end of exaltation, and I should not be a means to his. We are living, breathing children of God created in His image. We're people!

So, given that the sealing ordinance is (according to current revelation) essential to exaltation, and given that marriage and family are important parts of the LDS experience, what is to be done? How do we come up with LDS dating ethics, especially for those who are past the typical cultural marrying age?

Update: I've written a follow-up to this post that addresses the question Kress posed in the comments.


C.J. said...

Sadly, most Mormons take the exact opposite approach to dating than the one they should. They--and everyone else--should be taking their time, asking themselves, is this really the person I want to spend Eternity with? The right person makes you *want* to spend Eternity with them, because your time on this earth isn't long enough. That's certainly how I feel about my husband.

Most people, though seem to look at it as something to "get over with". They rush into marriage, often a very unhappy one, but at least they've checked off all the boxes. I know people who honestly don't respect, or even really like, their spouses--but they married in the Temple, so it's all good. It's the Temple, not what the Temple is supposed to symbolize, that they prioritize. Which is incredibly naive.

Good for you for holding out for Mr. Right. Mr. Right will come along, trust me. Just give it time.

Kress said...

Interesting post, just discovered your blog, and I plan to read more.

I agree that WMWM's response is silly and readily lends itself to the interpretation offered. Unfortunately I think many WMWM's start with good intentions and end up misstating or missing the point, which I think is this:
Attraction is not a logical process and thus cannot be analyzed in a quantitative fashion... one never knows when a couple will strike a chord which resonates within them such that they can find common ground despite the apparent lack thereof.

I think an appropriate response would have been "that's a shame because I think highly of so-and-so and it's unfortunate you didn't see his best side." Am I off track there?

Why am I even writing this response? I guess because I am back in the single category again as an LDS man and I find the female perspective in the mid-single age group fascinating (and highly varied, I will say). What was wrong with so-and-so that "nice" just wasn't enough to keep your interest? What would change your perspective from "oh gosh why would I ever spend more time with so-and-so" to "well, he's a nice chap; why don't we do something different next time and see if I find him more interesting in a different setting?"

Is the perfect Mr. Right hanging out nearby, waiting to have someone give him a chance? Do we overlook great characteristics because we're so burned out with the mechanics of dating and getting to know new people? Interesting stuff...

And in the long-run (we're all dead, for the economics joke lovers) I wonder if we are, in fact, fungible... I am not saying I think that now, but some lines of logic may lead there - two covenant-keeping people may achieve righteous goals, such as exaltation, and when s/he is perfect, I'm sure s/he'll be fairly interesting and attractive... and mortality can be pleasant too with a nice person who may not have all the characteristics we seek.

Interesting thoughts. Nice blog, I'm interested in reading more.

SilverRain said...

For what it's worth, that quote is greatly misunderstood. You'll find the entire talk (which is actually by Spencer W. Kimball) here.

It actually reads, "'Soul mates' are fiction and an illusion; and while every young man and young woman will seek with all diligence and prayerfulness to find a mate with whom life can be most compatible and beautiful, yet it is certain that almost any good man and any good woman can have happiness and a successful marriage if both are willing to pay the price."

If you read it in context, it is a quote specifically meant to banish the illusion of soul mates . . . that there is no "Mr. Right" . . . but is absolutely not saying that you should hook up with just anyone.

Most people aren't "willing to pay the price", for one.

Cameron said...

I think it was Elder Maxwell who said that you should never give advice to further your own ego and boy oh boy have I seen that in the Church!

Stephen said...

Cameron, that is a good point.

However, the real issue is understanding that there is a price to be paid and a willingness to pay the price.