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.