Taking the Fear Out of Dating

Contributed By Rachel Sterzer, Church News staff writer

  • 17 September 2015

Brother Goodman taught in his Education Week class that casual dating provides opportunities for individuals to discover if the other person has essential characteristics, such as a love of God and commitment to keep His commandments, selflessness, and a willingness to forgive.

Article Highlights

  • Understand that love is a choice and a process, not a feeling.
  • Look for character traits as opposed to personality traits when selecting a potential mate.
  • Every stage of a relationship is important in the process of finding someone to marry.

“We come to realize love is created through our own choices and actions. It’s not this ethereal cloud that, if you’re lucky, happens to float down on two people and, ‘Aw, you’re in love.’” —Brother Michael A. Goodman, associate professor at BYU

“Love is a process, not a feeling,” Michael A. Goodman taught during a session of BYU Campus Education Week on Friday, August 21.

“If we could understand that, we would avoid so many of the pitfalls that beset wonderful Latter-day Saints that want nothing more than a good relationship but—not understanding the true nature of love—make decisions about people and circumstances that aren't wise,” he said.

In the last of four lectures centered on the topic “Taking the Fear Out of Dating and Courtship for You or Your Loved Ones: A Principled and Practical Approach for Young Adults and Older Adults,” Brother Goodman, an associate professor at BYU, focused specifically on the definition of “true love” and deciding whom to marry.

Look for character traits

In prefacing his remarks, Brother Goodman reviewed instruction he gave in a previous lecture involving the need to look for character traits as opposed to personality traits when selecting a potential mate. Character traits are “essentials,” he said, such as those shared by Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the April 1999 general conference, including:

► A love of God and commitment to keep His commandments

► Selflessness

► Willingness to forgive

► A dedication to teaching the principles of the gospel in the home

4 stages of finding someone to marry

Brother Goodman discussed four relational stages in the process of finding someone to marry: hanging out, dating, courtship, and engagement and marriage. Each stage is important in the process, Brother Goodman said.

Stage One: Hanging Out

Friendship in the “hanging out” stage provides opportunities to learn how an individual acts in a group or how he or she acts when not trying to impress anyone.

“We can get to know them in a general sense through [hanging out], but as anyone who’s been stuck in the friend zone knows, this isn’t the place you want to stay,” Brother Goodman said.

Something is going to happen to spur individuals to say, “I need to get to know this person on a one-on-one basis,” and brings him or her to the point where they’re ready to make an “itty bitty, baby commitment” of two or three hours on a date, Brother Goodman said.

Stage Two: Casual Dating

Casual dating, or going out with individuals on a nonexclusive but one-on-one basis, provides opportunities for a couple to have more personal or private conversations. “Ultimately, [in casual dating] we’re starting to get to know the person well enough [to see] that they might have those essential characteristics. By the end of this process we should be getting closer to knowing if this person is a kind person, if this person has a relationship with God, if this person is a selfless person.”

Casual dating, or going out with individuals on a nonexclusive but one-on-one basis, provides opportunities for a couple to have more personal or private conversations.

Brother Goodman said one of the challenges Latter-day Saints face is a tendency to shortcut the dating stage and jump from hanging out to courtship.

“It does one of two things,” he explained. “It either prevents people from ever dating because they're scared stiff, or it gets people stuck together before they’re ready. They don’t know enough. They don’t have that closeness yet. If I could sell dating, I would try to help people understand the purpose for this step and to take advantage of it.”

Stage Three: Courtship

At the end of the dating stage, individuals are going to commit to be exclusive and enter the courtship stage, Brother Goodman continued. The result of the courtship stage should be for individuals to be able to answer the question: “Do I love this person?” or “Do I love this person enough to want to commit eternity to be with this person?”

The nature of true love

In order to answer those questions, Brother Goodman said, individuals must understand the nature of “true love,” which always has two characteristics. First, it has depth and passion. “It gets us past the friend zone.”

But it is only part of the equation. “What the world defines as love is often simple infatuation, or to use Disney’s term, ‘twitterpation.’ The world disappears, everything goes silent, you get sweaty palms. It’s just this wonderful, overwhelming physiological sensation,” he said. “But love isn't that thing. Love has to transcend bodily emotional feeling.”

In addition to depth and passion, true love also has to be high in selflessness, or charity, he said. “Love is not all about [self] and if it is, it is not love by definition. Mind you, love often brings all the rewards you could ever want, but if your motivation for it is yourself, it’s not love.”

Brother Goodman shared the definition of love provided by President Spencer W. Kimball, who said, “The love of which the Lord speaks is not only physical attraction, but also faith, confidence, understanding, and partnership. It is devotion and companionship, parenthood, common ideals and standards. It is cleanliness of life and sacrifice and unselfishness“ (“The Lord’s Plan for Men and Women,” Ensign, Oct. 1975,  2–4).

“All of the trappings of romance in the world,” Brother Goodman said, “become an offense if these things are not part of the equation.”

Stage Four: Choosing Love, Engagement, and Marriage

Brother Goodman pointed out that President Kimball’s list consists of character traits, not personality traits. “As you’re considering who to give your heart to, what President Kimball is trying to teach you is try to find someone who’s trying to be like Christ, someone who can actually hold on to that heart through eternity. … No, this kind of true love is not something we chase; rather, it is something we choose.”

Once individuals understand that love is a choice and a process, Brother Goodman said, they begin to approach dating much more wisely. “We come to realize love is created through our own choices and actions. It’s not this ethereal cloud that, if you’re lucky, happens to float down on two people and, ‘Aw, you’re in love.’ What’s the danger? It might float away. If it comes without your agency, it can leave without your agency.”

The concept that love comes through the exercise of agency conflicts with what the world teaches, Brother Goodman said. “We feel feelings of love when we act with love. When we stop acting with love, those feelings begin to dissipate.”

Which is why there is danger in going straight from hanging out to courtship, Brother Goodman said. As individuals become exclusive, they act with love, which builds connection and bonding, but before they know the person well enough to know if it is a person they should be bound to.

Once individuals have gone through the natural dating process and found someone with the essential character traits and have deepened their relationship, they come to the point where they need to decide whether to enter the engagement and marriage stage.

Agency and inspiration

“How do we make that decision?” Brother Goodman asked. Single adults often worry, “What if I marry Dr. Jekyl and he becomes Mr. Hyde?”

“I propose that we fall back on our own agency,” Brother Goodman said, and shared the counsel of Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who said: “You use every faculty, you get all the judgment that you can centered on the problem, you make up your own mind, and then, to be sure that you don’t err, you counsel with the Lord. You talk it over. You say, ‘This is what I think; what do you think?’” (“Agency or Inspiration—Which?” BYU devotional, Feb. 27, 1973).

Basically, Brother Goodman said, individuals will know if they’ve found the right person after they’ve chosen whom to marry. “If you would know, it's because you have done your homework and have decided. … And then, once you’ve made up your mind, to make sure you haven’t made a mistake you ask, ‘Heavenly Father, how’d I do?’ But you don't go to Heavenly Father and say ‘Should I marry this person?’ Because if you haven’t decided, He won’t.”