A friend of mine named Bret went to a local ski resort with some friends to ride the Alpine Slide, a hillside attraction patterned after a toboggan run. There were two parallel tracks on the slide, and one of Bret’s friends wanted to race. They waited until no one was in front of them, then pushed off down the mountain.
Halfway down the slide they came to a sharp curve with a warning sign, “Caution, Slow.” Bret thought this was his chance to pull ahead, so he approached the curve at full speed.
The toboggan jumped the track. Thrown free, Bret slammed into the hillside, then slid a long way over tough, rocky terrain. He wasn’t dressed for protection, and his entire right side was scraped from his ankle to his wrist.
That evening his dad soaked Bret in the bathtub so he could peel the clothing away from the torn skin. Bret fainted from the pain. He spent the next three days in bed taking medication, wondering if the agony would ever end.
“I learned a lesson I’ll never forget,” Bret now says. “I couldn’t believe how bad it hurt and how long it took to get better. The people who put up those warning signs knew what they were doing.”
Bret had started out doing something that seemed safe and fun. And that’s exactly what it should have been. But then he deliberately ignored the warnings, got going too fast, and before he knew it, the situation took control of him.
One of the nicer things about being a teenager is getting to know members of the opposite sex. It’s at least as much fun (and sometimes just as scary) as an Alpine Slide. What’s more, it’s a process that may someday lead to courtship and marriage.
At the appropriate age, dating can be a wonderful part of this experience. It helps young men and women understand each other as individuals, not just as members of that mysterious “other half.”
There is nothing wrong with dating, just as there was nothing wrong with Bret taking that ride. But Bret ruined his fun by ignoring the rules.
Boy-girl relationships can also be ruined when Heavenly Father’s rules of conduct are forgotten or ignored. Then a happy experience can go flying off the tracks and end in ugliness and tragedy.
Bret’s experience reminds me of two young women I heard about. Both of them faced a tight turn on the Alpine Slide of dating.
—Today, Nicole (not her real name) is an unwed mother.
But it wasn’t too long ago that she was a newly selected seminary officer, sitting with others who had been chosen, listening to their adviser tell them they were some of the best examples of righteous LDS youth in the entire school. He talked about challenges they all would face in the next few years. “Keeping your virtue will be one of them,” he said.
Nicole thought he was talking to somebody else, not her. “I thought I was invulnerable,” she said. “I didn’t need strict guidelines. Rules were for the rowdy kids, not for me.”
She laughed when her seminary teacher reminded couples about “Book of Mormon distance” at dances. She thought her dad was “out of it” when he talked about “early hours, lots of light, lots of people around.”
“I thought those were all convenient cliches,” she says. Then she met a young man she really liked, and they started spending more and more time together. One night, after spending many late evenings alone together, they lost control.
“I didn’t want it to happen. I’m not even sure how it happened. But once it did happen, it was hard not to let it happen again,” Nicole says. “I lost my virtue, I lost my self-respect, and I eventually lost my boyfriend. What’s more, I lost my future. Or at least I lost the future that I thought I once had. Everything’s different now.”
—Lisa, a high school sophomore, tells about the time the quarterback of the football team asked her to the homecoming dance.
“I couldn’t believe my luck,” she said. “One of the most high-profile guys in the school had asked me to the most prestigious dance of the year.”
Her enthusiasm dampened, though, when after the dance her date started driving down a lonely road she realized led to Lover’s Lane. Quarterback or no quarterback, she had decided long ago that “parking” was something she would not do.
To avoid embarrassment, she began talking about how this particular road reminded her of a friend’s experience. The police had caught her friend and a date parking up there, and had taken them to the police station.
“Of course, anyone who is silly enough to park deserves what they get,” she laughed. Without speaking, her date turned the car around, and a few minutes later they were sitting in her living room eating pie with her parents.
Just like Bret, Nicole and Lisa intended to just have some fun. Just like Bret, Nicole got going too fast and crashed. Lisa knew when to put on the brakes.
Other young people are learning the same basic lesson that these three have learned: If you don’t think ahead and don’t follow guidelines and warnings, what should have been a pleasant and fun activity can end up a disaster. Just like on a toboggan run, you can’t steer when you’re out of control.
But is it really that simple? Is it all just a matter of being cautious?
No, says Dr. Delbert T. Goates, a child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist from Salt Lake City who counsels unwed mothers. Even young people who heed advice about physical temptation may still be vulnerable emotionally, he said. In fact, his experience has taught him that emotional temptation, not physical temptation, is a significant factor in why many girls become pregnant out of wedlock.
“High school girls go through a stage where they ‘need to love,’” Dr. Goates explains. The girls he counsels are easily exploited because saying no makes them feel unloving. They don’t want to reject or offend a boyfriend. And, of course, they enjoy the feeling of being loved, which is very hard to give up.
“I said no to my boyfriend and he started to cry,” one patient told him. “I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, so I gave in.”
Dr. Goates suggests young people who are tempted emotionally need to realize that (1) physical intimacy does not necessarily demonstrate love, and (2) anyone who would rob someone of their virtue is not worthy of their love.
“Real love is based on friendship more than anything else,” says Josh, a priest from Connecticut. “If you really care, you respect the girl and you don’t want to wreck her life.”
Even though you really like someone, sometimes it’s necessary to hurt his or her feelings to avoid an even greater hurt, according to Josh’s older brother, Zach. “I may hurt her feelings if I don’t do what she wants, but if I did do it, I would be hurting her even more—and myself as well.”
One way to remain virtuous is to avoid dating someone who would rob you of your virtue.
Once Zach was with a girl who said, “I like that shirt you have on, Zach. Next time I’d like to see you without it on.” There never was a next time.
It may be wise not only to follow leaders’ counsel, which is like the warning signs, but to really take control and set some guidelines of your own.
“I never go on a date without planning a good activity,” Josh says. His friend Bret, a fellow priest, adds, “It’s best to keep busy, particularly if it’s late—go bowling, go for pizza, join some friends for a show, or you might end up alone at the lake or something.”
You’re already familiar with some standard guidelines—no dating before age 16, dating only with individuals who share your same standards, avoiding steady dating until you’re old enough to think seriously about marriage.
But sometimes these resolves are difficult to keep when two people really enjoy being with each other to the exclusion of anyone else. At that point, try double or triple dating to relieve some of the intensity of always being a twosome.
You may even want to set some additional guidelines for yourself, such as always being home by a certain hour, always checking in with your parents, or choosing to make some of your dates an opportunity for helping other people (why not take your date to visit a friend in the hospital, for example?)
Whatever guidelines you set, stick to your commitment. Should a situation arise that makes you question what is right, then you can recall the commitment you made. It may help you through.
Satan uses special tactics to deceive us. One of his favorites is to twist something good into something bad. Although dating can lead to love and love is a good thing, Satan wants to see young people move from dating relationships to intimate relationships too fast and too soon. He knows it’s easy for them—for you—to be thrown off course, slam into the mountainside, and spend a long time hurting.
As Nicole learned, it takes a great deal of humility to recognize that we might be vulnerable ourselves. Sometimes we think that because we have a strong testimony, we don’t need to set guidelines for ourselves.
But the Lord has given us standards. Parents and leaders who suggest moral guidelines know what they are doing. Some may even have experienced the pain of a dramatic fall and want desperately to protect you from being hurt.
They also want you to prepare for and enjoy a happy marriage someday. Nothing on earth is more joyful than a loving marriage with a worthy partner. But building such a marriage is a challenge even for the best of people under the best of circumstances. What you do now can influence just how difficult that task will be for you.
Above all, parents and leaders want you to have the reward promised to those who keep the commandments—“Peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come” (D&C 59:23). That prize is worth whatever effort it takes.