Dating as a single in the church is exceptionally difficult, especially for those of us that have actually tasted marriage and its potential. I like being married, I think I am a better version of myself when all cylinders are firing in the engine of a companionship. I have to have the counsel of a wife to see things I might miss, I have to have a balance to my drive, work ethic, and perception of the world. After a divorce, I know it is a lot harder to make good decisions by myself.
The woman I wrote about in “Our own, personal Gethsemane” has a brilliant mind and was the first person I ever truly felt was an equal partner in life. I would ask her to come with me to business meetings and she would always see something I missed. She counseled me on how to be a better parent, things that were beyond my comprehension of ever developing on my own. We created art together and sought each others opinions and were inspired by each other. Those moments where we clicked and were compatible were brilliant. I felt I was destined for a marriage of equals, finally.
But, like all relationships there were hardships. I own my own culpability and will not discuss anything other than my own failures. One of the biggest ones, probably the one that tanked us the most, was my not understanding what she needed in the process and pace of a relationship. We were both injured by past relationships, we both needed to learn each other’s language of communication, and understand each other, but I was caught in the fatal trap of being LDS and dating. I was headlong into moving toward marriage.
I was putting the cart before the horse.
I don’t know if I have ever had a real, managed relationship. I have not been indoctrinated on LDS courtship, but I have been told that to be a good LDS man, I must be married. I always understood dating as moving toward the goal of eternal marriage, so for me it was binary – we are either moving toward marriage or ending. It was full commitment or nothing. So let’s set a date and get there.
This gives the impression of checking boxes or pressure, but I didn’t understand it that way. It was just the logical progression and the security to be vulnerable. I think a lot of LDS singles, especially the divorced, do the same thing, using dating as a marriage filter; as the catalyst to marriage. Even our own language betrays this innate drive toward marriage and the state of confusion getting there. We define our relationships as “hanging out,” “dating other people,” “just dating,” “in a relationship,” and, of course, engaged and married. But this betrays us and creates a confusion. When is there the time to be just friends without the societal implication that “just friends” means there is no future in a relationship?
It finally struck me what she was wanting, that I couldn’t understand. And I have a term for it now: “committed friendship.”
For me, as a philosopher and communicator, words have meanings and definitions. To “date” means you aren’t involved with just one person. So if you are dating exclusively, you are in a relationship. But, in our LDS community speak, to be in a relationship means you are driving for the end zone of marriage. There is no in between where two people can be committed to each other, without the baggage of expectations and planning. A place where two people can be dedicated to each other in a safe place to heal from past hurts while still exploring compatibility.
I think a “committed friendship” is the perfect inbetweenness we need to have to feel safe and heal, while still exploring each other. It is a place where we say “I have no interest in dating anyone else, but I am not ready to talk about marriage either.” We need a safe place to dwell that gives us the security to be vulnerable and not abandoned, but with out the pressure of getting somewhere.
In the almost five months she hasn’t spoken to me, I have finally realized what she wanted. I also realize what I contributed to our failure was a lack of understanding, but a need for definition so that I could feel safe too. When two people are looking at a potential future with each other, there has to be a safe place for vulnerability, but room for distance, especially with the pressure of marriage. She loved me, I loved her, but neither of us felt safe. I didn’t feel safe because of abandonment issues, she didn’t feel safe because she hadn’t the time to heal enough to decide if I am really the man for her. We were both in different places of healing and growth, it was right for us to not marry on my timeline, but without that goal or definition, I wouldn’t feel safe to be vulnerable, either.
A “committed friendship” provides that space. There can be a feeling of safety to be vulnerable and be affectionate because we know we are dedicated to each other’s safety and growth. There can be a feeling of safety that there isn’t an expected goal line of marriage being driven for, there can be a feeling of safety of being vulnerable to heal and allow the healing process to be a source of growing together.
For any relationship to work, there needs to be a friendship. A committed friendship allows that friendship to blossom without expectations or pressure of a future, and provide the boundaries necessary to explore compatibility. It provides the fence for the garden of a relationship to bloom in safety.
From now on, I will move from dating to a committed friendship, then to a relationship and what comes after. All of this needs to be established through communication, but isn’t communication more effective if all parties are using the same words with the same definitions? For me, it most certainly is.