Today's first chapter is from
Dear Bro Jo's Guide to Relationships for LDS Young Single Adults
by Dave Johnston
Chapter 1 Levels of a Relationship
by Dave Johnston
Chapter 1 Levels of a Relationship
I think people, especially teens, get relationships out of order. What order should things go in, you ask? Well, from, “Hi, my name is” to “I’ll love you forever,” I see it this way.
Bro Jo’s Levels of a Relationship
From “Hi, my name is” to “I’ll love you forever.”
Level 1. The Introduction: Boy meets girl.
I’ve gotten a few letters asking, “What’s wrong with girl meets boy?” Nothing. And everything.
I believe we’ve entered an era where too many guys are too shy, too afraid, for their own good. In the Church I think the blame for that needs to be spread around. Sure, personal responsibility dictates that some blame rest squarely upon the guys themselves, but I’ve watched for decades as leaders and parents have, as one of my former students put it, made young men “so terrified of girls that we’re afraid to talk to them lest we instantly be tempted beyond mission worthiness.”
Yes, girls are more aggressive sexually than when we old people were younger, but not all girls.
Yes, one of the backlashes from the “free love” era has been the devaluation of virtue, particularly as shown and heard in popular media.
And yes, girls have discovered that dressing immodestly— and doing things physically that they ought not to—are effective ways to capture and keep a boyfriend. This is something that too many young women, in and out of the Church, believe will imbue them with security and value. Of course, it doesn’t.
What many women, young and old, fail to understand is that no man will ever love a woman he doesn’t respect, and you can’t respect someone who has no self-respect.
So, call me old-fashioned (most people do), but I think women still want the man to take a leadership role, especially when it comes to relationships. Women CAN take charge, certainly, and in many instances the world is a better place when they do, but that should be no excuse; men need to take the lead. Stop sitting there waiting for some beach-bound beauty queen to cross a crowded room and initiate the conversation. “Cowboy up,” as we say in Montana, get over there, and say hello!
Brethren, if you failed to learn how to be comfortable talking to girls in elementary school, when you turn 14 get to every dance you can and force yourself to go up and ask girls to dance, at least every slow song.
If you didn’t do that in the past, start now. If you’re past the age of school dances, make the commitment to talk to girls at YSA dances, in church, at school, in the grocery store, wherever.
You’ve got to get it into your heads that the first conversation is not a marriage proposal—heck, it shouldn’t even be a date request. And every conversation doesn’t have to be with the most luscious girl in sight!
See that girl, right over there? Put this book down for a second and go up to her and start a conversation.
“Hi, I’m (insert your name here)” is all you need to start. Then ask about the weather, whatever she happens to be doing right now, or anything else you can think of.
I know many of you are reading this and thinking, “But Bro Jo, it’s harder than it sounds!” Sure it is, the first 20 times. But it gets easier with practice. So go practice.
If you’ve yet to go on a mission, trust me, you’re going to need to learn how to approach people you don’t know (or don’t know well) and strike up a conversation so you can get to know them better. If you’ve already been on a mission, shame on you! You already know how to do this stuff, so go do it.
Level 2. Get-to-Know-You-Better Conversation(s): Chatting and flirting to gauge interest.
It takes a lot of courage to go up to someone you’ve never met and ask her for a date, or for a girl to get a guy to ask her out. The risks for rejection when you’re that forward are huge, and the payoffs are very rare. You’ve got to start easy, and that means having a conversation, and perhaps even doing a little flirting.
“How” and “when” are just two of the fears many guys find paralyzing, which in turn leaves many girls sadly wondering why no one ever approaches them. It’s not that most girls are unapproachable, but in a guy’s mind he can quickly make meeting a new girl such an all-or-nothing proposition that he gives up rather than cross the room. His deepest hope is that a mutual friend will introduce him to the girl he likes because he knows the introduction will force her to talk to him; social niceties practically require it.
So most guys talk about a girl long before they’ll ever talk to her. Many guys actually operate under the belief that they should know a girl really well, even to the point of having predetermined that she is someone they can see themselves married to, before asking her out on a simple first date. The result is they become so fearful that when they finally do meet a great girl, their inexperience and shyness keep them from asking her out until it’s too late, because she’s moved on. I call these guys “morbidly single,” because unless they change their thinking they’re going to die alone. For tips on flirting, turn to Chapter 6 (“For Girls”) and Chapter 7 (“For Guys”).
Level 3. The First Date: And so it begins. (Good luck, Chuck!)
Too many people, especially young women, think this is where the boyfriend–girlfriend thing starts. And they’re wrong. Here’s what one young man said on my blog:
I have a few opinions that I want to get out there with regards to this “first date” business. First of all, first dates are not meant to be serious. They are chances, by which I mean going on one date increases your chances of going on two or three. It‘s really not until you’ve gone on a few dates that they start to become special and meaningful. Up until then, don’t be so nervous! If you went on a date and there was no chemistry or connection, chances are you aren’t meant to be. If that’s the case, then you’re not really missing out, are you? — T.Y.
Too true. Sure, there’s some attraction there, or he never would have asked and she never would have said yes, but a date being made does not imply any kind of commitment beyond the end of the date.
As bad as that is, what’s worse is that many young women agree to start a relationship without this step.
I don’t think we date nearly enough. My boyfriend of three months didn’t take me out on a single date (to which he later said there was no excuse for, but all the same). — L.H.
When I was in elementary school we called it “going with”; my parents called it “going steady.” All around the world, young people call it something different, but the result and the meaning is the same now as it’s always been: you’re not really “going” anywhere. You’ve had some conversation to declare your mutual exclusivity, but that’s it. That’s cute or obnoxious (guess which one I pick) for preteens, but sad once we enter the teen years.
Ladies, when you agree to be the girlfriend of a guy who’s not actually taking you on dates, what you’re doing is ensuring that, for however long this thing lasts, you’re not going anywhere. If a guy asks you to be his girlfriend, your response should be, “I’m not really looking for anything exclusive right now, but I’d love to go out with you sometime.”
When a teenage guy asks a girl to be his girlfriend, what he’s doing is securing his social status and, more importantly, setting himself up for some free physical contact. Get it? He’s playing on your emotional need for external validation so he can hold your hand between classes and hopefully work in a few kisses (or more) as the relationship progresses.
Yeah, he likes you and he finds you attractive. That’s great, but how serious is he if he won’t take you anywhere?
So, guys, take the girls out. But don’t make a first date mean everything. It shouldn’t. It’s just a first date!
The problem comes when the brothers lead the sisters on to believing that the date means more than it actually does (i.e., bringing them chocolate/flowers, telling them that they really like them and then never talking to them again, kissing on the first date). This is where dating gets hard. If it’s two friends going out, or even if you don’t know the person, don’t try to shove off the pressure and make the date be something that it isn’t. — J.N.
My advice: drop the expectations of “what does this mean?” and just go on a freaking date already. — B.G.
Level 4. The Second Date: Confirmation that the first date was not a total disaster, and there must be something there.
How bad does a first date have to be for there not to be a second? Well, it can happen. We put pressure on ourselves and each other, but if we can look beyond that, give people the benefit of the doubt, then why not a second date?
That said, ladies, if he doesn’t ask, or, guys, if you ask and she says “no,” then that’s the way it is. I may be shallower than many people, but I bypassed second dates because of:
- Bad hygiene. (I know, I should have seen it coming, or smelled it coming.)
- No spark. (I mean none. The conversation was dull, dull, dull.)
- Too loud. (Every word was like a “look at me” beacon.)
- Too social. (This girl talked to everyone else there more than she talked to me.)
- Weird family. (Enough said, right?)
- Messy house.
- Incompatible taste in music.
And oh so many other things I’m sure it’s only surpassed by the long list of reasons why girls didn’t go out with me in the first place.
The thing is, we all have our ideas and ideals, and we have no control of the ideas and ideals of others. I believe more people deserve a second chance than get one, and I think we shouldn’t set the bar so high that we couldn’t possibly get over it ourselves. (A classic but common mistake: thinking that your perfect match will be someone you’re nothing like.)
Level 5. The Third Date: You both either have nothing better to do, or things are beginning to develop.
We’re still not at the official boyfriend–girlfriend stage, so just RELAX!
Younger, casual group daters, this is as far as you should go. Shampoo, rinse, repeat. Go back to step 1. Often. Yeah, you can go out with the same person more than once, but if you’re following the Dating Rules for Teens that I discuss in my book Bro Jo’s Guide to Casual Group Dating, then you have no need to go any further. You don’t want to get into a serious relationship. Republic credits will do fine . . . these are not the droids you’re looking for. In Chapter 2, I’ll explain more about why the boyfriend–girlfriend thing is a bad idea for you.
As for the rest of you, if you’ve gone on three dates it really is time to ask yourself the question, “Where do I want this to go?” Maybe you need to find out a bit more, maybe you know enough already, but if you have no intention of this becoming something, it will soon be time to consider moving on. By the third date, you’re either interested or you’re not.
Dating, not courting. That’s a great way to look at it! The youth (and young single adults) of our generation need to be taught the differences, and how to correctly move from one to the other. — B.P.
Level 6. Continued Dating: We call this the “falling in love” stage.
How do you know you’re in love? Well, as the saying goes, if you have to ask, you’re not. But love isn’t always a sick-to-your-stomach, head-in-the-clouds, staring-at-the-moon notion. In the same way that you can feel the Spirit without having a burning sensation in your chest (you did know that, right?), you can be in love and be totally rational.
When Sister Jo and I were dating, I felt both. There were definitely moments when I couldn’t stand to be away from her, when I was desperate to see her again and every moment apart was too long. There were also moments when she drove me absolutely crazy, and not in a good way.
Sister Jo and I are volatile, strongly opinionated, and fierce debaters. (I’ll bet you’re not surprised.) We had some big arguments, and I mean big. On more than one occasion I pulled the car over to the side of the road, got out, chucked the keys into the woods, and started walking. (Did I mention we’re volatile?)
But, for me, that was one of the things that helped me realize that I not only loved her, but that I couldn’t imagine the rest of my life (let alone eternity) without her. No matter how angry I got, I still liked her so much. Besides, who else would ever have put up with that?
The falling in love stage typically isn’t fraught with fights. It’s usually more kissing, holding hands, and staring at each other as often as possible. But as you’re falling in love, don’t forget to talk. Talk about stuff that’s more important than “Where are we going to dinner?” Find out the things you don’t have in common. No two people agree on everything. It’s just not statistically likely. But that doesn’t mean you have to get in Bro-Jo-and-Sister-Jo-type arguments, either.
I’ve been asked if a couple needs to have at least one fight before they get married. I don’t think they necessarily do, but I do think you have to have enough conversations and watch each other enough that you get a feel for what it’s like when tempers are lost. It’s definitely important to know how your future spouse handles frustration.
Level 7. The “Serious” Conversation: Now you both confess it’s just the two of you.
This is where you become “boyfriend–girlfriend.” Some youth place this step somewhere between 1 and 4, especially the pre-dating-age kids. Bro Jo does not recommend this. Why would a girl commit to a boy that can’t even take her out?
Dear Bro Jo, When is a relationship officially a relationship? How do people decide that they are officially boyfriend/girlfriend? When do you get to change your Facebook status from “Single“ to “In a relationship”? Do they ask, “Will you be my girlfriend?” Is it official after the first kiss? Or do you just automatically know when the moment is right to call someone your significant other? Personally, I don’t buy the whole girlfriend/boyfriend thing, but I have a lot of friends who do. But whenever I see a relationship status changed, I get curious about how those people officially decided that they were an item. Is there a standard protocol that people follow when they become boyfriend/girlfriend? Could someone give me a run-through on how this whole official relationship stuff works, just so I’m in the know? K.M.
No relationship should be considered a commitment until after you talk about it. If you don’t know where you’re at and you’ve been on several dates, you’re going to have to ask. Take a walk in the park, grab a hand, look into his or her eyes, and just come out with it: “Hey, so are we officially a couple, or what?”
From another blog reader:
If your relationship status says, “It’s complicated,” you should stop kidding yourself and change it to “Single.”—E.H.
Level 8. More Dating: This is where you should actually be talking about hopes, goals, and dreams.
This is where you should actually be talking about hopes, goals, and dreams. How many kids do you want? Where do you want to raise them? How would you like to spend your retirement years, and how are you going to get there? What would you do if one or more of your parents became ill and needed in-home care? What things drive you crazy? What’s your take on politics and the major issues of the day?
You’re probably not going to agree on everything, but on the major things you’d better be on the same page—or at least tolerant enough of the other person’s position that you can live together. Albert Einstein said, “Men marry women with the hope they will never change. Women marry men with the hope they will change. Invariably they are both disappointed.”
People change; that’s a guarantee. And we have very little control over how, why, the timing, or the pace. When you’re talking to a potential spouse about his or her dreams and goals, you’re learning how he or she makes plans and deals with disappointment.
You can still be in love, but it’s time to be practical, too. Find out if you really can endure “sickness and health, better or worse, richer or poorer.”
Level 9. Marriage Becomes a Topic of Conversation: Not just in general, but to each other.
If you’ve come this far and you can’t envision it going any further, perhaps because your relationship has plateaued for so darn long it’s time to get out. And if you can see it going further but it’s not, well, that’s a sign to get out, too.
Most couples find they just naturally fall into a conversation about marriage. But there can be hesitation because each person is trying to see what the other is thinking. The guy wants some assurance that the girl will say yes when he asks, and the girl wants to know if he intends to ask.
It might help if you start talking about what you picture your wedding to be like. The cake, the location, the time of year . . .
nothing that you’re setting in stone, just kind of dreaming out loud together. Note: if this is a one-sided conversation, it may be a strong indication the two of you are not in the same place relationship-wise.
Level 10. Meeting Each Other’s Families: If you haven’t already, once you think this might be it, it’s time.
If at all possible, make sure this step is in order, before the proposal. Your family knows you best, and their insight can be pretty helpful, but I think it’s more important what you think about your future spouse’s family than what your family thinks about your future spouse.
If you don’t click with your future in-laws, that’s not a deal breaker, but remember that when you marry someone you also become related to his or her family. You may be spending a lot of time with these people. Your boyfriend or girlfriend may act differently around his or her family. Meeting the siblings can be much more than an opportunity to hear some great growing-up stories; it can also reveal who your intended really is.
If you’re a formal kind of guy, this might be the time to ask for the blessing of her parents. I did that. I was scared to death. I had actually known Sister Jo’s family for quite a while, and liking them as much as I did was another one of those things that reassured me I was making a good decision. By way of confession, I actually proposed the weekend before I talked to her father. At the time I didn’t see any reason why I should talk to him before I proposed to her. What if she said no? She said yes (and was unable to keep the news from her mother), but she made it very clear I was expected to go to her father and have “the talk.”
My father-in-law is a big guy, but a pretty nice guy. He’s just not too social until he gets to know you. Plus, let’s face it; this is one of those conversations for which there isn’t much prior experience. The future Sister Jo was giddy as I walked down the hall and knocked on the door to his “lair.” I was a nervous wreck.
Now, looking back, I’m sure he knew why I was there and what I wanted to ask, but like any good father he made me sweat it out a little. When I finally squeaked out my request for his blessing, he said, “Are you going to get sealed in the temple?”
“Yes, sir.” I probably used the word “sir” about 200 times in this conversation.
“Okay, then. No deposits, no returns.”
That was his way of saying, “You take her, she’s yours to keep.”
Level 11. The Proposal: One of a girl’s most exciting moments and a guy’s most frightening.
I’m okay with semi-long courtships, as long as the relationship has hope and promise for the future and is going somewhere. But when it comes time for the proposal, pull the trigger, man.
It’s a special time; hopefully you were paying attention when you, in Level 9, were talking about marriage and she mentioned how she’d like to be proposed to. The only advice I can give you here is, whatever your traditions are, be as traditional as you can.
I also think it should be a private moment between the two of you, as opposed to on a giant stadium screen or in front of a crowd. But that’s just me. When the time comes, you’ll know what to do.
Sisters, do the guy a favor and actually say the word “yes.” He’ll be so nervous that anything else might just scare him.
Level 12. The Engagement: Planning like you’ve never planned before.
Generally speaking, I believe in short engagements. Once a couple decides to get married, the pressure to be unworthy to go to the temple increases, as if it wasn’t bad enough before. Long engagements can work, but my recommendation is three months or less. People come up with all kinds of reasons why they should wait: school, a favorite month, money. Mostly they’re not very good reasons. If you’re not ready, don’t propose. If you propose, get it done.
If your goal is the temple, and I pray it is, you may find once you’ve publicly decided to get married the best thing you can do is stay away from each other, or at least be chaperoned.
I often tell people that the big smiles couples have on their faces immediately following the wedding isn’t because they’re anticipating the wedding night. It’s because all the stress that leads up to getting married is finally over.
I love that in the LDS Church weddings can be simple and affordable. It makes me sad when they’re not.
Level 13. The Sealing: Easily the most important day of your life because it’s not just for now, it’s forever.
Before you get here, take a temple preparation class. It will help you have less anxiety about the actual day and remind you of what I consider the most important thing a married couple should keep in mind. That is this: As you make the gospel the center of your lives, you’ll strengthen your marriage; as you each grow in your discipleship of Christ, growing closer to the Savior, you’ll grow closer to each other.
Marriage is about sacrifice and service. If you can keep that in mind, you’ll do great.
Level 14. The Honeymoon: Not just the wedding night, but those first “just-married” weeks.
We aren’t newlyweds forever, and the time we have where it’s just the two of us can quickly fade, so enjoy it. Spend time with each other. (Hang out with your friends and family less.)
Level 15. More Dating: Never stop courting and dating your spouse.
This is essential to keeping a marriage healthy. You’ve got to have regular (I recommend weekly) date nights. Get out of the house. You don’t have to spend a lot of money, but you do need to regularly spend one-on-one time together.
Don’t allow your children to come between you as a couple. Teach your kids how wonderful marriage is by the example you set and the love you show for each other.
The amount of time from Level 1 through Level 11 is going to vary greatly, but be careful you’re not each other’s safety net. If the relationship is progressing towards marriage, 24 to 30 months may be appropriate, but be honest with yourself. If you’re in a relationship for 9 to 12 months, you’re both of a suitable age, and either one of you doesn’t see marriage on the horizon, it’s time to move on.