I have long believed that if dating were fun, no one would get married. Dating is an institution riddled with confused feelings and bad communication, and I don’t blame anyone who decides to give it up. However, is what we risk by not dating greater than we realize?
In a talk in my ward last summer, a young woman posed a question that has stuck with me ever since. She asked if we were “repentant daters”. It was a puzzling concept, but I eventually came to really like the idea. I began to realize that dating and repentance have more in common than I thought.
Preach My Gospel describes repentance as a change in our thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors that are not in harmony with God’s will. “Repentance includes forming a fresh view of God, ourselves, and the world” (PMG, pg 62). These principles help us tap into the power of the Atonement and leverage it to become something better and greater than we are.
Let’s apply these same principles to dating. The purpose of dating is to prepare for and find your eternal companion. But to be successful, we must go through a transformation starting with our thoughts, beliefs and behaviors.
There are many thoughts that keep us from being repentant daters. Among them are “Why would I waste money on someone else’s spouse?”, “Marriage just isn’t my priority right now”, “I just don’t like anyone like that”, or “I want to focus on myself for now.” These kinds of thoughts don’t come from our Heavenly Father. When we view dating as more than just a means to an end, we can replace these with more positive thoughts like, “How can I touch the lives of the people I date in a positive way?” or “What can I learn from them to change me for the better?” Looking at dating as a sort of “training ground” for marriage, we will treat the people we date like we’d want our future spouse to be treated.
Just as we may sometimes feel unworthy to repent, a false sense of unworthiness and unpreparedness can also paralyze our dating efforts. Repent! Let not your hearts droop in weekends spent binging on Netflix. Make some connections! When we change our minds, our hearts will follow.
Failing to understand that we are worthy of giving and receiving love can be a huge obstacle to our dating efforts. It can be difficult to fathom that someone would choose to spend time with and love us. When I was first told ‘I love you’ by someone, I didn’t believe him. How could he? Did he really know me that well? How could he ignore all my flaws? Why would he pick me with all the other beautiful and wonderful girls out there? How could he be so sure? But the more he told me, the more genuine he seemed. Slowly, I came to believe that he truly did love me. It was a rewarding experience, coming to believe and trust in that love. It changed me in beautiful ways because I was beginning to see myself as someone loveable. I had to repent by choosing to believe that I was worthy of love.
Believing that you are capable of loving someone else is also crucial in becoming a repentant dater. We often fall into the trap of thinking that we can’t fully give our love unless it is to THE ONE. While that thinking isn’t necessarily wrong, I think it does limit our ability to express love to others. Love is a choice, and when we are dating there are many ways to express love.
The best way to express love is through selfless service. This is one of the greatest joys of dating and marriage, being able to forget oneself and focus your thoughts and efforts on another person. You don’t have to shower those you date with flowers, chocolates, and terms of endearment to prove your love and care. Simply serve them in unique and meaningful ways. Even if you don’t end up with that person, you will experience joy in serving them. Stop playing love games with those you date, and go out of your way to selflessly serve them.
In dating, just like in repentance, it is simply easier to not do it. The adversary is the king of apathy and inaction. He doesn’t want you dating because when you date, you gain invaluable experience in service to others. The way of the repentant dater is to DATE, to ACT. Put yourself out on a limb. Make yourself vulnerable. Take a chance on someone you think deserves it, because they probably do. Participate, be involved, be engaging, be excited, and I promise beautiful experiences will come your way.
But what if you aren’t excited about dating? What if your heart got smashed one too many times? What if you are just tired of the game? Repent. Repentance is about going back down the road to where we took a wrong turn and getting the chance to choose another way. If you are sick of dating, turn around, go back to the basics, find a different fork and choose another way.