Now, before you write me angry emails, I want to seriously ask a question about this: when did the ways of the world become so important? I remember a friend who went to one of the famous midsingles Lake Powell trips (awesome adventures, those) and was shocked by the lackadaisical way that a lot of her fellow Latter-day Saint singles were dressed. I admit, at first I thought she sounded like a prude since it WAS a lake party, but she brought up this point: "When did it become to show more of your body to everyone than anyone besides your husband used to see in days gone by?" That kind of stopped me in my tracks. She brought up some aspects of temple covenants and garments and that, in part, sparked a conversation about the way fashion has become such a big part of the way many midsingles make their choices about dating and relationships.
The question that was raised was, "Are we as LDS midsingles more worldly or less-worldly when it comes to someone's appearance based on their fashion?" Do we judge someone based on their character or their clothing, their minds or their material, their spirits or their sex-appeal? I'll get to more of that in a second, but Alma asked another good question that I wonder if he would ask us today if he came to one of our activities or parties or trips:
"(Y)ea, can ye be puffed up in the pride of your hearts; yea, will ye still persist in the wearing of costly apparel and setting your hearts upon the vain things of the world, upon your riches?" (Alma 5:53) If you want more references to this topic, read Alma 31:28, Jacob 2:13, 4 Nephi 1:24)
I'm not trying to make anyone feel bad. And I bet Alma was not either when he asked those things of the Nephites. But I wonder, I just wonder if our fashion-focus brain-programming that has come from the media and the ways of the world is not making us bypass some extremely good dating candidates that would make us very happy if we gave them a chance? I know it is a pressure that women feel to look good and be fashionable and keep up with the times because men are, in part, somewhat more visual. Some men do little to discipline their vision, however, and some women use social media to reveal more than they should.
Perhaps a more Celestial perspective is needed, one that Elder Richard G. Scott taught the youth, but if you read it with the Spirit, the truths still apply:
“Young men, let … young women know that you will not seek an eternal companion from those that are overcome by worldly trends. Many dress and act immodestly because they are told that is what you want. In sensitive ways, communicate how distasteful revealing attire is to you, a worthy young man, and how it stimulates unwanted emotions from what you see against your will.
“Those young women who do embrace conservative dress standards and exhibit the attributes of a devoted Latter-day Saint are often criticized for not being ‘with it.’ Encourage them by expressing gratitude for their worthy example. Thank them for doing what is pleasing to the Lord and in time will bless their own husband and children. Will you begin a private crusade to help young women understand how precious they are to God and attractive to you as they magnify their feminine traits and divinely given attributes of womanhood?” ("The Sanctity of Womanhood," New Era, Nov. 2008, 4.)
Brothers and sisters, maybe we all need to take a good long look at what we are looking for in a partner's fashion. Is clean dress more important than runway ready? Is modesty more attractive than revealing attire? Is showing off what we have more important than showing off who we are? How fashionable does someone have to be before we are willing to take a look at their faithfulness?
2. Ideal Image
I would almost call this one a plague of modern times. Not that there haven't been popular trends with body image over the years. Some cultures found being heavy attractive because it meant you had more to eat and could provide security. Others wanted more lithe body-types because it meant you could move quickly to hunt and follow the herd. Some cultures focus on height, some on the forehead, some on on the skin on your hands (rough skin meant you are a hard worker) and others
Some cultures want eyebrows this way and others that way. Some want wider shoulders, some smaller. Some want wider waists, others shorter. In many ways, if we are not careful we may become victims of the cultural influence of what we find attractive. What we see on TV, on the big screen, in magazines, in store-front advertisements, even in our day-to-day dealings, we have been and continue to be somewhat programmed about what is attractive and desirable. This, then, influences the level of chemistry we may have with someone at first, that chemistry that many of us base our first steps in dating on. If I were to take you and someone from another country and place a member of the opposite sex in front of you, they may think they're beautiful based on their cultural cues while you do not.
Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.
Here's the problem as I set it: the epitome of masculine and feminine beauty as displayed by the world (I'm mostly speaking to us Americans) is pretty difficult for those who do not win the genetic lottery or have several hours a day in the gym, plus hundreds of dollars to spend on necessary supplements. Let's be honest, some men and women just get those genes. Others spend hours in the salon, in the dentist's chair, and at the spa to get that way. Am I saying that its bad to want to look our best? Not at all, we should do our best to look attractive to others. But to what extreme lengths do we go to in order to "be good enough"? And what do we expect in others before we give them a chance? And to take it a step further, are our expectations about someone else's looks holding us back from potential eternal partners? I would argue yes.
I mean, go to any fireside or midsingles event in Salt Lake City and you will see hundreds, if not thousands, of wonderfully beautiful people. Sure, not everyone is going to be a match for us, but perhaps we overlook far too many candidates than we should. When we realize that we are in control and have an obligation to evaluate the standards of beauty that we look for, we will accept our responsibility to overcome the ways of the world even in this aspect. Do not expect God to send someone to satisfy your mortal/worldly/shallow/media-programmed needs,especially if those traits have been programmed into you by the world, i.e. pornography. Brethren, that habit will utterly destroy your ability to find someone that will match your wants and it can also ruin your ability to feel chemistry with a mere mortal woman who is not air-brushed, nipped/tucked, implanted and often drugged (an article for another day).
Rather, God will send someone who is perfect for your heart, body and soul combined and if you are so focused on the ways of the world you may pass them by.
I believe that President James E. Faust gave some powerful counsel that applies to both women and men in this regard:
"Frankly, the world has been brutal with you in this regard. You are bombarded in movies, television, fashion magazines, and advertisements with the message that looks are everything! The pitch is, 'If your looks are good enough, your life will be glamorous and you will be happy and popular.' That kind of pressure is immense in the teenage years, to say nothing of later womanhood. In too many cases too much is being done to the human body to meet just such a fictional (to say nothing of superficial) standard. As one Hollywood actress is reported to have said recently: 'We’ve become obsessed with beauty and the fountain of youth. … I’m really saddened by the way women mutilate [themselves] in search of that. I see women [including young women] … pulling this up and tucking that back. It’s like a slippery slope. [You can’t get off of it.] … It’s really insane … what society is doing to women.'
"In terms of preoccupation with self and a fixation on the physical, this is more than social insanity; it is spiritually destructive, and it accounts for much of the unhappiness women, including young women, face in the modern world. And if adults are preoccupied with appearance—tucking and nipping and implanting and remodeling everything that can be remodeled—those pressures and anxieties will certainly seep through to children. At some point the problem becomes what the Book of Mormon called 'vain imaginations.' And in secular society both vanity and imagination run wild. One would truly need a great and spacious makeup kit to compete with beauty as portrayed in media all around us. Yet at the end of the day there would still be those 'in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers' as Lehi saw, because however much one tries in the world of glamour and fashion, it will never be glamorous enough."
Brethren, does a women really need fake eyelashes, a tucked tummy (after having kids!), toned everything and enhanced bust to make you happy? Sisters, how tall, dark and handsome does he need to be to make you happy? How GQ does he have to be all the time to keep you satisfied? This problem goes both ways and I know countless LDS midsingle men and women who suffer because of it, both as victims of their own expectations and as victims of others'. I fully admit that I have had my own struggles, both with image for self and with unhealthy expectations for others and it is something I have had to repent of.
And if I may interject a small thought here: scientists are beginning to demonstrate that social media and our constant posting of selfies leads to narcissistic thought-patterns and belief systems. We can become addicted to showing off our bodies, our smiles, our very selves to the anonymous "crowd" who then feed our dopamine-cravings with likes, comments, compliments and so forth. Selfies aren't bad, but if you are addicted to posting them for attention then the truth is that no one person, no matter how amazing, can compete with the addicted part of your brain that thrives on social media attention. Beware!
3. The Fire Inside
There is something that has been bothering me a lot these past few years, something that maybe I did not know how to say, but it was absolutely ruining my dating life. Don't get me wrong, I have been blessed to get to know some amazing women, some more right for me than others.
But what I struggled with was my own insecurities and weaknesses and this absolutely false belief that when I found the right one, I would magically know it (without work or trial) and that all my fears, inner struggles and pains would just fade away. Oh, how wrong I was. The right one for us is not the one who doesn't trigger all our fears, and hurts and moments of trial. No, they are the one who when others run away choose instead to step into the storm and stand by our side. We may not understand why they do it, we may even want them to run away so we don't have to deal with these things, but instead of saying, "This is too hard, this must not be right, I'm going to break it off," what if we said, "Maybe it is hard so that I can heal and this person is helping me do so?"
Dating at our age is tough, we all know that. We all come to the table with less than perfect bodies, minds, lives and circumstances. And the ways and ideas and expectations of the world has made it even worse. If we all keep waiting for perfection, we will all be single until the Resurrection. Do not pray for someone who makes you happy; pray for someone who helps you be happy, even if you must go through some internal misery to heal and grow.
Happiness IS an inside job, but God is constantly blessing us with good friends who could be more if we just let our guard (and our false, worldly expectations) down. The fire of spiritual confirmation you want about someone to date may come one hug at a time, one kind word at a time, one friendly conversation at a time. Something eternal is built brick by brick, step by step and yes, it will be scary and hard and require tremendous effort to see through the fog of the world, and our own fears and pains, to give something a chance.
If we as individuals and as an LDS midsingle community do not change, we will suffer. As one of my best friends says, "Satan hates families and will do whatever he can to prevent them and to ruin them." I believe that every problem I have talked about in this article is the result of his careful machinations to ruin our ability to settle down and have the happiness that God, not the world, gives.