I have, over the course of several years, had the frustrating experience of dating a number of people briefly, only to see interest fade within a few short weeks. In seeking a partner for life (and, in my belief, eternity) my desire has been constant but my success–given my current single status–has been fleeting, at best. As such, I have thought and researched a great deal about this incomprehensible behemoth which we call “dating/courtship/marriage/love.” In so doing, I have learned a few things, which others have told me they too have found helpful, so what lessons I have learned I shall share.
1. Everyone must be appreciated holistically
In any relationship–but especially romantic ones–those with whom we interact are well rounded human beings. They are more than a beautiful (or handsome) body to gaze at or….do other things with. This may seem elementary for some who share my religious values, but be advised: this isn’t as simple as it seems. I’ve noticed that even the best of people can get trapped in a relational situation that is physically based. The best litmus test, I’ve found, is to step back and ask oneself a few questions: is physical intimacy preceding the deepening of the relationship, or following it? (E.g. We kissed, so -now- we’re serious about each other, whereas it wasn’t so evident before.) What is it that I appreciate about this person? (A holistic relationship will yield answers that include a great diversity of things, including physical traits among other things, whereas a physical-based relationship will center largely around the physical.) Do I experience essentially the same feelings of attraction around other members of the opposite sex as I do around this person? (Physical attraction doesn’t care about the unique aspects of character that distinguish us; one warm body is as good as another in terms of purely physical attraction, so if one feels the same about others one may have fallen into the trap of physical-only attraction.)
Some quotes on the subject:
“What is love? Many people think of it as mere physical attraction and they casually speak of ‘falling in love’ and ‘love at first sight.’ This may be Hollywood’s version and the interpretation of those who write love songs and love fiction. True love is not wrapped in such flimsy material. One might become immediately attracted to another individual, but love is far more than physical attraction. It is deep, inclusive and comprehensive. Physical attraction is only one of the many elements, but there must be faith and confidence and understanding and partnership. There must be common ideals and standards. There must be a great devotion and companionship. Love is cleanliness and progress and sacrifice and selflessness. This kind of love never tires nor wanes, but lives through sickness and sorrow, poverty and privation, accomplishment and disappointment, time and eternity” (Elder Spencer W. Kimball, Love versus Lust, 18, emphasis added).
“The greatest deception foisted upon the human race in our day is that overemphasis of physical gratification as it is related to romantic love. It is merely a repetition of the same delusion that has been impressed on every generation in ages past. When we learn that physical gratification is only incident to, and not the compelling force of love itself, we have made a supreme discovery. If only physical gratification should interest you, you need not be selective at all. This power is possessed by almost everyone. Alone, without attendant love, this relationship becomes nothing—indeed, less and worse than nothing” (Elder Boyd K. Packer, Eternal Love, 15, emphasis added).
“‘Well,’ you may ask, ‘how may I know when I am in love?’
“. . . George Q. Morris [who later became a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles] gave this reply: ‘My mother once said that if you meet a girl in whose presence you feel a desire to achieve, who inspires you to do your best, and to make the most of yourself, such a young woman is worthy of your love and is awakening love in your heart.’”
(David O. McKay)
“Plato defined ‘eros’ as an interior force that attracts man towards what is true, good and beautiful. A lustful attraction of a man to a woman or a woman to a man is a reduction and even denial of what is truly good, and beautiful in the other. Lust focuses on one value and misses the depth and breadth of what God has implanted in every human being. Therefore, lust is a reduction of another human being to one value. The one lusting misses the forest for the trees, so to speak. And what is worse, to continue the analogy, the one lusting wants to take the tree for his or her own use. In other words, the one lusting wants to acquire the one value that he or she does see, the sexual value, by taking and using it. Lust not only reduces the other to one value, it also makes of the other a thing to be used. ‘Eros,’ as defined by Plato, is an attraction to the entire constellation of goods present in the other and a profound desire to treat the other in accordance with the dignity and value which those goods together constitute. Christ’s appeal, far from denying erotic love, is an appeal to act in accordance with true eroticism, i.e., to be attracted to the fullness of values present in the other person.” (Father Richard M. Hogan, “An Introduction to John Paul II’s Theology of the Body”, emphasis added)
2. Two amazing people ≠ love
One of the most maddening things about dating has been that I find a wonderful person and we hit it off really well, we’re perfectly matched, they’re everything I’ve ever hoped for it seems, then within a short amount of time I discover that I don’t actually have romantic interest any more. This can be quite distressing, particularly when one has been searching for a while. Fearing that I’ve just been too picky or commitment-shy, I started asking long-time happily married couples about how they met, what feelings they had for one another, and if (and if so how) such feelings endured. The temptation for me was to believe that perhaps after a while one did not truly feel that one was ‘in love’ and that one should simply keep going forward, without any compelling force (not even love) other than determination. That is a false concept (for dating). Married couples who stay married for the long haul have feelings that endure. To discover if such feelings endure, one should give the relationship enough time to see if the feelings were just a passing fancy or truly enduring; this process can take as little as a few days (in the most extreme of circumstances), or (for me) up to a month.
Personally, I highly recommend talking to long-time (i.e. at least a decade) married couples and asking them a few such questions. Most are tickled pink at the prospect of sharing their experience, because when this sort of love works out, it’s truly magical. Also, our newlywed peers may seem like good sources to turn to, but I’ve discovered that some I’ve sought for advice have gotten divorced only a few years after being married. As good as these friends are (and for many it’s not their fault), what I am seeking is how to find a relationship that will work long-term, and if that is what you seek you would do well to ask those who have made it that far.
The following quotes have been indispensable in my quest to find the true ingredients of a good relationship:
“Above physical charm, love is begotten by qualities, often subtle, of mind and spirit. The beautiful face may hide an empty mind; the sweet voice may utter coarse words; the lovely form may be ill-mannered; the woman of radiant beauty and the man of kingly form may be intolerable bores on nearer acquaintanceship; or, the person who looks attractive may really have no faults, may excel us in knowledge and courtesy, yet he is not of our kind, his ways are not ours. Under either condition, love wilts in its first stage. ‘Falling in love’ is always from within, rather than from without. That is, physical attractiveness must be reinforced with mental and spiritual harmony if true love is to be born and have long life—from the Latter-day Saint point of view, to last throughout the eternities” (Elder John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, 297, 299, 302, emphasis added).
“Pearl Buck has observed, ‘Love cannot be forced. . . . It comes out of heaven, unasked and unsought.’ (Elder Gordon B. Hinckley, The Treasure Chest, p. 165, emphasis added)
3. Build a relationship from the ground up
A good, enduring relationship will begin somewhat like a friendship. Indeed, I’ve heard of many experiences where long time friends have discovered they never want their friendship to end, and that they’re actually attracted to one another, so they get hitched. I’m not saying this works for everyone, but I believe it operates on a basic principle: those aspects of personality that we value in a close friend also reside in a potential spouse. As aforementioned, there must be more than this, but I feel fairly confident that such a relationship must include the most noble characteristics of friendship. So, for example, when faced with the alternative of going to a movie (where physical interaction is possible, but a couple cannot get to know one another as well) versus doing something simple like going on a walk (where a couple is forced to interact with each other, and nothing more then their respective personalities are present), one ought to consider the activity that promotes actually getting to know one another on a more holistic level.
I hope this has been remotely helpful. There’s far too much advice in this category out there, really (which is why I’m trying to quote trusted sources and ask ordinary people who have succeeded). As such, I hope and pray that you can find success in this often-confusing nonsensical subject.