In the song "Matchmaker" from "Fiddler on the Roof," Tevye's daughters list the attributes they hope for in a prospective husband:
"For papa, make him a scholar.
"For mama, make him rich as a king.
"For me, well, I wouldn't holler if he were as handsome as anything."
You may have found in your own dating life that, just like these girls' parents were looking for specific attributes in a son-in-law, just about everyone wants to have their say in how and whom you date. Friends who have more experience might think they know all the ropes, and friends who married their first relationship might boast their 100 percent success track record. Family members can be especially persuasive because they know and love you more than anyone. Trouble starts, though, when loved ones' advice contradicts each other or just adds more questions to your already confused quest to find a spouse.
I have received a lot of dating counsel in my day, some of it wise, some of it not so much, but all well-intended.
Once when a co-worker took me for a much-anticipated ride in his new Porsche, he advised me that it wouldn't be hard to get one of my own. "It´s just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as a poor man. Fall in love with a rich man." I presume this is true, but I ultimately decided that I'd prefer not to limit my dating pool based on a car that, even if serviced regularly, won't last into the eternities.
Every time I talk to my mom about dating, she brings up the same ex-boyfriend from years ago. She lists all his good qualities (she only met him twice for a matter of minutes each time), asks how he is these days, and encourages me to either date him again or find someone just like him. I end up re-explaining why we broke up in the first place, but it never convinces her enough not to bring it up the next time.
On the other hand, I once went to my mission president with a stressful dating situation, and he gave me the best response possible. Rather than telling me what qualities to look for or how to handle the situation, he addressed some concerns I had about myself and my future. He reminded me what I was capable of, and, by building my faith in myself, he helped me see that I was the only one capable of making this decision.
You'll recognize good advice when the person offering it addresses your needs and concerns rather than their own. Like my mission president's advice, good feedback often helps you to see a situation more clearly rather than adding to your confusion. Let me illustrate with the story of two of my friends, whom we'll call Eva and Claudia, which I share with their permission, albeit with changed names.
Eva has a habit of jump-starting relationships by unceremoniously attack-kissing the boy she's interested in. To her credit, she's never been denied, and it always gets the relationship moving. But, and this is a crucial but, the long-term results of Eva's behavior have always been damaging because her actions give the boy the idea that she's a lot more interested than she really is. There are hard feelings every time.
Recently, when Eva was planning another kiss-attack, Claudia gave her some wise feedback. While Claudia confessed she would have thoroughly enjoyed being a fly on the wall when Eva put her plan into action, she asked Eva her plans for the relationship after the kiss. Sure enough, and true to her track record, Eva had no idea what her next step would be and admitted (to herself and to Claudia) that she actually just kind of wanted to test her powers of seduction over another male specimen. Thanks to Claudia's perceptive input, Eva saw her own situation more clearly and made the wise and unselfish decision to hold off until she at least knew whether or not she wanted to date this boy. More importantly, Claudia's input turned Eva's thoughts inward toward her own needs and outward toward her potential boyfriend's feelings.
Good advice should help you to see a situation more clearly. But because none of us is perfect — even those who care about you and wish you happiness — the best way to sort through advice is with the help of the Spirit. We should respond to dating advice in the same manner as with all other matters: by consulting the words of the prophets and the Lord. As you weigh dating advice with your mind and your heart, you'll be able to determine whether a person's input is good for putting into practice or merely for a good story.
Julia Shumway grew up in Centerville, Utah, and is studying maternal and child epidemiology at the University of Minnesota. Her column, “Pairing Off,” explores the intricacies of the Mormon YSA experience. She’d love for you to contact her with your dating stories, questions and complaints at firstname.lastname@example.org.