Promenade

During his senior year of high school my younger brother-in-law, (who, at the time, was painfully shy, awkward, and introverted) was assigned a girl to ask to prom. Who gave him this assignment? I’m not totally certain who exactly made that decision, but I do know that he was under considerable pressure from his Young Men’s leaders, his Scout leaders, the ward Young Women’s leaders, and most of the parents of his peers. He was not mentally or emotionally ready to be going out on any sort of date, least of all one that some consider to be the most important date of their life. Lucky for him, his parents were not inclined to force him to ask anyone out on a date. For a time the whole family was ostracized in their ward because my brother-in-law did not ask the girl out as he was instructed to do.

It was an unfortunate situation all the way around. My in-laws did what they felt was necessary to maintain their son’s sense of agency. My Brother-in-law did what he felt was necessary to maintain his own sense of safety and basic comfort. And the ward leaders felt they were doing what was necessary to help all the young women in their ward have a positive experience for one of our society’s shared coming of age events. There is one person, though, who didn’t seem to be doing much of anything in this scenario; the young woman in question.

You see, she wasn’t supposed to be doing anything but waiting for a knight in shining armor to come rescue her.

What baffles me most is that everyone seems to recognize that the traditional model of ‘girls have to wait for the boys to ask them out’ leaves lots of girls and women behind- so to speak. Yet these same people would sooner crack the whip over the boys’ heads, than encourage the girls to take charge of their own dating life. Girls are, in that paradigm, helpless, and for some reason we’ve decided to maintain the paradigm to everyone’s detriment.I am of the opinion that the boy-ask-girl pattern of match-making is at the root of many unsavory trends in girl’s behavior, and relationships.

Item One: Consider a situation in which Molly wants Johnny to ask her to the prom. However Billy gets there first. Molly would rather go with Billy than not go at all. In order to get what she actually wants Molly would have accept Billy’s invitation, and then reneg on him if or when Johnny asks her. This doesn’t bode well for Billy. In this situation a woman who does what is necessary to get her desired outcome has to be a jerk to the people around her. Her other options are to go with Billy (and always wonder if Johnny would have asked her if she’d turned Billy down), or to turn Billy down and hope Johnny will ask her (which might hurt Billy’s feelings), or to nobly accept her fate and just not go to the prom at all.

Item Two: Again, Molly wants to go to prom with Johnny. Except Johnny asked Betty. Molly is frustrated and angry and her anger wants a target. Johnny? He didn’t know Molly wanted to go with him. It’s not fair to be mad at him. Betty? It’s not her fault Johnny picked her. Maybe she didn’t even want to go with Johnny. Who knows? Should Molly be mad at herself? Well, no. There’s not a whole lot she could have done either, short of asking him herself. Even though it isn’t fair to be angry at any of these people, Molly very well may go ahead and be angry at any one of them, or all of them. She likely doesn’t have the maturity and experience to be angry at the situation.

Item Three: So what can Molly do, to help Johnny notice her? She can’t ask him out herself. Oh no, good girls aren’t forward like that. She can be attractive, physically and mentally- but mostly physically. Specifically more attractive than the other girls that Johnny might be inclined to ask. When you’re waiting to be picked, all the other candidates are your competition, whether they want to be or not.

So let’s recap, the boy-asks-girl set-up makes it so that girls need to be manipulative, ‘fickle,’ and rude to get what they actually want from romantic relationships- because actively pursuing their preferences is taboo. Or they can surrender their preferences and helplessly accept how things turned out. It creates opportunities to wrongfully blame other people for ruining your life, or to create pointless self-loathing for not being {pretty, skinny, funny, smart} enough to catch the boy’s attention. It also places girls unwittingly into competition with each other, encouraging unhealthy comparisons, and making friendships difficult.

We all put so much energy into being worried about the girls. Why are they fighting with each other? Why are they having trouble making friends with one another? Why are they so concerned about how they look? Why do they fixate so much on what boys like? Why do they feel so helpless?

Gosh. I wonder why? Maybe it’s because we’ve taught them that they have to wait on the boys to ask them out and created this whole angst-filled system that doesn’t actually benefit anyone.

I tell every teenage girl I know that I asked my husband out on our first date, and make sure they know they can do the same.

Update: I feel I should add, that when I say “girls” in this post I mean girls, teenage girls. Few things drive me crazy as quickly as when people refer to adult women as girls.

Starfoxy

Starfoxy is a fulltime caretaker for her two children.

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21 Responses

  1. prairiegirl says:

    Although I do not disagree with the cultural phenomenon you’re discussing–and the frustrations that occur–and at least some of the results.

    As someone who is still single, at least in part, because of this cultural phenomenon, it is not as easy as you claim that the girls just “take charge” and “act”. I tried that—for years. I tried to ask out the LDS men I was most interested in. It only made things worse. The guys “ran away” both in behavior and treatment of me. I felt WORSE about myself than I had just “waiting”. And, if anything, it reinforced to me that courtship was meant to occur, for the most part, with someone not female taking the lead. NOT because it belittled the woman–but because doing so (if done well) displayed a man’s respect for a woman. I know you’d probably argue this (well, how about respecting the man, blah blah blah)–but remember I am still single–living the reality of what happens to women who do not succeed when “asking” out a man, and you’re not.

    I also–have nothing against women asking out men. BUT I still would have preferred to have been asked out to something as big as the prom. Although I do like the “movement” of late of girls who were not asked out going in groups and just having fun at the prom.

    Here’s the other key: if we do not teach young men HOW to court by the time they’re 16–we only perpetuate the problem. Although I certainly do not agree with the Ward assigning a young man a date (when they’re younger than 18 for sure), all we really seem to focus on in the Church when teaching young men is teaching them that they should serve missions, stay worthy to serve missions, and how to be an Eagle Scout. The concept of teaching them HOW to treat young women beyond just “be respectful and don’t have sex” needs to occur. I remember my ward having a dinner–sponsored by the Young Men–and the young men DECIDED to do it. They made the food, they organized the dinner. And THEY, yes THEY forced themselves NOT to ask out the young women–but to socially interact with them in ways they had not before (i.e. talking to us in general…..I grew up in a Ward with a large group of young men my age who were pretty socially backward). It was not easy for them–or for us—but I did see these young men really trying….and do think that later…as adults, these experiences likely helped them.

    So–my take is–the answer is not as simple as “girls, just take over”. Believe me–there are many adult women like me (I’m friends with quite a few) who’ve tried this–and it has NOT been successful, and if anything, has back-fired on us!

    • MJK says:

      I suppose if the kind of man you want to marry is the kind who is so insecure that he “runs away” if a girl asks him out…

    • Rita says:

      Meant to give a thumbs up – sorry!

      I come from a culture where we didn’t have big proms – I think the concept is ghastly. Better to have events where teens can mingle unshackled by a ‘date’.
      One of our sons couldn’t buck up the courage to invite a girl to his graduating dance but our good friends assured us that their daughter (a little older, confident and already graduated) would probably be up for going with him. He managed to get up the courage to ask and she went and they had a blast as she also knew a lot of the other kids from church connections.

  2. prairiegirl says:

    P.s.

    Had another thought I wanted to add. I read a blog post on a different “LDS” centered blog about a Stake president bringing in a single woman to try to find out how the Stake could improve their single’s program.

    One of the first thing she said was this: those within the Church, for the most part, who are trying to “grapple” with or deal with the situation in the Church where many young adult, mid-adult, and older adults are single for numerous reasons (leaders mainly) have NEVER experienced being single and LDS for extended periods of times themselves. So they truly cannot understand what it is like, the differing situations all of us who are single may be in, and what our lives are truly like.

    One of the most frustrating things for me as a “single” member of the Church–and in fact, is one of the top reasons why I moved away from UT–is that MOST within the Church often approach the “problem” of “singles” with this attitude “It worked for me/us. So if you just do __________ it will work for you”.

    I am adding this as a comment, because I immediately sensed this type of attitude within the blog entry I’m making a comment on currently. If you (the woman) just take charge and ask out the men, and quit blaming others for your singlehood, it will work for you. It worked for me!

    Which really, is no different than “if you just have more faith, you’ll get married”, “If you just pray more, you’ll get married” or “if you weren’t so selfish/independent/educated (especially for women)/whatever the excuse, you’d get married (picky is one of my favorites)”

    The reality, as those of us who have truly been single in the LDS Church can attest to, was stated quite eloquently by the same woman who wrote the blog entry after taking to her Stake Presidency: The Lord knows us, and tries us each differently. Although many are “blessed and tried” in the ideal way, the Lord is much more creative than to give us all the same blessings, and the same trials. Thus, to assume that what worked for 1 member, will solve the “problem” for all is assuming that the Lord, in His infinite wisdom is not very creative–and may not have an INDIVIDUAL PLAN for each of us–and may provide different answers for each of us.

    So–just because asking out your husband worked for you, and represents for you how women “should” be in the Church, does NOT mean it is how the Lord intends the rest of our lives to work.

    Thank you!

    • Starfoxy says:

      I picked a teenage example (prom), because that is I’m talking about. I wrote this to be about how youth leaders and parents should deal with their children- not how single adults should be acting to get married.

      I can understand that it is maddening to have people who don’t understand your situation tell you how to fix your problems. But honestly, that is not what I was trying to do here.

  3. stillsingle says:

    I absolutely agree with prairiegirl. As a 33 year old single woman, I have tried taking the lead many times. It has never been a good experience. Usually, if a man hasn’t asked me out, it’s always been because he doesn’t want to- not because he’s too scared or doesn’t have the opportunity. In my experience, a man asks out a woman if he is attracted to her, feels like she’s would be receptive to him and he wants to get to know her better. Sure it happens that a woman asks out a man and it works out but, in my experience, this is not a very common outcome.

    Also, I feel that all the drama between girls because of boys is not because girls feel like they can’t ask boys out. Boys choose the girls who are most attractive to them whether the girl ask them out or not.

    Consider another scenario- Molly wants to go to the prom with Johnny. She asks Johnny out. Johnny would rather go with Betty but agrees to go with Molly because she asked first. Molly and Johnny go out. Johnny acts disinterested the whole time and even asks Betty to dance one dance. Who should Molly be upset with then?

    • Starfoxy says:

      You know, that exact scenario happened to me. I asked a boy to a dance, he didn’t want to go with me, but said yes anyways. I had a miserable time and he spent basically the whole night with another girl.

      I do not regret asking him out.

      Why? Because I learned some of what boys risk in asking a girl out. I learned that saying “no” upfront to someone you aren’t interested in isn’t a bad thing.

  4. Alisa says:

    Starfoxy, this assignment happened to my husband when he was in high school. He was told it was his Priesthood duty to take a girl in the ward to a dance. My mother-in-law still holds it against his Priest Quorum leaders.

    prariegirl- So glad you shared your experiences and frustrations here. I think it adds to this conversation. Although, I didn’t see Starfoxy as telling us so much what the recipe is for a woman to catch a husband. I saw her exploring a whole paradaigm that makes it difficult to be a single LDS woman. Sure, women can act alone to change this, but if she’s the only thing that changes, then I think it still won’t work out. It takes an open-minded man to accept that woman asking him out. And then, there needs to be a good show of interest and acceptance on both sides.

    Another element in some LDS culture is when men expect women to do all the asking. I was surprised and disappointed when I went to BYU and found that women outnumbered men in most of my wards by 2 to 1. The most desired men hardly needed to invest in planning dates because the women would take care of them. Once one of my roommates had a crush on one of my home teachers. She called to arrange a date for them to come over for a Sunday dinner, but they told her they were booked out having dinner at women’s apartments for 10 weeks. This kind of thing happened often during the years I was single at BYU. I now have friends in the 30-something single’s wards, and they say this kind of thing gets worse as women get older. Men won’t ask on dates, or they even refuse women because they don’t want to date someone in their own ward because of the rumor mills. It is very frustrating for my friends who are willing to act on their own, but have a hard time with men reciprocating.

  5. Starfoxy says:

    Like Alisa said, I’m not saying that girls and women asking boys and men out will end every relationship problem that ever existed.
    I *am* saying that helping girls to feel like they are allowed to ask boys out will help them to feel like they they are allowed to pursue what they want in *all* areas of their lives. I am saying that it will help girls to see other girls as friends instead of threats. I am saying it will reduce the need for manipulative and passive aggressive behavior.

    Certainly no one girl doing this on her own is going to change the entire structure of our society, but every little bit helps.

    • Emily U says:

      This was my take-away from your post. Girls feeling like they have the power to make choices in the dating arena, including choosing who they will ask out, is a good thing. Now if boys would also recognize that it’s OK for girls to ask a boy out, maybe there wouldn’t be such a sense of it “backfiring.”

  6. prairiegirl says:

    Alisa–

    I saw exactly what you saw at BYU (and STILL see it) everywhere throughout the “western” church. I tried, for example, to ask out 2 friends in high school. They had been asked by girls months earlier.

    AND–all I ever saw was the opposite of this “I am saying that it will help girls to see other girls as friends instead of threats. I am saying it will reduce the need for manipulative and passive aggressive behavior.”

    No–instead ALL I’ve seen it breed is manipulative woman who are willing to do ANYTHING to get a guy (I used to call it the LDS form of “pimping” themselves out when I attended a single’s ward in UT for 5 miserable years). I saw girls wear clothing to Church inappropriate enough that they could be on an episode of CSI: Miami! I saw girls passively aggressively “friending” some girls–only to mistreat them later cause they were going after the same guy as them. And, what did I see it do to the young men? Mainly it lowered their expectations–and their will to do anything within the dating experience!!!! Most of my friends NEVER had to ask out girls–except maybe to put the ring on a girl’s finger. And those young men who weren’t chased after and had their feet lapped at by the girls, often became (and many still are!!!) completely either indifferent or too “weak” to ask out or even make an effort–with the excuse often on their tongue that it was always the “girl’s” faults!!!

    Not only this–but I’ve seen and observed LDS men behave more and more, dare I say, entitled! As if they’re entitled to have the next “perfect” girl walking up begging them for a date! As if they’re entitled to have a “perfect” girl who does just what they want in the relationship, and behaves just as they please–because the girls have conditioned them to believe that all they have to do to “catch a girl” is sit there and look good–and stay worthy for a temple recommend. I’ve heard young men’s mouths say things like “I could never marry a girl who has not served a mission” or “I need a sporty one” as if girls are types of cheeses in a deli counter! I’ve observed this phenonmenon since I was 15–and what happens to girls like me, who were raised believing that a woman’s worth is not about what she’ll do and give up of herself (her self worth) in order to “catch a guy” we get left behind because we’re not willing to “play the game” and instead do what the General Authorities and Prophet say we should do: gain all the education we can, prepare to be mothers and wives, gain testimonies, etc.

    I’m not saying that these young women (the one’s who chased and asked and lapped) don’t have testimonies. But years later–20 years down the line in their marriage–whom do they become? Once they can’t fit into the “pimping” clothes and have wrinkles and so forth? And what happens to the young men who are led to believe (and then, perhaps teach their sons) that all you have to do to catch a “perfect” woman is sit there and look good, and stay worthy?

    Have I described the reality of the phenomenon well enough? This phenomenon will not end if women don’t ask out men. BUT–assuming that asking out young men some how empowers a young woman is what I take issue with. I grew up seeing the EXACT opposite—and still experience daily the results of girls “asking”. So no, I do not think that a one time date is the end of the world–but flipping it around does not permanently empower anyone from what I’ve observed for 33 years.

    Oh–and in response to the “guy not interested” situation: I finally “set up a date” with a guy who I thought had been “hinting” to me for weeks–but was just not brave enough to ask me out. I called him up–asked him if he was going to the activity he kept “hinting” to me about–and he FINALLY asked me if I wanted to go. Ya–after 2 hours of him looking at every other girl but me, and then asking another girl for her number….I really didn’t need to “realize” the risks young men take. That young man had not taken ANY risks—but he sure sent some messages!!!

  7. ZD Eve says:

    I know this is incidental to your point, Starfoxy, but I have to say I’m disturbed by the way your in-laws’ ward assigned your BIL to ask a girl to the prom.

    I don’t see any reason at all a sixteen-year-old boy (or girl) should have to date if he or she doesn’t want to. Teenagers mature at vastly different rates. I do think prairiegirl’s example of the young men practicing courtship skills is a great one, as long as the impetus genuinely comes from the young men themselves, and as long as young men who just aren’t up to it can opt out with no pressure. (Like Starfoxy, I’m talking about teenagers here. The singles’ dynamics others have mentioned in young adult settings and beyond–that’s a different situation entirely.)

    In any case, if anyone wants ammunition for protecting a teenager from pressure to date, here’s a quote straight from FTSOY:

    Not all teenagers need to date or even want to. Many young people do not date during their teen years because they are not yet interested, do not have opportunities, or simply want to delay forming serious relationships. However, good friendships can and should be developed at every age.

    • Bro. Jones says:

      What Eve said. I’m really bothered by the idea of a Church-mandated date, particularly in high school. That’s mighty weird on a lot of different levels.

  8. ZD Eve says:

    I’ve heard young men’s mouths say things like “I could never marry a girl who has not served a mission” or “I need a sporty one” as if girls are types of cheeses in a deli counter!

    I’ve heard this sort of thing, too. Ugh.

    It seems to me that one of the problems with dating is that the qualities that make one an attractive date–particularly in a cutthroat environment such as the one described above–have little overlap with the qualities that make one a good spouse. Even watching the insanity from afar I really start to get the arranged marriage thing.

  9. Corktree says:

    Like that quote from Eve, I didn’t date in high school. I really didn’t want to be involved in all that drama and there was no one that seemed worth it at the time. But I DID ask boys (friends) out to 2 different proms and had a great time because of my intentions and attitude for what it meant at the time. Now, I know that one of them was interested in a different girl, but that didn’t threaten our relationship since I wasn’t looking for one, and I still had fun. But I also know that this situation is different going out as a single adult.

    But I think the point that Starfoxy may be making, is that there is something wrong with the whole set up and attitude from *both* gendered sides, and that if we don’t start inspiring a change from the start (teenage dating experiences) then we won’t see change down the road in these interactions.

    What she’s proposing won’t have an effect on the dating lives of singles now, because everyone sees the situation the way they’ve been conditioned for years to see it, and this effects the way men are viewing and reacting to women asking them out. But it’s conceivable that a completely different perspective and way of teaching the youth about this may have a great enough effect years later. Social evolution and all that. Maybe not in 5 years, but 10, 20? Could society change? I think it’s at least possible.

    And the lovely side effect would be of course that girls (and the women they will become) might not be so tied up in what boys and men think of them, and boys won’t feel that they have so much control over how girls act toward them. And maybe, just maybe, as these girls and boys grow into women and men, women will no longer be seen as the ones responsible for men’s sexual exploits. Maybe they will no longer be the one’s “giving” the gift of virginity, and yet forced to “receive” sex in too many cases. Maybe things could just actually change for the better, all because we teach our children (and the youth we work with) that it’s okay for girls to show initiative and ask boys out, without threatening the delicate balance of stupid social mores. That both sides should be looking for companions that appreciate them for who they really are. That *gasp* it’s OKAY for them to show off their brains more than their breasts to attract a mate. Wouldn’t it be nice.

  10. spunky says:

    Sorry to have not read previous comments, so I hope this isn’t a repeat:

    I agree with what you are saying about this culturalism. Its pretty twisted. But– rather than telling girls that they can ask a guy out on a date, isn’t it just as okay to tell girls that they can and should go to the prom on their own if they want?

    I asked and was shot down by 2 boys for my prom. I still bought tickets to prom because I wanted to go. I happened to be chatting about this to a male friend casually who I wasn’t that close to- and he said that he also had bought tickets to prom, because he wanted to go, but didn’t have anyone to go with. Problem fixed! And it was fun! (I incidentally found it to be true about what everyone was saying at the time– that the real fun was in getting ready for the prom- once you get there, it is just another dance, just with dinner.)

    But what do I personally recall most about the prom? 2 things: the very popular, very drunk girl who the principle drove home because she was puking as a result of the champagne her parents let her have earlier in the night, and … the girls who came sans dates, but with each other– and were laughing and having what appeared to be more fun- than anyone else… probably because they knew each other better as friends than everyone else who may have effectivly been on a first- very awkward- date! What’s more- those girls were sans sexual pressure, and there was a lot of sexual pressure for prom- some girls actually bought special lingerie for the prom (this did not even occur to me). In the end, a guy from another couple that we doubled with went and opened the movie theatre where he worked and we had a private screening of a movie at 2AM. That was fun! (and sex and alcohol free… I should also add that I was the only mormon, and none of these friends were religious.)

    The funny thing? My mother waiting up for me to ask me if I had a good time (she never did this). So this makes me wonder– are we just trying to do what our parents tell us is important and behave in a dating manner that they say is appropriate? The BIL in this story makes me wonder if this social pressure to attend the dance is more parental/adult than what the kids actually put on themselves. Sure, we have all sorts of dating advice from church leaders and handbooks- but how much have our parents’ garbage that are we carring as well in regard to (mormon or otherwise) socially accepted models?

    P.S. I kissed my husband first. He was afraid to kiss me, and I liked him- so – hey! carpe diem!

  11. MJK says:

    I don’t know why people are jumping over Starfoxy. What I got out of this is that we need to CHANGE the way our boys are raised.

  12. MB says:

    Perhaps this is a regional thing. Where I live both the LDS boys and girls ask people out. And they all think it is equally daunting and they all prefer to be asked than to do the asking themselves. But that’s to be expected. Being passive is always easier than taking initiative when you are a teenager, male or female.

    I think ZD Eve’s point is well taken. The thing that bothers me the most about Starfoxy’s scenarios is not the psychology of who asks who or the fallout on people’s psyche, but rather the misguided mandate that failed to respect a young man’s agency when he realized it was not wise for him to follow it.

    But then we probably shouldn’t point fingers at the mandators. Most of us, if we think about it, have done that sort of pushy mandating when we were in charge of something at some point in our lives when we were younger, and hopefully we feel rather sheepish about it now.

  13. I soooo agree. If we could all just agree that we should be ourselves and learn as we go, which would include calling when we feel like calling, etc., I think that would really help.

    And P.S. I’m one of those annoying ones who refer to grown women as “girls.” When people refer to me as a woman I get this sickened feeling like I’m an old woman. Weird, I know. Sorry!

  14. X2Dora says:

    As someone who is in circumstances very similar to PrairieGirl’s, I can sympathize. The LDS dating scene, especially for those who fall outside the pale (like women in their 30’s), can be ridiculous to the extreme. However, I do think that people end up doing what they really want, as opposed to what they say they want.

    Case in point: I want to date. Dating really isn’t that hard. People do it all the time. And if I dug hard enough, there are always people who are willing to date me. The thing is, most times I am not willing to date them … for whatever reason. Maybe it’s that I don’t think we will be able to have a real conversation. Maybe they live too far away. Maybe they are not LDS, or they are too LDS. Maybe they are too conservative in their politics and/or religion. Maybe they don’t have a real job. Maybe they haven’t asked me, and I don’t want to ask them. Etc. Yes, I want to date, but there are many other things that I want more … freedom from bad dates, avoiding rejection, not getting involved in a doomed relationship, spending time doing things I enjoy more, etc.

    I would hope that young women are being taught to be attuned to their real desires, to be able to parse out what is worth their time and effort, and to go after it. Does Betty really want to go to prom with John? Why? Because he’s captain of the football team? Or because he’s her best friend? Or because everyone else wants to date him? Or is celebrating a US rite of passage more important … getting dressed up with a bunch of friends to launch themselves out of high school? In which case, I love that high school girls without dates find a way to band together and celebrate their friendships. Likewise, I’m glad that Starfoxy’s inlaws supported their son in not going to prom. I’m sure that the youth leaders had the best intentions for every youth to have a good experience with prom. However, it sounds like BIL did just fine on his own.

  15. EmilyCC says:

    Excellent post, Starfoxy! I think both boys and girls should take equal responsibility in asking someone they’re interested in out. I was raised to wait and did. When I was a senior in college, I decided to ask out a boy and 6 months later, married him.

    When we started getting serious, I thought, “Shoot! I could have had a lot more fun dating if I had started asking boys earlier!”

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