Dating with a Plan and a Purpose
April 2024

Digital Only: Young Adults

Dating with a Plan and a Purpose

A few things I’ve learned that can make your dating experience simpler and less stressful.

a young couple hugging and looking at each other

Dating. Just saying the word can elicit a variety of responses: a smile, a frown, an eye roll, butterflies, and even nausea. Clearly, dating is not the same experience for everyone. I’ve heard young adults refer to dating as a joy, a pain, a journey, a destiny, a tragedy, and a triumph. I was with recently talking with a young woman who, with a wry smile, referred to her dating life as “nonexistent.”

After more than a dozen years of teaching young adult dating and marriage preparation classes, I’ve found two words that sum up the experience for many: complicated and complex.

On the other hand, I’ve seen that a few well-understood principles can make the dating experience simpler and much less stressful. It all starts with a solid understanding of God’s purpose for marriage and the role that dating can play in laying the foundation for a successful marriage.

God’s Purpose for Marriage

It may be awkward to say out loud, but the general idea of dating as a young adult is that it leads to marriage—or at least we hope it does. Marriage between a man and a woman, in turn, leads us to becoming more like our heavenly parents—having a family of our own.

I’ve heard many young adults say that the idea of getting married is frightening because they know so many people whose marriages didn’t work. I know this is a sad reality. But staying married can be less of a gamble we hope for and more of a plan that we implement. And the more we understand the plan of salvation, the more we will understand the role of marriage within that plan.

As Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught:

“Satan understands that the family is central to the Lord’s plan of happiness. … He is striving to sow the dark seeds of fear in your heart, anything to keep you from experiencing the most glorious, rewarding part of mortality: the bright holiness and happiness that comes from finding an eternal partner and bringing Heavenly Father’s children into this world.

“As you face the decision to start your own eternal family, do not wait because you are afraid. Remember the scripture, ‘be not afraid, only believe’ [Mark 5:36]. My marriage and family are … a literal personal manifestation of the great plan of happiness for me. I promise you that the same can be true for you. Focusing on the joyous light family life brings will cast out fear.”1

To be motivated daters, we need to see marriage as more than a commandment; we need to embrace the truth that marriage can be, and is, a wonderful, joyful part of Heavenly Father’s plan for His children. Having a partner you love and a family you treasure leads to the greatest joys of mortality and eternity. If it didn’t, Heavenly Father wouldn’t be leading us down that path. President Russell M. Nelson taught, “[The] proclamation on the family helps us realize that celestial marriage brings greater possibilities for happiness than does any other relationship.”2

Dating Right to Marry Right

President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) once taught that to marry right we need to date right.3 That can seem easier said than done. President Thomas S. Monson (1927–2018) gave crucial direction to the young adult men of the Church on the subject: “Find someone with whom you can be compatible.”4

Short and simple, but so profound.

But how do we find someone? And how do we know if we are compatible?

For nearly everyone, finding someone requires dating. That dating should be purposeful and meaningful. Ideally, it is the kind of dating that helps us test compatibility. Dating also gives us a chance to learn the skills—yes, the skills—of creating a meaningful relationship.

First, the biggest challenge—getting dates. An entire article could be dedicated to this topic, but may I suggest seven simple words: “To go out more, get out more.” To anyone who wants to date more and get to know more people, I recommend getting involved and getting out. It may take some effort to find places with your kind of people, but it will be worth the investment.

One of the greatest predictors of compatibility between marriage partners is similarity in interest. As you go to activities and locations that interest you, you will find others who share your interests. It’s always helpful to remember that meeting someone requires meeting someone.

Compatibility: A Two-Step Process

Think of dating to test for compatibility as a two-step process. First, as you begin dating, try to date a variety of people. Getting to know a variety of personalities will help you learn what type of person you blend well with and what to look for in a mate. This is one reason why prophets have counseled teenagers to avoid exclusive relationships until they are older and instead “build good friendships with many people.”5

Dating a variety of individuals can be challenging. Not everyone has the opportunity or option of going on a lot of casual dates. And there is also the danger of getting too consumed with finding the elusive perfect match.

Thankfully, you don’t necessarily need to “formally” date a lot to learn a lot. Most of us have the chance to interact with a variety of men and women every day. If we are wise, we can use those relationships to identify qualities we want to look for in a spouse.

Second, when you begin dating someone more seriously, go on a variety of dates. Too often, I see couples spend all their dating sitting on a couch watching their favorite TV shows, to later complain that their spouse isn’t who they thought they were.

To teach the value of dating in a variety of ways, I’ve shown my institute class a picture that appears to be a half-assembled puzzle of my wife’s face. When I ask how it relates to dating, the answer is often, “You are putting together your wife.” If you look closely, however, you will see that I am removing puzzle pieces to uncover her complete picture underneath. Each puzzle piece represents an interaction (or date) that uncovers something about my wife’s personality.

Different types of interactions will reveal different qualities about her. If I want to learn about her spirituality, we should do something together that is spiritually based. Similarly, if I want to know how she relates with children, we will want to hang out with children.

Trust More, Stress Less

In the thick of dating for compatibility, remember that dating itself can and should be enjoyable. Dating is a chance to meet new people, create friendships, and get out and do something! A first date does not need to be a litmus test that makes or breaks all future encounters. Even if you haven’t found your spouse, you have at least found a new friend.

We all should be working toward eternal marriage, but overly stressing about dating and marriage, especially measuring your self-worth by your dating successes, will certainly make you miserable. Finding a compatible spouse and making your marriage work can be a wonderful, faith-filled journey.

There is great peace knowing that we will be blessed with all that we need for happiness and progression as we focus on our covenants and the purposes and promises of our loving Heavenly Father.