Make Dating Smooth Sailing
October 2004

“Make Dating Smooth Sailing,” New Era, Oct. 2004, 28

Special Issue: Dating and Temple Marriage

Make Dating Smooth Sailing

Adapted from a Brigham Young University–Idaho devotional address given on 18 November 2003.

Susan W. Tanner

I want to share some gospel perspectives on three “ships”: friendship, courtship, and physical relationship.

First, friendship is a gospel principle; it is necessary to our emotional and spiritual well-being. Second, friendship is the foundation upon which courtship and marriage should be built and can thrive. And third, a physical relationship before marriage can prevent the building of a strong friendship foundation, but after marriage it can enhance that friendship.


How important is friendship to you? How does it bless your life? Have you ever felt friendless? It’s miserable to feel lonely and without friends. Friendship is necessary to our well-being—not just nice but necessary. We all hunger for it; it’s a universal need.

This was brought home to me by one of my Young Women general board members who took some personal trips this past summer. In her travels, she visited with young women in Idaho, Brazil, Mongolia, and Russia. In each place, she asked them questions about their lives and compiled their answers. Here are the questions she asked, along with the most frequent response she received to each question.

Question: What makes you happy? Answer: Friends.

What are your greatest worries? Friends.

What do you like to do in your free time? Be with friends.

What do you spend most of your time thinking about? Friends.

Why don’t young women come to Mutual? No friends.

Why do young women become less active? Pressure of friends.

Isn’t that amazing! Friends are of paramount importance for young women all over the world. And I believe young men would give similar answers. So too would many adults. We all need friends.

Prophets have taught that friendship is an integral part of keeping the covenants we have made. Consider the example of the people of Alma at the Waters of Mormon. There, they expressed their desire to come into the fold of God. Alma asked them if they were willing to bear one another’s burdens, to mourn with those that mourn, and to comfort those who stand in need of comfort. That is, he asked them if they were willing to covenant to act as friends. They clapped their hands for joy to enter into such a covenant. And their hearts were knit together in unity and love. This is a great scriptural example of friendship. (See Mosiah 18.)

We can look to Jesus Christ for the greatest example of friendship. “Friend” was the highest compliment He could pay His disciples. He said:

“This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

“Ye are my friends. …

“I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you” (John 15:12–15).

If friendship is so important in the teachings of our prophets and our Savior, shouldn’t we be striving to be great, covenant-keeping friends? To be such a friend is Christlike; to have such friends is heavenly. As Latter-day Saints, we know that exaltation involves the privilege of spending eternity where our true Friend, the Savior, and others who have become like Him are. The scriptures give us this glorious promise: “That same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory” (D&C 130:2).


This brings me to my second “ship,” or relationship: courtship. Friendship should play a key role in courtship and marriage. I see friendship as the foundation in the courtship pyramid. A little story will help to illustrate this point.

It is the story of Isaac and Rebecca. This is not the biblical account, however. It is about our daughter Rebecca and her suitor Isaac. Our Rebecca was not persuaded to marry her Isaac nearly as easily as was the Old Testament Rebekah. Nor was she readily willing to give up her lifestyle and immediately leave her family to be part of another’s life.

Our Becky was 21. She had signed up to do a summer internship through Brigham Young University in Mozambique, Africa. She wasn’t sure if she should serve a mission, but she had at least started the paperwork by getting dental and doctor appointments. She was also thinking about applying for a master’s program in her field. In short, she was trying to decide what to do with the next phase of her life. We all wondered which would win out of the three Ms—Mozambique, mission, or master’s.

Meanwhile, Isaac came along in pursuit and soon offered a choice of a fourth M—marriage. He was headed for medical school in a few months, and he did not want to go without Becky. He later told us that he had his own three Ms that he hoped she would choose—marriage, medical school, and eventually motherhood. “If she did not,” he said, “I knew I would be the fourth M—miserable.”

Becky was a woman of the 21st century. The world and its many glamorous opportunities were available to her, and it was hard for her to set aside some of her dreams. What finally won her over were Isaac’s intrinsic goodness and his kindness to her. He did the romantic things too, like sending beautiful bouquets of flowers, taking her on nice dates, and so on.

But those things would not have won her over on their own. What was most winning to her was how he continually put her feelings and her needs above his own. He did little thoughtful things, the kind that one friend would do for another. For example, when he learned that her watch was too big for her wrist, he removed a couple of links from it and made it perfect for her. Another time she found her car spotless and sparkling inside and out because he had washed it, a deed unsolicited by her. Another time she found a little list he had made of ways to improve himself; many of his goals were service oriented. These kindnesses promised an enduring friendship; they expressed qualities of character that would last even when physical beauties eventually faded.

Becky realized that he had the qualities that would endure through good and bad times, the very qualities she would seek out in a good friend. So she did marry Isaac. And now she reflects that she was right about his great strengths being a wonderful asset to their relationship. She feels she is married to her best friend. And this is what marriage should be.

Friendship, then, should form the foundation of romantic love—the love that leads to courtship and marriage. Likewise, both friendship and romantic love can become what God intends them to be only when they are founded on charity, “the pure love of Christ” (Moro. 7:47). As we learn in Moroni and 1 Corinthians, charity is patient, long-suffering, kind, free from envy, and unselfish. Charity leads couples to rejoice in truth, to believe, to hope, and to endure. Couples whose love is based on charity want the best for each other. Their love is infused with the pure love of Christ. These are the qualities we should seek for in courtship and marriage. (See 1 Cor. 13:4–7; Moro. 7:45.)

One of the ways to develop a strong, loving relationship is with sound communication. Communication is the way a good relationship begins and also endures. My unmarried children ask me constantly how it is that anyone ever gets together. It seems like such a mysterious puzzle. I know that everyone’s falling-in-love story is different. But there seems to be at least one commonality among most stories. This is a spontaneity in conversation. So many couples say things like, “We just talked and talked; I lost track of time when we were talking; it was so comfortable to talk; we share the same sense of humor; we loved talking about our similar interests and values.”

It was like that on my first date with my husband. All evening we were surrounded by people, but I felt like it was just the two of us. John and I talked to each other nonstop.

I’ve heard it said that “love is a long conversation.” I believe it. In fact I often joke with our children that if I ever run out of things to say to Dad, then the marriage will be over. I’m pretty safe saying that, because we love to talk to one another about everything.

This communication that is so fun in a friendship is also essential as you really get to know someone’s deeper self. A relationship may never develop into a courtship because it can’t get beyond inch-deep generalities.

We sometimes look for happiness in exotic places and for romance in mystique, money, or charm. We sometimes look just for looks. Instead, we need to look for friends who embody Christlike character. As you date, seek friendships that have enduring strength and that can provide a firm foundation for a marriage. After you have established a solid, virtuous base in your relationship, there is a place for physical intimacy—in marriage.

Physical Relationship

The physical relationship between a man and a woman can be wonderful and good—a beautiful blessing. However, if the physical part of romance comes too early or too fast in a relationship, it can take over. Then it can become the tail that wags the dog. Our physical emotions are powerful and exciting. This is how they are meant to be. But this is precisely why they need to be kept in check until after marriage—when other fundamental parts of the relationship are developed.

We have taught our children some principles that we hope have provided protection for them. We tried to create some catchy phrases so they would remember them easily in times of danger and decision. Let me share just four principles that will protect you if you remember them and abide by them.

  1. Avoid the dangers of the dark. Stay in well-lit places—literally and figuratively. There’s wisdom to leaving the lights on—on the porch, in the living room, at the dance. And there’s safety in shunning places that feel dark in spirit.

  2. Beware the hazard of the horizontal. Don’t lie down together with a date. Just don’t do it—not to watch a movie or to read a book or to rest at a picnic.

  3. Remember the perils of privacy. Find public places to be alone. Learn to have your intimate talks where others are. There is great safety in being together where you can easily be interrupted.

  4. Modesty is a must. Everything about your appearance, your speech, and your demeanor should bespeak that you are a literal spirit son or daughter of Heavenly Father. If we truly understand the significance of our bodies in our Father’s plan, we will show great honor for our bodies. When you dress and act modestly, others will treat you with respect.

You will protect yourself if you choose to be with others who are also trying to make good choices. Someone with whom you will want to share the rest of your life will want only the very best for you. It says in For the Strength of Youth, “Choose friends who share your values so you can strengthen and encourage each other in living high standards. A true friend will encourage you to be your best self” ([2001], 12).

The Lord planned for us to become one in every way. The physical relationship in marriage can help cement our spiritual union. We are made for each other.

Our model is in the very first love story. The Lord said that it was not good that Adam should be alone. So the Lord created Eve to be “an help meet for him” (Gen. 2:18). The meaning of this scripture is that Eve was created to be a help “meet” for Adam. Meet means fit or suitable. So Eve was a helper who was “suited to, worthy of, or corresponding to him” (Gen. 2:18, footnote b). After that, Adam was taught that they should “cleave unto” one another, “and they shall be one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). So here are all of the elements—being suited for each other first and then adding the physical relationship after marriage.

I know what it is to have such a friend. My husband, John, was kind and thoughtful and romantic in our courtship. Then even when he was going to school full time, working full time, and we had three children under the age of four, he continued to be kind and thoughtful and romantic with me. He has shown this by helping me in my busy roles. He bathed the children every night. He scrubbed the kitchen floor. He was also my window to the world—keeping me abreast to what was happening out there. He provided for us. He encouraged me as a mother. He supported the children in plays, concerts, athletic events, and papers they had to write. He would give me moments of rest—on walks or weekend getaways, taking me to the temple or occasionally on his travels. When I come home tired at night, he makes cheese toast and other such delicacies, so I don’t have to cook. He is my muse and my editor in my writing and talks. He prays for me and gives me priesthood blessings. He is a help suited for me in every way.

I hope that each of us will find such joy in our lives through our relationships with friends, family, and God. We must remember that deep friendships are built on Christlike virtues. Such friendships form a sound base upon which to build a courtship. And finally, very carefully, the physical relationship will enhance that holy friendship in marriage. I testify that these principles are true. May we find joy in the holy socialities that the Lord has provided for us.

Illustrated by Dilleen Marsh

Photography by John Luke; posed by models