Dear 100 Hour Board,
I have a confession...I really like reading self-help books on dating. I suppose it makes me feel like I'm doing something to progress towards marriage, but I know that sitting alone in my bedroom reading a book isn't actually going to help me get married. So my question is, what are some things that I can be doing that WILL improve my marriage prospects? I've got lots of free time and I'd like to think at least some of my time is going towards something more productive than watching every episode of every show on Netflix.
-Single and ready
One of the biggest things that I think you can do to improve your marriage prospects is doing what you can to meet people and go on dates. That's kind of obvious, but I'm going to expand on it below. I took this as a chance to consolidate a fair amount of dating advice into one question, so some of this isn't directly relevant to your inquiry (and you may not need it) but hopefully it'll help someone out there.
The Anne, Certainly Guide to Revolutionizing Your Dating Life
(Oooh, that's a really pretentious name for a guide. This one better be good).
0. GPS Searching for Signal, or, Figuring Out Where You Are
I think that it's easy to feel like we don't know where to go because we the advice we read doesn't necessarily seem to reflect what's happening to us right now. Before you can have a hope at deciding which way to turn at the next intersection you reach, you have absolutely got to know where you are compared to where you are trying to get. In thinking about this question, I've realized there are (at least) three important areas of self-reflection: understanding your mental/emotional state, understanding your spiritual state, and understanding your current approach to dating.
- Your mental/emotional state: As I discussed in my Life Changing Summer Answer, the way you view yourself makes a huge difference in dating. Take a few minutes to reflect. Do you honestly believe that you are desirable? Do you believe that someone would be fortunate to date you? Do you believe that dating someone is going to solve certain problems in your life? What problems? Taking a few minutes to sit down and analyze your thought patterns can help you understand why you're acting in certain ways and what things it might be helpful to change.
- Your spiritual state: This is closely related to your mental and emotional state. I firmly believe that dating (although totally fun sometimes and well worth the effort) can be really difficult and is something God wants to help us with. Do you remember that God loves you, even when the dating is rough? Do you continue to pray for courage to put yourself in the right situations? Do you act on promptings to do simple things like helping others, talking to them, etc? God will help you. Are you putting yourself in a situation where that's possible?
- Your current approach to dating: What are you doing right now on the dating front? Are you flirting with a lot of guys? Are you flirting with one guy? Have you given up? If you're feeling really cynical, why is that, and what can you do to restore your hope?
- What do I need to do to achieve this goal?
- What do the people I date need to do to achieve this goal?
- How should we date in order to achieve this goal?
- For you extroverts, getting off Netflix and going out with some friends may be easy: make sure that you also take time to go to events where you don't know people and where you have an opportunity to meet people of the opposite gender who you could see again.
- For the introverts, I know this is harder. I think a lot of people think I'm an extrovert, but I'm actually somewhere in the middle of the I-E scale. With the understanding that I have some empathy, here are some thoughts on getting to know people:
- Go to things: sometimes you don't want to do this. It is often more difficult to make yourself vulnerable to boredom, casual rejection, or awkwardness at an activity in your new ward, a club meeting where you don't know people, or the random party your roommate invited you to come to with her. For introverts, realize that sometimes going to these things isn't something you do because it's immediately enjoyable, it's something you do as part of a longer-term investment with potentially amazing returns.
- When you get there, find a place where you're comfortable enough to be yourself. This might somewhat limit the activities you go to (for example, I'd be uncomfortable at a rave in a club, probably even at the side along the wall. That's fine.) Find the corner with a person you know, the food table where there are just a few people casually chatting instead of dancing all crazy in a huge group, etc.
- Say something. This can be hard, but it's critical. Sometimes other people are shy too. Taking the first step by making an offhand comment to someone - "I like your shoes." "Is that a [fandom] shirt? I love that [book/movie]!" "So, which cupcakes here are the best?" - gives them the chance to start talking to you without feeling like they're being weird. If they give you a monosyllabic answer, you can totally ditch out and try someone else, but a lot of people will like that you're asking for their opinion, complimenting them, or otherwise showing interest in their existence and will start a conversation.
- Get - and remember - people's names. When you meet that new guy/girl in the ward, try to remember who s/he is. This probably goes without saying.
- Remember next time you see them that you've already started building a relationship. If you had a great conversation at the ward mixer last week, they remember it too! You don't need to act or feel like you're starting from ground zero the next time you talk to them.
- People who say you shouldn't date your friends are wrong. You guys know me. I don't make a ton of categorical statements. However, the idea that dating your friends is somehow an inherently terrible plan is dumb. You want to date someone you're friends with. For an elaboration of this, see this answer. People who think they can only date their friends are also wrong. Take a chance! I'm not recommending anything unsafe, but don't feel like you can't start to flirt with a guy you don't know very well. I was vaguely aware of Man, Certainly before we started dating, but I became more aware of him when I noticed he was cute and added him to my general list of guys to flirt with (that makes me sound like a terrible person. Hey, it's well-established that I play the field when I'm single. It works for me.)
- Find Places to Be Friends with People. If you're going to date someone, they're presumably going to become your friend at some point. To this end, you need to be in places and doing things where you can meet people you'll be interested in. Join clubs! Go to ward choir! Do that weekly ward service project! Talk to someone about starting a study group in your class (that just happens to include that cute guy/girl). Meet your co-workers. I cannot express enough the importance of meeting people in dating! Anyone you think you could potentially be interested in, talk to and get to know! This is the some of the specific advice I'd give to you, reader: find things to attend that you enjoy doing and find other people who enjoy doing them too. That's a great place to start, and even if you don't find anyone you'll still have fun.
Things probably won't work out perfectly the first time. That is totally fine. I had been on dates with something like a dozen guys before I kissed anyone. I was up to something like 20 before I had a relationship that lasted a significant amount of time. It's a bit of a numbers game, and that can be discouraging at times. Just try to remember that continuing to try will have benefits: possible relationships, new friendships, strengthening your character (Man, Certainly's really into that whole character-building thing... he's trying to convince me,) learning about what you want in the future, and being blessed for making efforts to achieve a good thing. It might feel like you protect yourself from pain by not hoping for anything and not acting like you're trying for anything, but if you don't hope for good things, you are letting yourself down.
5. It's Okay If You Don't Have an ETA, or, Don't Insist on Seeing the End from the Beginning
We don't know how our lives will go yet. Some of us (Anne, Certainly) can be control freaks, but learning to take joy in the fact that God is the one who is in charge. Give yourself time to listen and learn and decide what's working without feeling like everything has to happen (or not happen) right now. Reflect on what's happening to you and whether it is good. If not, what could make it better? If it is, have you taken time to be grateful and find ways to make it even better?
Be grateful for the good things about where you are, and trust that if you follow God, He will in time take you somewhere even better. He'll give you ideas for what you should be doing if you ask Him for them with a determination to do them. You can do it.