Mormons' Dates Set a 'Different' Standard

Susan Christian is a regular contributor to Orange County Life.

The movie was rated "PG," so he thought it a safe choice for his night on the town. Initial impressions can be deceiving, however. Midway through the film, that modern Hollywood requisite--The Bedroom Scene--staged a surprise attack.

So Scott Boyenger, 19, walked out of the theater.

"My date was all, 'You're so weird,' " recalled the Huntington Beach resident, employing typical teen-age vernacular.

Usually Boyenger dates only young women who, like himself, are Mormons--members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Otherwise, his social life might become a series of disastrous outings like the one he cited.

"I feel more comfortable dating Mormons because I know that they have the same standards I have," agreed Melissa Pinkston, also 19. "Generally speaking, I know that they're not going to try anything."

Her remark elicited a unified guffaw from her group of friends, all present to talk about the art of Mormon dating.

Mormons are different from the world at large, and they're proud to admit it. Church rules dictate that they don't drink, smoke, curse, listen to racy songs, watch racy movies, or engage in premarital sex.

Thus, their dating experience is different, as well.

"Different," however, is not synonymous with "difficult." In fact, meeting prospective mates may be much easier for Mormons than for the general population; a major function of the church is the care and fostering of relationships. Mormons even organize wards--roughly, the Protestant/Catholic equivalent of congregations--specifically for the unattached.

Of about 100 wards in Orange County, serving 47,000 local Mormons, six are designated for "young single adults." Bishop Gary Nelson oversees one such ward, based in Huntington Beach.

"One of the goals is marriage and family within the church, and this is a good way for Mormons to meet one another," Nelson said. "We've had over 100 marriages (among members of his ward) in the 3 1/2 years that I've been bishop."

The singles' wards sponsor dances almost every weekend. Occasionally, two or three wards will combine forces for a social event so that young Mormons throughout Orange County can interact.

On Sunday afternoons, Nelson leads his 300-member congregation in discussions about courtship and marriage. "They find strength from one another in trying to live in a world that doesn't practice their same standards," he said. "We teach the law of chastity--total abstinence before marriage--which sets us apart."

Nelson often counsels unmarried couples about sexual attraction. "We hope they'll seek us out before it becomes a problem," he said. "One of my main responsibilities as bishop is to help young people avoid (premarital sex)."

While the church allows dating--and even marriage--with non-members, it encourages otherwise, Nelson said: "As a safety valve, we recommend to kids that serious dating take place within the membership. It's not that we think we're better than the rest of the world; it's just that it's easier for kids to find support among their Mormon peers."

"When you date a Mormon, you date someone who has the same principles as you," Boyenger said.

Not only do they prefer dating within their religion, Boyenger and his buddies said that they would rather hang out with fellow Mormons in most all social settings. "I don't feel comfortable going to non-Mormon parties because I end up being the only person who's sober," said Michelle Molinari, 20, of Anaheim.

On the other hand, Ted Moore, 22, of Huntington Beach, enjoyed dating non-Mormon girls in high school. "It's fun meeting people who think differently from yourself," he said. "A lot of girls would make the comment, 'I feel safe around you,' which was a compliment to me."

Wholesome, "safe" Mormons indeed can make appealing dates for outsiders, the friends said. "I once had a (non-Mormon) guy ask me to a New Year's Eve dance because his grandparents were going to be there, and he wanted to take someone they'd approve of," said Denise Newburg, 19, of Fountain Valley.

Although most of the group said that they have dated non-members, all plan to marry Mormons. One of the dangers in dating outside their church, they added, is the possibility of falling in love with someone who does not share their beliefs.

Moore admitted that he and a non-Mormon developed crushes on one another in high school. "Her parents didn't want her to join the church and made us stop dating," he said. "I was bummed out."

Statistically, Mormons marry young--before the age of 25. "Most people (in the general population) don't get married until they've gone to college and started their careers. Our church says, no, those things shouldn't get in the way of marriage; you can be married and go to school at the same time," said Molinari, who plans to marry her fiance, Brian Peterson, 21, this October.

Unlike many modern singles, Mormons do not stall their relationships in a lengthy holding pattern before tying the knot. "We don't grab the first person we see, but then again, when we find someone we're compatible with, we don't date them for five years," Molinari explained. "The mystique would wear off, and you'd never get around to marrying them. And you'd end up an old maid."

"(Church counselors) say that within three or four months, you should know if a person is right for you," Boyenger said.

Besides, Molinari interjected with humorous candor, "it would be difficult to date someone for two years and stay celibate."

so we might as well do it.' "

The church advises group dating, to reduce the risk of overly romantic interludes. "It's recommended that there not be a lot of kissing because that might lead to something else," Boyenger said.

But, Pinkston quickly clarified, "They don't say not to kiss, either. If you're going to do anything, make it kissing."

An advantage of saving sexual intimacy for marriage is that partners start with a clean slate, devoid of pre-learned expectations, said Pinkston. "You can't compare because you don't have anything to compare it to."

Additionally, premarital relationships are founded on more than physical affection, she said: "You can sit down and talk to each other."

"You better like talking to each other because after a while (sex) probably gets old, anyway, and you're back to talking," Moore said, winning a round of laughter.

Because the church teaches members to sidestep temptation by shirking un-Mormon-like influences--Hollywood bedroom scenes, for example--finding an acceptable movie for a date can be tricky. The group endorsed "Field of Dreams" and "Tucker" as examples of good, clean entertainment.

"You know how many swear words were in 'Top Gun'? I counted: 77," Pinkston said. "That's not necessary; that's not the sort of thing I want to put in my head."

Mormons, Newburg concluded, have to be "creative" when it comes to dating. "We don't go to bars; we don't drink; we don't go to R-rated movies. We make our own fun. We get together and play games. We have dances."

Do Mormons like rock 'n' roll? "Of course," Newburg said. "We even have disc jockeys from (rock stations) KLOS and KROQ emcee our dances. Contrary to popular belief, we don't sing hymns while we're dancing."

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