I am currently serving as the Young Women’s president in my ward. One of the most difficult challenges I have seen my young women face is learning how to enter the dating world when there are so many boys who have not learned how to properly treat and respect girls. I have witnessed boys treating girls more like objects than human beings. I have witnessed manipulative behavior as well as bullying to get what they want. It breaks my heart. How can I help?
I believe there are two important things you can do to address your current concerns with the young women you spend time with. The first is to empower them, to love them, and to support them with unconditional fervor. It sounds like these are behaviors you already dutifully exhibit. As human beings, the most powerfully driving force in our lives is the desire to be loved and accepted by other human beings. If women, particularly young women, feel loved and supported by leaders and parents and friends, it follows that they’ll be far less likely to seek out that belonging elsewhere, i.e. in unhealthy, manipulative relationships with boys who treat them more like objects than human beings. We all just want to fill the love vacuum with whatever kind of love is available, even the sickly, one dimensional love that puts conditions on our behavior and our choices. Unconditional love and support empowers people to be strong and independent; it teaches them to feel powerful. One of my favorite authors put it this way: “No girl who plays the role of a hero dates a guy who uses her.”
I want to thank you for the obvious love and care you have for these girls. I thank you because you’re doing important work. I thank you because we all need to feel appreciated, and because perhaps there are days that you don’t feel appreciated. I thank you because it’s the most important thing you can do to help. I guarantee your YW feel the consistency and stable concern you have for them, and they appreciate it more than they’ll ever be able to express. But you’re going to watch a lot of these girls make dating decisions that you don’t approve of. Despite your efforts, some of them are going to date boys who treat them like objects and manipulate them and cause them to experience sadness and anxiety. I promise you they will. Some of those women are even going to marry men like that. And do you know what you can do about it? Absolutely nothing, and this is the second thing I want to share.
I know, dear Sister, this isn’t the type of “advice” you’re looking for, and I wish I had a more hopeful, empowering answer to your question. But the most simple and important fact of life is this: people will always do what they want, especially in love. I know this to be true because while I consider myself an independent woman with a strong sense of self worth, I spent over a year in a relationship with a boy who caused me to feel otherwise. I know this because of a dear friend who married a man who treated her with disrespect and unkindness that caused unspeakable pain and suffering to her and her family. I know this because of broken engagements, on-again-off-again romantic antics, broken promises, and unbelievably sad endings. The world is full of them, you know?
This all sounds very hopeless, doesn’t it? I won’t pretend relationships aren’t hard and that they don’t often cause a lot of pain and sorrow and sadness. They do. Most of the time, they do. But the beautiful thing is, it’s all going to be okay. Human beings are incredibly resilient. We marry alcoholics and drug addicts and adulterers. Sometimes we are the alcoholics and drug addicts and adulterers. We make risky financial decisions or illegal business transactions or unintentionally watch Netflix for hours and hours and how is it 6pm already? Where did the day go? We choose to date losers, realize our mistake, and break up with those losers. But then we get back together again. We’re not perfect parents or daughters or friends. We never have been. But life is still worth living. It’s filled with wonderful experiences where babies are born, even if their parents don’t love each other. Break-ups are brutal, but luckily we have chick flicks and ice cream and friends to help us get through them. Depression is disheartening, but the sun still rises every morning. Leaves and flowers and butterflies come every spring, no matter how long the winter is. My friend divorced her slimy husband and found the love of her life. They’ve now been married for decades, have a beautiful family, and she is living her actual dream. And life goes on.
One time in college, a boy whom I loved very much taught an amazing Sunday School lesson that made me fall in love with him even more. In it, he said, “Life becomes hopeless when we focus on the things we can’t control,” and I’ve never forgotten that. You can’t control the dating decisions your young women will make. You’ll never be able to control the decisions they make. But you can control how kind you are, how considerate, how charitable, how loving. Teach your girls about how to love by showing them. Help them to feel supported. Teach them to be the heroes of their stories.
Sunday School boy is married now and has a child. Man, I loved him a lot. Life goes on.