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Dating with a purpose
By Orson Scott Card June 17, 2010

To the unmarried young men of the Church: If movie/dinner/dance is the axis of pointlessness in dating, what kind of date is useful in helping discover who would make a good wife for you?

I have little patience, I'm afraid, with "creative dates" -- you know, the kind where your friend dresses up in a tux and serves KFC chicken to you and your date on fine china on a card table in the median strip of a highway.

To me, dates like that seem like showing off. It's about the public display of "creativity," not about getting to know the other person.

In fact, you'd better be sure that the young woman you're "treating" to this experience is not shy. I know plenty of women to whom such a "date" would be the rough equivalent of an hour or two in hell.

A useful date is not a show you put on to impress a girl. It's one where the two of you have a significant task to perform together. Something real, in which your cooperation is essential. Bungee-jumping does not qualify.

When I got home from my mission, my first date was with the woman I ended up marrying. Yet it took three-and-a-half years to get from A to B. Part of the delay was because we were both trapped in the dating mindset.

I founded a theatre company and started to put on plays in Provo -- I was the first to produce plays at "The Castle," a Depression-era amphitheater behind the state mental hospital. My friends from the BYU theatre department and I put on six shows a summer; our only funding came from ticket sales.

So when my future wife came home from her semester abroad in Paris, she found that her boyfriend had no time for her. Every night I was either rehearsing a play or taking tickets.

I had neither time nor money to spend a night at the movies or going out to dinner. I fancied that I was beginning my life's work, and surely she should understand that social life had to be postponed.

It never crossed my mind to say, "Come on up and help me take tickets." I was keeping a complete wall between my work and my wife-to-be. The result was that she felt abandoned (because she was) and I watched our relationship fade into nearly nothing.

The funny thing is that she loved plays; in fact, we first fell in love, not because of our dates, but because right after my mission I directed her in the lead in a ward production of Brigadoon!

Now, looking back, I can see that if I had simply asked her to help me, launching that theatre company could have been the foundation of our relationship. Anything I delegated to her would have been done -- and done right. With her counsel, the company might not have been such a financial disaster.

Not everybody is engaged in such a life-consuming activity as starting a theatre company. But there are projects you can invite a woman to take part in that will show you both what married life might be like.

It could be something as simple as taking a walk together, picking up trash along the edge of a public roadway as you go. "I'm tired of all the litter along Elm Street," you say, "and I'm going to clean it up. Do you want to help me? Just you and me -- when we're done we'll clean up and have some ice cream."

You show up with gloves and trash bags. You aren't so dumb as to assign her one side of the road while you do the other -- you work side by side. You make up stories about the people who threw this stuff out of their car. You tell each other stories about your life.

At the end of the date, you can look with pride at a clean stretch of roadway. You also know whether she enjoys getting a job done or leaves you to do most of the work; whether she cares only about how this is messing up her hair and clothes or whether she knows how to turn such a job into fun.

Just the fact that she agreed to do it at all tells you something. And the danger is that she'll be learning a lot about you, too: Did you prepare? Do you know what you're doing? Do you expect her to do all the hard or tedious work? Are you bossy? Do you listen to counsel? Are you careful of her safety? Her feelings?

Maybe the job you share with her is baby-sitting or running the nursery for some church event. It can be as simple as washing a car or cleaning out a shed. It can be tied to a season, like making Christmas cards or delivering gifts to needy children. It can involve family -- taking your (or her!) younger siblings to a park or pool, museum or show.

The main thing is that the event isn't about you and her and whether you are attracted to each other, it's about something useful and real.

And by the end, you'll know a lot more about how much you'd enjoy the glorious, terrifying lifetime project of building a family with her.

Copyright © 2010 by Orson Scott Card

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