Young people are rightly concerned about whom to date and whom not to date. Get a good date, and you have fun, your parents approve, and your friends welcome you to social affairs. Get someone your parents and friends dislike, or someone you don’t find companionable, and you can have a miserable time. Sometimes it also happens that the person your parents consider a fine date leaves you cold, and the one you would like to date just doesn’t rate with your friends and family. Then what?
WHEN PARENTS DISAPPROVE
Whether they know your date or not, your parents may disapprove of him or her. They may not like your date’s family and background. They may believe that there is too great an age difference between the two of you. They may be concerned about differences in religion, nationality, or social and economic background. They may have heard something unfavorable about your date or his family. Or they may disapprove of anyone in whom you’re interested, simply because they don’t want to see you involved with anyone yet. Whatever the reasons for parents’ disapproval, the problem is a real one.
Young people themselves generally agree that dating on the sly is not a good solution to the problem of parents’ disapproval. Someone is sure to discover the situation, and parents become doubly aroused over the deception. Defying your parents and dating the person of whom they disapprove is apt to be unpleasant for everyone concerned. Yielding to parents’ wishes and refraining from dating anyone of whom they disapprove can be limiting; sometimes, unfortunately, even prejudiced and restricting. Young people argue that they should have the right to choose their own friends without constant interference from their parents. At the same time youth generally acknowledges parents’ right to be interested and concerned about their children’s dating partners and patterns.
The best solution seems to be that of trying to get your parents to see what you like in the other person and finding a mutually comfortable adjustment to the problem. It sometimes helps to reassure parents that you’re not planning to get serious about everyone you date, and that you know as well as they that an individual may make a good date but a poor marriage partner. Parents often look too far ahead too soon and worry that your date will lead straight to an unfortunate marriage. If you can assume the kind of responsibility for your dating that assures your parents that you’re not going off the deep end into some impossible match, you may find them relaxing about your casual friendships and dating partners.
Especially helpful, too, is the practice of getting your parents acquainted with your friends and dating partners very early in the relationship. If you and your date spend some time at home, you will provide an opportunity for both you and your parents to see how well the person in question fits in with your way of life and values.
Introducing Your Date to Your Family
A girl can ask a boy in whom she’s interested to drop by her home for a Sunday afternoon TV show when conversation with her family can be relaxed and casual over a bowl of popcorn or a cup of cocoa. Parents who have had a chance to see a boy and talk with him will think of him as a person rather than just a boy in the abstract. It’s up to the girl to arrange a meeting that will be most comfortable for her, the boy, and her parents.
It’s customary for a boy to call for his date at her home. She greets him at the door and brings him in to meet her family. As she introduces her mother to her date, she says, “Mother, this is Jim. He’s in my history class and helped me find that reference I was looking for last week.” This gives Mother some talking point with Jim. Similarly when a girl introduces a date to her father, she might say, “Dad, this is Jim. He’s on the basketball team this year.” If Dad has ever played basketball, there will be no pause in the conversation. A girl continues to acquaint her family with her date by dropping such little conversation-starters from time to time, and soon Jim and her folks get past that first embarrassment to a free and easy flow of talk. When the couple finally go off on their date, the girl’s parents can feel more secure. They have met their daughter’s escort and know by first-hand experience that he’s “nice.”
A boy may not find it quite as easy to arrange a meeting between his parents and a new girl, partly because it’s not expected that he will bring his girl home until the relationship is fairly far along. His parents can be helpful in arranging simple little outings such as picnics, fishing trips, or a backyard barbecue to which the girl may be invited along with other young people. Or the boy himself can invite a few friends over for an informal get-together, then casually introduce a new girl friend to his parents in a setting that doesn’t commit anyone. Sometimes a young fellow who doesn’t drive a car finds it easy for his parents to get acquainted with a girl when they chauffeur the pair to school, church, and community functions.
An older fellow who drives the family car can sometimes arrange to pick up his girl friend while he is driving his mother on an errand or taking his parents to some affair. A college boy can invite a girl, and perhaps another couple, to his home for a week end. Or he can have his parents as his guests on the campus for a Saturday game at which time they get to know the girl with whom he’s going. These things can be done easily, once the persons involved grant their importance. The first and most important step is recognizing that parents have a right to be interested in your dates—and letting them in on the situation as soon as possible.
THE REALLY SMART GIRL
College and high school girls are frequently concerned about the wisdom of dating boys who are not their intellectual equals. Boys worry less about dating girls inferior to them in intellect, since it is generally expected that a girl won’t be as intelligent as the boy she dates. Indeed this is emphasized so strongly that a superior girl may find that if she has a reputation as a “brain,” boys are afraid to date her. Such a girl may pretend to be dumber than she is on a date. She plays up to a boy in the age-old game of making him feel superior. But there are girls who resent having to “put their brains on ice,” so they go out only with boys who like them as they are, who admire intelligence and are not threatened by a girl’s superior mental ability. A girl who dates a boy who is not her intellectual equal must decide whether she dares be herself or whether she must put on an act.
In time a really smart girl learns that she can enjoy different kinds of people in different ways. She discovers that flaunting her knowledge is not pleasant to anyone in any setting. She finds that even the least promising boy can be interesting when he’s functioning in areas that he knows well. Such a girl is able to have a good time with whomever she is and wherever she is. By getting to know different types of people with varying abilities, she eventually discovers the intellectual level in which she feels comfortable. Eventually she selects a compatible partner for marriage.
FARM BOYS AND CITY GIRLS
There is some feeling among farm people that a farm boy should go out only with girls who have been brought up on a farm. The chief reason seems to be the fear that a city girl won’t know how to perform all the jobs a farm woman is called on to do, and therefore would be unsuitable as a marriage partner. As is so often the case, adults tend to visualize a dating couple as falling in love and getting married, and so they evaluate the pair not as dates but as mates.
Nowadays, however, there is not as much difference between farm and city youth as once may have been the case. Boys and girls from farms and cities meet each other and share events in large consolidated schools. They have equal access to social affairs and activities via the family car, the same radio and television programs, and oftentimes the same college and vocational plans. Even if a relationship ends in marriage, the city girl is no longer at so serious a disadvantage on the farm because of modern equipment and labor-saving devices.
In general, evidence proves that if the two persons have real interests in common and enjoy each other as friends, the locale of their families’ residences is not especially important unless someone makes an issue of it.
Farm Girls and City Fellows
Studies show that more farm girls migrate to the city than do farm boys. The question then is: Just how advisable is it for a farm girl to date a city boy? The chief concern here seems to be her ability to handle a date who is more sophisticated than she is. The old story of the traveling salesman and the farmer’s daughter has some basis in the tendency of certain urban males to try to exploit the presumably more naive country girl.
The skills and standards that generally hold for any kind of date safeguard today’s farm girls from most unfortunate situations. The 4-H girl or the FHA member may be better prepared for boy-girl relationships than her city cousin because of the advantages she has had in building social skills through discussions and supervised experience in wholesome settings throughout her teen years.
DATING OUTSIDE YOUR FAITH
Should a Protestant date a Catholic? Is it wise for a Christian to date a Jew? Is there a real problem in going out with a person who belongs to a different church from yours? These are serious questions for most modern young people. There was a time in some communities when a boy or girl met only those of his own church in social affairs. Now members of many different churches are associated in school and community activities. Getting to know a person from a completely different religious background is easy today. The problem is in knowing whether to have dates with persons from such widely different backgrounds.
How Parents Feel
Parents of all religions generally prefer that their sons and daughters date within their own group. Social pressure generally operates in this direction. Date someone of your own faith and no questions are asked. Date a person from a different faith and you may be called upon to defend your choice, perhaps even fight for the right to that friendship.
There are those who argue that in a democracy like ours, unwillingness to date a person of another faith is wrong. Young people sometimes feel strongly about their right to date whomever they want, regardless of religion. They claim that the prejudices of adults should not be allowed to limit the friendships of young people. They pride themselves on their tolerance, and, upon occasions, even flaunt their interfaith friendships, further complicating the problem.
Adolescent young people who are attempting to emancipate themselves from their parents may deliberately date a person of a different faith as a way of proving that they are grown-up and can choose their own companions. Unconsciously, they may prefer the other individual just because their parents do disapprove. As he grows more mature, a young person doesn’t have to defy his parents quite so flagrantly, and the charm of difference for difference’ sake wears off.
When two persons see a lot of each other in dating situations it’s always possible that the relationship will become so emotionally or sexually involved that the couple is forced into marriage whether they are well matched as a pair or not . Thus it is understandable that parents feel easier when dates are restricted to members of their own or a similar church.
Value of Interfaith Dating
It can be argued that a well-balanced young person can learn a great deal from dating persons of different faiths. He learns to appreciate different types of people and to understand something of other religions. He broadens, too, in his awareness of the essential similarities among people of all religious groups. He may lose something of the early, narrowly focused belief that his church is the only true religion and develop a reverence for all men of good will from whatever church they come.
Problems in Interfaith Dating
The young dating pair from different churches may start out with the feeling that what they do is no one else’s business. Then as they become fonder of each other they feel that their love is worth any problem that may arise from differences in their religion. Later. As they feel the full force of opposition from their friends and families, they have to decide whether they can stand the pressure which is building up against them.
If you seriously date someone outside your faith, you must honestly face whether you are strong enough to take all the conflict which the future will bring. Can each of you weather the chill blasts of non-acceptance in many areas of your social life? One or both of you may be excluded. Will you be able to win a real place for yourselves in the inner circle of each other’s family? How will you meet problems of whose church is your church? And which church will be your children’s? Such questions should be thrashed out by a couple long before the actual situations arise.
Refusing to face the problems as well as the challenges of dating and possibly marring outside one’s religion is merely dodging the issue. Even though the questions may be complex and the solutions elusive, some decisions must be made if the relationship continues.
Couples dating outside their religious faith would do well to talk over their problems and possible decisions with an understanding counselor. He could help them see what values are worth preserving and what courses of action will work best for them. Such counselor could be anyone in whom the two persons have confidence. It could be a minister, a priest, or a rabbi. It may be some sympathetic older relative. It could be a parent or an older sister or brother. Discussions with others of your own age are often helpful too, especially if they occur in well-led school classes, church forums, or Y programs. Reading what has been written about dating and marrying outside one’s religious faith will not answer all questions for you, but it can stimulate thought and wholesome action.
Parents are justified in their concern over interfaith unions. There is evidence that many mixed marriages do not work out as happily or as permanently as marriages within the same religious group. There are successful interfaith marriages, of course, but they are generally more difficult to work out than are marriages within the same faith.
CROSSING LINES OF NATIONALITY OR RACE
Much that has been said about interfaith dating applies as well to dating members of other nationalities and racial groups. Social pressure tends to oppose it. Young people who consciously or unconsciously want to defy their parents may seek out such dates as one way of declaring their independence. The solution comes through consideration by the two persons of the merits of the particular situation, as sensibly as possible, perhaps in consultation with an understanding counselor.
There are great regional differences in the acceptance of members of a particular race or nationality as dates. In certain sections of the country feeling runs high against intermixtures that might be tolerated elsewhere. To run in the face of intense social pressure in such a community is to find oneself an outcast by members of both cultural groups.
In the years since World War II when so many of our most marriageable young men have been stationed in faraway places, it is understandable that many of them have associated with and eventually married girls of other nationalities and races. In many cases the foreign bride is taken under the wing of her mother-in-law when the couple return to this country. If the boy’s mother accepts his foreign bride, the couple have a good chance of working out a stable marriage. If there is bitterness and ill-feeling over the marriage on the part of either family, the couple may be in for a rough time.
The majority of young people tend to associate within their own nationality and racial group—in dates as in marriage. These more homogeneous combinations of dating pairs and married couples do not have as wide a cultural gulf to span in their relationship. So it follows that building a harmonious relationship is easier for them than if they were associated with persons from widely different backgrounds.
GETTING INTO ANOTHER SOCIAL CLASS
Hollingshead’s study of dating pairs in a Midwestern high school found that the great: majority of young people dated with persons of about the same social class. When a boy dates a girl of another social class, she is usually from a class lower in the social scale than his own. Occasionally a girl dates a boy who is “beneath her.” Therefore, the question of whether it’s advisable to date persons from other social and economic groups is a real one for young people of both sexes and of all social groupings.
When the boy on the hill dates the girl from across the tracks, the general public is apt to assume that it’s because she is willing to let him take more liberties with her than would a girl from his own social group. This may or may not be true, depending on the girl involved, but the suspicion still remains and the couple have to battle the fears of family and friends, whether the doubts are justified or not.
Making a “Good Marriage”
Convention has it that a girl should “better herself” if possible when she dates and marries. When she marries into a family higher in the social scale than her own, she is said to “marry up” or to have “made a good marriage.” In such a situation her parents are usually pleased with her choice, and sometimes even brag to their friends about how well their daughter has done. Even so, there are real problems in dating and marrying outside one’s own group, as many real-life and fictional portrayals have shown.
Kitty Foyle, it will be remembered, faced the opposition of members of the old Philadelphia family to which her lover belonged. A girl from humble surroundings may not have the social graces, the clothes, or the friends that are considered important by the higher-placed boy’s family. As long as she goes with boys of her own social level, lacks in conversational ability or social skills are not so important, but when she gets in with a set where such things are valued highly, she may find herself at a distinct disadvantage. Of course, if she faces these facts squarely and does something more than stew about them, she can achieve social poise in time.
As all of us become more truly democratic we realize that the amount of money a family has or the kind of car one drives is no measure of the real worth of the person. A girl from a modest family may have spiritual sensitivities and ethical values as well as cultural interests that can greatly enrich the life of the wealthy fellow she is dating or planning to marry. It may also be that a poor boy with real talent can be given just the boost he needs to realize his full potential, by the financial aid of a girl who loves him.
Many a girl has become interested in an ambitious boy not in her social group, and has gone with him because she has faith in him. She often tries to help him get ahead, by urging her father to give him a chance in his business or by encouraging him to go on with his education. Such a relationship can be rewarding to both members of the pair, but it has its hazards too.
Problems That Arise
One problem that arises is that the girl’s other friends do not fully accept “the outsider” and tend to freeze out both him and the girl who has befriended him. Still another problem arises when the boy finds it hard on his ego to take all the help that his girl wants to give him. The girl’s family may oppose her dating a boy who is beneath her social level. Even the boy’s family may object to his associating with people who don’t accept him or them.
For these reasons most dates tend to be between persons of about the same social level. It is possible to date, and eventually to marry, an individual from another social and economic level; indeed it is done every day. But such relationships are less frequent and can be more difficult to maintain harmoniously than are those within the same general social group.
YOUR FRIENDS’ OPINIONS
A high school girl asks, “If your friends do not approve of a boy, can you afford to go with him?” She goes on to tell of how only she, of her whole group of pals, is interested in Joe. She wonders whether she should go with Joe in the face of her friends’ disapproval or whether she should follow their advice and give him up.
The answer to such a question depends upon several factors. First of all, why don’t her friends approve of the boy? What is it about Joe that Marion likes? How much do Marion’s friends mean to her? How much does the boy mean? Could she stand losing her friends if need be over Joe? Or are they so important to her that she couldn’t give them up?
This is not an uncommon problem among both fellows and girls. Often it is tied up with the larger question of dating someone with a bad reputation and can be understood more clearly in that context.
THAT BAD REPUTATION
It is the social group that determines what is a bad reputation. In one social set a girl can get a bad reputation for smoking and drinking. In another crowd a different set of behaviors is “bad.” A boy who dates such a girl with a bad reputation, and vice versa, is running the risk of having some of her reputation rub off on him.
One problem about dating a person with a bad reputation is that you may not be sure whether the charge is justified. The grapevine says that a certain girl is persona non grata, and yet from what you see of her, she seems nice. Conversely, a boy may have a bad reputation among your friends and yet from your own contact with him, he seems courteous and gentlemanly. How are you to know?
There are several factors to consider before you let someone’s reputation influence you to turn down a date. In the first place, you must realize that a person may have been unjustly accused of something he did not do. Secondly, the person’s unfavorable reputation may be based on prejudice against his family, his race, or his social standing, rather than upon his own character. Thirdly, it’s only fair that every individual be given another chance, and if no one befriends him, he never gets that chance to make something of himself. Lastly, it’s possible for a girl to raise the standards of her date or improve his reputation, and in that way help a boy to reclaim himself. To behave with such objectivity and compassion is worthy, but a person must still face the problems encountered in dating someone whose reputation is not good.
The biggest problem in dating someone whom others shun is that you too may be avoided because of your association with that individual. Then, instead of helping the other person, you are only hurting yourself.
Another problem not quite so easily recognized is that your motivation for associating with a person with a bad reputation may be based upon your conscious or unconscious wish to hurt or offend your friends or family. A girl may date a boy of whom she knows her family disapproves, just to spite them. She acts out of a need to defy her parents and to rebel from their control, and not because of sympathy for the boy. A fellow may date a girl of whom his friends disapprove, not so much because he likes her, but to show his friends that he can date whomever he wants without their interference. This kind of behavior is childish and unfortunate, both for the individual who is flaunting his independence and for the one who is being dated. It rarely helps the one with the bad reputation, and it is often ruinous for the one acting out of defiance and rebellion.
HOW CAN YOU JUDGE?
The big question for many young people is: How can you judge another person? Should a girl judge a boy by what her family says about him or by what she knows of him? Should a boy judge a girl by what people say about her or by what he sees in her? Or both? How much should one listen to others in judging an individual? And how much can one trust one’s own judgment in appraising another’s personality? These are difficult questions to answer, especially when we realize how much is at stake in the reputation and the future happiness of the persons involved.
There is no denying that each of us as individuals has both a character and a reputation. Your character is what you really are. Your reputation is what others think and say about you. Sometimes your reputation coincides with your character—then there’s no problem. Oftentimes your reputation is not a true reflection of your character, and injustice is done.
In a religious country, we believe that any individual who makes a mistake should be allowed to repent, to make amends for whatever damage he has done insofar as he can, and then be given the right to reclaim himself. We recognize that no one of us is perfect, and that from time to time each of us needs a chance to make things right again.
If we take such religious teachings seriously we cannot blindly follow the prejudices that build up against certain individuals and groups. But seeing a person sincerely trying to improve makes us want to give him our encouragement and friendship.
This does not mean that social opinions and pressures are not important—they are. You cannot shrug off a person’s reputation as unimportant, for it is a part of him or her. The principle at stake is the right of an individual to make moral choices for himself, without blindly following the herd.
The best single answer, then, to the question of how one can judge another person as a potential dating partner is: Listen to what others say of him but also see for yourself what kind of individual he really seems to be. If on the basis of your own most mature judgment this seems to be a person worthy of your friendship, then perhaps you have the problem of “selling” him to your family and friends. They will be impressed if they feel you listen to their side too before arriving at an opinion. By giving the person you are championing a chance to prove himself in the eyes of people who are important to you, you may further your cause.
At times you may make mistakes in judging others. You may befriend someone only to get terribly hurt in the process. This is a risk we all take as human beings. In the long run it’s probably better to think well of others, even at the risk of getting hurt by them once in a while, than to distrust other people unjustly and live a life of suspicion, isolation, and prejudice.
When students at the University of Michigan listed the qualities they preferred in both casual and serious dates, three items were mentioned more frequently than others by both sexes:
All of the men said that when they dated seriously they preferred a girl who “has good sense and is an intelligent conversationalist.” College men also seek girls who are “honest and straightforward, willing to join a group, and have polished manners.”
Both men and women students tend to prefer dating partners who “are good listeners, get along with friends of their own sex, and are ambitious and energetic.”
These characteristics of a good date preferred by university students are not markedly different from those that high school students mention most frequently in surveys of their dating preferences. One recent nationwide sample of high school students found that they wanted a date to be someone who
—is physically and mentally fit
—is dependable and can be trusted
—takes pride in personal appearance and manners
—is clean in speech and action
—has a pleasant disposition and sense of humor
—is considerate of others
—acts his own age and not childishly
Boys tend to be criticized more often than girls for being vulgar in speech and action, for wanting too much necking and petting, for withholding compliments, for being careless in dress and manners, and for being disrespectful of the other sex.
Girls in the same nationwide survey of some 8,000 teenagers are criticized for being easily hurt, shy and self-conscious, emotionally cold, too possessive, and for acting childish and silly. In general, both sexes agree that these criticisms are justified and are problems in dating.
A good date for you is someone in whom you have faith, someone whose company you enjoy and who enjoys your companionship in return, someone you are proud to be seen with. If your family and friends approve of your choice, that is fine. If they don’t, you may be headed for trouble with them, with your date, or with both. What you do when you come up against such problems depends in large measure on the kind of person you are, and what your real reasons are for choosing a particular dating partner.