Thursday, April 19, 2007

Is Provo Really for Lovers?

Recently, I've been thinking about something interesting that's going on in Provo. What first sparked this train of thought is me thinking about leaving Provo single. As I'm wrapping up school here this April, job opportunities and graduate school may entice me to leave the surroundings that I've called home for so many years. I've thought about how and where would be best for me to find Miss Right. The obvious answer that I initially thought was right here in Provo. However, after more contemplation, I've come to an interesting conclusion. You could even call it a hypothesis. This is what I've noticed: While Provo is probably the best place for a young Latter-day Saint to find someone with whom he or she is most compatible, I believe that the setting is counterproductive in many situations and actually creates a problem for students to get married.

My first argument in support of this is that BYU students don't get into relationships very often. I believe this is due to commitment issues induced by Provo. I used to have false perceptions about BYU when I first started. One perception was that the majority of single BYU students have a girlfriend or a boyfriend. You always see students holding hands across campus and making love to each other at random locations. However, the more I've gotten to know the student body here at BYU, the more I've noticed that this is only the minority that gets into these kinds of "official" relationships. I've wondered if there are such cool people in Provo, why couples don't happen more often. The answer is probably complex, but may have to do with commitment. I have noticed that because of the caliber of prospects in Provo, the commitment level goes down as everyone is keeping their eyes out for their eternal companion instead of someone to date. This in turn lowers the motivation for people to hook up into relationships. I've heard girls say they won't kiss a guy until they know she's sure she'd marry him. It may be, however, that by being so uptight about dating, students are missing out on valuable experiences. By 'holding out' for that special someone, there are probably a lot of good relationships that are being passed up. Consequently, without people getting into relationships, another step up the romance ladder gets whacked—marriage. I know many students who got married or are getting married to their first relationship. First off, I think that is weird. Second, I think it is unwise. I honestly don't believe that you are doing your future spouse a favor by 'holding out' on getting into relationships. Depending on the person, it may just make things awkward when you really do find that special someone.

A certain frame exists in Provo that is harmful to initiating relationships. I haven't socialized that much outside of Happy Valley, but I imagine the process of getting into relationships would be a little more conducive. A hypothetical situation will illustrate my point. Imagine a guy living in some city with a relatively small LDS population. Let's say he comes upon a beautiful girl. They start talking and he finds out that she is LDS. This peaks the guy's interest. At this point, the guy would probably be trying to qualify this girl, looking for reasons why this girl is good for him. On the other end of the spectrum, let's picture this same guy in the Provo scene. He meets a beautiful girl in Provo randomly (it's not hard to do this on any day of the week.), they get talking and the whole time he is critiquing her, disqualifying her due to trivial things, and in the end isn't feeling it with her because he knows that there are plenty more where she came from. Provo is a setting that makes it hard to fall in love, because your frame is all whacked from living in Provo so long. We have certain ideals, and we get good at disqualifying people. I imagine it's easier to fall in love with someone when they are not so quick to rule out candidates.

The Provo scene is good if you know what you want. Recently I conducted a survey to 33 female individuals with the intent to confirm my hypothesis. One interesting result was that by far the majority of girls had their personal expectation bar in guys raised while living here in Provo. This is to be expected. Staying in Provo tends to raise the bar. Therefore it should make sense that those who have spent the least amount of time in Provo should be least inclined to follow these trends. I believe to a degree it's true. Freshman girls and returned missionaries I supposed would have the lowest expectations. I remember when I first got back from my mission and I got excited at any decent looking girl who showed interest in me. But it has since elevated. Because I already assumed the overall expectation level was being increased, I was interested in finding out which things are becoming more important. One of the most interesting parts to my study was that girls are looking for impressive attributes in guys more than I expected. This entails exterior and interior traits. Girls want someone impressive for them. Although I don't have the data to support this, I believe the exact same is true with guys. Part of the reason why expectations rise in us is because we find out interesting things in others that we like. For instance, a girl could become enthralled at a guy with another language under his belt and hours of missionary stories. We are continually discovering our interests. When we come in contact with others of the opposite sex with impressive skills, attributes, or traits, we are drawn to them. Provo is interesting because some of the most creative, interesting, and talented LDS single adults are here. What a blessing to have such selection in such a predominately LDS community as Provo. I believe competition can bring out the best in us. We become interested in more things, look better, and are more interpersonally intelligent by living here. However, the longer you stay in Provo, the more you may realize that there are impressive people all around. You might even notice that impressive attributes become less impressive the longer you live in Provo. It's not that someone's bar has been raised too high, it's that the bar for Provo has been raised too high and this individual is going along with it. Instead of wanting what is best for him or her, many just want what is best. Our generation has been classified as the generation me. I think that we Provoites can be called the 'Mormon generation me.' We have been called the greatest generation until our egos are off the charts. I feel that because the selection and prospects are so good here in Provo, it can confuse many of us so that we don't really know what we want.

I have noticed that people nonetheless do seem to get married and I have noticed three ways in which this happens. A lot of times it only takes one person to really like the other person for this 'love thing' to get rolling. There is something to be said of showing interest to another person. For the most part I found that girls find that attractive. Here are the three types of people that get married in my eyes:

1) Those who find someone who meets their ideals. I previously stated that Provo hinders this from happening; however it does not altogether halt the process. I know plenty of people who fall in love and get married to that special someone. It seems to me that these couples are very good for each other.

2) Those that hook up and marry young into their tenure in Provo. Such individuals go for an unsuspecting freshman/returned missionary who hasn't been indoctrinated in the Provo grass-always-greener-on-the-other-side-of-the-fence mentality. This point shows that a lot of times, people are ready to get married, all they need is someone to fall in love with. Many times, when young, logic goes out the window and love takes place more easily.

3) Those who throw away some of their ideals. They ask, "Why expect my future spouse to be amazing at everything?" Provo has been compared to a candy bar aisle with so many options. Some of us like a lot of styles of candy and rarely does one have all that we're looking for. I respect people who realize what they can get, and go for it. I give props to those who fall in love with someone who is good for them and not necessarily good for their friends, good for their parents, or good for their ego. To their credit, it should be acknowledged that there are very few who have it all. There is also a life time ahead to grow and develop together.

In conclusion, if you are a guy or a girl who wants to get married, but it isn't working for you here in Provo, don't feel bad about leaving. You might find that you are looked at in a more positive light, have turned into a better person after being here in Provo for so long, and more marketable to someone suited well for you. I love the notion that I can "shoot for the stars" and I also love Provo. What a blessing it is to be able to interact with and meet so many amazing people. I just wonder if the atmosphere and attitudes of Provo are destructive to potential relationships. If it's happy marriages that we're shooting for, maybe upping the number of relationships formed rather than dates is the key. Why can't getting into relationships be more casual? Challenge to all: Don't let the marriage paradigm occupy your mind until you are in a relationship.