Happy V-Day From a Survivor of the Provo Dating Scene

Ahhhh- Provo, Utah. 

Home to Brigham Young University, a high concentration of really really kind LDS people, and a generous handful of handsome guys that work in summer sales and 'aren't looking for a relationship right now.' Some might argue that it's the Happiest Place on Earth, knocking Disneyland to a close 2nd. On any given night in Provo, you could find young (sometimes too young) couples exploring some of the hottest date night destinations in the valley, whether it be having some good, clean fun at the Soap Factory, strolling the temple grounds on Center Street (look for the *bonus* hanging sign that says  'Kissing Point' right down the block-- how exciting!), or DTR-ing on campus by the duck pond. (Sorry- BYU lingo.) 

The wholesome options are seemingly endless for chivalrous young men planning first dates, hoping to find their eternal companions ASAP. But what happens when you throw a curveball right to the poor guy just trying to find love? What if, after a numbing lull of casual first date conversation, it eventually comes out that you're- GASP- a Roman Catholic? 

Welcome to my cycle of shock, horror, and the awkwardness that inevitably follows the big reveal. No, I don't have 3 months to live. No, I don't have leprosy. I'm just a Catholic. 

I'm very lucky to go to Brigham Young University- let me say that right off the bat. With its prestigious musical theatre program, low tuition costs (even for non-members), and gorgeous, tithing-funded campus grounds, it's not a bad place to spend four years. Rounding out my fourth year and ninth semester here, I've fallen in love with a tiny Catholic church in American Fork to attend on Sundays, and I've visited LDS wards with friends time and time again. A have a sense of pride in my love and respect for the Mormon faith as a whole- some of my most beautiful religious experiences have taken place in LDS chapels and during firesides. I have been touched by so many good friends that have answered questions I've had or things about the culture I didn't quite understand at first. My tolerance, love, and respect for members of the LDS Church, overall, has grown bigger and bolder every year I've lived in Utah. It's taught me not to judge what I don't understand, to respect people's beliefs even if they differ from my own, and to politely ask questions when I am confused about church doctrine.

So my question on this Valentine's Day is something I've wondered since my first date, freshman year, in Provo: Why in the world can't men have that same sense of respect and tolerance for what they don't understand?

We could probably dive into the whole males vs. females in the dating world debate, but that's not what I'm here to write about today. You all want the nonmember dating tea, and I'm simply here to deliver. And having religiously been keeping a diary since the 3rd grade, I have plenty of it. Just call me Carrie Bradshaw for the day. 

Through the years, I've recognized a pattern in the guys I've dated at BYU. So much, that by the time I entered my senior year last fall, I began wearing a ring on my left hand anytime I was on campus. I still do it, especially in places like the WILK. BYU bros are super comfortable sliding in, right next to you, and starting a veeery flirty conversation- usually asking, "What's your story?" or "Whatchya studying?" Endearing at first. Pain in the *** after the the 48th time, especially when you're just trying to cram for a physical science test that you didn't even know about and you have to take THAT DAY and it's all just stressful. Sure, I'm flattered. No, I don't want to visit right now, mostly because I am certain that if I told you I'm a Catholic, you'd get a little scared. It's just the truth.

Say, though, that I agree to a first date with overzealous WILK womanizer. He's super good at following up and even calls me to give me a run-down of the date of said date, the plan of said date, and even the theme of said date. I'm already exhausted. 

Sidebar: Can someone explain to me why the heck guys from around here feel the need to do, like, eight activities per date that all fit within a cheesy theme? 

Sidebar #2: Are date themes actually kind of cute and I'm actually just really cynical? Help.

Anyways, I chalk it up to him being sweet for making the effort. I pencil the date in. 

I'll spare you all the typical first date details, because the most important part came over dinner. The question that will always haunt me a little. The question that I'll never really have a perfect, witty answer for. The question I know is coming, but can never pin-point when. 

"What ward are you in?"

And then, just like that, the date snowballs downhill. After finding out the truth-- I'm not in a ward because I'm a Catholic-- the poor, sweet boy tries to maintain conversation, while simultaneously trying to mask his confusion and utter disappointment of his pressing realization: I would not turn out to be his eternal companion. 

This has happened to me more times than I can count on my fingers, but each date ends the same way. The slight pity in their eyes, the questioning of "Why am I even at BYU then," and the immediate checking out on both of our parts.

Check please.

The spectrum is simple, and every guy I've gone out with during my college years has landed on it. Most have fallen either polar left or polar right, and I have yet to find a person in Provo, Utah, that hits a comfortable middle. Far right is reserved for the guys that immediately lose interest/are scared of me/have pity on me when they find out I'm not LDS. The far left is a special place reserved for men who think I'm easy, simply because I'm not LDS. Big NO's to both ends of the spectrum. 

The cat's out of the bag- I'm excited to live my life outside of the Provo dating scene. It's been filled with four years of themed dates, commitment issues on my part, and dancing the uncomfortable dance of being straight up with guys: I am happy and complete as a Catholic.

My takeaway is simple- I'm confident in the fact that I will NEVER change the person I am for someone else. Sure, relationships involve frequent compromises, but fundamentals and my foundation makes me the human I want to be. I never expected to be even a stronger Catholic coming out of four years at an primarily LDS institution, and I will never settle for someone that isn't in love with that part of me. My faith is the biggest part of my life, and if we're going to build a life together, don't bother trying to shake me from that. I have met the most incredible people in my time at BYU, and at the end of the day, their strength in their faith has inspired me to be stronger in mine. My respect for Mormons has grown more and more every year, and I am forever indebted to BYU, even though first dates ended up being awkward and the WILK flirting got pretty predictable. My university is a wonderful place full of life, budding love, and spiritual growth. 

BYU might just be the happiest place on earth after all, even for a Catholic like me. 

Ellie Smith