The Wackiness of Mormon Teen Dating Rituals

January 5, 2005 | 34 comments
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Rebecca is discussing the wackiness of Mormon teen dating rituals. “Dating was a serious of creative ideas that ended revealing who it was that was asking me out,” she writes. “Is this stuff uniquely Utah?”

Well, I can attest that these rituals extend at least to the quasi-Utah of Mesa, Arizona. I remember them well.

In my experience, these rituals were largely confined to the official dances and such. That is, you didn’t go jump through hoops to as a girl just to hang out, you just hung out after seminary or the like. (But those of course weren’t “dates” — they were usually “large group activities, blah blah blah,” as advised in the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet).

However, for the dances and official dates, it was time to be creative. To ask one girl to a dance, I collaborated with a teacher, and he handed out a quiz in our history class that I designed (and which we actually got credit for!) where the answers were each one word long, and formed the sentence “Cami will you go to Homecoming with me.” For another date, I baked the request into folded pieces of paper hidden inside cookies. And there was always the fallback — TP the girl’s house, and hide the information (who’s asking her) in the toilet-papery mess.

Answers were similarly inventive. Or embarrassing. I recall having to sing “I’m a little teapot” in the middle of the locker wall, at lunch time (i.e., at a time when everyone would be there and watching), as my date’s friend (who happened to be the girl who I really had a crush on) supervised to make sure I didn’t miss any words. Or actions.

Non-members typically looked at us as if we were nuts. Hey, we probably were. It was a fun time.

It was also a phenomenon that was (mostly) confined to high school. After my mission, I mostly went on dates the old-fashioned way — call a girl up, ask her if she wants to go out. (Usually after an hour of pacing, running several variants of imaginary conversations through my mind to try to think of something witty to say, almost-calling her several times, and so forth — and of course, forgetting the content of all such preparations the moment she said “hello”). Post-mission, I tended to try to concentrate my creative abilities (such as they are)on the date itself, which sometimes worked well. (An early date with my future wife was a snowball fight in Mesa, Arizona — now that requires some planning).

But I did know people who didn’t entirely give up creative ways to ask things of girls. One law school classmate asked his wife to marry him by painting a highly-visible piece of University property, and nearly got arrested in the process.

I wonder how this phenomenon became part of LDS culture. I can’t imagine that Brigham Young was asking all 47 wives to marry him by baking pies with clues inside, and leaving them on doorsteps. (“Ohh, Eliza, open it up! Let’s see who wants to marry you!”). Does anyone know when or how these ideas got started?

(Or for that matter, does anyone want to share any interesting or wacky Mormon-teen-dating-rituals stories of their own?)

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34 Responses to The Wackiness of Mormon Teen Dating Rituals

  1. danithew on January 5, 2005 at 5:02 pm

    I think this is a Mormon cultural thing. In my New York high school I never saw any of this take place. The first time I observed it was when I came to BYU. I’d say that for most guys this is a pre-mission kind of activity. After the mission its all business. :)

  2. Kevin Barney on January 5, 2005 at 5:17 pm

    I agree that it seems to be a pre-mission Mormon cultural thing. I grew up in Illinois and didn’t see any of it until I went to BYU.

    I think maybe to some extent the effort and creativity that goes into Mormon dating rituals burns up the frustration of young hormones from the limited physicality of such relationships.

  3. Kristine on January 5, 2005 at 5:26 pm

    “Cami will you go to Homecoming with me.â€? Glad you didn’t get farther than homecoming with that one–can you imagine the confusion trying to explain how to pronounce your name if your wife’s name were Cami?!

  4. Ivan Wolfe on January 5, 2005 at 5:28 pm

    I really enjoyed those weird dating rituals -

    I’m not going to detail the numerous heights I went to in order to ask women to dances at Ricks’ College (looking back, I concurrently am amazed at my creativity and faintly embarrassed by them). But it was fun – we were young, crazy and had excess hormones to burn.

  5. Kaimi on January 5, 2005 at 5:31 pm

    Yeah, that was a deciding moment for me. I spent the entire date getting confused over names. Since I answer to anything close to Kaimi, any time anyone said “Cami” I would look to see if they were talking to me.

    After that, I swore to never date a Cami, Amy, or Jamie. Or anyone else whose name sounded like mine.

    And I didn’t.

  6. Greg on January 5, 2005 at 5:33 pm

    I remember some silly means of asking for a dance date as a sophomore in high school. By our junior year we would simply wander the grocery store, pick out a curious product and integrate it into an invitation (“I’d be happy as pickle loaf if you’d go to prom with me” or “Do you like Meat Sticks? Me too, let’s go to the Spring Fling”). By senior year, it had devolved to writing “will you go to ___ with me” on a three-by-five card on the way to the girl’s house (as the driver purposely swerved to try to make the writing sloppy).

  7. William Morris on January 5, 2005 at 5:37 pm

    Ivan:

    Judging by the stories I heard on my mission, Ricks was the center of wacky dating rituals.

  8. Mark B on January 5, 2005 at 5:43 pm

    This is all stuff invented by you kids. Back in the olden days, we didn’t do any of that crap.

  9. Ivan Wolfe on January 5, 2005 at 5:57 pm

    William -

    it pretty much was. I think there was less of it at BYU because you can actually do things in Provo. Ricks was great, but Rexburg has no social life for college kids outside of college. In Provo, there are clubs and concerts and just more stuff to do. In Rexburg, their ain’t much to do, so one invents stuff to do – like spend hours on a scavanger hunt for clues as to who is asking you out to the formal.

  10. Steve Evans on January 5, 2005 at 6:08 pm

    Mark B: “Back in the olden days, we didn’t do any of that crap.”

    Not true — I’ve read the Epic of Gilgamesh, and there’s a reference in the tablets to baking cookies to spell out “Ishtar.”

  11. Rosalynde Welch on January 5, 2005 at 8:10 pm

    Mormons and non-Mormons in my So Cal high school had to endure these social ordeals, too. But since I never got asked out in high school, I don’t have any stories to relate. (And no, I’m not bitter after all these years.)

    But other than school dances, kids in my high school didn’t date at all–and they still don’t, according to my teenage brothers. It’s still a mystery to me how boyfriend-girlfriend couples hooked up, and what that hooking actually constituted (aside from sex, of which there was some but not lots), since none of my friends really had boyfriends. Apparently even the institution of the “boyfriend” is fading in high school–my brothers report that high school couples don’t really exist anymore.

  12. Justin B. on January 5, 2005 at 8:17 pm

    BYU folklorist Kristi Bell has made a study of these rituals over the years, beginning when she was a student at BYU in the mid-1970s. BYU folklorist William Wilson suggested that Bell, his student, interview her friends and roommates about creative date invitations. He told her that he thought he was seeing a shift among kids from creative dating to creative date invitations. Bell has studied the topic ever since. She delivered a paper on the subject at a folklore conference a few years ago.

    Bell says that creative prom invitations are common where there are many Latter-day Saints, including Utah, Idaho, Arizona, California, and the D.C. suburbs.

    Bell dates the wildly creative invitations trend to 1971, when the New Era ran an article listing the most creative dates of the year. She theorizes that the invitation rituals grew out of those ideas.

    A few of the invitations she and BYU students have documented for the BYU folklore archives (students have collected more than 500 stories):

    A girl places a white rose on a boy’s pillow with a note reading, “Prepare for a vision.” That night three of her friends enter his room, dressed as angels, and blow a horn before reading a decree asking him to the dance.

    A BYU coed returns to her apartment, enters the bathroom and finds that the bowl is filled with ice cubes and a single rose. She looks around and finds a note behind the toilet that reads, “Now that you have no other place to go, will you go to homecoming with me?”

    A girl came into a kitchen where her potential date was eating. She was covered in ketchup and had a “knife” sticking out of her heart. She wrapped a noose around her neck and handed him a note that read, “I’m dying to go to the dance with you.”

  13. Kaimi on January 5, 2005 at 8:19 pm

    Rosalynde didn’t get asked out at all in high school? Yikes! Now that’s got to be the strangest, wackiest, most nonsensical (non) dating story of all.

  14. Mathew on January 5, 2005 at 8:46 pm

    I hated creative invites. I hated high school dances. I hated dates that started in mid-afternoon and went past midnight. I hated having five “creatively fun” activities planned into a single date. I hated being in a van where gallons of perfume and cologne overwhelmed your senses. Most of all I hated group dates. Thanks for letting me share.

  15. Rosalynde Welch on January 5, 2005 at 8:54 pm

    I know, Kaimi. Strangely, adolescent boys seemed less impressed with voluptuous syntax and sinewy prose than with voluptuous… well, you know.

  16. Kristine on January 5, 2005 at 8:59 pm

    I got asked out a total of four times in high school. The first time, a good friend said “Kris, would you like to go to the prom?” I said, “well, I guess so, but I don’t think anyone will ask me.” Poor guy.

  17. Brian G on January 5, 2005 at 9:06 pm

    Even when I was in high school I liked girls with big, uh, vocabularies.

    Of course, getting your spelling or grammar corrected is never a turn on.

  18. Mathew on January 5, 2005 at 9:08 pm

    Only adolescent boys? Have you been to Florida?

  19. Kaimi on January 5, 2005 at 9:10 pm

    I don’t know, Brian — there’s that Van Halen song . . .

  20. Bryce I on January 6, 2005 at 7:42 am

    Having grown up in New York, and having not dated much at all in high school, I found the BYU freshman dating scene to be utterly bizarre and a bit annoying. Fortunately, in my third semester there I had some apartmentmates who, despite the fact that they were natives of Cache County, Utah, had a good sense of humor about the whole scene. So when one of them had his bedroom filled with popcorn as a part of an invitation to a dance, he had the rest of us deliver a glass jar filled with lemonade with a laminated note inside that said, “Urine luck! I’d love to go!”

    As I recall, the guys downstairs heard about this and one of them returned an answer to an invitation with a soda laced with some substance that changed the color of urine — the girl was to drink the soda and read the color-coded answer.

    I’m not sure how that one turned out.

  21. Mary on January 6, 2005 at 8:03 am

    I would never repeat this in my seasoned adulthood, but as a stupid junior (in Southern Idaho), well…

    My good friend Josh asked me to Prom by tying up a fryer chicken (skin on, no feathers), hostage style in my locker with a note, stick-pinned to its chest. Some plastic gloves were left for my convenience but I had to dig down into the chicken’s body cavity to get the note out that said something like, “I was too chicken to ask you myself, blah blah blah.” Disgusting but caused peals of laughter from all involved.

    I couldn’t be outdone so I went home and realized that we had a frozen rainbow trout in the freezer from last year’s fishing trip. I got it out, thawed it, thinking, I could tie it to a tree in his yard with a note on the door that said something hokey like, “Look over the rainbow for your answer, blah blah blah.” But no, I deeply carved “YES” into the side of the fish’s flesh, wrapped it up in a pretty box and delivered it to his doorstep. Apparently he didn’t open it for another few hours. What a surprise!! It was one of the best dances I went to.

  22. john fowles on January 6, 2005 at 10:47 am

    I’m with Danithew on this. I had never heard about any of this stuff until I was a freshman at BYU. Nothing like this happened in the Dallas teen dating scene. As a side note, I was at a significant disadvantage at BYU as a freshman as a result. In fact, I was oblivious to it until after I had already asked a date to homecoming the Dallas way: do you want to go to homecoming with me? on the telephone. It was only after that that I noticed all the wierd and “creative” techniques used to ask someone on a date. But I am not criticizing those rituals–if people want to do it that way, they should be able to without facing criticism for it (after all, it is a clean and fun tradition).

  23. Kristine on January 6, 2005 at 10:51 am

    John–we’re not criticizing, just mocking ;)

  24. MDS on January 6, 2005 at 12:06 pm

    I recall a good friend removing spark plugs from the car of his date of choice and putting the invitation under the vehicle so that she would find it when she got around to looking for the problem when her car wouldn’t start.

    Another very popular idea was to sabotage the invitee’s room somehow. Most popular was many loud alarm clocks hidden at strategic places in the room (drawers, closets, under the bed) and set for 2:00 A.M. and every half hour interval thereafter until about five with the invite on the last clock.

    Another fun idea was enlisting the local law enforcement officers to pull over your potential date and instead of giving them a ticket, delivering a dance invitation.

    My cousin was onced served with a special summons commanding her to appear at the dance with a certain guy. She responded by serving lengthy requests for production asking for certification of priesthood advancement, scouting advancement, grade point average, etc.

  25. danithew on January 6, 2005 at 12:08 pm

    LOL MDS. I say anytime you can get law enforcement to participate in a practical joke, go for it.

  26. JL on January 6, 2005 at 12:24 pm

    The weird date invitations is not universally mormon. We did nothing of the kind in Florida where I grew up. But I was just one of two LDS kids in my high school. Imagine what kind of dork I’d look like if I gave someone a dead chicken to ask him out, when no one else is doing that. In fact, in my high school they had to permanently close the bathroom in the portable classrooms because there was too much sex going on in there. At least that was the rumor.

    Sigh….we made fun of you Utah kids when we heard about that stuff going on. But now that I think about it and compare it to my own experiences I see how lucky you were. You had time to be goofy and innocent, we had to watch videos on how to avoid date rape and how to use a condom to avoid getting HIV. That’s what we learned in sophomore P.E.

  27. Dan Wenger on January 6, 2005 at 12:39 pm

    Being Kaimi’s Dad and as old as dirt, I still recall giving a girl a live toad on a date (she loved it). As I see it the idea is to have fun. So don’t be afraid to be a bit differnt, My kids used to get embarrassed when I would roll down the car window and yell “I love my Tweetie Pie” as we would drive threw a tunnel, after 31 years I still do it and it’s still fun.

  28. Sarah on January 6, 2005 at 4:13 pm

    I live in Ohio, and I’ve never heard of any LDS kids doing anything like that. Actually, the only LDS teen dating ritual I’ve noticed is stalking people at church dances (my sisters and I have all experienced this — most recently, my youngest sister actually punched the guy in the arm to get him to stop trying to drag her, physically, wherever he wanted to go).

  29. Shannon Keeley on January 6, 2005 at 7:55 pm

    Yet another thread that I wanted to read several days ago and am just now getting to. . .
    This trend was definitely alive and well among the LDS youth in Southern California, especially in places like Irvine, where life was so uneventful that the policemen hid in the bushes and chased teenagers to give them jaywalking tickets. (It’s true, I was once chased.)

    Thanks, Justin B, for your research on how these dating rituals evolved. I recall more than a few EFY and Stake Youth Conference sessions dedicated to “creative dating� which I’m sure helped give fuel to the fire.

    I admit that I did succumb to the pressure and fell into a few creative dating schemes, but the details are getting quite fuzzy. One involved all of our dates riding around in my friend’s van while her parents and brothers were dressed up like pirates (the theme song from the Pirates of the Caribbean ride was playing in the background). I can’t remember the purpose of this. On another occasion someone from our ward who was a professional Elvis impersonator came and serenaded us during dinner. Actually, maybe that was on the same night—I can’t recall.
    At any rate, I soon soured on the whole thing, because I was never the RECIPIENT of these elaborate plans! My girlfriends and I planned them for our dates for a few girls-ask dances, and it was a lot of work which was not appreciated or ever reciprocated. Although I did spend plenty of time hoping to receive this type of attention, I, like Rosalynde, was sadly under-dated in high school.
    If only we had known each other way back then, Rosalynde, we could have gotten together and rented Pride and Prejudice and consoled one another.

  30. Jason Johnson on January 6, 2005 at 8:36 pm

    I seem to remember asking a girl to a dance using a half dozen sheep skulls I found in the desert west of…(wait for it) Rexburg.

    After spending a few years as a graduate student in Iowa I would say that the (relatively) innocent, and (decidedly) goofy Mormon dating rituals are superior to the never ending drinking/hooking up cycle at other universities; or even to the near absence of dating in the conventional sense at my Vermont high school.

    The best dating scene I experienced was at Utah State, where some sort of balance seemed to have been struck. Of course, I was post-mission then and ended up dating the woman who became my wonderful wife, so my perspective may be skewed.

  31. Tawnie on March 15, 2005 at 1:13 am

    I am currently a senior at a utah high school suffering from the creative dating syndrome. I was asked to prom creatively so I am forced to respond creatively. It is a viscious cycle that will never end. Yet, no matter how much torture it brings, it always ends up making us laugh! We have nothing better to do with our time…isn’t that pathetic.

  32. Minerva on March 15, 2005 at 1:22 am

    Tawnie,

    When I was a senior, I was asked to the prom with squid. I answered back with eels. I spelled out with the slimy frozen things “Yes ‘eel’ go” on his front walk. Pretty ridiculous, and I feel bad now that those poor eels had died for such a cause.

    Once I asked a guy to Sadie Hawkins with a can of crushed tomatoes. I wrote a note that said “I’d be one crushed tomato if you didn’t go to the dance with me” and put my name under the label. That was my last high school dance, and I must have been pretty burned out of the creative stuff.

  33. annegb on March 15, 2005 at 11:48 am

    Last year a kid moved in from Kansas and he didn’t know about all this stuff and so he just asked my daughter and she just said yes, and they had a ball. After that, she started just asking (on girls choices) and a lot of the others did, as well. Boy, did that simplify our lives. I thought the whole dating ritual was ridiculous.

  34. Rachel Esplin on April 12, 2005 at 7:11 pm

    I love wacky Mormon dating rituals! I hail from a small town in Southeast Idaho (although big for around here), and everyone asks and answers creatively–Mormons, Methodists, Catholics, Baptists, Jews, and every other type of religion or lacking thereof (we have actually have a relatively decent amount of religious diversity compared to many small Idaho and Utah towns). Prom is approaching, and these creative invitations and responses are everywhere–in sight, sound, smell, and gossip.

    Anyway, we all have a blast with our rituals! They are not always drastically elaborate (although admittedly they sometimes are), but, in most situations, they are creative. It just makes your date feel a bit more special. And what’s wrong with that? Plus, as mentioned by others, it is good, clean fun, and it helps us get our creative juices flowing in positive directions.

    Actually, I was just asked by one of my best friends to Prom about an hour and a half ago, and I just got on to see if I could search up any good ways to answer him. I really like the “urine luck” idea. He asked with a big basket of fruit (I am a huge health nut, don’t eat sugar, and love fruit) and a note with all kinds of inside jokes that we share as friends. That’s the best part–when people incorporate witty, personal methods rather than overdone ones.

    Another example was when I was answered for Sadie Hawkins… I am notorious for blowing my nose loudly; I once was dismissed from class for doing so with such volume. It’s a big running joke with all of my friends, and this friend of mine stuffed my locker with Kleenex tissues and said he ‘nose’ he would love to go to Sadie’s with me, or something punny and cute like that. Personalize it, rather than generalize it, and it just becomes a huge blast.