Sunday, March 2, 2014

Getting Integrated (or, The Main Reason Why I Am Still Single)

They say that when you marry someone, you're also marrying his/her family.

I fought this saying for a long time.  I always thought that if you loved each other enough, there should be nothing -- not rain, not snow, not your future mother-in-law -- that could stop you from being together.  Yeah, family reunions may be a little unpleasant, but they don't last forever and you hardly ever have to interact with your spouse's family outside of that, so what's the big deal?

But after watching several of my dear friends tie the knot, I have come to understand how true such an adage is.  Couples' families have a huge influence over the couple.  Families-in-law will forever be a driving force in your joint decision-making as a married unit.  Odds are you'll see them far more often than just during weddings and funerals.  And your potential spouse will surely hold his or her family as a high priority and hope that you will get along with them.  I know I feel that way; I usually don't let a guy get to relationship status without getting the go-ahead from my sister, first.

A lot of us have a "meet-the-parents" story of one kind or another.  I, myself, haven't had many experiences with a boyfriend's parents, but the ones I have had... Well, they haven't been great.  And in all these instances, my relationship with the man's family foreshadowed the ultimate fate of the relationship I had with the man.   My first 'official' boyfriend had a mother who thought that I was some temptress who had come to kidnap her son and whisk him away into a Gaga-loving Babylon.  The second time I 'met the parents,' was a similar story.  (It's funny.  When you meet a guy's parents, you suddenly realize exactly why he has the quirks that he has.  But I can discuss that at a later date.)

It's always going to be awkward.  Always.

And the one and only time I introduced a boy to my mom and dad?  I shudder at the memory.

Yes, family is important.  But there's another important group of people you need to consider when discussing a long-term relationship, and that is the very loosely-defined group of people known as "the friends."

You know what I mean when I say "friends." Those people you -- as a college student living away from home -- spend the most time with.  As a girl, you may have your girlfriends, just as a guy may have his bros. They often are your roommates or coworkers.  Perhaps they're people who share your major and who share similar class schedules and interests.  Sometimes it's a ward group.  Or, if you're lucky, they can be this group of friends you've known since you were kids.  People who grew up with you.  People you would expect to see cheering you on at your wedding.  After all, you were there for theirs.

When I think of a close group of friends, I first think of the five protagonists from the hit TV series How I Met Your Mother.  Ted, Marshall, Lily, Robin, and Barney.  Always doing things together.  Dating each other.  Meeting at the same bar year after year.  They know everything about each other, share common experiences, and are there for each other when things go wrong. While it does seem a little contrived, most of us can relate to this kind of thing.  Lots of us have a "best friend" like Marshall.  Many of us have a "pet married couple" like Marshall and Lily, who may act as our surrogate parents from time to time while we're away from home.  And, let's face it, most friend groups have a Barney Stinson -- the one whack-job in the group who seems like he wouldn't fit, but somehow does.  Although our circumstances change, time and experience have helped us understand that true friendships transcend petty differences and difficult conflicts.

Ted, Marshall, Lily, Robin, and Barney... They know everything about each other, share common experiences, and are there for each other when things go wrong. 

If I were to meet Ted at the supermarket (or at a wedding, or while trying to remove a tattoo, or perhaps as I was protesting against one of his architectural endeavors...), I would feel more fear in meeting his four closest friends than in meeting his mother or his father.  In some ways, it is more challenging to inundate yourself into another's group of friends than it is to inundate yourself into a person's family.  Sure, family's where you come from and where you always find yourself going back.  But friends?  That's where you choose to spend all the rest of your time.  These are the people you WANT to be with, not just the people you're born with.  These are the people you share interests with, the people you purposely develop deeper relations with, people you learn from.  While you're out in college, your friends become your second family.

And, unlike a person's real family, the friends are there from the beginning.  Rarely do we ever think of introducing a guy or girl to our parents on the first date.  Even if I wanted them to meet, it's pretty difficult to ever introduce a guy to mom and dad, since they live so far away.  I've hardly been in a relationship for enough time for that to even be an issue.  In the meantime, though, most people have this "second family" that they grow super close to, and you meet them right away.  You may not have to schmooze mom and dad immediately, but you may need to get past the BFFs on the very first date.

Often, you are faced with the super important ritual known as meeting the roommates.  Not only does it give a person the chance to see how a date responds to meeting these new people, but it also can be very revealing to hear what the roommates think of the guy you just brought home.  Do they like him?  Do they seem to get along?  I can't tell you how many times I've closed the door after a date, only to immediately turn to my roommates and say, "Well, what do you think?  Thumbs up or thumbs down?"  Their poor opinion may not be the dealbreaker, but it could definitely weaken your relationship.

Meeting the roommates:  Their poor opinion may not be the dealbreaker, but it could definitely weaken your relationship.
And even if you pass the initial go-ahead, you're then faced with the next step: initiation. Now this step can be bypassed if your new friend already is a part of your social group. It's nice to date someone who has already spent plenty of time with your friends and he's already comfortable with you as part of a group of other close compatriots. It's convenient when that happens. The transition from 'friend' to 'boyfriend' is a lot more calm when he's already a part of your life and your friend group.

But what if you met the guy online, or on the street, or at the gym?  You have almost nothing in common with him, socially speaking.  You come from separate worlds.  He rock-climbs and hikes, you make music and see plays.  If the personalities aren't right, these separate worlds could collide in a catastrophic explosion.  Or it could at least lead to a super awkward experience, and early on, such awkward experiences can break down the relationship completely.  You don't want your relationship to begin on too wrong of a note, or else it will end before it starts!

How hard is it to meet the Best Friend?  Boyfriend may be super excited to introduce you to him, but don't you still feel the need to dress just a little nicer and act just a little cooler?  After all, this is your boyfriend's Best Friend.  Anyone who's best friends with your dream guy oughta be super cool and super important, right?  His opinion must be super important, right?  And what if BestFriend doesn't give you the seal of approval?  Depending on how much time Boyfriend spends with BestFriend, you may be in for a rough time.

And it's even worse when there's a group of Best Friends, like in How I Met Your Mother.  When you meet a new group of people, seldom is someone going to bother filling you in on the inside jokes that they all share, their past experiences, or the traditions they hold. You are the random stranger, surrounded by people you don't know, and you have to share the attention of the one person you have any attachment to with all of these other folks. And perhaps your mere presence puts a damper on things for them? Perhaps you are the rain on the parade that is BestFriend tradition.   You show up on the hiking trip, you appear in all the mission reunion photos, you tag along to the movies... Cool as you are, you can't change the fact that you're someone new.  Different.  You're the stranger.  The buzzkill.  The newbie.  Yuck.

When you meet a new group of people, seldom is someone going to bother filling you in on the inside okes that they all share, their past experiences, or the traditions they hold. 
Even when you do things alone, there's still pressure to have a mutual friend group to talk about.  It's hard to talk about a funny thing that happened at work when your beau has never met your coworkers.  It's hard for him to talk about his band when you've never met his bandmates.  We are social animals.  We thrive in environments where we can make connections and form further relationships.  You can only spend so much time on formal, one-on-one dates.  If you ever want to marry someone, you need to meld your entire life with someone else's entire life.  This stranger to your world needs to become an established regular.  An integrated part of your social life.  Getting to that point is very challenging.

In my own situation, I find that this whole issue concerning social integration is the primary factor that has come between me and a successful relationship.  You can trace most of my problems back to the fact that I have very few close friends. I consider myself an unestablished socialite.  My personality does not cater to having a posse or a clique or a cohort that I always do things with. I spread myself thin; I have lots of friends, but few of them are really close. There's no automatic list of people I would call to go get Denny's with on a weekend.  My friendships are more the kind where I can easily say "hi" to someone I recognize if our paths happen to cross.  I get invited to things on occasion, and while I am an extrovert who can adapt to these kinds of situations pretty easily, I do recognize that I am different and I don't immediately click with lots of people.  In such an in-transit environment as a college campus, getting to know a group of people well enough to have them be a major part of my life is hard for a girl like me.  One-on-one, I'm great.  Get me with a group, and I detach myself.  So rather than having this group of people that I always do things with, I have a smattering of individual friendships that I do one-on-one activities with on occasion.  I don't dislike this lifestyle.  It makes for an awesome formal dating experience.  One-on-one planned activities with the purpose of getting to know someone better?  I shine in that environment.  It's just that next step that I have trouble with.

So that's the first thing going against me: My social temperament. But let's not assume that I am incapable of surpassing my normal disposition and creating close bonds with groups of people.  I have had 'cliques' in the past.  My old roommates were one, and my former coworkers were another.  But then my roommates moved out and I quit my job... And now I live in the basement of my grandparents' house.  I live in a scattered ward, working as a junior high school teacher and personal research assistant to a professor.  The only people I come in contact with these days are my pre-teen students, my married mentor teacher, my grandma, and my professors.  So much for having a common social circle with my potential eternal companion! Heck, it's hard enough to find guys to simply go on dates with, let alone find a relationship.  And when someone special does show up in my ward or wherever, he's usually so well established in some other social group, and a hermit like me can hardly get her foot in the door.

Let's not assume that I'm incapable of surpassing my normal disposition... I have had cliques in the past.  My old roommates were one.
I am willing to share that I, myself, have been hit with the words, "I just don't think you'd get along with my friends, Hannah.  And that's really important to me.  Sorry. We're through."  But I don't think a guy needs to actually say that in order for me to feel the social pressure of having to win the hearts of not only the guys I'm interested in, but also of their friends.  Yes, it's a frustrating thing, knowing that most of the men I interact with have totally separate lives from me and, thus, the cards are stacked against me.

I guess that's why I'm still single.  I haven't figured out this whole "meet-the-friends" thing yet.

 But I'm discovering the solution...

All this being said, here are some things you need to be successful in dating.  Mind you, this is not a comprehensive list, but it may contain a few things that you may not initially think of, or it may put a new spin on some of the common things you hear as a single adult all the time.

1.  Do stuff.  Get out there and find a hobby that you can share with others.  Climb rocks, make music, join an opera, play tennis, go to institute, take a dance class, join a dinner group, start a game night, go to Home Evening, attend the extra seminars...  Be social.  You've probably heard this advice before, and you're always given the same reason for it:  You can't meet your future companion if you never put yourself in a position to meet someone.  And yeah, that's a valid argument.  But there's more.  I also think it's important for people to have a social group.  They don't need to be your eventual bridesmaids or the godparents for your future children, but it's healthy to have a group of people that you have things in common with.  You'll improve your social skills, you have a non-family support group, and -- of course -- you'll have fun.  Yes, you can have fun when you're single.  Fun exists outside of marriage.
2.  Group date.  If you're a nonestablished socialite like me, group dating provides a social outlet that you don't achieve in other group settings.  Double dates are nice; they're still small enough to be intimate.  They give you a chance to see how your date operates in a group, and your date can see how you operate in a group.  And suddenly you've created a mutual friend base that both of you have in common.  Total win.

Group dating provides a social outlet that you don't achieve in other group settings.
3.  Hopefully this essay will help you realize that meeting the friends can be an awkward thing for your date.  There are ways to make it easier.  Don't put a ton of pressure on it.  Bring your new friend into the group.  Make some formal introductions, and then continue to make informal introductions.  It's so nice to have a date who is willing to go the extra mile to make me feel comfortable with his friends.  And it's very encouraging when I end up making a few new friends in the whole dating process.
4.  Remember:  Life is about forming positive relationships with lots of different people.  It's not all about just finding that ONE person you're going to spend the rest of your life with.  If and when you do find that special someone, it doesn't mean you can completely forget about the other relationships that helped you get to that point.  Yes, marriage is a priority, but brotherly love, service to those around you, and learning from others is also an important part in this life journey.
Furthermore, if you never get out there and start forming good friendships, you'll never get the chance to meet the notorious "friend-of-a-friend."  I met my last boyfriend at a mutual friend's music show at a club.  I had no intention of meeting a companion when I went, but we were introduced and things moved quickly forward from there.  I never would have met him, had I not been a supportive friend already.  The more people you know, the more you're able to network.  That can help your romantic life as well as your career.
5.  Find out about yourself, what you want, and what your goals are.  I never could have written this a year ago.  That was before I realized what kind of a person I was in groups, how I interacted with people one-on-one, and what my interests were in a future companion.  Since then, I have discovered that I'm an extrovert with interesting hobbies and a bold, colorful personality that caters well to certain other personalities.  The moment I figured stuff like this out, I suddenly became more confident with other people, and I started picking guys that were better for me within social groups where I was already comfortable.  Since I am a musician, I take advantage of interactions I have with other musicians.  I make the conscious choice to expand upon my relationships with women and men who are interested in post-graduate education, like myself.  In a spiritual sense, I am better able to "separate the wheat from the tares" in dating when I am truly confident in my end goal: to marry for eternity in the Lord's Holy Temple.  When you know who you are and what your true desires are, you more quickly find those things you desire.  Remember your goals.  Remember who you are.

Remember your goals.  Remember who you are.
6.  Speaking of picking, it's totally okay to consider the friends as you're making decisions about a relationship.  I do not look down on the guy who rejects me because of how I get along with his friends.  Your friends are important, just like family is important.  It's good to give people a chance, but if you know that integrating a certain kind of person will cause excessive conflict and stress on you and your social group, maybe it's a good idea to search for your companion elsewhere. This is especially true when it comes to spiritual things.  If your date's buddies don't keep the same standards that you do, there is a perfectly legitimate reason to hit pause and re-evaluate.  Everyone is different, and there will usually be conflict of some kind, but there is a line.  Find it, and don't cross it.
7.  If you don't have a How-I-Met-Your-Mother group, don't try to get one.  You can't force a friend group like that, and they are not necessary for finding happiness in your social life.  They emerge on their own, if you are patient and if you are genuine and trustworthy.  I found that the moment I stopped trying to form a posse, people felt a lot more comfortable around me and little groups began to form by themselves.  And if I never end up having a tight-knit group like that, it's fine.  I'll settle for having an awesome eternal companion and an amazing family.

There are plenty of things we can learn from each other without completely losing our identities.
8.  This is probably the one piece of advice that I have trouble actually doing myself.  If the guy is a big fan of country dancing, why not GO COUNTRY DANCING with him?!  So what if it's not your favorite thing.  So what if you're terrible at it.  So what if it's out of your comfort zone.  Sometimes the best way to get to a guy is to first get into his social group before the relationship ever starts.  Get to know some of the people he loves and start acquainting yourself with the kind of things he enjoys. And that doesn't mean you have to give up everything you cherish and value and give into peer pressure just to impress a guy, a la Sandra Dee in Grease.  There are plenty of things we can learn from each other without completely losing our identities.
STILL thinking that this is some sort of nefarious dating tactic that promotes insecurity and lack of self-esteem?  I'll put it another way:  If you've never country danced before, maybe you'll like it! Maybe you'll enjoy hiking or skating or cello music. Or maybe you'll meet other awesome people while doing those things.  To bring things back to Grease again, Danny Zuko improved his life by joining the track team over a girl.  I don't think he regrets it at all; it didn't make his life any worse to have a productive hobby.  Real world example: I've talked to dozens of guys who discovered they loved singing simply because the girls invited them to join choir. They may never have got the girls, but they discovered something about themselves that they didn't know before.  I, myself, have uncovered tons of great performing artists simply by going out and watching my musical guy friends play at shows. It's ironic: You go into something for one purpose, only to discover something very different and far more rewarding instead.

Here's to a great summer.

Watching: How I Met Your Mother (of course)
Things going on today:  A Fast Sunday full of opportunities.
Learned:  A little more about the personal life of Neil Patrick Harris
Blessings:  Food.  Drink.  A Bed.


  1. Hannah, I love your blog. This post made me smile. Just a warning, meeting the family is the easy part! It's the adjusting to knowing your related or will soon be related that's the tricky part for some. But I think that's what you were getting at with "meeting the friends." You really do have to adjust to spending time with new people!

    You are awesome, Hannah. So inspiring. Continue being yourself, because you are just a joy to be around :)