On Feb. 10, BYU-Idaho Event Services hosted the first of several dating Q&A panels in the Taylor Chapel. Titled “Dos & Don’ts of First Dates,” staff members from across campus formed a panel and answered student questions regarding first-date difficulties plaguing BYU-I’s student culture.
Nick Rammell, BYU-I’s Title IX coordinator, hosted the event. He began the conference by taking a survey from the students in attendance via a QR code projected behind him. The survey asked questions about what is and isn’t appropriate on a first date, ranging topics like physical touch acceptability on first dates and how long one should last.
Once the audience completed the survey, Rammell offered some words about BYU-I’s dysfunctional dating culture before opening the panel for questions.
“There are some things we haven’t been talking about on campus that we need to talk about,” Rammell said. “We’ve been busier in the Title IX office then we’ve ever been. We’ve started talking about how we can make things better.”
Rammell spoke of how students believe first dates should be “wildly romantic” due to increased engagement in media such as “The Bachelor.” He argued that media has become a powerful influence on unethical behavior in BYU-I’s dating culture.
“What we’re seeing is a compression between popular media and the devil’s work,” Rammell said. “We socialize and specialize through those mediums. If dating is not conducive to building testimonies, we’re failing.”
Rammell then opened the panel for student questions. Students asked questions like, “How do you get to know someone on multiple dates without leading them on,” “How do do you deal with the social pressures of going on dates and getting married,” and “What are some healthy general principles to get to know someone without getting lost and twitterpated,” all readily supported by the active audience.
Cole Ratcliffe, a professor in the Department of Home and Family, led most of the discussions with enthusiastic and professional advice. He talked heavily about the negative social pressures of marriage that most students encounter in BYU-I student culture.
“Some people perceive Church leaders at a general level pressure us to get married,” Ratcliffe said. “I’ve looked through it, and I don’t think they are pressuring us. I think pressure comes from different sources — sometimes family members pressure us to get married, and sometimes roommates say things. If you’re a human, you have sexual desires, and we don’t have sex until marriage, so you also have internal pressures to get married. You have to address them in different ways. God wants us to have healthy relationships. We need to switch from wanting to get married to wanting to have a healthy relationship.”
Ratcliffe discussed why physical touch on a first date is psychologically dangerous and harmful to creating a healthy relationship. Human brains emit powerful chemicals during physical, intimate touch, and those chemicals are designed to develop powerful, emotional bonds with the other individual involved in the contact. If two individuals develop this kind of chemical bonding on a first date before they actually know each other, Ratcliffe explained, they are extremely likely to overlook red flags that will be significantly harmful to them down the road.
Ratcliffe also gave some concrete tips for healthy dating.
“Your first date should generally be 90 minutes or less,” Ratcliffe said. “You know what that rules out? Movies. Your first date should be minimal with money, time and emotions. The first date is not the right time to ask if there’s an issue with porn. That’s out of bounds. It’s also not the right time to tell deep, dark secrets. Guys, if you pay too much money, she’ll feel uncomfortable and feel like she owes you something. You want her to feel comfortable.”
Ratcliffe proposed that the highest level of physical touch appropriate for a first date is a friendly, “A-frame” hug, also known as a “bro hug.” He adamantly condemned kissing on a first date.
“If you think it’s appropriate to kiss on a first date, you’re already wrong,” Ratcliffe said. “Sure, that’d be fun, but it’s not going to help you. Keep your hands to yourself and be respectful to the other person. That’s something you can control.”
Ratcliffe and Rammell both agreed that first dates should have maximum respect and minimal stress.
“On a first date, everyone should feel respected,” Rammell said. If we treat everyone with respect, the first date experience has less trauma and less stress, and we leave better than how we found each other without using too many resources.”
Rammell also gave some definite “don’ts” of first dates.
“Anything secluded in private situations is a bad idea,” he said. “Hot tubs, cars, going on drives — all of those are bad ideas. If I’m in first-date mode, I’m thinking about public, comfortable settings, somewhere where we can have a private conversation but still be easily interrupted. Movies are never a win.”
Emily Brumbaugh, a sexual assault counselor, emphasized how crucial communication should be before the first date even happens.
“Girls I’ve met with have felt like they owed something to guys just because the guys were being nice,” Brumbaugh said. “We should discuss things like opening doors for each other and paying for dates so that we can avoid falling into potentially harmful social norms. You don’t know what the other person has experienced and what they are feeling. Make your first date short, and have a very simple plan that both of you are informed of in advance.”
Brumbaugh tenderly invited anyone who has had trauma or social difficulties with dating to schedule a meeting with the counseling department and to join one of many support groups.
Although the dates have yet to be determined, BYU-Idaho Event Services plans on hosting at least two more panels this semesters, one completely about consent, the other about dating apps.