Daniel Peterson (the former editor of the FARMS review) has posted a link on his blog and some comments of his own on a newspaper piece talking of a ‘crisis of masculinity’,and its connection to excessive gaming and pornography use. I think both (the blog and the newspaper article) are worth reading and thinking about, though there were a few points that I ended up responding to in the comments, both about said crisis and about the association made in the blog with lack of dating in a singles ward. Since it ended up being a lengthy comment, I thought I might as well put it here too (with a couple of clarifications):
Firstly, I think there’s undoubtedly a crisis in masculinity: look at male suicide rates. Suicide is the leading cause of death for Men under 50 in the UK, and this appears to reflect a common trend across the West. Unfortunately that also indicates the issues involved are more deep-seated than the two suggested addictions. Addictions are very often as much a symptom of intense personal difficulties as they are the cause of them (though they undoubtedly exacerbate them), flawed attempts at escaping a situation. And thinking upon it, the suicide rates suggest the ‘crisis’ is also affecting men who are far too old to have grown up under the influence of computer gaming, which the article itself appears to suggest is a causal factor – undoubtedly other can addictions take their place, but any pervasive crisis also has deeper issues.
Unfortunately it really feels that a lot of the time men are simply berated for this, rather than actually encouraged in a meaningful way to be able to do better. There needs to be a better response (and I believe the Gospel can offer a better response).
Specifically on the dating thing though, a few observations from my perspective:
1) I was in a singles ward for three years, and know full well that the Bishopric were less than happy at the level of dating going on. But there were a range of things going on that simply telling off the males wouldn’t have fixed. The 3-1 (sometimes 4-1) ratio probably didn’t help (and unfortunately at least some of the female members of the ward I spoke to simply didn’t realise how easy it is not to be noticed amongst 120 other people, particularly if they felt they shouldn’t even go to the effort of introducing themselves to people).
2) I undoubtedly didn’t help the statistics. Truthfully I’ve only been on a handful of dates in my life. But this wasn’t from lack of desire, but the fact that I didn’t (and still don’t) have a clue. I’d been very lucky in that ward to fall in with the right group of people and had some good friends (of both genders), in a way I hadn’t really had before in my life; but that area continued to confuse me, and the few experiences I had were not positive. I always felt intensely bad after each attempt at dating and found the whole thing intensely difficult and didn’t know why. Undoubtedly part of my difficulties was a then undiagnosed case of high functioning autistic spectrum disorder, along with what might be conservatively termed a somewhat negative self-image. Under those circumstances, more suggestions that I was somehow offending people even without doing anything because of my failures in this area would not have (and still don’t) help. The idea in some quarters that this is somehow a sin is even more stressful: I have enough sins to worry about!
3) Based on observation though, everyone seems a bit confused, and not just those of us who’d find *any* social rules confusing. And I think one problem at present may be dating itself: Dating is not an eternal principle.
Dating is a particular courtship pattern from a relatively brief period of Western history, that worked because it was generally easy to harmonise with eternal principles. But the Church didn’t choose to practice it out of some sort of conscious choice – it practised it because the surrounding Western culture did too. Things went differently, not only in other dispensations (I admit I find it funny when those who assume dating is an eternal principle are shocked at arranged marriages in the Old Testament), but even simply earlier in this dispensation.
Of course, now Western civilisation is adopting patterns that are less easy to harmonise with eternal principles. And I think under those circumstances it’s difficult for Church members to consciously hold onto this earlier system of courtship patterns in the face of what Western society is doing, when really the only reason they followed them in the first place is because we’re used to following what surrounding western society was doing. Over time I think something else is going to have to develop to fill the new gap, I guess particularly as Church culture divorces from where the West is headed and move towards building the culture of Zion.
In the meantime though (as I guess that may take a while to sort out), a lot of people are going to be confused and disappointed, and I think what’s at play with ‘dating’ goes beyond a ‘crisis of masculinity’. Social changes aren’t just the result of men (and only men) failing to measure up; everyone after all, male and female, is fallen. Just holding men responsible is unlikely to fix the situation. To take the case mentioned in the blog, where apparently one YSA sister and a number of her compatriots were upset with the Elders Quorum as they regular scheduled weekend computer game nights and weren’t dating, I doubt just not permitting the EQ activities as suggested would have appreciably affected the level of dating. I can appreciate the point made in the comments about Leadership’s role in such wards in encouraging appropriate interactions between the sexes, but I suspect merely removing the EQ activities from the schedule wouldn’t be enough (I assume the issue with the EQ activities was one frequency and timing – an Elders Quorum with no activities would in my mind also be inappropriate, as it’d fail to fulfil the Quorum function of brotherhood). I’m also not sure it’s too helpful to have some people feeling they can be justifiably angry at others for not taking them on dates: it’s not a particularly encouraging view to see dates as some sort of obligated tribute, and I’m not sure people are particularly inclined to date others they’re angry at or know are angry at them.
But I could be completely wrong. This is, as mentioned above, an Achilles heel.