How “It’s Just Dinner” will Change Dating Culture

BYU Communications professors Robert Walz and Dr. Tom Robinson realized there’s a problem in Provo—maybe even a problem in the Church as a whole.

Walz and Robinson had worked together and separately in Young Mens’ presidencies and bishoprics over the years. Those callings had been completely geared toward getting young men on missions. They didn’t hear much from those young men after they left the home ward, but they received the occasional wedding invitation.

When they started working together in a Provo young single adult stake a few years ago, they “kind of had an a-ha moment,” Walz said. They realized there wasn’t a whole lot of dating going on in what should be the Mormon hub of dating. He went on to say:

We realized we were the authors of the problem. We had created this dysfunctional dating culture, because we were singularly focused on missionary service. We didn’t realize that when they got back from their missions they were not functional in their ability to interact with members of the opposite sex.

Thankfully, their realization didn’t stop there. They also believed they could do something about the dating problem.

The Pressure

Will you be my date? sign with dog in the foreground

Walz and Robinson found that a big part of the problem was that young men were taught to stay away from girls before their missions. Then, at the end of their missions they were told to go home and find an eternal companion. This meant that once they came home from their missions, many returned missionaries didn’t want to put effort into dating until they were ready to get married.

Walz and Robinson were shocked to hear from several returned missionaries that not feeling ready to get married was a principal reason they didn’t go on dates. In the ’80’s, when Walz and Robinson were young single adults, they had a completely different experience.

To them, the purpose of dating was to get to know someone. There was no early commitment. They didn’t feel external or internal pressure to get married fast. They also didn’t have to deal with the complexities that technology brings— such as ghosting, the post-date text, or even who initiates a texting conversation.

Back in Walz and Robinson’s day, dates were much simpler. Dates didn’t require elaborate planning. There were no “promposals.” No scavenger hunt group dates. Dates didn’t cost a lot of money, either. Their idea of a date, they told me, was “Hey, wanna get a Coke?” And that’s it.

The Magic of Just Dinner

Walz and Robinson want to help young single adults simplify dating. Sharing their message actually started with Dr. Robinson ranting about the dysfunctional dating culture in one of his advertising classes.

After getting a lot of wide-eyed stares, one student said, “You have to tell everyone at BYU what you just told us.”

Dr. Robinson created a 45-minute presentation called “It’s Just Dinner.” He shared it with his stake first. Now, he goes around to different stakes in Provo and shares this concept, that dating doesn’t have to be quite so complicated.

The idea behind the title “It’s Just Dinner” is that a date can be as simple as going out to eat. When a date leads to conversation and connection, it’s a lot more meaningful than perhaps a more elaborate or expensive date. But dating doesn’t have to look like only going to dinner, of course. Robinson said:

It’s just dinner can be it’s just anything.

It’s just buying groceries, it’s just taking a walk, it’s just getting ice cream. Casual dating uncoupled with undo pressure can take many forms.

Yes, Dating will still be Awkward

Couple on a date eating dinner

The concept of “It’s Just Dinner” doesn’t mean dating won’t be awkward anymore. In fact, sometimes doing something less planned can be more stressful, because it means conversation is the biggest factor in the date.

Even if you don’t have a romantic connection after sitting across a table, sharing a meal, and conversing, dating casually is still worthwhile. Going to eat can build friendships, increase communication skills, or as my mom always said, be “good practice” for future dating experiences.

Become part of the “It’s Just Dinner” movement

Whether you’re way past the dating scene or just getting into it, listen to “It’s Just Dinner.”

Walz and Robinson co-host the podcast. They talk about why that dating culture is the way it is, as well as how we can fix it. Their podcast, website, and events in Utah Valley are both fun and helpful to young single adults.

Changing the dating culture is not only the responsibility of young single adults, but also of parents and leaders. Walz expressed that he wishes he had taught gospel truths about the temple as much as about missionary work. He said:

Our focus from the time that we’re young kids needs to be the temple.

Each of us can create a more functional dating culture by focusing on the temple from the very beginning. Doing so will ease the transition between missions and marriage.

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Angela Cava is a writer for MormonHub. She currently studies journalism at Brigham Young University, and plans to become an international broadcast journalist upon graduation.