My Branch President in my BYU student branch (freshman year, 1976-77) thought I was the best thing since sliced bread, because I loved to dance and I would ask lots of different girls to dance during dances, which kind of set a tone of inclusion and made for fun branch dance parties. He was very appreciative of this. But I was only human (with hormones pop pop popping like an apricot tree) and during the course of the year I did kind of develop some favorites whom I asked to dance more than others, especially for the slow songs.
By the end of my first semester at the Y, there were two girls in particular whom I seemed to dance with more and more as the year progressed. They happened to be roommates [cue ominous foreboding music here], but in the dance context that didn’t seem to be a problem. I loved dancing with each of them, and each of them loved dancing with me.
Now this was back in the Jurassic era before Dallin Oaks was even an apostle (he was still president of the university), and the need for him to give a talk contra “hanging out” and in favor of dating was not even yet a twinkle in his eye. Which is to say that back then, if you liked a girl you asked her out. That was simply the way it was done in the olden days.
Some time during the second semester of my freshman year, I resolved to ask one of these two girls out on a date. I really didn’t care which one; I liked them both, and to me it was a total toss-up. Had it been a century earlier maybe I would have asked them both out and made it a true Mormon double date. But no, I had to choose, so I picked the one I’ll call Maura for the trivial reason that she was a little bit taller than the one I’ll call Suzie. There was no more to it than that.
So I called Maura up, asked her out, and she gladly agreed to the date. On the appointed evening I came to her apartment in Heritage Halls to pick her up. As she came out the door she was beaming and very happy, but I caught a glimpse from deep in the bowels of the apartment (boys weren’t allowed to enter the apartments except for family home evenings) of Suzie crying. I hoped that she wasn’t crying over the fact that I had asked Maura out and not her, but deep down I knew that that was in fact the situation. In my naivete, I had not really considered the dynamic of these two girls being roomies and how that would make negotiating this date a problem.
(Later I learned that Suzie was not LDS, and I hoped she didn’t think I hadn’t chosen her to ask out for that reason, as I didn’t even realize it at the time.)
Well, anyway, Maura didn’t seem too bothered by Suzie’s distress, so I put it out of my mind and we went on our date. I don’t recall what we did for dinner, but the main point of the date was to see Seven Brides for Seven Brothers in the auditorium of the old Joseph Smith building (the religion building that predated the current JSB). This was a popular movie on campus and one that I personally enjoyed, so even though this was such a cliche BYU date it was fun for me.
During the movie I alternately held her hand or put my arm around her. We had danced lots of slow dances together, so this kind of touching between us was not something new. As I walked her back to her apartment, it started to snow lightly, and it was very romantic. We were both having a great time, enjoying each other’s company and touch.
Now, I grew up in Illinois, not in Utah, and I had been socialized to think that kissing a girl good night at the end of the date was a normal and acceptable practice, provided the girl gave you some sort of subtle indication she would welcome such a gesture. This date was going great, we were very intimate with each other, and so I knew I wanted to kiss her good night. But I realized that it would not be possible to do that at her door in Heritage Halls, because there are always lots of people around. So just before we got back to her building there was a little alcove of trees (those of you familiar with BYU will know what I’m talking about, it’s that area in the middle of Heritage where that little creek meanders), so I told her that I wanted to kiss her good night there.
I leaned in for the kiss, and was surprised that her lips were tightly pursed together. I (naively) assumed that I had caught her off guard, so I tried again–with the same result. Hmmm…so that’s the way she kisses, huh? I thought it peculiar that such an attractive girl really had no idea how to kiss. But as I walked her the remainder of the way to her apartment, it slowly began to dawn on me that she wasn’t just a bad kisser, but that this had been some sort of defense mechanism she had probably learned at a standards night as a laurel or something. She obviously had not wanted to kiss me good night, but instead of just telling me that she used her little pursed lips defense.
I quickly learned that the latter was in fact the case, and that in the course of about 10 seconds and two little pecks I had gone from Prince Charming to the Libertine Lothario. What was especially frustrating and mortifying to me is that I had no way to defend myself from whatever it was she told her roommates about it (I never did learn what her account was, and no one would tell me), and from that time forward they all would give the stinkeye whenever any of them saw me.
One of the roomies in that apartment who had just moved into the branch was Russell M. Nelson’s daughter; as a result of this incident, she thought I was disgusting. Even though he wasn’t an apostle yet I still knew who he was and respected him, so it was embarrassing to me for his daughter to have such a poor opinion of me.
The only good thing that came out of this debacle is that whatever regret Suzie had for my not asking her out evaporated, and now she was glad to have avoided the trauma Maura had experienced.
I did learn a valuable (if silly) lesson from all of this. Teenage culture in other parts of the country notwithstanding, never try to kiss a Mormon girl at BYU on the first date. When I was a Young Men’s President, I even taught this pearl of wisdom to my young men who were about to go to BYU or BYU-I. Since it was such hard-won wisdom for me, I wanted to save them from making the same mistake I had made. Lesson learned.