Admin: Guest post by Russell.
*A caveat: I am taking a conscious cue from Richard Hofstadter–this is a line of inquiry rather than a footnote-drenched piece of archive-based scholarship.
Brigham Young University appears to be the idyllic city on a hill–founded with the college-building impulse of American missionary zeal and molded to fit the Zion-building strain of Mormonism’s early days of development. Yet anyone who has lived on the campus–or even visited the campus–talks about the nascent “tension” that undergirds social relationships. One University of Minnesota professor of family studies called BYU one of the most “sexually charged” campuses he had ever visited . In an era of facebook dating where it’s becoming less-common for adolescents to even approach women for their number let alone actually go through the routine of dinner-and-a-movie, BYU has become a bastion of romantic Christianity. Outsiders–even well-informed ones–cannot seem to place BYU properly on this spectrum. When discussing BYU dating with them, I have heard reactions ranging from shock that the Church doesn’t offer dispensations to college students to libertines to shock that we even dare “toucheth” a woman before marriage . The stories of roommate intrigue, flirtations, break-ups, get-togethers are legion at BYU. What is the root of this odd blend of focused values with dynamic romance?
During the late 19th-century, polygamy marked the Mormons conceptions of romantic relationships more than any other characteristic It was a societal institution, Brigham Young argued, that was intended to enshrine the family as the central unit of the kingdom. Brigham maintained that in New York, for example, he “doubts whether there is one man in three who has a wife” . Related to this drive for familial stability in the kingdom was also a push for romantic stability. With a standard Victorian overtone, George Q. Cannon noted that polygamy the church “steer into the curve” of the natural licentiousness of men: “the demands of nature,” George Q. Cannon wrote, should be met with “decency and propriety”  Belinda Pratt argued similarly when noting that it was primarily to appease the needs of carnal desires of men generally–an almost axiomatic conclusion of Victorian America. Polygamy existed because men were weak, not because they were domineering. If they are going to be driven by passion, then Mormon men should at least be held to account for it. Furthermore, as Kathryn Daynes has argued, Utah was a leading territory in its issuance of divorces; my own ancestor, considered at the time to be a pillar in the community, separated from his wife as she went on to marry his former mission companion, Ezra T. Clark. Utah’s laws were so liberal that attorneys in Illinois could file their clients’ divorces based solely on their stated desire to live in Utah at a later date. This system of marriage, in a strange way, almost delegitimized sexual relations as anything more than a necessary element of mortality–meant for procreation and for the satiation of men’s weakness. I credit this heritage of free-wheeling marital systems with the rough-and-tumble atmosphere of BYU dating.
Yet this same heritage has also given birth to the practicality with which many LDS now see marriage. Since polygamy’s demise, Mormon women have faced a crisis of femininity that their ancestors never faced. With the lack of “sister wives” to help in the chores and the decreased professionalization of Mormon women, twentieth-century modern Mormon women feel increased pressure to avoid investing themselves too deeply in a career lest they blur the lines between masculine and feminine in a post-polygamy world. Since polygamy, they have now assumed all the responsibilities that plural wives once shared
Men have similarly felt increased pressure to redefine their masculinity. Marital stability during the era of polygamy was often measured not only in the ability to provide but also by a man’s previous track record in marriage; one young woman was discouraged from marrying a never-married bachelor because he lacked experience. Since the demise of polygamy and the urbanization of the Church, Mormon men have needed to find new ways to express their stability other than the presence of previous wives or a landed estate. Therefore, they enter lucrative professions to ensure that their wives can live up to the Proclamation’s ideal of maternal duties. BYU has accommodated this societal transition by focusing its funding and growth on the two of the most lucrative departments in professional life–business and law school.
In essence, the demise of polygamy has required that men and women in the Church to redefine and specialize their masculinity/femininity in ways that their ancestors did not. Polygamy’s demise opened up a vacuum of marital meaning on Mormon youth. While the root cause of this shift rests in traditional explanations of the growth of big business and the legal profession in America, these trends have taken on a distinctively “marriage market” flavor in Mormon America. Polygamy has produced both a cutthroat culture of dating even as it produces bastions of middle-class stability.
 Quoted by Brent Barlow, Classroom lecture, BYU
 For a journalistic account of BYU dating, see Naomi Riley, God on the Quad: How Religious Colleges and the Missionary Generation are Changing America (New York: Macmillan, 2005), 15-33. Personal conversation with University of Kentucky professor and individual students.
 Kathryn Daynes, “Single Men in a Polygamous Society,” Journal of Mormon History 24(1): 89.
 Daynes, More Wives than One: The Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001), 39.