Faith & romance • Attending conference together can be good or awkward for LDS couples.
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For many, a perfect date includes glowing candles, soft music and sparkling conversation over a succulent supper.
For others, choir music and hours of religious sermons while seated in a crowd of more than 20,000 is the better path to true romance.
Every six months, some young Mormons attend The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' semiannual General Conference with a date. It may not be the traditional way to woo a crush in most parts of the country, but, in Utah, some say it can help set the stage for a fulfilling, lifelong and, in Mormon parlance, eternal partnership.
"I get the opportunity to get the whole kind of church feel with her, and that will kind of make or break [the relationship] in most instances," said Kevin Goldberg, who plans to bring a date to the coming General Conference, just as he has in years past.
The Layton 27-year-old, who works in real estate, is serious about his Mormonism, to which he converted more three years ago, and he's looking for a woman who's just as committed.
"I want someone who actually lives it and is kind of on the same spiritual level," Goldberg said. "If I go with a girl who's laughing and joking and playing video games, I'm probably never going to go out with her again."
Besides, he said, the price is right: free. And the structure of General Conference multiple sessions throughout the day interspersed with breaks means flexibility.
If the date's going well, maybe they'll go to multiple sessions, lunch and dinner. If it's going poorly, the end of a session provides a natural breaking point.
"It gives me three outs," Goldberg joked.
More important, of course, "you get to see the spiritual character and caliber of a girl.
First dates, second thoughts • It's difficult to say just how many of those who journey to General Conference each year go with dates.
But Jim Brown, associate director at the LDS Church's Salt Lake University Institute of Religion, said it happens at least occasionally.
"Partly, I think it's just the energy of conference, if you will," Brown said. "There's a spiritual element that's very uplifting and enjoyable."
It's the kind of date that can be inspirational and life-affirming.
"It's a good way to connect with somebody on a spiritual and somewhat intellectual or emotional level in ways you wouldn't find at something like bowling or a movie," said Scott Macdonald, 32, of Farmington.
Macdonald said he's taken dates to General Conference three or four times. He said typically he'll take a date to one session and then perhaps grab a meal or go for a walk or hike afterward.
Once he took a girl to General Conference on a first date, but he said it's usually better to go after at least a few dates.
"If you don't know them that well," Macdonald said, "it could just be a complete air ball."
It might be easier, he added, to connect over conference if a foundation is already laid.
Salt Lake City resident Robin Walton, 24, agreed it's probably better to wait until a couple have been dating for a while before attending General Conference together. A few years ago the city planning intern went on a second date to conference.
She conceded she's a bit torn on the matter. She sees why two people may as well watch General Conference together regardless of a relationship's longevity. But she also believes it can be a bit awkward to take a person one doesn't know that well to this big Mormon event.
"I generally view the first couple dates as a chance to get to know each other," Walton said, "and maybe General Conference isn't really the best place for that to happen."
Walton said it can be tough to get to know one another when the priority is to listen to speakers.
Still, that wouldn't stop her from again venturing to General Conference on a date.
Early talk of marriage • Anyone who goes to conference on a date, however, will likely have to deal with at least one big issue: marriage.
If there's one thing conferencegoers can count on, it's that speakers will discuss the importance of matrimony, a basic Mormon principle and a practice members view as an eternal commitment.
It's a topic that, on a date, could prompt some awkward moments. Or it could be a chance to discuss where a relationship is headed.
Macdonald said he could see "younger people getting freaked out about it and not knowing what to do." But at age 32, Macdonald said it's a discussion he expects.
"It's something for me that's obviously an eventuality in a dating scenario," Macdonald said. It's never bothered him listening to LDS leaders discuss marriage when he's been on conference dates.
Jordan Miller, 26, of West Valley City, noted the subject came up when he took a girl to conference years ago, at age 18. It was one of his first dates with her, but he said neither felt any tension when speakers belabored wedded bliss because they both planned to go on missions.
"There was really no pressure that either of us felt," Miller said, "because we knew that's where we were at in life."
Miller said that date went well, but now he prefers a more casual approach.
Though not all Mormon couples head to conference on dates, many listen to or watch the event on TV or online in pairs. Typically, millions across the globe view broadcasts of the event.
Miller said his family traditionally gathers to watch conference on Sundays while eating waffles. That's something to which he might bring a date this year.
"If you're dating somebody or you're thinking about dating somebody," Miller said, "seeing them, being around them, interacting with them in the most wide variety of situations is probably a very good idea."
Whether that be at a movie, over brunch with the family or dressed (modestly, of course) to the nines for General Conference.
LDS General Conference is Saturday and Sunday at the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City. Saturday's sessions are at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. with a priesthood meeting for male members at 6 p.m. Sunday's sessions are at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Join us live online at sltrib.com Monday at 12:30 p.m. for a Trib Talk video chat about LDS General Conference and women's issues within the Mormon faith. The Salt Lake Tribune's Jennifer Napier-Pearce will lead the discussion in which religion reporter Peggy Fletcher Stack and others will take questions during the chat, which will last about 45 minutes.