Episode #47: Published February 10, 2020
After a devastating breakup, broadcast journalist Tamara decides to do something a little different for her 31st birthday: 31 dates in 31 days. But what starts as a fun blogging experiment quickly turns into big news and an even bigger spiritual eye-opener than Tamara initially assumed as she discovers more about who she is and how God sees the potential in all of us.
Tamara's 31 dates, an experiment she began after turning 31 that caught the attention of several media outlets and led to her book 31 Dates in 31 Days.
Tamara (left) on Good Morning America talking about her 31 dates in 31 days.
Tamara with her husband, whom she met on one of her 31 dates, and their family.
Make sure to check out LDS Living's Love Lessons series on YouTube.
Welcome to This Is The Gospel - an LDS living podcasts where we feature real stories from real people who are practicing and living their faith everyday. I'm your host KaRyn Lay.
A few years ago LDS Living made a video series called, "Love Lessons." You may have seen them. We invited three couples who had collectively been married over 125 years to share their well- earned wisdom about life in the trenches of love and faith. I had just hit five years of marriage myself and was quickly learning that there was still so much I didn't know about this business of tying your life together with another person. I was so grateful to hear these honest stories of work and sacrifice and frankly, longevity. We made four videos with those couples, including the video of our friends, Jim and Lyndia and they are a delight. So, to kick off our theme today, which... we sort of stole from that video series, we thought it was only fair that we share the audio from the compilation video that features Vern and his wife, Myumi, Bonnie and her husband Bruce, and our buddies Jim and Lyndia.
We've been married for 51 years.
We're celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary this year. Friday the 13th turned out to be the luckiest day of my life.
I think what I love the most about Bruce is he's very kind.
She's a good cook
He is a very compassionate person.
She is truly the person I always wanted to be.
She is the epitome of serenity.
One surprise to me about marriage after all these years is what a joy it is at this stage.
I didn't know that it would be that wonderful again, As it was, you know, before we had all these little screaming Mimi's
Well, it's not easy.
And if anybody thinks that you're going to be on your honeymoon for 51 years, It's ridiculous.
Sometime the tunnel's pretty long,
Well, it has been an enjoyable challenge. Because I've been introduced into a culture that I was just totally ignorant of.
It was very hard for her, I know that. What hurt so much?
You! I think I had to been like in my 30s or early 40s. And I thought, this is it? This isn't....This isn't fun.
It didn't matter to me that Jim wasn't a member of the church because I loved him very much. And I thought if I only live with him for this time only, then that was what I would be happy with. But a couple years later, when our children started to come along, I realized that was not true. That I wanted to be with my children and him forever,
Really, the only reason it worked in those early years... We both loved the Lord. And we taught our children to love the Lord,
The secret to anything I think, is holding to the rod. If you hold to the rod, and don't give up, when things are hard, there's always a way through. President Hinckley always said it - that that this will pass and that things will get better and things always do get better.
So you have to be patient and loving and see where it goes.
You're gonna have ups and downs and but it's worth it.
You cannot change someone to fit the mold you want them to be.
I just respect his space and he respect my space. I love him the way he is.
Be sure to buy two tubes of toothpaste.
I will say you are the love of my life. And I'm so grateful that we have stuck it out this long and I see us together another gazillion or Google? Do you say Google now?
She's my babe.
And I love you. And I love the fact that I'm going to have you by my side forever.
I love him so much. love being with him.
How could you not kiss?
You'll have to watch the videos to see those really adorable little smooches that you heard at the end of the audio. And we'll have that, as well as each individual couple's video in our show notes at LDSliving.com/thisisthegospel . Really, if you're looking for something fun to celebrate the Spirit of St Valentine - This is it. You know, one of the things that I love most about the Love Lessons videos is that they represent the end result of a lifetime of learning about the true nature of love. Each of those couples paid the price to sit on that couch and dish about what love looks like for them.
Well, in today's episode, we have one story about someone at the beginning of that journey, who decided that in order to learn her lessons well, she needed to take an unconventional approach to the world of dating. And whether you are well seasoned in your own understanding of Christ -like love or struggling to make sense of something that sometimes feels like nonsense, Tamara's experienced will probably ring more than a few bells. Here's Tamara.
You know, some people would say I'm kind of living this Hollywood love story, because of the way that things played out or the ending or...well, I happen to actually live in Hollywood and work in Hollywood as well. But, I think it's more of this Hollywood love story because I honestly did not anticipate going into this with any expectations. Isn't that the best kind of story?
So, let's go back to New York in 2009. That's when this all started. Before that, I'd gone through two major breakups. You know, those heart heartbreaking types of breakups where it's like, you don't really care if you collapse into a ball of tears in public. You just aren't sure things are ever going to be mended again. And you start questioning yourself, you know, what am I doing wrong? And ... am I lovable? You know all these terrible things that we start to ask ourselves, and that was where I was, and my 31st birthday was coming up.
I was in a Singles Ward, and being in a singles ward and turning 31 means that you no longer go to the singles ward. Instead you go to a family word, and that was tough for me. I'd been in a singles ward since I joined the church in my early 20s. And so leaving a singles Ward was a big deal to me. It was leaving my friends. It was leaving my spiritual connections and kind of truthfully felt like I was a failure, because I was still single. I know that sounds terrible to say, but I did. I remember when I was 21 years old meeting a woman who was 28, who was still single in my ward and thinking, "Ah, how sad." And then I was 31 and single, and thought, "it's not terrible." But I did feel like I didn't get it at this point... that I didn't understand dating. I wanted to learn something, I wanted to figure out what I needed to do to improve myself.
So I decided that it was time for me to just go back to the very basics of dating. And for me, that was first dates. It had been a long time since I'd just kind of dated I would go out on a first date, and then think. "it's going to be a long time until I have another first date. I should invest in as much in this person as I can right now." And I would decide that I was their girlfriend. They were my boyfriend. And probably way too soon. I decided I needed to just start over and go back to trying to develop friendships with people. I'm a TV news producer, I like to think of things in terms of projects. So I turned this into a little bit of a project. For my 31st birthday, I thought 30...31... 31 dates in 31 days. That's 31 days straight in a row of going out every night with a new guy. I kind of came up with a set of rules. The first 30 dates, I decided, would be a first date, and I would blog about it along the way. I wasn't intending on dating these guys much less marrying them, so they didn't have to meet any of my past list requirements. But I would go out with somebody as long as they didn't give me the creepy serial killer vibe. Basically, I'd go out with anybody who would agree to go out with me
You know, I would make sure to do something that wasn't just like, a sit down dinner where it felt like I was like, interviewing the person in front of me. I definitely didn't want to do just your dinner and a movie for 31 days straight. I wanted it to be something more as a way to explore my city around me. And I kind of figured, if the guy and I did not have as much fun of a time as we wanted, then at least we'd enjoy the scenery a little bit. I wanted to make sure that the date lasted at least 31 minutes. So you couldn't just walk up and say, "Hi, nice to meet you." and then bail. You had to start investing some time. It had to be in a public place. I put a price tag on it. I decided that if I were going to spend a month trying to invest in learning about myself and learning about men, I kind of looked at this a little bit of like my master's class in men. And just like any class, you should be willing to pay for it. So I set a budget of $31 a date And I had a secret rule for myself, no kissing any of these guys.
The 31st date, I decided, would be a second date. One of the guys that I'd met from the first 30 days. I'd hold a poll on my blog... people would help me decide who I would go out with on that second date. And date number 31 would occur on Valentine's Day.
I was afraid of a few things with this. I was afraid of not making it to the end. I was afraid that I would be exhausted. I was kind of afraid of what I would find out about myself. Because I wasn't sure. Like, am I really just not dateable? or I don't know. I had no idea what I would find out. I mean, I I was afraid that I probably wouldn't get anybody to go out with me. I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to get get 30 guys to go out with me. You know, that's a lot. I had maybe total on a good year, three first dates. You know, I'd have like two days in the summer and a bonus date in the winter. So there's no way that I was thinking 30 new guys would be realistic. I wasn't going into this thinking, "I'm going to find a boyfriend." In fact, that wasn't my goal at all. You know, I had realized maybe a year before that I really was afraid of getting married. In fact, I remember saying that out loud. "I don't want to get married." So crushing. Saying it out loud. It also felt true. For some reason marriage equalled being trapped. And I don't know, that just seemed scary to me. It seemed...to me, it felt like I wouldn't be able to really be happy or do the things that I wanted to do. And I thought, "Gosh, is that really how I look at marriage? Oh, who who would want that?" If that's the way I look at marriage. I thought, "Finally I've admitted the truth." Kind of felt like I had been dating with this goal of getting married and then all of a sudden I thought, "I don't want to get married. Well, then why am I doing this whole thing?" I wanted to make sure that I was living life on my terms, and with a full connection to Heavenly Father. I wanted to change myself. And I wanted to walk away learning something and having become...having... I wanted to walk away having a greater sense of who I was.
I had asked my friend Marcus for a blessing before this began. I figured if I were going into this with my eyes and my arms and my heart wide open, I definitely needed some spiritual support. So, I asked Marcus for a blessing, and it gave me comfort but what it said in the blessing -- he told me that I was going to learn more lessons in this than I realized and that this was going to affect more people than just myself. So I felt as if I had a bigger responsibility than just going in this to have fun and date people.
So, in the beginning of the project, I only had three dates set up. Most of the guys were met either through internet hookups, through friend meetups, friends of friends of friends were most of the guys who I'd met. There were there were a handful of guys who had gone to church -- who were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but most of the guys were not guys from church.
My first date was with this guy, Rob, who's a friend of a friend, and, you know, not necessarily the type of guy that I could see myself fitting into his world in... in a few ways. He was from Long Island. He has a thick Long Island accent, and he wrote a motorcycle and he was like a guy's guy. He was the kind of guy who still hung out with guys from his childhood, and was best buds with them... really cool...Like, just dude's dude. By the end of the date, I could see myself riding on the back of his motorcycle, with my hair blowing in the wind and thinking just how glorious life would be with Rob. And I realized something about myself in that moment -- that I had developed this habit of quickly imagining myself into the future with a guy who I'd found interesting, and I could see how I would quickly fall for these guys. But I didn't have time to really fall for Rob, because I had to go out with Joel the day after. This could actually be good for me and maybe it would help break my first bad habit of falling too quickly.
Date number four was with Ryan. Ryan had just moved to the city from a really small town in Michigan, and I lived in Harlem. And I thought, "let's go walk around Harlem to show him a place that's not like his small town where he's from." And we went to one of those classic Harlem churches that you see about in the movies, gigantic tall ceilings and the singing and the clapping is reverberating throughout the entire room. And we were clapping and singing. And there was a point when one of the people up front asked for people to stand up and testify. And Ryan stood up, and he testified. And he said, "I'm so glad that I came to this church today... never felt more welcome." And everyone said, "Amen." We walked out. I could tell that Ryan was being genuine. Like,there was something about him. And I asked him, "What is it that's happened in your life? Like, what is it that makes you just really feel deeply?" He tells me that when he was seven or eight years old, he was sitting in the second row in their family's van. And back then, people didn't really wear seatbelts. It was one of those seats that was like, just a long bench. And he had his elbows up and his fists under his chin, leaning forward talking to his mom in the driver's seat. Right as that happens, she hits a patch of ice. Ryan goes flying through the windshield. He was in a coma for several months. He had to learn how to walk and speak all over again. He missed pretty much that entire year of school. And he said ever since then, he's realized how precious life is. I could tell. I could tell he didn't take any day for granted. He didn't take anything for granted. And that's when I learned my second big lesson of this project. That there was something special about him. And I realized that there was something special about Ryan, there's probably something special about each of these guys that I was going to meet. So that was my assignment for myself. On every single date, I would ask myself, "what makes this person so special?" And I started to realize, as dates went on, and on, and on and on and on, each person that I met, had something different and remarkable about them. I realized I needed to treat all of these guys with respect, and be extremely open minded. In fact, I started to appreciate more people around me, not just the guys that I was going out on dates with, but I was appreciating every single person and realized that everyone was special.
I mean, I remember sitting on the subway and looking at other people and thinking, "Heavenly Father loves them just as much as he loves the rest of us. Now, typically, before this happened, I would think of the gift of discernment in terms of the gift of having the ability to judge well, right? or make a decision, but I ran across this definition, it says this, quote, "to understand or know something through the power of the Spirit." And then it goes on to say, "it includes perceiving the true character of people."
That was what was happening. And I started to feel as if I could really see what made these guys so special. I felt like I had a glimpse of how Heavenly Father saw and that he really loved them. And if he sees all these guys that I'm going out with as special in some way, then he must see me that way too. was the first time that I really started to feel the way that Heavenly Father saw me. I thought it was pretty open minded before and that I, you know, gave a lot of people a chance and was friends with all sorts of different people. Butthis really changed the way that I looked at people.
So a lot of times, I hear a lot of people go, "what was the worst date?" Oh, I hate the question. Having a positive attitude, and thinking about what makes a guy so special makes it so that you don't have a lot of bad dates. Having said that, date number 21 was with Derek. And I thought Derek and I had so much in common. We were both from Northern Virginia. And, you know, we kind of like jived well over email before meeting in person. But when I met him in person, he was so cold to me. He just gave me the cold shoulder. I would ask him anything about himself and he would give me one word answers. And it happened to be the date when I had a photographer from the New York Post following me to show how great my dates are going. Oh, it was so terrible. You know, any other day, I would probably think he was handsome, but he was being so short with me. And I thought, "this guy is super rude and nothing is special about him."
So we decided to walk about 10 blocks to go play billiards and I'm freezing and I'm holding my jacket in tight and I'm looking back at the photographer with my eyes rolling of "Can you believe this guy?" And just thinking how terrible this date is... and I say a prayer to myself. And the prayer was simple. It was this. "Heavenly Father, please help me see the good in this guy." And I look up to him, and I think, "that beard's actually pretty cool." I'm thinking he is really... handsome and, you know, just kind of getting him and he starts to open up to me. And then he tells me about how he has run an Iron Man. I was like, "An Iron Man? That's insane! I mean, that's a full- on marathon. 26.2 miles and then you're swimming like an entire ocean. And then you're cycling." I was like, "That is amazing." I said, "Did you love it?" And he says, "No, I hated it." I was like, "Oh, okay." And he said, "so I decided to do another one." What? Why would you do a second Iron Man, if you hated the first one, and he said, "Well, all of my friends told me that I was going to love it so much. And since I hated the first one, I figured I needed to give it another shot." You know, what endurance! I thought this guy was crazy in the best of ways. And we sat and laugh together. And he says, "Have all of your dates been this good?!"
And I said, " Well, no, they don't all start out great." Thinking..."Did he miss the entire first hour that we were together?" He said something like, "yeah, I guess I wasn't that warm when we first met today." And I said, "Yeah, what was up with that?" And he goes, "Well, I read your blog." And I said, "Well, what was on... What was on my blog that made you think that this wasn't going to be a good time?" He says, "You went out with all these great, guys. I don't know how you did it. But you found the best guys in New York City it seems like. How can I keep up with that?" I was like, "Derek, are you kidding me? You're amazing. You completed two Ironman competitions, just because... Because you thought, 'Hey, why don't I try that?'" I mean, he was one of the best guys in New York too, but I probably would have missed it had it not been for this project.
Once I started writing about each date, I think people realized, Hey, I'm actually in this for fun - that I wasn't going to be so catty about things. I'm not trying to like, write about, Oh, you know, how terrible this first date was, and I think that helped get more guys to come. And lots of guys were like, "Hey, I'm totally down for that. Let's just go and check out the city." So some guys would read my blog and they'd write me. But most of my dates were friends of friends or friends of friends, friends,
So, crushes. I actually started to develop a lot of crushes. Of course, Derek, you know, who I thought I hated? was one of them. I had crushes on probably a third of the guys. And one of them, you know, was like, "Hey, can we go out on another date?" and I was like, "Well, I happen to be dating a few dozen other guys right now. So maybe after the project, I can go out on a date." But, I just didn't have time. I was working full time during the day, going out on dates right after that, coming home and blogging. And then I still had to maintain the relationships with the guys who I'd already met and try and set up dates for guys in the future. So I had packed days. I was exhausted. Date 14, I wasn't sure that I was going to survive. I was so tired. Dating is tough work. There were a handful who I kept in touch with regularly because I thought I might want to go out with them again after the project. And if they didn't want to go out with me, I realized I actually was okay with that. I had fun with just having a crush on them. I didn't need to have them like me back. That was huge for me. I wasn't crushed by my crushes.
So my last few dates come and I needed to figure out who I was going to go out on a second date. But 31st date was a little different. It was Valentine's Day. I wanted it to be big. I blew my budget for it. So I got tickets to a Broadway show. And I was going to pay for a nice dinner. And not only that, but I was going to go on to national television -- "Good Morning America", and "Fox and Friends" and talk about who I'd picked. I was working at "Good Morning America" at the time and, you know, my co-workers were really excited about it. So, they were also going to follow me to dinner for the date that night, and a few other news outlets picked up on it as well. And so this had become bigger than I had imagined. Just like Marcus had told me in my blessing before. So, I reached out to every single one of the guys and I said, "Okay, I would love to go out again with you guys." It was kind of funny saying that to 30 guys, "I want to go out with you again." I told them how much national attention this had been getting and if they weren't into it, then that's fine. I would just hopefully go out on another date with them after the project. So most of the guys were interested in going out with me for the 31st day and thought that that would be fun. Not all of them, most of them, and some of them said, "Not interested, but I'll see you after your 31st date."
I gathered a lot blog readers over this time, which was funny. I thought only my mom and maybe like a handful of my friends would read this. And I said, "Okay, guys, it's time. We're going to figure out who my Valentine's Day date is. Who is date number 31?" And they would get 50% of the vote, and then I would get the other 50%. So I ran the poll with all the guys who were interested in going on national television and having video recorded of their date with me. I was sitting up late that night, my friend Rachel had come over, and we're seeing all the poll numbers come in, and the polls closed right around midnight, and it's down to two guys. And I'm trying to figure out who to go out with, and I say "This one guy. I could see myself dating him, maybe even being in a relationship with him and having a lot of fun. But this other guy, I could really see myself marrying someday." And Rachel says, "Well, there you go then." And I'm like, "What are you talking about?" And she says, "Look, these last 30 days have been so great for you. You have gotten what you wanted. Like, you figured out a lot about yourself. You saw the good in people and realized what makes them so special." She said, "Well, what's Heavenly Father's other purpose in dating? If you think that there might be something there with this guy, then go out with him." And so I did.
And a year later, we got married. And I cannot believe that that is like, my real story. That this whole project to figure out myself and what I was doing, quote unquote, "wrong", turned into this amazing ending that I truly didn't expect. And it's not just because I got married and it's this, you know, happy ending. It's a happy ending because I found love. I found true love, Heavenly Father's love -- the way that he loves all of us. When I realized that I didn't want to get married, that was information that I could work with. I had to redefine, you know, at 30 - 31 years old, what marriage would look like. I thought, "Well, if I were to get married, then what would it have to look like for me to actually want to get married?" Being able to meet one guy and then another guy and then another guy and another guy -- It was pretty easy for me to kind of figure out "Yeah, this is the kind of guy who I could see myself in a relationship with." You know. So it's not like this is the like, perfect formula for everybody to find love. You don't need to go out on a date every day for a month to figure that out. I sure hope that Heavenly Father teaches us each that lesson in his own different way. This, this just happened to be the way that I needed to learn it. You know, I truly believe that I was ready to learn something about myself and learn something about dating. And that Heavenly Father was probably like, "thank goodness! She's finally opening herself up to let me be in charge of this, like, move over a girl." And I really believe that when we give Heavenly Father the room to teach us well, He will show us lessons and a life way better than we ever could have imagined. He continues to show that to me.
So, life is a little different now. You know, that was 11 years ago, and we just had our 10 year wedding anniversary. We just had our third baby girl, and life is pretty fun. It's really simple but It's really fun. It's funny. because I think when they first hear how we met, sometimes people probably think that we like live life like that all the time. But we have our favorite TV shows that we sit and watch after the girls go to bed. You know, we do swim class on Saturday mornings. Life is simple, and it's good. It's better than good. It's, it's great. It's the good stuff.
There's a copy of my book, sitting in our living room. And, you know, the girls, they see this copy, and it's just, you know, a piece of our living room. And I think someday when they're old enough to read it, or to ask me about how we met, the lessons that I teach them are probably the same simple lessons that I learned. That I not only got to meet your dad through this, but I got to meet some pretty incredible people. And I learned how Heavenly Father loves each of us for who we really are. And that he loves them that way too.
That was Tamara Duricka Johnson and her blog, "31 Dates in 31 Days" is still up. Although it's not really being upDATED these days. Get it? updated? Get it? Anyway, any date that she would write about now would include her husband Evan, and those three sweet girls who call her mama. Tam and I have been friends since our early 20s. we bonded over our displacement as two East Coast girls living in the rainy rainy jungles of Portland, Oregon. She has always been a go- getter. But when she started this ambitious and exhausting project, I think all of us who knew and loved her realized that we were watching something really unique unfold. Like Derek, also known as date number 21, Tamara was going after the things that she wanted. It wasn't an Iron Man race, but it was a race nonetheless. The difference was that the prize at the end of this grueling course was a deeper knowledge of the kind of love that can actually make a difference in our lives. And really, it's the kind of love that can change the world.
Look, I don't mean to be dramatic, but it's dramatic. When Tamara allowed herself to access God's perspective on the men that she was dating, a spiritual gift that I like to call divine empathy, she saw them differently. And then she treated them differently. Sometimes they acted differently because of it, and sometimes they didn't. But that kind of doesn't matter. Because in the process of seeing the Divinity in them, Tamara came to understand who she was in relationship to God's love more clearly. And because of that, she was changed forever. I think it's important to note that Tamara had to ask for it. She had to invite Heavenly Father to gift her with his perspective as she practice divine empathy. But when it was given to her, she acknowledged it and didn't hesitate to pass it around... to share the love.
Remember that moment on the train from her story when she looked around and saw every person as worthy of God's love? Well, I think that's the definition of what the prophet Nephi described in fourth Nephi chapter one verses 15 and 16, when he wrote, "and it came to pass, that there was no contention in the land because of the love of God, which did dwell in the hearts of the people." I love the idea of love dwelling in our hearts. It means that love lives there, that it's taken up residency and it's settled in, it's become part of the cycles of the blood beating in and out of our true center. And according to ni fi, that dwelling love has the power to calm the envying, the strife and the tumbled so that there could not be as Nephi wrote, "a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God." Isn't that dramatic? What would change in our world -- the small one that swirls around us and the big one that twists and turns around the Sun every day --If we, as a people could find space in our hearts for the love of God to dwell. Well, whether we are seeking a committed marriage relationship with another human being, or seeking a committed covenant relationship with the Savior of our souls, that power of peace that comes from asking for the perspective of divine empathy, and then offering our hearts as a dwelling place for pure love, well, that's worth every 31 day sprint, and every exhausting effort that we take to get there. Those love lessons are the ones that will change the world.
That's it for this episode of This Is The Gospel. Thank you to all of our friends who are part of the Love Lessons video series. Shout out to the Knowltons, brave and true and especially to our storyteller Tamara for sharing her war stories and her lessons in love with us. We'll have links to all the videos and Tamara's book and blog as well as a transcript of this episode in our show notes at LDSliving.com/thisisthegospel. Hey, it's Valentine's Day. So if you have a minute to tell us what you LOVE about this podcast, we'd love to hear it. Please go to iTunes and leave us a review. If you don't know how to do that. Find us on Instagram @thisisthegospel_podcast, where we will have a story in our highlights that will show you how to leave a review. Every review helps us to spread the love of faith filled stories that really matter. Speaking of good stories, all of the stories on this podcast are true and accurate as affirmed by our storytellers. If you have a story to share about Living the Gospel of Jesus Christ, call our pitch line and leave us a pitch. We often find many of our stories from the pitch line and we love to hear how the gospel has blessed your life. Give us a call at 515-519-6179 and pitch your story in three minutes or less. This episode was produced and edited by me KaRyn Lay with additional story producing and editing by Skyler Brunner. He's the genius behind the love lessons videos. It was scored, mixed and mastered by mix at six studios and our executive producer is Erin Hallstrom. You can find past episodes of this podcast and the other LDS living podcasts at LDSliving.com/podcasts. Happy Valentine's Day!