Yep, it’s time for that topic that so many people wonder and worry about. What do you do about girlfriend/boyfriend relationships when you’ve been called to serve a mission? In my own experiences and the experiences of others, I have seen a wide variety of outcomes when it comes to those who chose to steady-date someone before their mission. The choice of whether or not to steady-date can greatly affect how focused you are on your work as a missionary.
I’ll start with my own personal experience. I started steady-dating a girl shortly before I left for my mission, even though I had previously determined this would not be the best move on my part. And while I certainly enjoyed regularly receiving letters, I eventually started to realize that I was not emotionally mature enough to know that this was a relationship I would actually want to continue post-mission, and as much as I hated to admit it, it was also a relationship that occasionally proved distracting from my work as a missionary. After praying and receiving a confirming answer from the Lord, I wrote my last letter to her and ended the relationship. I found that after ending the relationship, I was able to better focus on the work and just felt a greater feeling of peace regarding the future. Even though it took me too long to get around to it, I know that ending that relationship helped me become a better missionary.
Obviously this goes against the stereotypical “Dear John” experience that it seems at least half the missionaries in the field go through. Out of all the elders who had girlfriends in my MTC district, only one other elder did not get a “Dear John” letter ending the relationship. And the one elder who didn’t get that sad letter ended up marrying a different girl when he got home.
These experiences illustrate to me the truth in what the prophets have long taught regarding steady dating before the mission. President Ezra Taft Benson said in an an address to the young women of the Church: “Avoid steady dating with a young man prior to the time of his mission call. If your relationship with him is more casual, then he can make that decision to serve more easily and also can concentrate his full energies on his missionary work instead of the girlfriend back home.”
There are good reasons for this counsel to be given. And while it’s true that there are exceptions to the rule (my grandfather and one of my best friends from high school both married the girls they were dating before their missions), it’s important to keep in mind that these are exceptions. The two years (or eighteen months) that you will spend on your mission are a life-changing experience, during which both you and the people you used to associate with at home will change dramatically.
Simply put, the vast majority of pre-mission dating relationships don’t work out, and can actually be detrimental to your service. Looking back, I wish I had avoided steady dating immediately before my mission, because it would have helped me remain more focused during those early months of the mission.
Your safest bet is to follow the counsel of the prophets. Besides helping you remain focused on the work, avoiding steady dating prior to the mission can help you avoid temptation as well. And the blessings from faithful missionary work will help you to choose and become a right person for celestial marriage. Gordon B. Hinckley put it best when he addressed the Priesthood Session of General Conference in 1998 (these comments can apply to the young women who choose to serve missions as well):
“The girl who marries you . . . will wish to be married to someone who loves her, who trusts her, who walks beside her, who is her very best friend and companion. She will wish to be married to someone who encourages her in her Church activity and in community activities which will help her to develop her talents and make a greater contribution to society. She will want to be married to someone who has a sense of service to others, who is disposed to contribute to the Church and to other good causes. She will wish to be married to someone who loves the Lord and seeks to do His will. It is well, therefore, that each of you young men plan to go on a mission, to give unselfishly to your Father in Heaven a tithe of your life, to go forth with a spirit of total unselfishness to preach the gospel of peace to the world wherever you may be sent.
“If you are a good missionary, you will return home with the desire to continue to serve the Lord, to keep His commandments, and to do His will. Such behavior will add immeasurably to the happiness of your marriage.
“As I have said, you will wish to be married in one place and one place only. That is the house of the Lord. You cannot give to your companion a greater gift than that of marriage in God’s holy house, under the protective wing of the sealing covenant of eternal marriage. There is no adequate substitute for it. There should be no other way for you.
“Choose carefully and wisely. The girl you marry will be yours forever. You will love her and she will love you through thick and thin, through sunshine and storm. She will become the mother of your children. What greater thing in all this world can there be than to become the father of a precious child, a son or daughter of God, our Father in Heaven, for whom we are given the rights and responsibilities of mortal stewardship.
…The truest mark of your success in life will be the quality of your marriage.2”
Following the counsel of the prophets regarding dating and courtship (both before and after your mission) will help you be a more effective and focused servant of the Lord. Your mission will greatly bless your life and ultimately help you, when the time is right, to make the decision that President Hinckley referred to as “the most important of all the choices you make in your life.”