It must be the number one question I received whilst working at the MTC: “Brother Swain,” missionaries would timidly say as they asked me, “Do you think I should keep a girlfriend back home while I’m on a mission?” Normally by this point, other elders would huddle around, listening for the response.
Let me tell you, this situation was always a tough one. My answer wasn’t a clear message ‘for’ or ‘against’ having a girlfriend (or boyfriend, for that matter) because everyone’s different. I love The Other Side of Heaven, and if Anne Hathaway were my girlfriend, I don’t think I’d be actively encouraging her to date around while I was away for two years!
But similarly, those who have seen The Best Two Years know that a girlfriend can be a huge distraction, and losing her while you’re away can have a huge effect on the work. For some, it seems to be a “catch 22.” So here are just my own thought-provoking questions you should probably ask yourself before making this choice.
- Do I think my girlfriend/boyfriend will be a support to me on my mission?
- Am I fearful that they will date other people while I’m away without me knowing?
- Do I want them to be (in effect) “single” but still committed to me while I’m away?
- Do I think it’s possible to be a boyfriend/girlfriend and a missionary at the same time?
- Can I be the best missionary possible with a boyfriend/girlfriend back home?
So, I’m going to be honest. I met someone three months before I went out into the mission field. She was awesome, a returned missionary, and very spiritual. I knew that she would be a great support for me since she’d walked the path of a mission before me. I’d never had anyone close to me serve before (apart from my parents, but that was before the days of computers, so that didn’t really count in my mind).
I was a bit scared to serve a mission. Excited, for sure, but a little scared. She wrote some wonderful letters that helped me get through my MTC experience but that’s where we ended it. I’m grateful she was a part of my life for that small amount of time. I’ve also served with missionaries who have received letters of encouragement and support from girlfriends in moments when they really needed the boost. So, there can be a positive upside if this is what you and your girlfriend (or boyfriend) choose to do.
Unfortunately, 99 percent of the time girlfriends became a heart-wrenching distraction to missionaries. I’ve sat down with countless MTC elders who have been torn, struggling to focus, and even heartbroken through contact with their girlfriends.
For most, contact creates an escape back to a life they once knew. We all know the scripture “a man cannot serve two masters.” Well, for most, their lives turn into this allegory. Sadly some missionaries with overwhelming potential have forfeited great opportunities because they were so preoccupied with girlfriends back home that they couldn’t focus on also being a full-time missionary.
The missionary call letter asks that missionaries “leav[e] behind all other personal affairs.” Now I’m not saying that that this refers specifically to girlfriends or boyfriends, but it would suggest that they could possibly fit into this category.
So, you’ve got a decision to make. If you’re going to go ahead and “keep a girlfriend or boyfriend back home,” then you need to decide how you will communicate responsibly. The opportunity of a mission in your younger years is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Can your loved one be trusted to keep feelings out of communication and be a support that pushes you further to reaching your potential as a missionary? Or will they be your “one foot” back into your old life?
Will you jeopardize that amazing missionary experience because you fear you’ll lose this person? Or do they have a mature approach to communicate in a way that will support and enhance your experience?
Either way, prayer between you and the Lord is always the answer. Don’t rush it. It’s your decision.