Friday, September 26, 2008

Casualty of a Girl Waiting for a Missionary: My Perspective on Dating

There is a missionary related issue that is unique to Mormon culture that has been bugging me for thirty years. It is Mormon young women who wait for missionaries. Everyone laughs about it and thinks it is kind of a harmless ritual. Anyone who has ever served a mission knows just how weird sisters and elders are that have a special someone waiting for them back home. It is probably the biggest distraction and psychological problem that a missionary faces as they waste hundreds if not thousands of hours obsessing about hearing from them. I have known elders that spent every waking minute in the company of another elder doing nothing but talking about this girl and how beautiful she is and how when he goes home he is marrying her. They would read to you every letter even when you would tell them to shut up and knock it off. Even today I read blogs of groups of young women who are waiting for their special someone. I looked forwarded to the elder getting a Dear John so he could get back to missionary work. I only know of one or two cases where the girl actually married them. Most of the time the breakup was a non-issue but every now and then some of the elders went off the deep end for a while.

I vowed never to be like that. In fact I have trained all seven of my daughters and my one son to avoid a serious boyfriend or girlfriend like the plague. I have ingrained in them the idea that all of them will serve a mission and then they can find their soul mates, if there is such a thing after their missions.

Before my mission I was slow to date I only dated three girls. One I dated for two months and the other two only once so I didn't have a lot of experience with girls. I did have two sisters but being Catholic they had different ideas of standards and morality. One of my sisters got married at fifteen to a seventeen year old guy and had a baby by sixteen. My other sister got married after her high school graduation. I was actually kind of shy as a kid growing up. I associated with girls mostly that were friends of my sisters or that were involved with athletics. I played baseball, football, soccer, and tennis. In fact two of the three girls actually asked me out. My sisters and father were afraid I was gay because I didn't have much interest before my mission.

Coming from a dysfunctional family where my parents constantly fought about their relationship with other people I really didn't have much of a role model until my mission. My father actually had a man to man talk with me one day to encourage me to date and do the things he as a man thought made you a man which was to have sex with women. My youngest sister who was a cheerleader had her cheerleader friends over all the time for sleepovers. One of them was constantly in my path she would pop out at me in the hallway when I would go from my bedroom to the living room. I liked to watch old TV movies and Howard Hughes had them played 24/7 in Las Vegas on the TV station he owned. I was too shy to act on that. She told my sister who began to suggest I was gay. She wanted to know if I was a fag. It took me another couple of years until I had a regular girlfriend the summer after I graduated from high school. Unfortunately for me my girlfriend had three boyfriends all at the same time. I discovered this one day a couple of months after my oldest sister got married. Her new husband who was only a year older told me he worked with another kid who was messing around with my girlfriend when I would drop her off at night after a date. He told me he knew for a few months. I told him he was a jerk face since he should have let me know sooner.

I definitely had some trust issues with girls after that. I joined the LDS Church a couple of months later. When I went on a mission I had a very idealized picture of Mormons. I had met a couple of LDS girls who were very beautiful and had high moral standards. One of them wrote me on my mission but her father didn't particularly like me since he was on the high council and discovered I had done a few things with my girlfriend that I confessed after I was already on my mission. In fact when I came home and called her to thank her for writing me he swore like a sailor. His son who I saw at young adult meetings told me I was not nice to his sister when I stopped calling her and told me about him. Needless to say the young lady in question wouldn't go out with some of my reputation. It actually caused my stock in Mormons to go up that there were girls of such high standards. One of the reasons I joined the Church was because of the Mormons' law of chastity.

When I went on a mission my mission president was M. Russell Ballard. He continually told us of his good fortune to marry his wife Barbara. Sister Ballard was a beautiful woman. In fact she was a babe. Her daughters were all drop dead beautiful just like her and she was a forty year old woman. The truth is she is one of the most attractive women I know and she must be close to eighty. Elder Ballard would constantly tell us in zone conferences of how after our missions we should find a woman just like Sister Ballard. Even though I had locked my heart I put the thought in my head that I wanted to find someone just like her or one of her daughters.

For about thirty seconds I thought about marrying one of his daughters but I discarded it. Some of his elders saw he was grooming one of his assistants and only a guy of that stature would measure up. As a kid I liked to read history books and wasn't overly put out by how things developed since the Soong Sisters married the great leaders of China both democratic and communist. I figured Mormon G.A's were on a higher plane just like the rich and the famous.

Being the father of seven daughters I have a different perspective today. Even though I have high standards for a potential mate for my daughters now I am willing to accept a good worthy returned missionary if they love him. I thought at the time Elder Ballard's daughter would marry the guy because he put him up on a pedestal and her proximity to him in the mission home. I think nothing developed until after the mission and he probably had his heart locked too. It just seemed destined to us looking at the time as some elders bet me he would marry her. The guy looked like a Greek god and was a former linebacker in college. He really was a sharp elder. He was the kind of guy that could sell refrigerators to Eskimos. Most of us looked up to him. Being a problem elder I doubted he would ever consider me as son-in-law material. I am sure a lot of elders felt the same way. Sister Ballard and her daughters exemplified the kind of women many of us would want to marry. I honestly put them on a pedestal.

The funny thing was that I ran in to one of his daughters later and might have dated her but I knew better. She invited me over to her apartment which I believe was Alta and I just hung out chatted and left a couple hours later. She had an unfortunate life when her husband died young but she was one of the coolest and nicest young women I ever met. In addition to being beautiful smart and she was spiritual. When I visited her that one time she and her roommates and I talked about scriptural topics. No one paid me to say this but it was how I feel. She wasn't anything like I imagined as an elder but was actually pretty laid back and down to earth. Elder Ballard probably never even gave the fact elders held his wife and daughters up as a standard much thought. He was just giving us general instructions since most missionaries drag their feet about getting married after their missions. He probably feels like I do about my daughters that if he raised them right they would make the right choice in such a critical matter.

I even ran across Marie Osmond but she never floated my boat. I had a friend that really liked her and would go over to the Riviera and hang out so I wasn't interested. There was a code that you didn't date your friend's possible girlfriends. However Marie had a friend let a guy from my home ward know she wanted him to ask her out. He was a bit self-conceited and thought there were even more beautiful girls he could get so he blew her off. I know she liked the movie star good-looking type back then, different strokes for different folks. I even knew Arnold also since he was in my student ward. (I had several Y basketball and football players in my ward. I even played on a championship 5A intramural softball team with Fred Roberts, Steve Christenson, and a few of those guys. I home taught the basketball guys with Herb Sanchez. We had an Idaho farm guy named Torrie Lauder who could hit a grand slam on a regular basis so we rolled over other teams.) I never knew what possessed Marie I figured she was naive like me. I always felt she deserved better. When I was a kid I liked watching Marilyn Monroe. When she died so tragicly I thought it was a shame that I wasn't older because she needed someone that could truly cherish her not someone like the Kennedy's. I always like blonds with blue eyes. It was a stereotype I had to learn to get over.

When I was off my mission for three days I went to BYU. I transferred as a sophomore from the Community College of Southern Nevada. My first day there was student orientation which I attended. After the orientation as I was walking back to Whitney Hall at Deseret Towers there were literally hundreds of new students. There was a group in front of me of three very attractive co-eds. One of them was this gorgeous blond with cornflower blue eyes. She told me her name was Chris and that she was pioneer descendant of Abraham Hunsaker. I had no clue being a convert of three years at that point of who he was but she was so radiant I appeared duly impressed. It was love at first sight for me. I engaged the three women in a conversation by asking them how they liked orientation and asked them which hall they lived in. When they told me Fugal Hall in Heritage Halls I became even more interested since I was told by my RM that was in the 130th Ward which included the 3rd Floor that I lived on. In a matter of minutes we bonded since we were all new and then the most amazing thing happened she asked me if I was going to the Freshman orientation dance that night at the Wilkinson Center. Not being stupid I said sure I might go. I innocently asked if she was going then she suggested we could all go together. I quickly agreed and began dating her regularly.

After a few weeks of going to BYU devotionals and firesides and an occasional movie at the Wilk she dropped the bomb on me. She told me that although she liked me but that she had a missionary and that as soon as he got home she was going to marry him. Knowing the Mormon stereotype and having watched Saturday's Warrior about twenty times as an usher on my mission in Toronto Canada I figured that just like Lex de Azevedo's play that I could win her heart. On a mission I learned that you need to overcome the objection. I remembered the adage abscence makes the heart grow fonder but too much abscence makes it wander so I thought I could win her over.

She told me about D. how he was the most handsome and fun loving boy that ever walked the planet. I had served as companion with his cousin on my mission. He cousin was a bit of a geek so I figured the missionary must just be romanticized in this girl's mind. I mentioned I served with the cousin and asked if she knew him, which she did. It was the six degree thing. Inevitable if you play the game you discover some connection. She wanted to make sure she defined our relationship. Mormon girls are especially good at that. My own daughters are always telling me how they define their relationships.

My new friend told me she could go out with me only if I understood she was never going to be serious with me. I figured I was in no big hurry to get married so I agreed. I figured I could change her mind. Things went along nicely for a couple of months. Then she would become guilt ridden and try to break up with me after a letter would arrive from her missionary. Being in the same ward it was kind of hard to avoid one another. I began to date other girls since it was beginning to wear me down emotionally.

I dated other girls in fact later when I married my wife she asked me how many girls had I dated at BYU. I had a green address book and let her count them. She told me I dated one hundred and sixteen girls. Since it took me five years at BYU to get married it wasn't hard to go out with that many women. You could go out five days of the week. You had lots of free choices like humanities movies, sporting events, devotionals and firesides. You paid an activities fee that included free music tickets to performances of operas and theater. I dated some gorgeous girls including a few general authorities nieces and daughters.

One day the roommates of this young lady came to me and told me I was being unfair to her since I was no longer coming around any more. They told me I should give her another chance since everyone knew how conflicted a girl could be that was waiting for her missionary. Apparently the missionary was writing her less and buckling down to the work. Like an idiot I fell in to the trap. I asked her out and she began to soften up.

She took me behind the Provo Temple on Sundays where I would lay in her lap as she quoted to me Antoine de Saint Exupéry's The Little Prince I gazed lovingly in her beautiful clear blue eyes. She told me of the deep profound messages of love and beauty found in the book. In one phrase she captured my heart "It is the time you wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important." She read poetry to me as I fell deeply in love with her innocence and purity. She wrote in her diary and encouraged me to do the same. We discussed our patriarchal blessings and our future life's dreams, hopes and desires. I began writing in my journal and sharing my own thoughts with her. She convinced me that President Kimball said the angel would one day quote from them. She convinced me to write more of a psychological or intellectual journal where I put ideas and scriptures and thoughts with my feelings about them. She really engaged me differently then I had ever been engaged before with a woman.

When I joined the Church I vowed to live a morally chaste life where I promised myself I would only kiss the woman I would marry. I had to be as diametrically opposite of my family as possible since I didn't want to be tempted sexually. I told her my standard and she knew it. It was a challenge to her to get me to kiss her since then she would know my commitment was sincere and binding. It really drives a woman mad when you don't kiss them but have a relationship with them.

In the spring there were a lot of candle passings in her dorm, which is a unique BYU rite of passage for young women getting married. A few girls in her dorm passed the candle including one of her roommates. Then our relationship changed one night. She liked to play the piano in the basement of her dorm which was kind of intimate. As I was sitting next to her she turned and kissed me. It wasn't a little kiss it was a toe tingling kiss. We began to kiss and for me that was a major thing. We were told to knock it off by her dorm mother after a few occasions. I figured the missionary might soon get his dear john.

A couple of weeks before the semester was due to get over in April and about a month before the missionary was to come home she crushed my heart. It was good timing since she could concentrate on her finals. She told me "I know if I marry you I will have a more spiritual relationship but if I marry him I will have a more fun relationship. I want to have fun."

I chuckled later when she married him two or three months after he came home. I heard reports that she had several children in a row. After thirty years I know look back a realize that I was a casualty of a girl waiting for a mission. I did date another freshman when I was a couple of years older who I became quite serious with but a former missionary companion told her to dump me which she did. He may have thought he was saving her from me but he did me a favor. She was the second LDS woman I kissed when I thought it was going to develop in to something more.

When I was in my mid20s facing being a menace to society. One of my buddies Charlie McKnight liked to raze me by saying after he was married with a couple of kids "One day when you are a single old man with no kids you can read stories in a rocking chair to my kids who will call you Uncle." That wore on me so that one night I had a dream where I saw seven kids most with dark hair. When I woke up I stopped dating eighteen to twenty year olds and started dating only return sister missionaries which is an interesting story in itself.

In retrospect I think it worked out well for me that I didn't marry my eighteen year old BYU girl friend as my own wife is just as beautiful and spiritual. In fact my wife went on a mission after completing a bachelor's degree. I read somewhere that the divorce rate drops when a woman is 23 1/2 or older. My wifes doesn't have blond hair nor blue eyes but she is the most beautiful woman in the world to me with her chestnut hair and green eyes. I wouldn't trade her feistiness nor challenging insights. It keeps me intellectually on my toes and appeals to my Italian background that she challenges me. We never have a dull moment.

I do owe that other girl a debt of gratitude though. I won my wife's heart when she was considering marrying me when I let her read my journal. I touched her mind and heart with what I wrote and my grasp of the Little Prince. My wife tells me that in order to be intimate with a woman you first have to touch her mind first. I learned that lesson. My wife was only the third and final woman that I kissed after joining the church. I drove her crazy too when I wouldn't kiss her. I didn't kiss her till after we were engaged. It took me years to discover in my dating at the Y that I should date returned missionary sisters who definitely aren't waiting for a missionary and it definitely is the time you wasted for your rose that makes it so important.

I am sure there is always two sides to every story. I would like to hear various perspectives on this practice.


Anonymous said...

Wow, what fun to read all the details of your dating years.
My parents told me never to "wait" for a missionary. It was ok to date and even fall in love, but if he goes on a mission you live your life and when he comes back you "see" how things go. I think it is a good way to view things.
I do not think it is good to tell kids not to fall in love (you can't tell anyone that). I also think that every relationship my kids have will give them some good experience and prepare them for their real love when they get married.
So I can't get on board with going overboard warning kids not to get a boyfriend or girlfriend. I guess since I never had a relationship last more than a couple months before my now husband, it is hard to imagine getting too serious too soon. If your kids are dating age appropriately or stage appropriately, they will be able to handle relationships that they are ready for and their relationships will mature as they mature.
My parents taught me that you do not have to marry everyone you fall in love with. They taught me to pray about an important decision like that.

Anonymous said...

My Wife waited for me, that puts me in good Company with Elder Wirthlin and Elder Groberg, at least.


Quentin said...

Wow now that is an epistle! It was interesting to read about your pre mission love life stuff. So from one CTM alum to another here is my deal.

I determined early on in life that I was not going to be serious about girls during my teen years other than being friends. I was usually the third wheel on my friends date to ensure that the date was fun because I was a creative comic maniac and having as much fun as possible was the main goal of my teen life. I was quite successful at it.

At the end of my Senior year my best friends ex suggested to me that we go out on a date. I was intrigued but apprehensive. I knew if I went that I would get attached and be devastated so I just ran with that and we went out.

After just one date it was like someone hit me in the head with a brick. I was smitten. Not for any real tangible reason other that I could not believe a girl had a romantic interest in me. We went on three or four dates and then she told me she could not date me seriously any longer because it turned out I was the only guy her dad ever like that she dated. I was out and I was crushed.

Shortly after this I moved from California to Provo to live with my brothers. I had more fun in a nine month space of time than I think most people have in a lifetime.

I found out who I was, I found out that I had a testimony and that my HF actually had a personal interest in me. I also had a great job scooping ice cream at Jimbas on Center St in downtown Provo. All I can remember is just working with great people and having the time of my life.

It was during this time that I began to work with a young lady from Beaver Utah. She was a few years older than me but I somehow got the nerve to ask her out and she actually said yes. It was a little shaky at first but I was determined to get to know her and eventually we became great friends.

I really appreciated her then and I still do today. Sorry for the cliche but from her I learned about some of the important things that I wanted in a wife. Intelligence, sense of humor, compassion and patience. I learned that you can be intimate without being overtly physical in an inappropriate way.

For a brief time I thought there was going to be more to the relationship on a long term level.I was going on a mission and so was she. I was going on one of those 18 month missions (what was deal with that) and so was she. I thought the timing would be on my side.

After spending a couple of months apart but writing back and forth things seemed pretty much normal. In fact I went to Utah early before I went to the MTC so I could go to southern Utah and see her and meet her family. The day before I was supposed to go down I called her and she said "Guess What"? and I knew and replied "Your getting married". I was so right!

I still went down and saw her, met her family and her fiance'. I will never forget sitting with her in her front yard and her asking me if I was ok with everything and was I mad. I told her that I could not really think about it because I was going on a mission and I knew that she was doing what she was supposed to do because I trusted her judgement and her relationship with her HF. I did ask if she would "Dear John" me still and she complied while I was in the MTC. I brought the letter to dinner and opened it in front of the group giving an Oscar worthy perfomance for Best Missionary in a leading sappy dramatic role.

I think that whole experience set the tone for how I would view the opposite sex on my mission. I was single minded about what I was doing. Elder Christensen, who was the President of the MTC at the time, gave a great talk about locking your heart and I did a great job my whole mission.

Today I am married to the woman I was meant to marry. It took me a few years to fully realize what that really meant. She is really smart, really funny, a great friend, a great mom, and she is really human at the same time. I lucked out. I am grateful to my good friend Jackie for helping me to the right path. I may not have found it without her.

Dr. B said...


That was a very well thought out and meaningful comment. I learned something from your experience.

Anonymous: I agree that kids need to experience life and you cannot control when they fall in love. One of my daughters had a couple of serious relationships before her mission. The truth is she would have been better off without them in terms of psyche since they caused her major depression. You can't protect your child from getting run over by a Mack truck you can only warn them to stay out of the street.

As a parent I can give them some counsel on timing though. For my children which is family specific I and my wife have taught them from birth to serve a mission. So far my three oldest have stuck to the going on a mission first suggestion. Although the oldest came close to getting married the guy she converted didn't pan out and subsequently left the church and married another woman. I think her experience made her in to a more compassionate person and matured her enough to handle complex relationship issues. When I speak with my kids I know there will be some kicking against the pricks but ultimately all of them have told me one of the reasons they went on a mission was they knew the Lord wanted them to go. Seven of them were told in their baby blessings to go but one. She said she wasn't going but put in her papers this month. There are many factors that could make some of them not go but I have set the bar as has my wife. We both went and we feel it is as critical to the education of our children as a college degree. The divorce rate drops by one half when a woman is about 24. If any of them didn't go my wife and I would accept it and move on. However we will continue to encourage them to expand their experiences in life by going on a mission.

Raymond Teodo a.k.a. was_bedeutet_jemanden said...

Wow! That is an amazing story. Thank you sharing, although, I have the feeling that there were some parts that would have been hard to share. It takes a lot of courage to go out bearing your soul like that....

I too agree that one should not get serious in a relationship before they go on a mission. I have heard "horror stories" about missionaries I knew of who received "Dear John" letters and of the hard lessons they've had to learn from those experiences. I too wasn't too interested in dating girls, until after I got home from my mission. I think it's better that way though.....

Anonymous said...

I waited for my now husband of 4 years and we both aren't "weirdos" or any of the other stereotypes you mentioned! So waiting for a missionary is not always negative...just throwing that out there!

Anonymous said...

You know, I was thrown off by your immediate belittlement of those who chose to make different decisions than you. I am waiting for a missionary. And I couldn't be more proud to say that, I fully support my boyfriend of 4 years leaving on his mission. We have maintained a meaningful, supportive and virtuous relationship for 4 years and I fully intend on supporting him. I appreciate many of your opinions but I must say that seeing as my relationship in no way affects your life, I don't feel as though you can assume that every 'missionary waiting relationship' is negative. Elder. ____ is an incredible missionary and I have not question in saying that he puts the lord first. My letters to him are for support not to fulfill some empty heart of him being away from me.

Thank you for your story, but until your are ordained prophet or apostle I don't see it fit for you to blatantly chastise all those couples that choose to keep themselves out of the dating world until their missionary that they love and support returns from an honorable mission.

Anonymous said...

Deciding whether or not to start or keep waiting for your missionary? Here's a great article that could help you make your choice.

Marcie Dawn said...

I fell in love with my love at age 12, we have been friends since 5 and converted together as the only members in our families in high school, he decided to go on a mission and our love only grew more and more each day, just because there is a physical separation between two people does not mean that the spiritual bond is severed, and my love and I are soon to be married. you only fall in LOVE with one person, love is love, and is made for just one, I believe, and those feelings dont ever change, just because of a two year physical dont plan to fall in love, it just happens. I am so glad that I had the opportunity to experience the mission from the other side of the universe while he was away learning and growing. I guess what we have is extremely rare, but it saddens me that its looked down upon. Im glad I'm a convert.

Anonymous said...

So you waited for him? Do you have any advice of what made things work out happily for the 2 of you in the end?