Chapter 3 – Dating: Overcoming the Awkwardness

Many returned missionaries struggle with dating issues. One minute they aren’t allowed to look at members of the opposite sex, the next minute not only are they are allowed to look at them, they’re supposed to look at them, flirt with them, and even marry them. Talk about an abrupt change! For some, the transition into dating is a very difficult one and it takes them years to even get up the courage or desire to date. For others, the transition is not difficult, but they may be looking for the “mister” or “missus” the moment they get released from duty, then are disappointed when a serious relationship of marriage opportunity doesn’t immediately materialize. Often, these RMs manage to turn off most every unmarried member of the opposite sex with their overzealous pursuits. Some RMs easily into dating, meet great girls or guys they manage to not bore or offend, propose marriage successfully, and then are married without too much drama in the interim. Lucky them.

“[I didn’t know] how to interact socially with the opposite sex. After following mission regulations on non-fraternization with women, it took me a long time to be comfortable interacting with women my own age in a social setting.”

“I was edgy around my girlfriend (to whom I am now married). We had been dating for four years prior to the mission and had kept in contact during the mission via letters and we already had a date set for our marriage. Adjusting to her was difficult. By adjusting I mean that I was having a hard time opening my heart again after having it locked tight for two years.”

“[I felt] some awkwardness and loneliness. My girlfriend married a childhood friend while I was away. This was difficult for me emotionally.”

“I wanted to get married. I thought I’d find the perfect girl, but every date was terrible. I had nothing to talk about except my mission. I bored girls. They’d roll their eyes at ‘another mission story.’ It disappointed me that they were bored. I had no fun on dates. And I said and did stupid things.”

Two days after arriving home from my mission, I attended a church dance. I was appalled. The blaring music, the trendy dress, and the flirtatiousness of the men and women overwhelmed me and seemed so out of step with what I had been learning and living the last two years. After a half-an-hour I wanted to leave, and when I went home I felt empty for having attended. I didn’t return to a dance till about six months later. But that time I had a great experience, totally opposite to my first. I danced to great music, got to know a number of great girls I found interesting, and I dressed in a way that I thought would be pleasing to the opposite sex. On the way home, it struck me that not much had changed in the environments between the first and second dances, but I had changed. Rather, my perspective had changed. The first dance I “felt like a missionary who had broken mission rules and come to a den of sin where there were actually girls and music!” I was accustomed to feel such a way by two long years of focus on the mission. Though I was now no longer a missionary and such activities were now OK and encouraged, I still felt like a missionary. It took at least six months for me to see that after I returned from my mission it was OK, acceptable, and encouraged to get together with other members of the opposite sex for social activities. It was good for me to meet girls, to try and find a mate, to be attractive, and to be attracted to a potential mate. It was just as much a part of the plan now as it was for me to not do such things when I was a missionary.

A certain level of social awkwardness is expected and normal. So just expect it, realize it’s normal, and give yourself permission to ease back into things at a rate you find comfortable, withholding judgment until you’ve had some time to come back. Depending on your comfort level, you may or may not want to jump into dating. Don’t let anyone tell you what is right for you. Seek the guidance of the Lord and stick with what you feel his is prompting you to do.

When I met with my mission president for my final interview, I expected he would give me some profound insight about how I should think about and approach marriage when I returned home from my mission. Surprisingly, to me, he said very little about it. The only thing he said was, “Take it slow with girls. Date sooner rather than later, but take your time.” It was great advice.

Some returned missionaries come home discouraged because their pre-mission girlfriend or boyfriend either married while they were away, or are not longer interested in dating them once they’re home. Others come home to a person who has been waiting for them and find that both people have changed so much that there is no longer a common bond between them. A few pick up where they left off and are soon married. But most RMs start from square one.

When you do decide to date, rule number one is to date people with your values and morals. Singles programs and singles wards are great places to meet these kinds of people. However, for those who live in a place where there are single’s wards, there’s no need to hurry off to single’s ward if you don’t want to do it. I stayed in my home ward for 6 months after returning home from my mission. I had a great time. In fact, it was one of the few places where I really felt at home. I didn’t feel pressure to date. I went to church and focused on learning the gospel and serving in a calling. When I was ready to attend a ward with other singles, I went. But not before I felt ready. I didn’t let anyone “push” me out of the family ward, and I was grateful for it.

When it comes to dating, understand that there is no formula and it will probably just be awkward for a while. Take comfort in the fact that if you are having a hard time adjusting, you are not alone. And take comfort in the fact that many returned missionaries have struggled just like you and eventually ended up with a marriage companion. Just take it a day at a time and don’t force the issue.