Chapter 4 – Courtship and Marriage (The Right Person at the Right Time)

Some RMs feel pressured to marry soon after they return home. Sadly, we’ve a few of our own friends rush into hasty post-mission marriages (temple marriages) that resulted in years of bitterness and even resulted in divorce because the couples rushed into a decision without appropriate thought or prayerfulness. On one occasion a friend of mine was engaged just three weeks after returning home and married soon thereafter. When he finally came down off his post-mission “high”, he said to me, “It’s not that I don’t love my wife, I do. I just wonder if I made the right decision. I didn’t even know who I was. I came home from my mission feeling invincible and decided that I’d marry right away. I met the girl, felt pretty good, and just went for it. But then the realities of life hit me in the face. Marriage is so stifling sometimes. I sometimes wish I was single, like you.” Whoa! That’s NOT the way it’s supposed to happen.

Marriage is never perfect, and I’m sure feelings similar to the ones my friend experienced may come to some in marriage more often than they should, but you don’t want to rush into something that you haven’t had a strong confirmation about – a confirmation that you can go back to for reassurance when the going gets tough.

It is OK to be choosey. It’s OK to be 21, 22, 23, or 27 years old and not be married. It’s OK to be 30 years old or 60 years old and not be married. It’s OK to never marry. There is a huge difference between (a) wanting to be married to the right person, but not being able to find her or him, and (b) not wanting to find the right one because you’d rather play around or pursue less-important interests. If your heart is in the right place, your life is in order, and you’re looking for the right person, you should not feel guilty or ashamed in any way if you are not married. It’s probably a little good to be choosey when it comes to the marriage decision. You’ll spend more time with your spouse than you will any other person – eternity, in fact. Make sure you like to be with him or her.

My brother was almost engaged twice before finally meeting his future wife. He had fallen in love several times, but ended it because it wasn’t right. He’s also been on the receiving end of the dreaded “it doesn’t feel right” speech. There were days when he’d wake up and think, “I should’ve married so-an-so. We could’ve made it work.” And, yes, maybe they could have made it work, but would they have been fulfilled? Would that have been right? He received some very sound advice from one of his bishops at a time when he went to him to talk about a relationship that he wanted to work out, but didn’t feel right about. “Whatever you do,” the good bishop said, “don’t settle. You need to hold out for the one who sweeps you off your feet, the one you can’t imagine living without.”

I know that’s not the story you hear from everyone in the church, and I’ve heard some leaders say, more or less, “just pick someone,” but to my brother his bishop’s counsel rang true. Sometimes church leaders, in their diligent efforts to keep RMs away from sin, push them toward marriage. Marriage, however, isn’t the remedy for a lack of self-control. While these leaders’ intentions are often very good, and such advice is certainly appropriate in certain circumstances, the practice generally applied can lead to forced and rushed marriages. And that, in turn, can lead to marital problems and even divorce. Sadly, we have seen this many times. The 26 May 1978 Messages from Church Headquarters to stake, mission, and district presidents and bishop and branch presidents states:

“It is entirely appropriate and desirable that priesthood leaders counsel returned missionaries on the importance of continuing to live standards that will lead to celestial marriage. It is considered unwise, however, to recommend or imply that the missionary should be married within a specified time period following his release. Although the returned missionary should keep himself worthy and pointed toward marriage, the decision to marry is of such importance that it should be approached only after the most prayerful and careful consideration. During the post-mission period of social, emotional, and physical readjustment, and the differing individual demands of employment and education, the retuned missionary should not feel pressured by specific time constraints in approaching this very personal, sacred, and significant decision.”

If you are spiritually healthy, morally clean, and you are diligently looking for the right person, you probably have no need to feel external pressures to marry.

Now, if your experiences have been like mine, then someone, somewhere has tried to explain to you that who you marry is no big deal. You can marry “just any old person” and all will be well. The dialogue usually goes something like this:

You: “I’ve been dating this person for a while now and I just don’t know how I feel about it. I don’t think it’s all there. Maybe I should break things off.”

Them: “Well, you know what Elder McConkie said. Don’t you?”

You: “What’s that?”

Them: “Elder McConkie said: ‘If you’re dating someone and you both love the Lord, you should get married.’”

I remember the first time I had a conversation like that. I couldn’t help but feel a little puzzled. I trust Elder McConkie would have spoken the truth, whatever it was he spoke, but I didn’t necessarily trust my friend’s interpretation or sources. And I thought that even if that so-called quote was exactly what Elder McConkie had said it would probably have been tempered by some of his other quotes and teachings. I wanted to get a real feel for what he meant by this remark, if he even said it at all. I looked for such a remark, but never found it. However, I did find another remark he made regarding the importance of making sure one marries the right person (my emphasis in bold):

“In a manner of speaking, we came into this world so that the Lord could determine whether we would pass the test of marriage that he has ordained; whether we would choose the right husband or the right wife, and marry him or her in the right way; and then whether we would keep the covenant that goes with that order of matrimony… because that order and system opens the door to peace and joy here and eternal exaltation hereafter.”

If your relationship, before you are married, is not happy and peaceful, chances are your relationship after you are married won’t be either. It is important that you feel right about marriage and that it is with someone who you can find peace and happiness.

Now, there is a difference between being “choosey” and being unreasonable. It’s not fair to hold the people you date to standards that you could never live up to. While it is OK run away from certain potential mates for the right reasons, it is not OK to run from marriage in general. Marriage is an absolutely necessary part of life on earth and the life hereafter. As RMs well know and have taught, marriage is an essential key to exaltation and ultimate happiness.

Special attention should be paid to financial issues that can compound courtship and marriage. problems. In chapter 8 we’ll address this further.