Should I date a young man who is not certain about the Church?

“Should I date a young man who is not certain about the Church?” New Era, June 1977, 18

“I have been trying to interest a young man in the Church, and now he wants to date me. Should I date him even though he is not certain about the Church?”

Answer/Sister Charlotte England and daughter

Since my daughter, Katherine, has faced this question personally, I wish to report the substance of a recent conversation with her that provides the best answer we two have found.

Charlotte: I’ve been asked whether a Latter-day Saint should date someone who is becoming interested in the Church. Does that sound familiar?

Katherine: Does it ever! I might have written that question in to the New Era when we were living in a very small branch in the mission field and there were absolutely no Mormon boys to date. Of course, during high school it didn’t seem to be much of a problem because most of our social life was in groups, not as couples or on formal dates.

Charlotte: But that began to change as you graduated and went on to a college where you were asked out by non-Mormons.

Katherine: Yes, and I remember the talks you and I had then about how we end up marrying the people we date. I really didn’t understand your concern because I was determined to marry in the temple and thought if I dated someone that I liked and who really cared for me, he would investigate and join the Church.

Charlotte: But that was exactly my concern—that he would join the Church for you.

Katherine: You mean to please me because he liked me and perhaps wanted to marry me, and not because he was really converted to the gospel?

Charlotte: Exactly. And isn’t that what almost happened with __________?

Katherine: I think so. I remember I was so happy when he came to church with me and then started taking lessons from the missionaries. He felt the special closeness of our branch and was really amazed that there could be such a spirit of love. It was different from any church service he had been to. But the informal atmosphere and the way everyone took part, from little children to new converts who were untrained—all that bothered him; he couldn’t see that that was part of what created the spirit of love. He was really impressed, though, with the missionaries; he had never met young men his own age with such high goals and such a spirit of service.

Charlotte: I remember that they became good friends, and he kept taking the lessons even though he didn’t seem to be making much progress.

Katherine: That was because of me. He wasn’t really becoming converted, but he kept on because of what the Church meant to me. He especially resisted taking initiative himself, like in praying, and he started saying he could never imagine himself giving talks, or teaching a class, or especially being a missionary. Then after a while he began to resent even talking with me about the Church. It was horrible to see the very things that had helped him before—encouraging him to study and pray and go to church, bearing my testimony to him and talking about the joy of the gospel—now turn him more against the Church and against me. That’s when we finally decided to break up.

Charlotte: That was a very painful time, Katherine; we all suffered so much with you.

Katherine: It still hurts to think about it, but I know it was the right thing to do. I’m just grateful that my convictions about temple marriage were so strong that I couldn’t compromise and marry him anyway, in the hope of converting him later. President Kimball told us in an address last fall at BYU that as much as he loves and honors those who join the Church after marriage, the odds are against it, that only one out of seven non-Mormons who marry Mormons later join the Church. That’s leaving very small chance for eternal happiness.

Charlotte: Yes, we’ve seen the heartache that situation has caused entire families. Your father and I prayed many times for you, but we had confidence in your training and your testimony.

Katherine: Well, I’m grateful to __________ for having the integrity not to pretend to believe something he didn’t.

Charlotte: I am too. That is a terrible pattern that hurts and destroys too many marriages. As you saw __________ with a person can want to please someone he loves enough to try to believe something different and become different. But if the change doesn’t genuinely occur through his own decisions, after a while he can’t help resenting the pressure on him, and he eventually turns the resentment toward the one who seems to be pushing him in that direction. This is true not only of nonmembers of the Church, but of people in the Church who do not have the same convictions about the Church and their duty in it, or as strong a spiritual witness of the gospel. Especially after marriage when there is no longer any need to pretend in order to win someone over, the very efforts that before were encouraging them tend to be turned into a source of irritation, even a cause for rebellion.

Katherine: That’s exactly what happened with __________ and me! We were lucky that it happened before we got married.

Charlotte: Would you date a non-Mormon now who was becoming interested in the Church?

Katherine: Mom, I’m really torn. I want to be a good missionary and share the joy and blessings of the gospel with others, even during these dating years, but I don’t think I’d risk it now that I know the dangers.

Charlotte: So you think it’s not possible to date a non–Latter-day Saint and still allow him to be objective about investigating the Church? Where does that leave young Mormons who live where there are few or no other members of the Church and their best hope for an eternal companion is someone they help convert?

Katherine: I guess I’d forgotten about that, even though I was once in that situation. Many Mormons can go to a Church college or a school with an LDS institute, or they can take part in all-mission or regional activities where they can meet Mormons their own age. But there is still a problem for some. I guess in those situations I would have to decide in each case whether to date an investigator after careful prayer and asking counsel of Church and family leaders. But I’d be certain to make my testimony of the gospel and my commitment to temple marriage absolutely clear from the very beginning.

Charlotte: Could it work if you were determined not to let the relationship get at all serious until after baptism and evidence of real conversion? Could you keep the few dates you had before then just friendship dates, the kind that might in fact help the investigator see the Church in action and understand its spirit and influence on your life?

Katherine: It takes a very mature person to do that, and the consequences of failure are very serious.

Charlotte: You’re right. And most young people in the Church don’t need to take the chance. They can find plenty of wonderful people to date in the Church, if they seek the Lord’s help and really try, and they can do good missionary work just as a friend, without dating.

Katherine: For us who sometimes find ourselves in a situation where it seems good to date investigators, are there some guidelines and helps?

Charlotte: You should first be certain your own goals and convictions are clear and strong and that you are willing and able to express them forthrightly. You should assess carefully the risk of actually interfering with a person’s conversion by shifting his attention from the struggle to have faith and do right to the struggle to please you. And you should consider the terrible risk of a marriage where you might be caught in the trap of having to hide or suppress your deepest convictions about how to live and bring up your family—or else having your husband resent you for being self-righteous or trying to change him.

Katherine: How painful it would be to live the most sacred and important part of my life—my religious activities and spiritual feelings—essentially by myself.

Charlotte: The most important guideline is that you can ask for and depend on receiving the Lord’s help—both in deciding whether to date an investigator in a special circumstance and also in controlling the dating properly if you do. There is nothing the Lord is more concerned about in your life and more anxious to help you with than choosing your eternal companion and building an eternal marriage. If you ask thoughtfully, “with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ” (Moro. 10:4), and then really listen for the answer—which may come directly through the Holy Ghost, through a patriarch, a bishop, a branch president, or a parent—you will know what to do. I know this is true from my own experience, from the answers to my prayers that have made possible my own marriage, which is the most precious and joyful thing in my life.