Missionary Dear John Letters

A significant part of the plot of The Best Two Years revolves around Dear John letters (or tapes) received by two of the missionaries who are featured in the film. I imagine myself in their shoes, and how brutal it must be to get one of those letters.

Fortunately, I suppose, I did not leave a girlfriend behind when I went on my mission, so by definition I was not at risk of getting such a letter. So I never personally had to experience that kind of heartbreak, when you’re far from home and completely impotent to do anything about it.

In fairness to the girls who send them, I’m wondering how realistic it is to plan on faithfulness during a two-year absence, especially in our early marriage culture we’ve just discussed. If you go off to Madagascar for two years and leave your hot girlfriend behind, what exactly did you think was going to happen?

But I’ve got to believe that among our readers there are many who either received or sent such letters. So here’s your chance to tell us your stories of missionary heartache. And did any of you sister missionaries get a Dear Jane letter, or is it mostly a female to male phenomenon? Share your stories with us here.


  1. My girlfriend left on her mission one year before I left on mine. We were apart for three years and engaged the hole time. With about 9 months of my mission left, I wrote her a stupid letter about goals regarding my desire for weight gain and my desire for her weight loss. This coupled with my insistence the mission president wanted us to get married within a week of getting home, caused my eventual dumping. It also caused a call to my mission president from her after which he clearly told me he never said such a thing and I misunderstood him. Anyway, I wasn’t devastated. I was an idiot, and wrong . I accepted that, apologized, and 3 months later when we talked on the phone at Christmas, she put the engagement ring back on. We’ve now been married seven years, have two daughters, and a third on the way.

    There were a lot of guys in my mission who’s relationships didn’t survive, but there were a lot who’s relationships did make it. My second to last companion, who married his high school sweet heart before I got home (with 3 months) said that it took a miracle for a couple to make it, but Mormons happen to believe in miracles.

  2. There was this guy that I’ve known for forever. When I was little I had the biggest crush on him. I got over in my mid-teens and we became good friends in the last couple years of high school.
    I think both of us kind of expected to try dating each other when he got back from his mission, though we made no plans or promises and in truth never really spoke about it.
    Anyways I was engaged to someone else before he got home. When I was writing to tell him about the engagement I wondered if he was going to see it as a dear John letter, but I don’t think he did.

  3. I had no gf on my mission, although I had two female friends writing me regularly (one a member, one not). When I came home, my friendship with the member female friend heated up, but she was leaving on a mission.

    We distinctly left the arrangement when she left on her mission that I wasn’t waiting for her, but if I was still single when she got back, it might be interesting to see where things stood.

    Then *I*, the RM, got dumped by her *FROM THE MISSION FIELD*. May be the first time in history the recipient of the Dear John was the RM.

    Although, these things have a weird history, as we’ll celebrate our 16th anniversary this year.

  4. Considering that I met my wife in the pre-existence and we promised to find and marry each other, I was never worried about receiving a ‘Dear John” letter. Now, if you don’t mind, I’ll go back to watching mySaturday’s Warrior movie. ;-)

  5. Mark Brown says:

    Brian, you’re just a boy like those she counts in dozens.

  6. JD Dancer says:

    Here you go Ben Pratt. After a year of lurking, this was far too much for me to pass up.

    On the subject of Madagascar missionaries, during my tenure there most of us were far too preoccupied sealing the deal so we could marry (i) each other or (ii) a girl from the field to worry about dear John letters. Having said that, I know of a number of my fellow Elders whose girlfriends “waited.” The only first hand Dear John experience on my mission was a companion who got the letter about 9 months before the end of his mission. He had a burn-the-memorabilia moment and then buckled down and enjoyed the most focused period of his service.

    My wife and I dated for about 10 months before I left on my mission. At the time we met she had been faithfully awaiting the return of an Elder who had already served for 16 months. Some of the first words out of her mouth to me when we met were that she was planning to marry him and that I shouldn’t waste my time. But I was persistent. I believe when she broke the news to him that she was seeing someone (I believe at Christmas, barely 4 months from the finish line, for him), it caused him no small amount of distress. She allowed him to hold out hope until he got home. She hadn’t yet made up her mind quite what to do with her life yet; she wasn’t necessarily ready to throw in the towel on their relationship and the prospect of another 2 years on ice waiting for me wasn’t very appealing to her.

    Eventually she decided that she wanted to marry me and serve a mission of her own. When she told him this shortly after he got off the plane, I know it was very hard for him to take. Attending his homecoming sacrament meeting, she remarked that it was the most depressing homecoming talk she’s ever heard. She said he focused almost exclusively on how HARD the mission was. . .

    A month after he got home, I left. She served and returned while I was out and we were married 3 months after I got off the plane. It was a wonderful arrangement for me. Even the getting young part. But that’s another thread. . .

  7. Aaron Brown says:

    I have no good story of my own, but here’s a fun one: An elder in my mission from Gilbert, Arizona asked another Arizona elder — who was about to return home — to travel to Gilbert when he got home and personally deliver a bouquet of flowers to his Gilbert girlfriend. The returning elder complied, started dating the Gilbert girlfriend, and married her shortly thereafter! Moral of the story: Don’t give other elders a potential opportunity to start dating your girlfriend.


  8. I didn’t have a girlfriend before my mission (I knew I was going, so just didn’t get involved). But there was an Elder in our LTM district who received his Dear John the first week we were there. If I remember correctly, the envelope was postmarked the day we entered the LTM…! He was useless for about two weeks, then decided to focus on his mission and served with distinction.

  9. My wife sent a ‘dear john’ letter to the missionary she was writing before we got married. In response, he mailed back *every* single item she had ever sent him. When I was on my mission, the usual tradition was to burn the items, but this guy didn’t do that. Now my wife has an interesting collection — both sides of the story of a ‘dear john’ correspondence. I keep telling her she should type them up and see about publishing them as a book. I think it might actually sell well. I’ll float this question out here to the internet. Do you think she should try and put it together as a book? Would it sell well?

  10. My best friend is on a mission right now, and I told him I would send him all kinds of ridiculous Dear John letters. He helped me make a list of the most outrageous things I could think of. One written in iambic pentameter. One from a neo-Nazi. One from a polygamist in a compound. One written in haiku.

    So far I haven’t had much in the way of inspiration to write them. Apparently God doesn’t think it’s as funny as I do.

  11. MadChemist says:

    Elder’s who think shallow girls will wait for them are stupid. Shallow girls who promise to wait are liars. Isn’t Mormonism great? FTR, wasn’t D/J.

  12. My brothers and I went 0-for-5 with our mission-era girlfriends. Fortunately, we all went out with the perspective of “if she’s there, great, but if not, I’m involved in a greater purpose in the meantime.”

  13. I think my husband has (had?) a photocopied collection of dear john letters from Elders in his mission.

  14. I purposely made sure I didn’t have a “girlfriend” waiting for me when I left on the mission. I don’t know why, but it seems the members always or often asked if I had a girlfriend waiting at home. I would just reply, “Nope, I dumped all my girlfriends before I left”. People seemed to get a chuckle out of that.

  15. #9: Our usual tradition was to gather up as many girl friend photos from other missionaries as possible. , mail them to the DJer, tell her to pick her’s out, and mail the rest back.

  16. I had the opposite experience through mission letters. No girlfriend to married.

    I left on my mission about 4 months after my freshman year at BYU. I did not have a girlfriend at the time so I wrote to every girl I reasonably knew and through attrition I ended up corresponding with about 3-5 of them regularly on my mission. Then one of them*, whose letter production used to vary depending on whether she was dating someone or not, really began to stand out. With about 6 months left I knew she was the one. Two weeks after my mission my parents flew her out for a week and we got engaged. She went home and we didn’t see each other again until the night before the wedding and we met up at the Temple. So almost three years and all our correspondence was through letters; and that was 19 years and 5 kids ago.

    * we met originally during our freshmen year as residents of Deseret Towers, like all good Mormon kids.

  17. Before leaving for my mission, I was teaching Freshman English at BYU. One young woman in my class (I can still see her very young face with VERY blue contact lenses) was waiting for a missionary who had just recently left for France. She was sure I’d be called to the same mission, and gave me about 14 messages for Elder H.

    I was indeed called to the French Mission (at that time, there was just one), and met Elder H. within a few days. He too had a very young face and unscathed blue eyes. And he was very anxious that his girl, S, wait for him.

    Time passed, and almost two years later, Elder H. was ready to go home, having served with great distinction. His eyes were no longer unscathed. He had served as branch president in two of the largest branches in the mission, and had dealt with member problems even many stateside bishops don’t have to wrestle with. A great deal of his lovely blond hair was gone. His face was thinner, and quite sober, not to say somber. My thought, as we sat in the President’s office at his farewell, was not about his GF, but about his mother. “What will she think when she sees her ‘boy’ now?”

    Elder H. was worried about his GF–afraid she HAD waited. He was now dubious about her, and didn’t want to rush into anything, needing time to get over a bit of the PTSS he surely was dealing with. Back in Utah, S. had refrained from sending a DJ, but was ready to spell out the message as soon as he got back. Great sighs of relief on all sides.

  18. Stephanie says:

    Don’t shoot me. I was the “Dear John” letter-writer. I didn’t last long, though. I met my husband right before or right after the elder entered the MTC, and our first “real” date was the day the elder left the MTC (we got engaged four days later). So, my first letter to the mission field was a dear john. He never wrote back. And then I ran smack into him at the temple last year (10 years later). That was a little awkward. [Wow does this make me sound like a dope]

  19. I didn’t leave a girlfriend behind when I went on my mission, but I did have some good friends who were women who wrote to me regularly. So it wasn’t exactly a “Dear John” when I got a letter from one who described the guy she’d met, the plans they’d made (to the accompaniment of a sunset over Utah Lake and, who knows, angelic choruses echoing off Y Mountain), that he would serve a mission as soon as he could, and while he was out she would also serve a mission, returning home about the same time and living happily ever after, etc. etc.

    I suppose it was too good to be true, because the next time I saw her she was married to the guy she had hung out with all freshman year.

  20. Gilgamesh says:

    I had dated my now wife in high school. We broke up and stayed friends and she wrote me throughout my mission, telling me about all the guys she was dating and how serious they were. I had always hoped to marry her, but never spoke up – letters about your future wife’s love life are about as painful as the dreaded Dear John. But she was there when I got home, I told her immediately I wanted to marry her and here we are 16 years and four kids later.

    On another note, my first greenie bet a steak dinner with his MTC group that bhis girlfirend would wait for him. He bragged about kidding her at the airport as he flew to our European mission. After about four weeks in the field, he received his first letter from her. It was an engagement announcement. The best part was that the announcement arrived a few days after their wedding. I still don’t know if he followed through on the steak dinners

  21. Gilgamesh says:

    Should be kissing, not kidding. Darn d is next to the s on the keyboard.

  22. I think it’s pretty horrible that we as a culture condone and sometimes even promote emotional (and up to marital) infidelity on the part of boyfriends and girlfriends waiting for missionaries to come back.

  23. I always thought “waiting” was stupid growing up. But then my fiancée and I did it. Although, if by “waiting” we envision just sitting around pining away for the other instead of doing the things we each need to do to progress, then yes, I still think it’s stupid.

    We were a little older than most at the time and so perhaps that helped give us perspective. I’d finished school, and she was getting back into school and more stable life in the years after a previous “early marriage” at BYU had failed quickly.

    I never got a “Dear John” letter and actually found that our regular correspondence and phone calls at Christmas and Mother’s Day (did anyone honestly only call family and keep it to under an hour?) were a great mutual support. I didn’t talk about her a whole lot, and kept any pictures of her away in an album.

    Along the way, I helped a number of people whose relationships were inevitably on the rocks. Most memorable was the time our district of 4 all trekked out to the Chapel at midnight so a highly distressed elder could call his gf and discuss a recent letter he’d received. It took that, more conversation at home and some serious massage to calm him down and get him to sleep.

    At my exit interview, my Mission Pres. knew I was still engaged and asked about our plans, and cautioned to prepare for the chance that things wouldn’t work out. I was pretty confident though. After all, we’d made it (and thus I could feel superior to all those who didn’t)!

    As it turns out, we’re both happily married now and about to have our first kid… except we’re married to different people and just happen to both be due in the next few weeks.

    Breaking up a few months after the mission was still rough, but at least more dignified than a Dear John. We have no regrets over “waiting” for each other, but are glad that we encouraged each other to develop in the way we each needed along the way, even though we later discovered that we really had different directions we needed to go in life.

    But every time I saw an elder with pictures or a little shrine up at his desk, it was a pretty sure bet that it was only going to be a matter of time.

  24. Researcher says:

    Yeah… the “Dear John” culture is heavily promoted. At girls camp we used to (regularly) sing:

    Around her neck she wore a yellow ribbon;
    She wore it in the springtime and in the month of May,
    And if you asked her why the heck she wore it,
    She wore it cause her missionary’s far far away…

    I forget exactly how the last verse went, but it involved a ring on her finger instead of a yellow ribbon, and “She wore it cause her missionary’s STILL far away.”

  25. This is probably the exact opposite of a Dear John story.

    One companion I had was bat-guano crazy for his girlfriend. One preparation day at a major tourist center, he happened across a specific piece of lingerie in just her size. Tiny, lacy, and lacy enough “you could read the newspaper through it” (his wording, not mine). So, he made the purchase, packaged it up in a standard business-size security envelope, and mailed it off to her with a note saying that when she came to meet him at the airport in just over a year, he hoped she’d be wearing said item.

    Back home in Utah, the letter shows up at pretty young thing’s house. She’s off in another part of the state, calls home, and Mom tells her she got a letter from Elder and there seems to be something in it. PYT asks her mom to open the letter to see what Elder had sent.

    About a month later, PYTs stake president was on a Church History tour and was scheduled to make an appearance at the temple visitor’s center in Elder’s mission. There had been a lot of consternation up to this point – the mission president knew, the Elder’s bishop knew, the stake president knew, the Elder’s parents knew, the PYT’s parents knew…. Elder came about >< that close to being sent home, but still had to go meet with the stake president from his home stake to see if previous repentance efforts had been sincere, if he was planning to violate his temple covenants when he got home, etc. etc. etc. ad nauseum.

    Elder finally went home, dumped PYT, and married somebody else. Their letters were closely monitored by parents after that, and without the privacy for planning and plotting future escapades, the passion went out of the relationship.

    As for me, the girl I'd been dating wrote faithfully while I was out. About six months before I got home, she went on a mission herself, met an elder in one of her districts, and told me about it on our first date a week after she got home. Also turned out that while she was writing me, she had six or seven other guys spread across the state who she was writing to, and each one thought they were exclusive. She ended up getting her mission boyfriend into the US and married him. Sometimes a Dear John should be regarded as dodging a serious bullet.

  26. Ahh, the Dear John. Great topic.

    I dated a girl the year prior to my mission. We broke up a few months prior “see other people” (aka she had grown too clingy). I was relieved, she was heartbroken.

    Two months into the field, I get yet another letter from her. I had written a couple of courtesy notes. I open it up, and it was a dear john! There was much singing, rejoicing and dancing.

    In the MTC I also got a letter from another girl with whom I’d made out (within missionary prep standards, of course) after breaking up with the above girlfriend. She had married over the summer, and was writing to apologize if it hurt my feelings that she had moved on so quick.

  27. MadChemist says:

    My grandpa told me a sure fire way to see if she’d wait.

    You go to the Salt Lake Temple, circumambulate the temble three times (clockwise), and look up at Angel Moroni. If he nods his head at you, she’ll wait.

  28. That’s pretty sick, MadChemist.

  29. Mike Parker says:

    A young man in my ward just returned (honorably) from his mission. His girlfriend waited for him. Two days after he got home, they got engaged. They’re hoping to marry within the next month.

    He doesn’t have a job yet.

  30. We had a saying on my mission:

    If she didn’t wait, it was not meant to be.
    If she did wait, it meant no one else wanted her….

  31. Carrie LC says:

    An Elder from my mission (Neuquen, Argentina) got a Dear John email to the effect “Hi, how’s it going? Hope your mission is great. BTW, I’m getting married. It’s the last thing I wanted but when it’s right it’s right. I hope we can still be friends”. This elder made a photocopy of his email and he shared it with us at a zone meeting. Ah – the electronic age. At least he wasn’t dumped by text message (that happened to a roommate of mine)

  32. I’d known my missionary since we were in kindergarten, we started dating as seniors in hs. I didn’t know he’d had me singled out for many years before. Mission time we had the understanding that there were no commitments, though we wrote regularly.
    I admit to being the sender of said letter which I’d been advised to send so that he’d read it on the plane home. The euphoria of coming home was supposed to buffer the knowledge that I was involved with someone else. With the experience and wisdom of the years since then, all I can say is, I wish I’d waited.

  33. I broke up with my gf before leaving college the summer before my mission because I didn’t want someone waiting for me. She was angry and wouldn’t talk to me after that which made me sad. When I got home for the summer, I started dating my best friend’s gf who was waiting for him while he was on his mission, so there was never any pressure there. He got back a year before me and they got married a couple of months before I got back.

  34. I had an on and off relationship with a non-member for about a year before my mission. When I left, she became quite keen and attentive, even coming to the farewell and writing copious letters. I was surprised but also pleased. So after ten months, she said she was looking forward to seeing me after my year was done. When I wrote back saying it was two years, the mail just stopped.

  35. Norbert, that is spectacular.

  36. My “friend” and I were on missions at the same time. It was sort of understood that we were going to get married when we were both done. When I had a few months left in my mission, I felt inspired to stop writing him and really focus on my last few months of service. This made him angry (should have been a warning sign, I guess) but he complied and stopped writing. After I was home (9 months before his return), again, I felt like maybe I shouldn’t write him so that he could focus. When I suggested this, he got mad again and said I couldn’t receive revelation for him, he knew what was best for him, so I had better just go ahead and write him!

    So, we wrote, I talked about him enough to people at BYU that no one dated me seriously, he came home and after about 8 seconds I knew I didn’t want to marry him. When I finally told him so, he wondered how that could be possible when God had told him that we were supposed to get married. We obviously had an issue with conflicting divine revelation.

  37. I dated a guy my freshman year at BYU, and he was convinced that we were going to get married. The only thing I knew for sure was that the Lord wanted me to serve a mission. We agreed that we would write, but I told him that we were going to be apart for a long time, so we shouldn’t really plan on any particular outcome. He wrote me all kinds of letters (some of which I found a little over the top and inappropriate for a missionary), and I tried to keep things pretty focused on both of us working hard and being good missionaries.

    Shortly after I arrived in South America, I found out that my father had cancer and I was feeling pretty stressed out. I had just sent the guy a letter explaining the situation and telling him how much I appreciated his friendship and support, when I got a Dear Jane letter from him in Europe, telling me how our relationship was “too distracting” and the other elders in his apartment had told him that he needed to “end things”. Due to the time lag for mail in those days, about 3 months later I got a very contrite apology telling me how sorry he was about my dad and that he was praying for us. I think he felt like he had been a bit of a jerk.

    After that, we wrote occasionally until he got home, at which point he started writing me a lot more. We went out a couple of times after I got home, but that was it. Can’t say that I was too broken up about it.

    My husband said that they once made a dartboard out of the pictures of girls who had DJed elders in their mission.

  38. Kevin Barney says:

    Just wanted to pop in and say these are great stories! I’m really enjoying them. (I got a partiular kick out of Norbert’s contribution!)

    Keep ’em coming…

  39. These are excellent. Norbert, your #34 was hilarious. Made me laugh hard.

    JNS, I don’t get your #22 (questioning a culture that promotes the Dear John). Would you rather promote a culture that requires immature youth to slavishly stick to a teenage relationship and turn it into marriage? I remember the one elder in my mission who was very vocal about his girlfriend at home — a young thing still in high school. We could all see the writing on the wall. Both of them were immature. When the Dear John letter came, everyone breathed a sigh of relief. The elder was heart broken but moved on. In the end, I think that type of Dear John is a good thing.

  40. My little brother’s experience tops the Dear John craziness scale. Little Brother and his girlfriend, B, had been dating for well over a year and were head-over-heals crazy for each other. At the same time he was entering the MTC, she was moving to Utah and starting up at UVSC. This close proximity only managed to increase the anguish they felt at having to leave each other.

    Little Brother and B made a deal, B could date but every time she did, she had to send Little Brother a Dum Dum. Well a few months into his mission, Little Brother had received no Dum Dums and thus all appeared well on the home front.

    Then, he opened up a letter from B only to find a copy of a UVSC stake conference program. There, in the margins of the program, B had written her Dear John in a spiral fashion such that it required one to spin the program around to be able to read it. Apparently this Dear John just had to be written and what better time than stake conference, and what better stationary than a program.

    To top it all off the Dear John was also used to announce her recent engagement. And what, of all days did she choose for her wedding date? The exact day Little Brother entered the MTC, his hump day.

    Luckily, Little Brother took it quite well. Enjoyed burning all of her stuff and never looked back. For the record, B is struggling to make ends meet with her husband, while Little Brother is married with 3 kids and is in a top ten medical school.

    It was not a complete waste, before entering the MTC, Little Brother introduced our Big Brother to B’s UVSC roommate. Big Brother and B’s roommate have now been married for 8 years and have two kids. So it looks like Little Brother and B’s marriage lasted just as long as it needed to to get Big Brother married.

    On the flip side, my Mom waited all two years for my Dad. At the time she was part of the “I’ll be True Club” at the University of Utah, a club of girls who were all waiting for missionaries. Rather than date other men, they would get together, make care packages for their missionaries and sew their wedding dresses.

    No seriously. It was an actual club.

    Of the 24 girls in the club, over 20 of them ended up marrying their missionary. The very idea of the club would make me laugh it wasn’t for the fact that uh…I probably would not exist without it.

  41. Hunter, require? No, certainly not. People should choose for themselves. But we as a culture shouldn’t treat it as a joke that our young people so often make relationship promises to each other and then abandon them. That encourages infidelity. It’s like the religion teacher I had who once encouraged a male class member to try to win over a woman who was engaged to another man because, until the temple covenant is made, she’s fair game.

    Obviously, there are cases where unfaithfulness to a relationship is a good thing. Your story may be one. But in general? That kind of attitude is appalling and immoral, I think. If people promise to wait and don’t, we should regard that as a broken promise and a shattered relationship, which it is!

  42. I see JNS’s point. I don’t think he’s saying that immature incompatible teens should slog through just to be true to an ill-fated romance, but there is an awful lot of duplicity surrounding the whole topic and that should be discouraged.
    I think it would be more respectful to officially end the relationship before beginning to date someone else. At the very least one should pay their SO the courtesy of breaking up with them before they’re engaged to someone else.

  43. In our mission, a former president encouraged elders to post their Dear Johns on that bulletin board, the one next to the office, which faces the couch where missionaries await interviews. Worse, there are score cards, so waiting missionaries can read the letters and rate them! The presidents since then have kept the tradition. I think it’s remarkable cold-hearted, but elders swear it helps! I overheard one elder in our ward lamenting “She not only DJ’d me, but not even creatively!”

    My daughter is “waiting” for a missionary currently. So long as she finishes her degree, applies for a master’s program, dates, and keeps up a busy social life, why should I care who she writes to on a Sunday afternoon?

  44. John Mansfield says:

    All these stories, culminating with J. N-S’s rejection of the genre, now has an Oak Ridge Boys song running through my mind. Not Elvira. The one that ends with the girl dying from drinking alone and the boy swearing at her grave that he’ll now be true to her, as she had been to him when he went far away.

  45. Thanks for that, JNS. I think you and I largely agree. We both would promote a culture that promotes a solid marriage relationship. Here, I am perhaps focusing on the benefits of ill-advised relationships that bust up before they become more serious (and permanent), and you are focusing on not entering a relationship lightly in the first place — once you do, that relationship should be honored. Thanks for your thoughts.

  46. “At the very least one should pay their SO the courtesy of breaking up with them before they’re engaged to someone else.”

    Seriously. It’s cheating. I had a friend who started dating a girl who had been waiting for a missionary. He eventually proposed and she said yes. But then he found out that she had never written to break up with her missionary and when he asked her to, she refused saying that she didn’t want to hurt him while he was on a mission. My friend saw that as totally dishonest behavior and broke up with her, and I totally agreed with him. He was pretty heartbroken over it, but he couldn’t marry someone who would mislead someone else like that, even if it was hard for her to write the DJ.

  47. #22: You make a good point. Where is the line between marriage for eternity at 20 and, dumping a guy after a month, at 19?

  48. First, no heartache here. I consciously made sure that I did not leave an active girlfriend behind when I left on my mission. It was all upside. Not only did I never have to worry about a “Dear John” letter, I had five different girls who wrote to me on a semi-regular basis.

    Second, in my mission (Central America, 1972-74) we had an underground mission newsletter (produced by the office staff) called “The Razzberry”. It was only printed when some elder or sister sent in to the office staff a particularly egregious “Dear John/Jane” letter. The main body of the newsletter would be the complete text of the letter, interspersed with editorial comments. If the missionary included the letter-writer’s address, a copy of the newsletter was sent to him/her as well.

    Sadly, I lost all my copies of The Razzberry some 25 years ago when a box of missionary paraphernalia vanished (apparently accidentally thrown out). Losing my missionary journal was a hard blow; losing the copies of The Razzberry was a close second. ..bruce..

  49. JNS: it might help to remember that the concept of “Dear John” letters is a very old one and one not at all unique to LDS culture. Ask any young man/woman who is in the military and who deploys away from his/her hometown (my son Jon, a Marine, went through this during his deployment to Iraq).

    Beyond that, I don’t see much difference between DJ letters and breaking up in dating relationships. It’s not infidelity; it’s realizing that (a) you don’t want to be with this person and/or (b) you’d rather be with someone else. Given the eternal nature of marriage, I’d much rather see breakups than lost opportunities and/or ill-advised marriages. ..bruce..

  50. Drat! Now I’ve got that “Deeear John” Saturday’s Warrior song stuck in my head!!!

  51. Bruce, I know Dear Johns have been around for a long time; so, for that matter, have alcoholic beverages. My point is simply that a society that prides itself on its defense of fidelity and honor in relationships shouldn’t treat Dear Johns lightly.

    Breaking up in a relationship is different from breaking a promise, isn’t it? And Dear Johns are, often at least, a breach of the promise to wait for the missionary to return. Maybe young people shouldn’t make that promise — seems sensible to me. But once it’s made, breaking it is an act of infidelity. This doesn’t mean people have to get married because of a promise they made at age 19 — but they should think long and hard before breaking a solemn promise just because they’ve found someone else that, in the short term, they prefer. You can see, I trust, how that sort of thinking parallels adultery? It’s not the same, but I think it has to be seen as on the continuum (toward the bottom, clearly).

  52. I never went on a mission but sent a missionary off. His companion got a Dear John letter and they decided together to swear off women and focus on the mission. He shared this news with me via letter – a letter signed “Love, Elder _______” with the “Love” removed with white-out and replaced with “Like.”

    Um, yeah. A guy who had spent a year around nothing but guys decided he couldn’t even stand my letters? That felt great.

    I moved on, met a great guy and got engaged. When the Elder returned he called repeatedly and even had his dad come to my house to talk to me. Elder claimed he had no idea why we weren’t talking anymore. I made sure the letter was on top of the pile of his stuff I sent home with his dad.

  53. The only Dear John I got was from my sister… who sent it because she felt it was important for all missionaries to experience receiving said letter. Go figure. (I didn’t date anybody seriously until I was 24, so I didn’t really expect it anyway.)

    I did send a Dear Jane once, although it was to a girl I’d never met. It was a joint effort with a friend. I believe the winning line of the letter was this: “Our lives are just so different. You like ‘Deep Space Nine’ and I like ‘Voyager.'”

    Funny thing was that she never got the letter. But it made it to her mission, because it became the talk of the mission! Strange, strange world we live in.

  54. Justmeherenow says:

    The thread’s descriptions of a common custom among Latter-day Saint suitors is so very interesting! (of course, as are interesting some ethical proscriptions pertaining thereto, advocated by doctor Nelson-Seawright, too…).

  55. Aaron Reeves says:

    I knew a Missionary who saw his gf hugging another man in a photo from a General Conference edition of the Ensign. They had gone to conference together. That was how he found out she was seeing someone else. The actual letter arrived a little later.

  56. I kinda wrote my own DJ.
    Before my mission, I dated so many women at BYU who were supposed to be waiting for missionaries that I decided I didn’t want anyone cutting my grass* while I was on my mission. Then, those women’s missionaries returned and married them while I was out of circulation on my mission. I, however, returned to nobody who had waited — however imperfectly — for me.
    Does this count?
    It’s all good, though: just this year, I married with an incredible woman after devine providence manuvered us together through a series of remarkable events.
    * after “The Great Grasscutter,” (ca 1969), short BYU-student movie about an unknown antagonist dating women who were “waiting.” Surprise ending was university Pres. Wilkinson’s cameo in final scene revealing him to be the grass cutter.

  57. I had been dating a non-member for a couple years before I left on my mission. When she stopped writing about six months in I figured it was because she was rejecting my faith and its demands on me, or because she had found someone new. As we’d been best friends and bf/gf for a long time (in teenage years), both scenarios were very depressing.

    I didn’t find out until after I got home that my mom had told her not to write me very much, as frequent letters from her would only be a distraction.

    Please don’t ever say anything like that to your kids’ SOs.

  58. My husband mentioned that there was a guy in his mission whose girlfriend put in papers so that she could be out on a mission for about the whole time the boyfriend was out. Trouble is, she got called to the same mission. Sadly my husband doesn’t know how their story ended, just that she spent some time in a distant hard-to-get-to part of the mission.

  59. I left behind a girlfriend. About 8 months into my mission, she wrote to tell me she met a fellow at university with whom she felt she was falling in love. We had a very serious relationship, having discussed marriage in depth.

    I replied with a letter suggesting we use the next Fast Sunday to pray about our future together. She wrote back saying she was too busy. I replied telling her that it was over then.

    I’m not sure if that qualifies as a Dear John letter or Dear Jane letter.

  60. An uncle of mine from SLC was called to New Zealand to serve his mission in the 1950s. He found The One there early and sent her back to SLC to live with his parents while he served out his mission. She dutifully and faithfully waited, to the point of sitting between said parents in Sacrament Meeting.
    His first month home, he discovered she was not The One, and sent her back to New Zealand.

  61. I had a companion on my mission who I loved to death but he was a complete dork. He had a shrine on his wall to some red-head who he had never dated but sort of knew. He would write her regularly and she would sometimes write him back. While I was his companion his old MTC companion stole the girls address and started writing her. She wrote to the MTC comp more regularly than to the guy she actually knew, until eventually she got engaged. He was devistated.

  62. I left a girlfriend, we agreed she could date and not just sit around pining for me. A few months in, she had been dating someone and sent me a dear john – by email (this was in 1997, I read email letters on a freenet terminal at a library).

    But the funny thing was it didn’t hurt much. In fact, I had grown apart (though obviously not in another relationship) and had begun to find her letters tiring (they were long and silly and in the end we didn’t really have that much in common). Rather than heartache, it was a special trophy to declare that I had been dear johned by email. :-)

    We remain friends, but I remain glad that she dear johned me so I didn’t have to go two years reading (and replying to) her frequent long letters, and that we didn’t stay together.

  63. In what ways can we change the LDS culture to reduce pre mission emotional intimacy ?

    I guess if people actually dated like in FSY…( groups dates, not steady dating) until they and their partner were actually ready to be and look for a spouse.

    How does one do that?

    Does anyone DO that? How? I’ve read about courtship and such…but how does it really work?

  64. Stephanie says:

    Does anyone DO that?

    I’ve often wondered the same thing.

  65. JD Dancer (#6), welcome to active participation in the Bloggernacle!!

    I didn’t leave a girlfriend behind, though I tried. She just wasn’t that into me. I think I freaked her out a little, wearing my heart on my sleeve as I did. Now we’re friends on Facebook.

  66. Natalie K. says:

    “I guess if people actually dated like in FSY…( groups dates, not steady dating) until they and their partner were actually ready to be and look for a spouse.”

    The problem with that is, we send them off on missions never having seriously dated someone or had any degree of physical intimacy (TONS of people from my high school were saving their “VL” until post-mission). Then, they return from their missions, having learned a lot about life but nothing about love, and are expected to meet and marry the one they will be with for eternity. Still never actually having had a girlfriend/boyfriend.

    Uh-uh. I say we either start actively promoting extending the length of most pre-marriage relationships or officially allow high schoolers to date exclusively. The way we do it now, we ‘re really just creating an army of socially-inept, intimacy-starved soldiers.

  67. who says kissing teaches you about love?
    That to me is like having actors practice their bows more than their lines. The true beauty of marriage is not in the kissing, but in the companionship and working together and sharing of ideas. When we’re 64 are we most concerned with having someone to kiss? or someone to laugh with and share thoughts with? Someone patient and understanding.

    Do we need practice with physical intimacy to have a good marriage relationship? How do you NOT learn about love on your mission…and by that I mean the patient, giving, selfless real love kinda love…not attraction and what to do with it, kind of love.

    Love isn’t a place you fall, it’s a choice. most missions teach you how to choose not to love every attractive thing you see. Most missions teach you how to love your companion (or at least the necessity of such love). That kind of love is a choice. It is disciplined, it is consistent and not reactionary. It is a far cry from the sparks and lightening bolts of attraction, but so much more enduring and fulfilling.

    I’m not advocating marriage without attraction-though my mission taught me that could be beautiful too. I am saying early emotional or physical intimacy is not an indicator of successful marriage.

  68. This Post is somewhat about Love and maturating. Having been dumped as a missionary, I learned one of Love’s greatest lessons: Love Hurts. You become a little wiser in your next emotional relationship.

  69. My parents dated before dad left on his mission. My mom never promised to wait though she did write him throughout. When he returned, she thought he was too much of a nerd and broke things off. They got back together after a few months and married. She never sent him a Dear John, but was engaged for a short time while he was gone.

    In my brother’s mission the saying was “Your girlfriend may get married while you’re away, but your wife won’t.”

  70. long-distance romances do not work generally, and if God wants two people to marry and they follow God, then they will be married and it will be sacred.

  71. JNS, in my experience, promises to “wait” are not equivalent to marriage proposals. They are something far less serious. Most girls I knew that were “waiting” or “writing” to a missionary were also dating (and kissing) other guys during the interim. A lot of changes take place in the ages where young people go on missions and I think it’s silly to make promises in the first place, and even if made, no one should blame either party if they choose to back out of their promise for any reason.

    While I was on my mission in SoCal, there was a girl in one of the wards I was working in who was “waiting” for a missionary who had gone to Europe (or somewhere). She had his nametag hanging from her rear-view mirror in her car. Despite this, she was very friendly and flirty while I was in that ward and when I was transferred, she began writing to me frequently and calling my mission apartment. She brought me a birthday cake on my birthday and did several other embarassing things until I had to tell her to stop all communication. She told me that she had “Dear Johned” her missionary and that she would now be waiting for me. I told her I was sorry to hear that because I would not be seeing her again. I don’t know what happened to her after that.

  72. I keep telling her she should type them up and see about publishing them as a book. I think it might actually sell well. I’ll float this question out here to the internet. Do you think she should try and put it together as a book? Would it sell well?

    To Jake (9) – Yes, it will.

  73. I dated a guy for a year and a half who left on his mission at age 23. With 8 months left of his mission, he dumped me. Then he married a sister from his mission a couple months after he got home and I later found out they met before he dumped me.

    I was extremely bitter at the time, but know now that it was the right thing. Even though I was mad and hurt I had a sense of relief that it was over the moment I read his note to me.

    A few years later I met my now husband. We dated long-distance for a little more than a year. Even though it was hard, it’s MUCH easier to do long distance when you can actually talk on the phone and see each other on a semi-regular basis.

    I know of couples who have made it through missions and figure if it’s right, it will work out.

  74. When I left on my mission as a recent convert, my girlfriend was a very pious returned missionary. One Christmas I sent her a card that on the cover showed Santa in his sleigh circling high above an idyllic farm house preparing to land. On the inside it showed Santa, the sleigh and his reindeer crashed into the outhouse, with Santa exclaiming, “Dammit Rudoph, I said the Schmidt house!” She didn’t like that card too much – not romantic enough or something like that.

    The night before I flew home I surprised her with a phone call to ask her for a date (I was a tad trunky). She didn’t like that too much and got engaged to some other dude that very night. I guess he figured I wasn’t joking around.

  75. My dad got Dear John’d. Only I heard about this from his companion who grew up to be one of my favorite institute teachers at USU. Seems the letter my grandma wrote him about the DJ beat her letter to Argentina. So he heard from his mother who told him not to open her letter. He did anyway, and even though he knew what was inside after he read it he punched a hole in the wall.

    I’ve read her full page entry in his yearbook. I fully assume from what I’ve read my dad lied to me about being sexually pure at marriage.

    Me, I didn’t serve a mission. President Hinckley spoke at regional conference when I was turning 21. My dad was really pushing me to go, and I did not want to go. President Hinckley plainly said that if the sisters don’t want to go, they are not bound by a commandment and they don’t have to go. He said the sisters had other responsibilities in this life and that they should get an education so they can raise educated children in Zion. I could have flown down there and kissed him. Some one my father could not argue with! My dad still kept it up, and my Bishop asked me if I wanted to go. I replied that President Hinckley says that if I don’t want to go and whether it is by My voice or the voice of my servants it is the same. :) My Bishop also did not feel I should go, so he told my dad to back off.

    I got engaged to my husband of 10 years 14 days before my 21st birthday. My dad didn’t really like him, which is why I think he kept pushing me to go.

    I didn’t write anyone seriously. I did start writing a male friend one day while bored. He and I discussed philosophy, he had me read Camus, and I gave him a place to vent about his very trying mission. There never was anything romantic, although I sent him letters with smiley stickers on it. I enjoyed our letters.

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