Men waiting for sister missionaries: Differing expectations in Church culture

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Most Latter-day Saints at Brigham Young University are familiar with women “waiting” for missionaries, but now the tides are turning and many men are “waiting” for missionaries.

Since The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced the lowering of the minimum age requirement for missionaries, the number of those serving full-time missions has increased to 80,000 as of October 2013. According to yfacts.byu.edu, there are now 2,200 fewer women enrolled at BYU this year than last year, some of whom are now serving as missionaries around the world.

Jason Kitchen, a senior studying communications, dated his girlfriend for nine months before she left to serve a mission in Billings, Mont. Kitchen said when they started dating, she was open about her plans to serve a mission.

“As our relationship progressed, her decision to serve became as much about us as it did about her serving a mission,” Kitchen said. “We sat down and talked about what should happen.”

Having already served a mission, Kitchen said he knew her experience serving would be invaluable.

Men waiting for sister missionaries find different reactions from peers and different cultural expectations than women waiting for elders. Photo by Sarah Hill
More women are leaving for missions and men waiting for them are finding different reactions and cultural expectations than women waiting for elders. (Photo by Sarah Hill)

“I want to be the man that supports her in doing something she feels like she needs to do, rather than being the person that kept her from doing that,” Kitchen said.

Kitchen said his decision to wait has shown him the conflicting opinions within the LDS Church.

“A guy is expected to serve a mission, so if a girl is waiting for a guy, it’s almost more understandable to people,” Kitchen said. “But when a lot of people hear that I’m waiting for a missionary, they think, ‘So she chose a mission over you.'”

Kitchen also said his girlfriend didn’t receive universal support at first.

“A lot of people still feel that if a girl has the opportunity to get married, a mission shouldn’t be a priority,” Kitchen said. “She had a lot of people who pushed back on her decision to serve.”

Kitchen, like others in similar circumstances, is still in a committed relationship with his missionary.

Derrick Clements, a senior from California studying English literature, dated his girlfriend for three years before she left for her mission in Tucson, Ariz. At first, Clements was hoping she wouldn’t go because he would miss her, but over time he became extremely supportive. He said the response from people has been positive and that the couple’s relationship has grown much stronger since she left in October 2012.

“Through letters I think you can get to know someone in a new way,” Clements said. “Our relationship is better now. …Its was great before she left, but … it’s not hurting our relationship at all for her to be gone.”

Clements mentioned that members of the LDS Church have different expectations of a man waiting for a woman than that of a woman waiting for a man.

“People tend to think that I’m really awesome for doing this, whereas when I see girls waiting for guys, there almost seems to be a little bit of judgement, like, ‘You’re distracting him,'” Clements said. “I don’t know if that represents a large portion, though.”

Jon Youd, a senior from Gallatin, Mo., studying business management, started dating his girlfriend after she started filling out her mission papers. Youd said the responses he gets from his peers reflect the diverse opinions of members of the Church.

“When I tell people I’m waiting for a missionary, I have a lot of people tell me, ‘You should have asked her to stay and marry you,'” Youd said. “No one would ever tell a girl that if she was waiting for an elder.”

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