Young Latter-day Saints left the conference center in shock after hearing President Monson announce the missionary age change during the October 2012 General Conference.
Few could have predicted this change, and even fewer could have predicted what appears to be an increase of romantic relationships between missionaries who served in the same mission that would follow.
President Bruce Kusch, former mission president of the Mexico Cuernavaca Mission, has noticed what he believes is an increasing numbers of duos and is no longer surprised when another couple from his mission goes public with their relationship.
“I can’t say we have come to expect it,” Kusch said. “But when it happens, it’s now not a huge surprise. What has been surprising is who the returned missionaries are that are now in relationships with missionaries they met in the mission.”
Kusch believes the increase of relationships of missionaries that served in the same mission is related to the age change.
Cole Gardner, a returned missionary from the Australia Perth Mission, recalled the day when his mission received a large group of incoming sister missionaries. Before the age change, his mission had few sister missionaries.
“There was one transfer where we received like fourteen sisters and one or two elders,” Cole said. “The first P-day as a zone leader I walked into the chapel … it just looked like a YSA activity. Elders and sisters were just paired off and my companion and I just looked at each other and we were blown away.”
Relationships developing between elders and sisters during missionary service has always been a topic of discussion for leaders in the mission field.
Elders and sisters are encouraged to read from the Missionary Handbook every day. This handbook outlines the conduct every missionary should have. In regards to relationships with the opposite sex, it reads: “Never be alone with, flirt with or associate in any other inappropriate way with anyone of the opposite sex.”
Although the Missionary Handbook outlines how missionaries should conduct themselves while serving as a full-time missionary, mission leaders may take further precautions in order to ensure the missionaries are not having relationships while in the mission field.
“We taught our missionaries that the mission field was not a YSA Conference,” Kusch said. “We taught them ‘friendship with dignity,’ meaning that as missionaries of the opposite sex, they were to be friendly with one another, while not crossing a line and becoming ‘flirty.'”
Kusch said they gave every missionary a copy of President Kimball’s talk “Lock Your Heart” and made sure the missionaries knew they were allowed to talk with him about any romantic feelings they felt for another person.
“One newly arrived elder shared that he had developed some feelings for a sister that was in their arriving group,” Kusch said. “I made sure they were never in the same zone during my time in the mission.”
While it is rare that missionaries develop relationships while in the mission field, it is now common for elders and sisters who served in the same mission to develop post-mission relationships.
After Annalise Gardner returned home from the Australia Perth Mission she married Cole Gardner, an elder from her zone.
Annalise explained the exchange between her and her mission president during their last interview together in the mission field:
“Once you got to your exit interview … he asked me if I had any prospects,” Annalise said. “And I said, ‘Well I’ve been writing Elder Gardner’ (who had already finished his mission) and he said, ‘Yeah, that’d be great.'”
Cole went on to explain that there are eight married couples from their mission.
“At our mission reunion our mission president said, ‘This is exactly what should happen. This is awesome. As long as things are good on the mission, this is a great benefit of going on a mission,'” Annalise said.
Cole and Annalise said they never acted on their feelings for each other while on their missions. However, once they were home, a relationship started to develop.
BYU and UVU students Tana and Carson Hoch met each other while serving in the California Anaheim mission in 2013. While serving, Carson tore his ACL and temporarily went home for surgery. During this time the California Irvine mission was created and missionaries from the Carlsbad mission and the Anaheim mission were sent to Irvine. Carson was originally going to be sent to the Irvine mission, but after he went home for surgery, his mission president thought it best if he returned to Anaheim.
“We never served around each other but we knew who the other was through other missionaries,” Tana said in an email. “We ended up officially meeting each other at a bowling alley at some random combined zone activity. All we did was talk about BYU though.”
The two never served in the same area and encountered each other just twice the remainder of their missions — once at a combined mission conference and the other when they sat by each other for their mission departure dinner. They stayed in touch after they went home and began dating a week after she attended his homecoming. Six months later the two were engaged.
“What’s crazy is, if Carson had never torn his ACL, he would have gone to the Irvine mission and we would have never met,” Tana said.
Although there may be an increasing number of these post-mission relationships, it doesn’t appear the mission field has become the place to find a spouse.
“They ask me if the mission is a match-making place and I say, ‘Heavens no,'” said Jerry Toombs, who served as mission president of the Colorado Denver North mission 2011-2014.
“I would think just simply the age difference being closer would kind of facilitate the observation of potential future companions,” Toombs said.