Some of the most difficult counsel the LDS Church gives to youth just got a whole lot easier to follow. For years prophets have taught our youth to wait until after a mission to go steady, but only the very elect actually follow the prophets’ counsel.

This counsel has been difficult to follow for a couple of now-obsolete reasons. First, adults weren’t teaching youth not to have a boyfriend or girlfriend in high school. Many adults had a boyfriend/girlfriend when they were in high school, so how could it suddenly be wrong? Secondly, Latter-day Saints who actually waited until after their missions to get a steady girlfriend or boyfriend were pretty darn old when they entered the dating scene. Everything changed in 2012.

Adults failed to recognized that times had changed since their own high school days because, although the counsel of the prophets was crystal clear, the counsel in “For the Strength of Youth” was vague. Prior to 2012 the “Dating” section of FSOY read,

Do not date until you are at least 16 years old. Dating before then can lead to immorality, limit the number of other young people you meet and deprive you of experiences that will help you choose an eternal partner.”

Reading this paragraph sounds like dating is a pretty serious thing and is inadvisable only before you turn 16. However, once you turn serious dating 16 is okay.

The next paragraph furthers the misnomer that serious dating is okay as long as you turn 16.

Many young people do not date during their teen years because they are not yet interested, do not have opportunities, or simply want to delay forming serious relationships.”

Again, the pamphlet equates dating with forming a serious relationship, and implies that it’s okay at age 16. The prophets, however, had taught that dating at age 16 should NOT be serious, and youth should not go steady. No wonder people were confused.

The new “For the Strength of Youth” cleared up all misconceptions about what dating should look like at age 16.

A date is a planned activity that allows a young man and a young woman to get to know each other better. In cultures where dating is acceptable, it can help you learn and practice social skills, develop friendships, have wholesome fun, and eventually find an eternal companion.” [boldface added]

For the Strength of Youth” further clarifies the non-exclusive nature of dating when it says, Avoiding going on frequent dates with the same person.” Just because a young person has turned 16 and is old enough to “date” does not mean he or she is old enough to be “in a relationship”/go steady/have a boyfriend or girlfriend.

FSOY now teaches the same thing that President Hinckley, President Benson, President Packer, and others taught. Serious dating, the kind where you pair off, and go steady and call each other boyfriend and girlfriend shouldn’t happen until you are in a position to get married which in all likelihood, is after, not before, a mission.

Since January it has been and will become easier to follow the prophets because the same counsel is being taught throughout the church, not just by the few who read and reviewed the conference talks of the past. Even the old people, those who were raised in a generation when going steady in high school was a rite of passage, are learning that dating has changed in the 21st century. Youth date casually in high school and seriously only after their missions. 

Salvation #2

The counsel to avoid steady dating until after a mission will be lots easier to follow in the future for another reason. Missionaries will be younger than ever before when they return from their missions. Prior to October 2012 an obedient Latter-day Saint young man would be 21 years old before he had his first serious relationship. Ideally, he would have had had lots of social experiences before his mission. He would have gone out on plenty of dates with girls who were just friends, but he wouldn’t have had a girlfriend, or gone steady with any one particular girl until he returned from his mission. For boys who left on their missions at age 19, that meant their first opportunity to get a girlfriend would be at age 21.

Some parents paled at the idea that their son wouldn’t get a girlfriend until he turned 21. They manufactured all kinds of worries. Three I have heard more than the rest: 1) once their sons returned from their missions they would be too inexperienced to know how to get a girlfriend, 2) they wouldn’t have enough time dating to make a good choice of mate, 3) they would become gay…

These three concerns can all be refuted with little reason and a little knowledge of human behavior. However, even without the intervention of reasonable men, those with sufficient faith were able to set aside their concerns, and accept that if they followed the prophets’ counsel everything would turn out okay.

Now that President Monson has announced that missionaries can serve missions at a lower age, those too fearful to follow the prophets’ counsel before, might muster the courage to follow the counsel now. Their sons will no longer be going steady for the first time at age 21. They can now begin steady dating at age 20. From a professional viewpoint, I don’t believe it makes any difference whether a young man gets his first girlfriend at 18, 19, 20, or 21. He will catch on quite quickly when he starts to date seriously. It won’t take a dozen failed relationships for him to find love. Once he is in a position to marry, courting that love will be time well spent. Finding love when one is in no position to marry is a waste of time and a waste of good love. If he has waited until after his mission to court he can actually marry the person he loves.

In a single year, in one 10-month period, our youth received clear, concise counsel on how to date once they turn 16 years of age, and the opportunity to date seriously at age 20. They discovered that prior to their missions (ages 16 to 18) They should only date as friends, casually, not pairing off, not going with the same person over and over again, not going steady. Then, wonder-of-wonders, our youth discovered that at 18 the boys can go on missions. When they return is the perfect time for them to start dating seriously, deliberately pairing off, going with the same person, going steady, but doing it purposefully–not just because it “feels good” but because it’s marriage time, boys; time to “get on with it.” 

JeaNette Goates Smith is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the author of Unsteady Dating: Resisting the Rush to Romance . For copies of the prophets’ quotes about waiting to go steady until after a mission, please email the author: [email protected]