“Marriage is perhaps the most vital of all the decisions and has the most far-reaching effects, for it has to do not only with immediate happiness, but also with eternal joys. It affects not only the two people involved, but also their families and particularly their children and their children’s children down through the many generations.” (Spencer W. Kimball “Oneness in Marriage,” Ensign, March 1977)
When we found each other, by accident really, on an LDS singles dating website, this sort of thing was viewed with suspicion. No self-respecting person would look to the world-wide-web for love, especially one meant to last forever. And yet, here we are, fifteen years later, still smitten and with the benefit of hind sight, can see the great potential for singles to find their eternal companion as we did… online.
“Every discovery in science and art, that is really true and useful to mankind, has been given by direct revelation from God. … We should take advantage of all these great discoveries … (Brigham Young, Deseret News, 22 Oct. 1862, 129)
Duane : “I was teaching my children that their goal should be to marry in the temple, but I temporarily forgot that goal for myself. I lived in Virginia and rationalized that it wasn’t a realistic option, ‘Not enough LDS women here’. “
“Lucky for me, I’m not a complete dunderhead. I did eventually become aware that the path that I was on was not going to result in the eternal relationship that I believed was possible. As soon as I became aware of this, my sincerest desire was to do the right thing, but I wasn’t sure how I would go about it.
This was the early days of internet dating and it just wasn’t the first thing that came to mind. Looking back, I know it was inspiration, but it happened so fast. I was sitting at the keyboard, not even thinking about dating or marriage (if I know me, I was thinking about a chili-cheese dog or some kind of pie), and all at once I typed the words ‘LDS singles’ in the search.
Math alone dictated that my chances were going to get better. In an instant I went from a place where there were about 6 eligible women, ages 19 to 63, to a world where there were hundreds of women my age.”
I developed the habit of including the Lord in my search. Every time I sat down to review messages and see who was new on the singles site, I prayed first.” PRAY.
“In selecting a companion for life and for eternity, certainly the most careful planning and thinking and praying and fasting should be done to be sure that of all the decisions, this one must not be wrong.” (Spencer W. Kimball, “Oneness in Marriage,” Ensign, March 1977)
Selena: “Fear of being hurt again was an experience I share with many singles and I felt I would rather be alone the rest of my life than get involved in another toxic relationship. The problem with this rationale is that while I was protected from pain, I was also shielded from the potential joy that could be experienced by two people who choose to become as one.
Marriage was not on my mind, and I had my own personal reasons for being on the site briefly, but I was willing to become vulnerable and open myself up to the idea. Being willing to risk more heartache was a decision that has forever altered the course of my life for the better.” BE WILLING.
It didn’t take long on the dating site to see inconsistencies between what some people stated was important to them on the one hand and how they presented themselves on the other. One example that we found were both men and women who expressed a desire to find a strong and faithful member of the church, while offering scantily clad photos of themselves. Their actions weren’t congruent with their desires.
One of the reasons we believe our story has a happy ending is because we were brutally honest with one another. Convinced we would never meet in real life, because of distance and Selena’s determination never to remarry, allowed for an unusually high level of honesty. Together, we created a safe place to explore personal beliefs and philosophies, along with the experiences that helped form them. Honest two-way communication provided a rich environment where our budding relationship could grow. BE HONEST.
We emailed several times daily and a fun factoid about our book is that it actually only encompasses about a four month time span before we met in person. This intense period of communication also increased the speed at which we began to experience ‘feelings’ for each other. The tv show ‘Catfish’ shows the dark side of many online relationships and highlights the potential danger in giving away one’s heart without due diligence.
We were in our late 30’s and each had a failed marriage to add to our baggage, so we paid attention to possible red flags. Character defects were normal and to be expected, especially with both our histories but as soon as we determined we may have a future together, we started making plans to meet… in real life. As scary as that was, it took the potential for a long, slow virtual heart-mangling off the table. Real people with real intent make the time to meet in real life. MEET.
Our real-life meeting, like everything else about our online relationship had an unusual component. We are not recommending that everyone do this, but in our case, it actually was an asset. Because we both had older children who were watching and aware of the choices we were making, we decided to include a chaperone in that first meeting ‘to avoid the very appearance of evil’.
Selena: “My mom and I flew to Virginia, where we shared a room and a bit of Duane’s life with his children for 10 days. Having her there gave me an extra set of eyes and ears, to pick up on any potential issues I may have missed. She was a great buffer for us both as we realized how real real-life can be when you’re in the same room. Any misunderstandings were seen more clearly through her filter, and she was able to help each of us avoid saying or doing the one thing that might doom our fragile friendship.
Having her there interacting with him and his kids also gave me time to consider some important questions. Who were his best friends? (The bishop and patriarch.) What did he do in his spare time? (Attend church socials, mow widows lawns and voluntarily trim hedges at the church.) What were his teenage children like? (Happy, singing and participating in church and school activities.) How about the rest of his family? (Respectable and well-adjusted.) Most important, were there any inconsistencies in Duane’s behavior? Anything that would suggest his written word didn’t quite match up with the man in real life? (No and no.)” INCLUDE A TRUSTED 3RD PARTY – Optional
Neither of us had much more than our imagination to show us what a healthy marriage would look and feel like. (There were happy couples around us, of course, but we didn’t know the inner workings of their marriages.) Looking back we can see that we stumbled into many of the right choices, but believe the Lord was able to guide us to each other because we clung to the wisdom found in Moroni 7:13 where it says,
But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.
We wanted to judge correctly, especially in this most important, life-altering decision. We knew that left to our own wisdom, we’d caused damage and been damaged. We needed to do it right this time and the only way would be with His help.
We had both secretly thought that we would probably only enjoy an eternal marriage on the other side of the veil. We realize now that for the Lord’s purposes, we are of greater service in His kingdom as a couple than either of us ever would have been alone. Above all, we know that His plan for each of us and His timing was perfect. We believe that to be true for all of his children. With that, we leave the promise of a general authority.
Seek after the ideal of forming an eternal marriage, including by striving or preparing to be a worthy spouse. Keep the commandments, and trust the Lord and His perfect love for you. One day every promised blessing concerning marriage will be yours. (Marriage: Watch & Learn, L. Whitney Clayton, April 2013)
3,000 Miles to Eternity is the true story of Duane and Selena Pannell.
Years before online dating became a respectable option, two broken and imperfect souls digitally crossed paths as they tried to find their way back to God. This fascinating true story, told through journals and emails, will have you smiling from start to finish and shedding a few tears along the way. Engaging and entertaining, it’s the perfect reminder of the power of love, redemption, and hope. Get your copy today!
Aleah is a graduate of Southern Virginia University, where she studied English, Creative Writing, and Dance. She now works full time as a marketing and product manager, writer, and editor. Aleah served a mission in California and loves baking, Lang Leav poetry, Gaynor Minden pointe shoes, and Bollywood movies.