I was sorry to read about Josh Harris’ impending divorce and his move away from Christianity. For those of you who haven’t heard of him, in 1997, as a young man, Josh wrote an influential book about courtship called I Kissed Dating Goodbye. He then served as a pastor for many years. Every divorce is sad (even when necessary) and when children are involved this is even more so. Similarly, it is disturbing to hear about anyone moving away from a relationship with a faith that has so much to offer.
I thought that there was a great deal of insight in I Kissed Dating Goodbye, though over the years I have heard pushback against it. Josh Harris even repudiated his own writing. As I see it, people can twist any idea, taking it to an extreme or misusing it. That doesn’t necessarily make the original idea valueless.
My husband and I were proud, a few years back, to publish a book by Jerusalem-based relationship expert, Gila Manolson. Her book explored the physiological and psychological effects of touch and why and how prematurely introducing touch into a relationship can be a mistake. I asked Gila to comment on the response of those who married before sleeping together or possibly even kissing (most unusual in our day) and then, when their marriages did not work out as planned, claimed that they would have done better had they, indeed, shared a physical relationship before their wedding night. What follows is her response.
Is It Dangerous to Refrain from Physicality while Dating?
by Gila Manolson, author of Hands Off! This May Be Love
I recently met a disenchanted divorcée in her mid-30s. “I’m a survivor of PCSD—Pastor’s Children Stress Disorder,” she said, only semi-jokingly.
“My father, our church’s pastor, was a huge promoter of the movement to ‘court’ rather than date, and to keep physicality to a minimum before marriage. I was pressured to adopt this approach, but was reassured that I’d be rewarded with a wonderful marriage.
“At age 22, I fell for a man who seemed really right for me. Eager to enter into a full relationship, we married after a brief courtship. He turned out to be abusive. We divorced.
“Had I been allowed to be totally physical with him, I wouldn’t have rushed into marriage, and would have seen the warning signs before it was too late.”
Orthodox Judaism requires that people date only for marriage and not touch at all before the wedding—a practice I call “cherishing touch” . While our marital success rate is substantially higher than that of the secular world, of course there are still divorces. No dating system can make up for people’s infinite complexities and fallibilities, and even those who date by all the “rules” may experience failure.
But is it true, as this woman claims, that the practice of cherishing touch is dangerous? Would it be better to allow physical intimacy while dating so you don’t jump into a disastrous marriage?
While being physical, and therefore in no rush to marry, may buy you time to notice possible problems, it also has been scientifically proven to throw a wrench into your objectivity. Physical closeness triggers the secretion of oxytocin, which causes you (particularly if you’re female) to trust, drop negative judgment, and bond. So the question is: While lengthy dating involving physicality may give you more opportunity to see the negative, will it also cause you to overlook it? Will it promote objectivity, or obscure it? We’ve all known people who, inexplicably, won’t leave an unhealthy relationship. The reality is clear, but they seem unable to acknowledge it. Physicality plays no small role in their blindness.
Once physical, you’re also more likely to confuse the good feelings you’re experiencing with love. Love, however, doesn’t meaning loving how someone makes you feel—it means loving someone for who he or she is. Love is based upon knowledge, respect, and admiration, and it’s easier to know if this is what you—and the other—are feeling if you’re getting to know each other deeply without those warm, fuzzy feelings generated by physical closeness. I lay out the physiological and emotional basis for these misleading feelings in my book, Hands Off! This May Be Love.
So what about the risk of physical frustration pushing you into the wrong marriage? In addition to cherishing touch, you need another significant factor to help ensure marital success: qualified guidance.
In the Orthodox Jewish world, a person who provides relationship guidance is often called a “dating mentor.” A dating mentor serves as a sounding board after dates—listening and providing feedback on what you talked about, things you noticed, and what you’re feeling, as well as raising any necessary questions. He or she should be successfully married, perceptive, experienced, and able to help you achieve clarity on your relationship. Very important, if strong attraction is pushing you forward too quickly, he or she should be ready to put the brakes on and help you deal with the challenge of not getting physical so you can date long enough to learn necessary information about your potential marriage partner. Finally, your dating mentor should be alert to, and educate you about (if you don’t already know), any “red flags” indicating a personality disorder like abuse.
Cherishing touch is a powerful practice that unquestionably helps two people establish a deep and enduring bond. There’s no need to discard it. Just realize that, in such a critical area of life as choosing a marriage partner, it’s foolish to “fly solo.” Avail yourself of wise guidance, and you’ll be immeasurably more likely to end up in that wonderful marriage.
37 thoughts on “Guest Musing: Could Refraining from a Physical Relationship Cause Harm?”
I agree completely with Barbara and Brea. I also want to add something thus far completely missing from the conversation: believing wholeheartedly that “marriage is forever”, as my parents repeated to us over and over; AND then taking the steps necessary to make that happen. My husband and I dated for 5 yrs before a one year engagement-and have been married 29yrs. There have been highs and lows along the way. His 3 siblings have all failed at multiple marriages. I believe the death of their father (my mother-in-law was widowed at 35 and never remarried ) contributed to the lack of example of the give-and-take required for a strong marriage. However, each time our marriage seemed “doomed”, I found us a counselor who got us back on the right track. A decade ago, with our last counselor, we even included our children in 2 months of “family counseling” sessions.
Divorce is too easy in this day and age. Choosing a life partner isn’t always a “match made in heaven.” If you truly believe marriage is forever, you have to work to make it so.
I would very much appreciate it if you would share what steps you took to find the proper counselors. Unfortunately, we know people who went for counseling and received either incompetent or even harmful advice. Sounds like you knew how to look successfully for help.
Thank you for this!! I am a peer of Josh Harris, having grown up in the conservative Christian homeschooling movement. A friend of my father’s read the book when I was about 16. At the time, Josh Harris was just a little older than me. I remember sitting in the kitchen of my father’s friend, watching him and and my father discuss the book. They were excited about the concepts, but I was thinking, “This is very disturbing to me. Why are these older men taking the advice of a young man my age?” I didn’t care so much whether I dated or used another method for marrying, but I was uncomfortable that they were considering following new, untried advice from so young a man. It was a life-altering moment for me as it was one of the moments that started me questioning things that I had been taught. One principle I had learned from the hours of my parents’ nightly Bible reading, was that older men should generally be the ones giving advice to younger men, and that when it is the other way around, chaos often follows. I ended up attending Bible college where dating was allowed, but only when on campus and in sight of others. My husband and I married after months of dating, talking, sharing fun activities, and learning about each other. We were both virgins at the time of our marriage, and had no physical contact of any kind until holding hands during the wedding rehearsal. Eleven years later, I am still very happy with our dating method.
I do thank you again for this post. Josh Harris’ leaving Christianity and divorce was very unnerving to me. However, his story is further confirmation to my husband and me that our choice to embrace, and follow Judaism, is the correct path for us. Thank you for teaching the way of the Torah.
Priscilla, I’m coming to realize that I read his book differently than how my Christian friends read it.
Thank you Susan for sharing Gila’s teaching. Like other responders to this blog I think the dating mentor is a wonderful idea. I received minimal mentoring while dating my now husband. When I approached someone I considered wise because I was having doubts about my relationship all I received was, “well do you love him!” I said “yes”and the response was, “well there’s your answer”. My pre-marital counseling wasn’t much better! Sadly enough, the revelation of who I married didn’t hit me until the first day of our honeymoon!!!
We were physically intimate while dating and Gila is 100% correct – this changes the woman’s thinking. I so wanted to wait for marriage for this intimacy that once this happened all my thinking was skewed!! I found myself way more forgiving of bad behavior and ignored giant red flags flying in my face. As Gila said, physicality played no small role in my blindness. My marriage has been unhealthy, to put it mildly, for all 40 years. She is also correct that sometimes there’s no understanding why some people stay in these unhealthy relationships.
Although I personally believe intimacy should be reserved for the marriage bed I also believe it’s naive to believe that either having or not having intimacy pre-marriage or simply dating for a magic amount of time prior to marriage will guarantee a good marriage! Good mentoring, clear thinking and knowing yourself and your own values are far more likely to yield a higher probability for a successful marriage. Regardless of your choice regarding intimacy – there are NO GUARANTEES in any area of life!
Brea, I’m sorry for your personal experiences but I thank you for writing. As you wisely say, there are no guarantees but we can try to stack the deck as much as possible.
I love your analogy – stacking the deck in our favor. You are so correct! Wonderful insight – as always.
A dating mentor is a terrific idea, but finding a suitable one would pose a challenge. Sadly, our culture idolizes using feelings as a basis for sound decision making, and nothing could prove more dangerous than relying solely on feelings for making life defining decisions. I am reminded of a story that was told to me of a man who had the opportunity to talk to an angel. When asked about his love for God, the angel said “I love God completely and with every essence of my being!” The man was amazed and excited and asked the angel “What does that feel like?’ The angel replied “What do you mean? You don’t realize it, but your question doesn’t make any sense. I don’t have a body, how can I have feelings? Love isn’t a feeling, its an act of the will.” I was told a similar story about marriage: When someone feels they have me “The One,” when they look in each other’s eyes they and see The Sun, The Moon and The Stars. Then one day they wake up and The Sun isn’t there anymore, but they still have The Moon and The Stars. Some time later, the notice The Moon isn’t there anymore, and then sometime after that they notice The Stars aren’t there anymore either. It is at that point, that love begins. Both stories emphasize the same thing: We must recognize that Love is ultimately an act of the will.
I like this James. Thanks for sharing.
My wife and I have drilled it into our two (now grown) children that we will not give our consent to their marrying unless the relationship has survived getting a boat through the Ballard Locks.
It would be hard to think of a greater test of grace under pressure and teamwork. Great idea.
I love this test, JasB,
Because, as you more than likely know, we have taken our family through the Ballard Locks many times with our children manning the lines. We’ve been in both the large lock and the small lock with its floating bollards. Good times!
I know that I am already a week late to these posted comments (and I liked reading them.) I came across a piece of writing from 6/1/2012 that our son wrote and that our daughter edited; he wrote it because of California’s Proposition 8 case that ended up being heard in the Supreme Court and then it became part of the reason to change the ancient definition of marriage to arbitrarily include couples of the same sex. The following are quotes from this short piece which is only a two page, double spaced story about a Naval battle, and it’s titled: “In the Defense of Marriage, a short story.” The author was age 14 and the editor was age 15. If you, Susan, and Gila Manolson are interested in hearing the rest of it then let me know and I can send it to you:
“The date: July 3rd. The U.S.S. Marriage was out at sea, defending the borders of Civilization against the barbarian hordes that kept them constantly on their toes.” (From the intro)
“Now the barbarians dared to make a direct move against the U.S.S. Marriage, one of the oldest and most respected ships in Civilization’s Navy. They had assembled a massive fleet, seeking not to sink the enemy ship but to capture it and use it for their own twisted motives. Taking this fine vessel would weaken Civilization greatly.”
“The battle wore on. Both sides had their ups and downs, but the awful truth became clear to MacTeague. It had been decades since the Marriage had been afloat and its guns were rusty, reducing their effectiveness. Its armor, also, was not as battle-ready as it used to be, and the enemy ships were using powerful armor-piercing rounds that tore through its hull. MacTeague recognized the U.S.S. Judicial Branch among their foes.”
I’m always moved when I read this story again, and our son recently read Gila Manolson’s “Hands Off! This May Be Love” book. He’s now 21, and he liked the book a lot. He has never had a girlfriend, and our family discusses the permanance of marriage. We know it’s valuable for young or older people to be able to turn to trustworthy information. We also agree with the great idea of delaying physical touching until after the wedding!
I think what the young woman who’s story you told said spells out the problem with courtship verses physical touch dating. She said, “***Eager to enter into a full relationship, we married after a brief courtship.**** He turned out to be abusive. We divorced.”. They did not take courtship seriously. I know a family whom the parents did not kiss until after a lengthy (over a year) courtship and they got engaged. Two of their daughters also did the courting over a lengthy period of time. The oldest waited until they were engaged to kiss. Both couples are what I would consider the perfect example of what a marriage should be. They are happiest when they are with each other. They complete each other. The second daughter just married and waited to kiss until the wedding ceremony. None of them treated the courtship phase as something to hurry through. They took the time to really know their prospective spouse and their families as well as their closest friends. They had a relationship that could last a lifetime even if they had decided to only be friends. Whether you date and kiss or court and wait, the length of time you spend getting to know the person you marry plus seriously looking at any negative traits or red flags you think you see is vital. You have to be willing to walk away before you marry if you see things you don’t want to live with. Expect that they won’t change after marriage and things that bother you now will seem magnified once you know you said your vows and can’t just walk away. You can live with someone for years and if you are not looking at the whole picture, you still don’t know what you are getting when you marry. By courting, it is easier to walk away when the red flag issues crop up. I wish I had known all that when I was younger. Back when arranged marriages were big, loving parents took time to check out the character of the prospective spouse, their families and interests to make sure the couple would be able to develop a loving relationship. Now that fathers aren’t arranging the marriage and a person chooses their own mate, they need to do the same thing instead of depending on feelings and emotions that are guaranteed to change over time. Attraction needs to be there but it should never be the deciding factor.
One vital aspect is often ignored in any relationship — like it or not — a grounding in Torah, not just and informational one, but a relational grounding.
The thing, Thomas,
is that knowing the right thing to do is entirely different from possessing the moral will power to do the right thing. Who doesn’t engage in self destructive behavior while simultaneously knowing full well how bad it is? Many do. Knowing is just not enough. A moral training program starts instilling self discipline necessary for self restraint very early.
I am a firm believer in the words of God, as recorded in the Old Testament and (for myself) the New Testament; I believe we are called to sexual purity for our OWN personal good. I believe it is a personal covenant I am called to make with The Living God and if I will trust and obey: the fruit of my obedience, regarding my sexual discipline, will be PEACE and CONTENTMENT in my mind, in my soul and in my spirit; there will be no tears, no regrets—EVER! What an immeasurable blessing to “live in”.
From God’s viewpoint my sexuality is a gift and one of the treasured parts of ME. And, since I, in return, treasure it, I do not give it away frivolously or lustfully.
The working definition, that I was taught, in the Christian arena, regarding fornication was:
“privilege without commitment”.
Fornication is a heart issue as is all sin. God “calls us out” on our deceiving hearts to willfully use another, no matter the “love” excuse one tries to give Him.
Marriage, is a God given tool and safeguard against (sexual) fornication—being used. If you can’t commit you don’t get the privilege.
I was born in 1952, and as a result, lived in a society in which the MAJORITY of the population adhered culturally and often personally to Judaism and Christian values. We knew sex outside of marriage was about our deceitful hearts. Then came the rebellious 60’s and FREE LOVE, drugs…. In just one decade, the Biblical based society we lived in was turned upside down and (very importantly) re-defined. I have lived the results of that decade and know the before and the after; the before, which will undoubtedly never be seen again, was and will always be my personal preference. However, I can say I know from which I speak: nothing good came out of such an onslaught of rebellion.
As a result, of that rebellion, an eroding, if not a complete hijacking of Biblical truth and understanding took place and new ideas, new definitions and motives (“good, people just making mistakes”) was substituted.
It is my observation that people such as, Josh Harris, tried to turn the ship around. However, having to face the painful dissolution of his marriage, he is buying into an age old trick of Satan to throw the (spiritual) baby out with the bath water and I am deeply grieved for him.
To really know God (and for Christians, Jesus) you MUST be willing to enter into a personal covenant with Him based solely on:
THE LOVE OF HIM. As a result, you willingly adhere to His laws because you don’t want to disappoint the ONE YOU LOVE—24/7.
I was a virgin when I married. The FIRST amazing blessing of chastity came to me while we were sitting at the table eating our honeymoon breakfast:
I was with a man, who after such an intimate encounter, was NOT going to leave me—especially, to move onto the “next bed”—I was NOT one of many. I remember looking down at my wedding ring with such gratitude to God, that I was by passing all the deep waters of regret, possible rejection and despair. That is a blessing that never left me and coupled with the blessing that: Satan cannot torment me with past sexual memories (including those of prowess), I have lived a life of emotional contentment that few can only dream of.
My marriage did not last. Our “Christian” marriage quickly “hit the rocks” and almost immediately did not include sexual intimacy. I remained married for 15 years and finally filed for a divorce on the basis that I could and would “no longer ask.”
Twenty years later, I am still single; not “missing a beat” in honoring my sexual covenant with The Lord AND still reaping the emotional, mental and spiritual reward, thereof.
I cannot speak for my ex-husband; obviously he had issues, but I can honestly say my heart was full and happy and joyful regarding our marriage bed— because The Lord blessed ME—I’m so sorry that was not true for him.
Hopefully, Josh, will focus, once again, on his covenant relationship with God and remember the personalized blessing that were his, are his and will be his: before marriage, during marriage and after marriage.
“Let us not be weary in well doing”—
Heaven awaits us!
” it is disturbing to hear about anyone moving away from a relationship with a faith that has so much to offer” … for those of us and i include you and your equally and wonderfully wise husband, i know you would and should describe born-again Christianity in much more elevated terms than a faith that has so much to offer… this description stings i’m afraid…
It wouldn’t bother me to hear Judaism described in a similar context as a faith that has so much to offer, so I’m sorry it stung for you.
hmmmmm…. extremely disappointing to quash my reply.
One “tip” I appreciated from Susan has relevance in many areas of life. Using a “dating mentor” is much like getting a second opinion from a doctor, reading research and talking to others about places and details of vacation plans, getting an engineer’s report on buying a commercial property where there was an environmental concern, and on and on. The expertise of a CPA of how to do things in one’s financial world to save costs, taxes, etc. is commonly sought. Friends/ family may be reticent to speak, too critical, and viewed as biased.. A dating mentor could be a new cottage industry, and at the minimum invaluable to bring up values, goals, standards, etc. in making this important decision.
Jacquelie, this advice is from Gila Manolson, not from me. I am passing these comments on to her.
We live in a fallen world and why anyone would think any way of courtship before marriage is 100% guarantee of no divorce is confusing to me ..I assume from reading the old Testament that the fact that people are not perfect saints is a reality just like it is with the New Testament. The girl who wished she had been intimate before marriage so she could have ” known he was abusive and not married him” how does that even work ?? he could have put up a false front until marriage anyway , or she could have ended up pregnant and not married ..My own Mom who was married as a virgin and whose first husband ran off with several other women and divorced her after 2 months of marriage , gave me the advice to sleep around so I wouldn’t make the mistake she did …gee what kind of profit was there in that advice ?? a mess of a different sort . There are many better ways to approach marriage , many good teachings to help . But we are people living in a sinful world, we can’t escaped that reality . Karen
Karen, as parents, we so often have the tendency to push our children in a direction completely opposite from one that didn’t work perfectly for us and we end up hurting them in a different way. I’m sorry you had that experience.
I don’t feel qualified to address the main topic of your musing, but if I may, I’d like to paraphrase some advice Ann Landers gave in a column years ago.
I don’t know the source of her words of wisdom, but she said, (and again I’m paraphrasing) “It takes a minimum of 18 months to really know someone before you commit to marriage.”
She went on to go into detail about how you will see both sides of a person during that time, paying careful attention to how he or she interacts with their family.
Good advice I wish I’d known before my marriage at one year.
I’ve tried to share her advice with couples who rushed into marriage (with the touching and intimacy). I wish I could say they listened. They didn’t.
I purchased ‘Hands Off! This May Be Love!’ when it was released. I found myself wishing I had followed her advice my first time coupled with Ann Landers’ advice.
I would not have married the guy.
I believe marriage begins with respect. Respect for yourself first, then respect for the person you’re marrying.
You should know yourself before you pledge yourself to another for life.
I am fortunate. After my marriage fell apart (he was unfaithful), I embarked on a twofold goal: to know God, and to know myself.
How could I hope to avoid making another marriage mistake unless I accomplished both?
Five years, two bibles and more Christian self-help books than I could count ( it helped that I worked for a library), I woke one day and felt something I’d never felt before in my life…I finally had a life I could share with someone. Who knew?!?
So, I asked God if there was a right one for me. If not, I was ok with that. When you have a committed relationship with God, God is enough.
But to my stunned surprise, six months later, God brought me face to face with “the right one” in such a way that left no doubt.
It was a God moment.
So, for those who question what God has to do with marriage and intimacy before marriage, all I can say is my experience proved to me that God is very involved with who we marry.
And altho God led me (and him) to be in the same place at the exact same time, we are not together.
God brought us together, but we have to do the work to be together.
Which we are doing.
Mary, I have to tell you that my husband and I were married less than a year after meeting and within about five months of our first date. So, I’m not sure I can stand with the 18 month idea. I do absolutely agree that having a clear picture of yourself is vital before you can join with another person and being clear on your relationship with God is most helpful for that. Hope your “work” moves smoothly ahead.
That’s sad indeed. Josh Harris’ book radically changed the trajectory of my life. Shortly after becoming a Christian I read his book and decided to tell God, out loud, “You pick my spouse. I’ll pick the first pretty thing that bats her eyes at me.”
Sixteen years later I’m in an enduring and happy marriage that certainly was tested, but time and again God has surprised and wowed me with my wife’s most wonderful and valuable qualities. I have Josh Harris to thank in no small part for his influence … except now it sounds like he would probably reject such a word.
I’m glad that worked for you, Paul, though I wouldn’t recommend that path. Each story is unique.
Wow! Thank you…. I am a mother of a 13 year old. I appreciate your writing and sharing such insight and advice for dating… who would you select as a “dating mentor”. We are Christian and have never heard of this… we tend to jump into marriage to avoid sexual activity before marriage.. but how does our daughter and ourselves as parents get to know our future son-in-law? Book suggestion? Thanks!
In looking for a dating mentor I would look for someone with counseling skills and psychological insight.
You might look to a neighbor or aunt whose marriage you admire – and see on a regular enough basis to know that what you’re seeing is real.
My book, Head to Heart: What to Know before Dating and Marriage has one chapter on how to know if you’re ready and one on how to date. It is very important to do a variety of things in a variety of settings including spending time with each other’s family and friends. There should be no time pressure to “seal the deal.” As far as dealing with the physical challenge, I strongly recommend keeping dates to well-lit, public places. You can have a private conversation in a park or while walking around a city. Stay away from being secluded together.
The most important thing is to trust your intuitions. If ANYTHING bothers you about the person, DON’T brush it under the carpet, even if you can’t articulate it. Keep getting to know him/her better and speak to someone about your concerns.
I also like the book I Only Want to Get Married Once and I know that the Lapins carry it on their website: https://rabbidaniellapin.com/product/i-only-want-to-get-married-once-by-chana-levitan-softcover-book/
I’m so ready but I Agree, Absolutely! Amen.
Josh’s book goes much farther than not touching. The concept of “courtship” within the evangelical homeschooling subculture in the ’80s, ’90s, and early 2000s was much broader. I could speak to this for a long time but I will give one family who followed this practice as an example. They have nine children, eight of whom got married. Of these eight, five are divorced, after very unhealthy relationships that appeared to be perfect on the surface. I know many, many people who consider themselves victims of “purity culture.” I myself am raising children alone after marrying a pastor’s kid whose family “had it all together.” I believe Josh Harris is rethinking all he believed because once the subculture of courtship failed even him, he is left without a foundation, believing courtship was God’s plan. The homeschooling community should not have made a celebrity and guru out of a 21 year old. Josh’s wife is also having a crisis of faith, and I understand completely. Some are calling this another “prosperity gospel” because we were promised that if we were sexually pure we would have no marital problems. It didn’t work for me, and it didn’t work for Josh & Shannon Harris. He was right to apologize for his part in this, but I feel they were victims, too.
Krysten, None of us knows what goes on in other families (sometimes not even in our own) but If 5 out of 8 kids in a family get divorced, chances are there’s something psychologically not good going on there. Unhealthy kids in turn attract other unhealthy kids. (See Harville Hendrix and his imago theory.)
I don’t believe ANY approach to relationships can take the responsibility for this.
I know the family well. The parents have a happy marriage. What the kids had in common was marrying at 19 and 20 “for purity’s sake.” There were purity rings, pledges, and the whole bit. In my relationships with other families I have seen horrible outcomes of purity culture and devastated parents who thought they were doing the right thing for their families. You are entitled to your opinion but I know what I have observed (and lived through) over the past 20 years. Peace.
Excellent insights. Speaking as a male, once intimate with a woman it is extremely difficult to be objective unless married. If more ladies followed the old rule that the woman says, ‘NO’… we men could be more objective. Fortunately for me my wife is a strong Christian lady (and looks like Marilyn Monroe)… however, there is nothing like discussing finances to bring objectivity back into the relationship… Thanks!
Art, too many couples do not have a realistic discussion of finances before getting married. I think that is one of the very helpful things that good pre-marital counseling facilitates.
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