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.