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Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Love is Better than a Test Drive

Today my husband and I celebrate our first anniversary. As I think back on the span of our relationship, I remember a conversation I had before Joel and I married. This friend (who is very much in love with his wife) could not understand how I could be contemplating marrying someone I had not slept with. "How can you marry someone you've never slept with?" he kept asking. "How do you know you'll even be compatible?"

I've thought about this comment over the past couple of years and every time I consider it, one thought keeps recurring: is premarital sex just a test drive?

The reason I can't seem to let go of this thought is precisely because this friend is so clearly in love with his own spouse. When he speaks of her, his entire demeanor changes, becomes more tender. He respects her enormously. I wonder if it has ever occurred to her how his questions regarding chastity might sound when applied to his own relationship. I doubt that he would ever consider it this way toward the woman he loves, but it sounds as though premarital sex is, to him, a way of testing a potential mate to see if she measures up.

"I love you... so much that I think I want to spend my life with you. Now lie down so I can see if you're good enough for me."

I know he couldn't possibly mean it the way it sounds.

Regardless, perhaps his questions deserve an answer. How can two people know they are compatible, if they have not slept together? How can one person know if the other will please?

The truth is that none of us knows what marriage is like, until we are in it. When a man is courting a woman, no matter how sincere they are, their behavior will evolve as their relationship evolves. Heaven help the relationship that never grows or evolves. Sex is, in that sense, no different from other elements of marital intimacy. The only way to know what a committed relationship is like with a person is to commit to that person.

Does this mean that it is impossible to have an inkling what to expect? Not at all. I knew, long before I married my husband, what he would be like in intimate situations. At least, I knew the important parts. I knew that he was generous, and made a priority of pleasing me. I knew that he physically desired me and I physically desired him. I knew that he always treated me with respect and passion... an important combination. I had no reason to believe that his personality would suddenly change when we were permitted to share a new level of intimacy.

The truth is, if we look carefully, it is not difficult to know what a potential spouse will be like sexually. A callous person will likely be a callous lover, and a patient person a patient lover. Aloof, generous, self-conscious, or silly, you probably know your potential spouse's character long before you walk down the aisle. If you don't, then premarital sex certainly isn't going to bridge the gap between you. Sexual intimacy doesn't cure a lack of emotional intimacy, but it can make such a lack more painful.

What it all boils down to is this: chastity is much more than mere abstinence. Chastity for people who are not in committed relationships is a protection from the sort who want to "test drive" them, using them as objects. For people who are in committed but premarital relationships, chastity is an opportunity to see one another in an honest light. It is a chance to evaluate just what kind of character this person has, before making the decision either to marry them blindly or objectify either yourself or the other person by subjecting yourselves to a test drive. It is a tremendous opportunity to grow in the kind of emotional intimacy that will only make physical intimacy, at the right time, better.

I cannot express how much joy it gives me to wake up in the morning, look at this person with whom I share total intimacy, and know that he is here for me, permanently. Chastity doesn't deprive our relationship of something; rather, it gives us the assurance that what love we give we also receive back... with no fear of losing it.