Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Preventing pre-marital sex in religious teens/twenties and other assorted dating and marriage issues

There's an interesting discussion going at A Mother in Israel regarding a trend where fearful parents are promoting the young marriage of their children (young being 19-22 years old, presumably ages where these young men and women are not finished with army service or university, and likely not yet in some kind of profession).

My eldest recently turned 17 and although I am not losing sleep over the issue yet (I lose sleep over other things at this point), I know that it is not far off. Whereas a few years ago it seemed like I was constantly busy with bar and bat-mitzvah, recently I have been going to more and more weddings and with G-d's Help, I expect to attend more and more over the coming few years. I have a number of friends whose kids are of the age.

Here's my question about this trend: What exactly are parents fearful of? Are they afraid their children will turn out to be old maids? Are they afraid their young children may--gasp!--be tempted to engage in pre-marital sex? Are they afraid all the good matches will be spoken for?

But why are they not afraid of their children not being mature enough to handle living with another person? To making adult decisions regarding building a life together? To dealing with adult problems? To making a decent living? Why aren't they afraid that they will have to support their young, married children--and very likely, grandchildren--for the foreseeable future? Why aren't they afraid that if they support the first child to get married, they need to support all their siblings in their marriages as well? Why aren't they afraid that the well will run dry?

I am very afraid of those things. We live a nice life, Thank G-d, and are very grateful for it, but I certainly can't afford to support my kids completely when they begin their married lives.

While I am on the topic, I have something else to rant about. When Liat came home this summer she told me that her friends in America were talking about their upcoming yearbook pictures. She explained that most of her friends were going to get their make-up done professionally, and that some of them were even planning on photoshopping their pictures because these pictures were going to be looked at by matchmakers; some would even go on their shidduch(matchmaking) resumes.

What is a shidduch resume you want to know? Well apparently it is a piece of paper that lists all of the essential items necessary to get married. First, from what I understand, the girl (through a matchmaker) sends the boy's family her resume. After the boys parents check things out and accept one, they send their son's resume to girl's family. If things check out there, the young people can meet for a date. Sometimes phone dates are recommended (the woman I know told me her son had one phone date that was limited to 45 minutes). The things on the resume are not things like "I enjoy romantic walks along the beach at sunset", but rather the yeshivas the kids went to, both in high school and for their year in Israel. I imagine physical attributes are included, perhaps stuff about the parents of the prospective couple. The woman I spoke to told me her son's resume was rejected several times because he stated that he may someday want to live in Israel.

I hope this trend doesn't come to Israel. It makes me want to throw up a little bit in my mouth.

Here's what I propose: how about letting our kids be kids? Why not let them hang out together in groups, go to movies, to the pizza place, bowling? When they get to university, why can't they hang out at the cafeteria together, laughing and teasing each other and setting each other up with their brothers and sisters? I'm talking about religious kids. Many of them will wait until they get married to have sex, simply because they were brought up that way. Some won't, it's true. But do we really all believe that no religious teenagers are having sex because we are tightly controlling when and with whom they get married?



Anonymous said...

Amen sister. Although I do not want my kids to have premarital sex, I do NOT want them to get married to young and for the wrong reasons. That's way worse with more potential for miserry than premarital sex in my opinion.

"Old Maid"-that-was said...

Fantastic post: You nail the problem perfectly. The parents need to calm down and let kids be kids. I married in my 30s - resisted family pressures to be married off in a frum match in my early 20s. It wasn't easy, but my life turned out the way I needed it to, I made all my own choices, and have no regrets.

On the other hand, a significant number of my friends who DID marry in their 20s got divorced or are stuck in unhappy (and sexless) unions now.

rutimizrachi said...

I have oodles of comments. Let's have coffee. :-)

Leah Goodman said...

You're soooo right. On so many counts.

I don't know why I felt such pressure to marry young, but it was this huge weight on me from my mid-teens until I got married at the ripe old age of 27.

My single years were really awful because I so desperately wanted to fall in love, get married, have babies... I look at friends who are single and actually enjoying their lives... and I have such regrets.

I don't think anyone meant to push that agenda at me, but my parents and all of my siblings were married by 25 (mom and sister at 20), so it was easy to draw the conclusion that that's what I was supposed to do.

Baila said...



Old Maid that was,

Listen, I have friends who got married when they were 20 who are very happily married some 25 years later. But they chose their mates and weren't bamboozled into getting married. In all the cases it kinda just happened, and as a matter of fact, their parents encouraged them to wait until they graduated from university.


e-mailing you to figure out a date that works for us.


I got married when I was 28. I had friends who pitied me, even though I really was happy, although starting at 25-26, I did want to get married. But I don't feel I missed anything, and if anything my life is that much more richer for the experiences had in my young and mid-twenties.

Anonymous said...

You are so right, my boys already know that they need to support themselves when they get married and they are only 15 and 17. I think they are putting too much emphasis on the external (schools looks etc) and not on the individual. I know girls who would probably not have dated their husbands based solely on their "resume", but since they met them in person they saw the really important stuff.
i also have issues with separate seating at weddings. How else will they meet, and what inappropriate activity do they think will take place in public at a wedding?

SuperRaizy said...

Since Flash is planning to go away to college next year, I've been thinking about the right way to approach this topic with him. What should I say? "Please don't have sex before you're ready even though everyone around you will be doing it and you'll be living in a co-ed dorm with half-dressed girls who will hug you and sit on your lap?" Not terribly convincing.
I know that he has absorbed the moral lessons that I and his schools have tried to teach him, but hey, there's an awful lot of temptation out there.
Maybe I should marry him off and then send him to college.

Baila said...


To answer your question, mixed seating at weddings will probably lead to mixed dancing. Duh.


Kind of figured you were kidding there. But there are all sorts of things to be terrified for Flash at college. At some point you have to let go and trust him to do the right thing--and learn from the mistakes he makes. But I think a frank conversation about sex is in line, from the religious point and also from the not getting anyone pregnant or health point. Yeah, not easy. Good luck.

Arlene said...

Kudos to you for a smokin' hot topic!

SuperRaizy said...

Agreed. We've had many conversations about sex, self-respect and respect for women, pregnancy and STDs, even pornography. As uncomfortable as it makes Flash sometimes, he understands that we need to discuss these things. But yes, beore he goes off next September, we will definitely have the mother of all discussions. (pun intended)
I truly don't understand parents who shy away from talking to their kids about these topics. Would they rather that their children learn about it from others?

Mrs. S. said...

"I hope this trend doesn't come to Israel."
I have exactly the same reaction whenever our family and friends in the States tell us about the shidduch scene there...

Batya said...

I'll be honest. I probably did something wrong, though my kids when
quetions say it's not me. 4/5 aren't married, and they aren't young.

Leah Goodman said...

Batya - did you have a happy marriage for them to want to emulate?

If not, then that's already a reason why they might be the type to hesitate to commit.

It might not be something you did wrong. It might be something that happened to you.

Anonymous said...

My husband and I were engaged for 18 months. We were starting graduate school and wanted to wait until we were done with the most academically grueling coursework and had a bit of money saved up before getting married. A friend said to me "You can't have such a long engagement, everyone will think you are sleeping together." Another chimed in with "18 months--that's enough time to have two kids." Both of those friends since got married and divorced. Yes, probably a coincidence, but having time to get to know each other and waiting until you have the emotional and financial resources to make a marriage work goes a long way towards making it succeed.

westbankmama said...

Baila - After living here for 20 years and seeing my friends marry off their kids (early 20's - sometimes even 19 for daughters...)I think that the parents are not the ones pushing - the kids want to meet and marry at a young age. Part of it is the fact that their friends are getting married at this age, and part of it is the fact that after Sherut Leumi/Yeshiva the young people are out of the "social loop". At this age they are surrounded by people their age and religious level - and can be introduced by friends and/or siblings to potential mates. After this time, when they got to college and start working, the pool shrinks significantly. Our young people do not go to pubs to meet other singles - they need others to introduce them. Early twenties is the best time.

Baila said...


I am not suggesting that the kids go to pubs to meet other singles. But the increasing separation of the sexes is, in my opinion, unhealthy. When you say the pool shrinks significantly, I'm not so sure that's true, and it's exactly my point--encouraging them to marry young because we are afraid of that. My question is: can the young couple support themselves, or are their parents expected to do that for them?

Baila said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
westbankmama said...

Baila - It is a given in this country that a young man will learn/serve in the army for a number of years before starting college/university studies. This means that he will be at least 24 years old (and in many cases older) before he can look for a job. Religious young men will not wait until then to start to date and get married - because, yes, we do not want him to engage in premarital sex, to be blunt. Therefore there is a societal norm that religious parents take on the responsibility to help support the young couple during the first years of marriage. Those of us who live in yishuvim usually see the young couple starting out in a caravan - at a minimal rent. If the boy is learning in a yeshiva there is sometimes a kollel stipend, and in most cases the bride finds a job pretty soon after marriage.

Believe me, I do not look forward to supporting my sons after they get married either, but this is one of the prices to pay for living in Israel. The army adds a number of years to the maturation process.

As to the separation of the sexes, I am raising teenage sons, and believe me, it is better for them to not have the pressure of dealing with "girlfriends" now. They are just not mature enough for that. As for "girls as friends" my boys have that anyway with the girls from the yishuv (and sometimes from machane in Bnei Akiva).

Leah Goodman said...

There's a difference between separating for classes in school, and keeping them in what sometimes feels like hermetically sealed packages...

Bnei Akiva was meant to be the place where the kids would meet and mix, and now they segregate more.

Seating at weddings used to encourage talking so that singles could call the newlyweds a week or two later and say "I spoke to Avraham at your wedding. He seems nice. What's his status?"

Having mixed shiurim (for older age groups) not only allows people to meet naturally, it allows husbands and wives to see a shiur as something to do together.

I might consider going to a shiur once a week if it were something I could do with my husband - if we could listen, share notes, and then talk about it afterwards at a cafe or something, that would make the experience worthwhile. Right now, I just see it as another time I won't get to spend with my husband.

And I have to say - I went to a fully mixed (except gym and taharat hamishpacha) high school. I think having girls in class makes teenage boys take more notice of how they're groomed. It makes both sexes less scared of each other later in life, and while there was still very definite taboo about kissing, etc, there was never a taboo about TALKING to the opposite sex, which means that I'm comfortable talking to my husband now.

Leah Goodman said...

WBM - supporting your kids for the first few years post-marriage here is still cheaper (by FAR) than supporting them through college in the US.

And I do think it's good to experience living on a very tight budget at least for 2-3 years. It helps you learn to prioritize


having a talk about sex is OK even though it is sort of a taboo

no one is talking about drugs?
or perhaps alcohol?

Head in sand anyone?

Laura said...

Baila, great post and spot-on!

I DID get married really young (19) and I have daughters that age now so I have perspective on this from different angles.

Well said on all counts and - more importantly - great that you said it!


Anonymous said...

I had missed this interesting most. I like the fact that you face the issues rather than shun them, which wouldn't make them disappear anyway.