Dear Lauren,

I'm a 15-year-old girl. I've been told that I shouldn't associate with boys until I'm ready to marry, but I've also been told boys can make great friends. I'm a bit confused about this. Is it wrong to spend time with boys, or to have boys as friends? Also, on a related topic, is being shomer negiah (not touching the opposite sex) actually a Jewish law, or is it just a custom? Is there something wrong with dating before being ready to marry?

Lauren Roth

Lauren Roth's Answer

Baltimore has humongous worms. I mean man-eating-sized worms. Why am I telling you this? No, not because I think boys are worms. (I actually have four boys in my home, and I like them very much!)

I’m telling you about the worms in Baltimore because I walked through them this past Shabbos at my cousin’s bar mitzvah. It was raining cats and dogs on Friday night, and the sidewalks of Baltimore were absolute rivers, with loads and loads of humongous worms in them. But many of the family members who attended the bar mitzvah won’t drive on Shabbos, and so we walked through the wormy sidewalk lakes to get home after the celebration. The family members who drove home in their cars might have been warmer and dryer than we were—scratch that—the family members who drove home in their cars definitely were warmer and dryer than we were, but I have to tell you: we had a blast!

We were singin’ and dancin’ in the rain, worms and all! We made up a marching song to help my four-year-old keep walking: “I’m wet/ I’m cold/ there are worms on the soles/ of my feet, feet, feet feet feet/ BUT walking in the rain/ like this with you/ is neat, neat, neat, neat neat neat!”

What I’m saying is: different strokes for different folks.

I grew up with boys and girls mixed together in school and in the synagogue and in the Jewish youth groups we all attended. But my children are all growing up in a community which keeps boys and girls separate until they are ready to date for marriage. Personally, I think my children have an emotionally healthier situation. Do you know how many boys I hurt when I was a teenaged girl? Do you know how many of my teenaged friends were hurt by boys? And the reason was that we were too young and uncommitted to do those relationships well. I’m pleased that my children will have time to mature and to grow and to learn how to be a proper, giving partner before they enter into the arena of male-female relationships. They’re less likely to get hurt, and they’re less likely to hurt a partner that way.

I also think my children have more opportunity to develop themselves as people without the distractions of a romantic relationship because they will only date once they are ready to marry. My friends and I, on the other hand, growing up in a setting where there were boyfriends and girlfriends, were very focused on who’s going with whom, and who’s breaking up with whom, and all the associated drama. Drama that was played out on an amateur stage by very young actors and actresses, who hurt their partners consistently (albeit unintentionally).

In my opinion, God is very wise. He knew that male-female relationships take maturity, understanding, and a deep ability to give. All traits that people have much more of at age 20 than they do at age 10 or 15 or 17. Therefore, He set in Jewish law the precept that boys and girls should not touch each other before they are married. Do you know how many people would not be hurt if they kept that law?

I know in some communities, boys and girls are together in school and in the synagogue and in youth groups and in community events. Personally, I have come to realize that separation between the sexes before marriage can benefit everyone and save a lot of unnecessary pain.

I also think it’s beautiful when your husband or your wife is your very first and your only “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” that you’ve ever had. That bond is so much more special than it would be if you had had many boyfriends/girlfriends before. Can you imagine no memories of any romantic partner other than your very own spouse? How intensely special that would be! And in communities where boys and girls stay separate, that’s exactly what happens.

I remember having a discussion with a fellow teenaged girl when I was in high school. I, the observant Jew, was talking about the emotional wisdom of saving physical and sexual contact for marriage. She was arguing that sharing her body with many romantic partners during her teenaged years was beautiful and fun. I remember looking at her eyes when she said that statement, and seeing doubt, sadness, and a disbelief in her own words there. I couldn’t imagine touting promiscuity as beautiful, and my hunch was confirmed when she continued talking to me about it for quite a long time. If she really thought her promiscuous activities were “beautiful” and “fun,” why would she keep asking me about the rationales behind saving oneself for one deep, committed relationship?

When two mature people are committed to staying together for the rest of their lives, both of them are much less likely to get hurt than when two people are just together as relatively immature kids out to have a good time.

Good luck with your decision!