Dear Rosie & Sherry,
I am a 24-year-old woman looking for a relationship that will lead to marriage. However, it is difficult to find someone who meets my standards. One important criteria that I am looking for is a man who has not been physically intimate with another person. I feel strongly that physical intimacy should be saved for marriage.
I have discussed this issue with my family and friends and they think I am being unrealistic. Is it unreasonable to expect that I can find a man my age who has refrained from physical intimacy before marriage?
We share your belief that it is important to save physical intimacy for marriage. Our view is guided by Jewish law, as well as by our sentiments that a physical relationship is most rewarding when it develops within a committed, loving union.
At the same time, throughout our years of working with singles, we have come to learn that the person who is best suited to be one's spouse may not have all of the criteria their future partner is looking for. Many times, these "missing" criteria do not have much to do with the quality of a relationship between two people, or the likelihood that they will have a good marriage. We've seen many men and women who have difficulty finding the right person because they refuse to relax standards that may not be critical to the success of their future marriage.
We fully understand the concerns you have. By no means do we endorse physical relationships outside of marriage!
As Rabbi Noah Weinberg writes:
Judaism defines marriage as "finding your other half." Through marriage, two people become bound together into a single entity, bringing completeness to each other. The longing for intimacy is really an expression of the longing to be joined together with our "other half." Through the relationship, we express this oneness.
Outside of marriage, intimacy is ultimately frustrating because oneness can never be fully achieved. Without the commitment of marriage, you always keep open the option of leaving the relationship. As a result, the degree of connectedness reaches a barrier. Eventually, frustration sets in, and the relationship erodes at its foundation.
Yet there is something we would like you to consider. There's a growing trend for people who have chosen, later in their lives, to "wait for marriage." They've chosen to do this because experience taught them that a physical relationship without emotional commitment is not fulfilling for them. Others adopt this practice as part of becoming more religiously observant. We don't believe that someone who has come to share your own outlook should be any less "worthy" than someone who has held it all along. In fact, the whole idea of teshuva -- change for the better -- is predicated on looking at an individual for who s/he is now, rather than what s/he did in the past.
Our advice to you is to clarify those character qualities that will be genuinely important for your future husband to possess, and to concentrate on looking for them.
We hope this has been helpful, and wish you the best of success,
Rosie & Sherry