How do I know I’m a word geek? I remember titles of articles I read 14 years ago.
That I remember is proof of my eggheadedness, but also testimony to the insight I found in a July 2000 Christianity Today cover story called “Losing Our Promiscuity.” It’s a good thing I’m an egghead, because I was recently able to find and re-read this article, and I’m glad I did.
In it, Paula Rinehart explores the culture-wide consequences of raising a generation whose norm is “random sex that is casual, mechanical, something to escape to on weekends.” She describes people with stunted identities and a culture that has generally lost civility, piled on top of more obvious consequences such as broken hearts and sexually transmitted diseases.
Casual, Mechanical Sex
But here is the part of the article that caught my attention way back then:
“Solomon said one of the most wonderful, mysterious things on earth is ‘the way of a man with a maid’ (Prov. 30:19). Every culture has a means of recognizing the delicate, breathtaking dance that takes place between a man and a woman—getting to know someone, liking what you experience, falling in love…
“An atmosphere in which sex outside of marriage is the norm simply throws the dance into mayhem. [Wendy] Shalit refers to the weird collection of signals and nonsignals now given between partners as ‘guerrilla etiquette.’ With no framework, no plausibility for the delay of sex until marriage, the refusal by either party constitutes a personal rebuke…
“The presence of guerrilla etiquette means that in Christian circles the dance has to be scripted because couples simply don’t know what to do with each other. What does a kiss mean? How does a person express an interest in seeing a relationship become more serious? It is impossible to gain accurate bearings from the outside culture; by those standards the relationship would have been sexual long ago.
“Christians talk about having ‘DTR’s,’ defining the relationship talks, because it is such a challenge to read each other’s cues accurately. Everything is worked out, negotiated, and agonized over in an effort to create the dance and to keep from stepping on each other’s toes so badly.”
One year out from my graduation from a Christian university, those last two paragraphs absolutely nailed the culture I had been a part of for four years. Oh, the awkwardness of dating on a Christian campus! But I had never before connected it to the larger culture’s removal of the marital boundaries around sex.
We’ve Lost the Dance
It turns out Rinehart was too right. The problem of men and women not knowing what to do with one another has only expanded in the past decade and a half. My recent re-read of “Losing Our Promiscuity” was inspired by a story about Boston College professor Kerry Cronin, who awards extra credit to any student who will ask someone out on a date (not via text message) and spend at least 45 minutes getting to know a potential romantic interest without alcohol, kissing or sex.
Friends, “the dance” has not just been thrown into mayhem. It has been lost. Completely. Most of the students in Cronin’s classes report they wouldn’t go on that kind of date apart from the assignment. But it strikes me that their professor is trying to introduce them to a lost art that is absolutely essential.
Putting Yourself Out There
I am 14 years, a wedding and three kids down the road from where I was when I first read “Losing Our Promiscuity.” Back then, I resonated with Rinehart’s words because I thought it would be awfully nice if men and women could become close without using each other and move toward marriage without confusing each other. I still think those things.
But now I also think that Rinehart’s assessment is important because knowing how to build intimacy apart from sex and how to be vulnerable without alcohol is not just essential for getting married, but for being married as well. Intimacy doesn’t just happen after you say your vows. Every day in marriage is about putting yourself out there, making yourself vulnerable and growing in trust with your spouse. Sex is part of that, but only a part. The real, humble, vulnerable interest in another that Cronin is encouraging in those extra-credit dates is a necessity in marriage.
Married or not, it’s so important for us to learn to “dance” again.
What’s the hardest thing for you about being intentional in getting to know someone of the opposite gender — without using sex or alcohol to hot-wire a connection?