Americans love love. We marry for it. We celebrate it annually with chocolate, roses, and date night. But how lasting is that love? How many couples can say they share a deep, intimate bond that protects them from ever feeling alone in the world? And how do we teach our children to find that for themselves, when the time comes?
Just in time for Valentine’s Day, author and speaker Rabbi Manis Friedman and Ricardo Adler have released “The Joy of Intimacy: A Soulful Guide to Love, Sexuality, and Marriage,” offering their thoughts on those very human subjects, as well as practical suggestions for deepening intimate bonds. I recently spoke with Friedman about these issues. Our discussion, which follows, has been edited for length.
What prompted you to write this book now?
Today, with what’s going on in the world, it seems the right time to talk about the importance of marriage, the beauty of marriage, and the truth about marriage. We seem to have lost our way.
Why is loneliness so pervasive today?
It’s amazing, because we’re so sociable. We party all the time; we know so many people; we have so many friends and connections; and we travel. And after all of that, we’re lonely? Really? That’s kind of strange. So it’s not really that we are lonely; it’s aloneness that is the issue.
After filling our time with people, we find ourselves sadly alone, and that’s because we don’t share bonds or connections that are intimate. When two people share that, even if they are separated by an ocean, they will never feel alone in the world.
What is one thing singles can do to prepare for marriage?
If you’re going to get married at all, you have to love marriage. You have to believe in it, you have to plan for it and then the only question left is: who are you going to do it with? Marriage has to be the objective, not love. I know. I know. This sounds completely counter-intuitive. But look at what is happening all around us. Look at all the casualties of the search for love.
Over the past 80 or 100 years people have been getting married out of love and marriages are actually much worse than they ever were. They’re flimsy. So the one piece of preparation for marriage is: do not marry for love. Marry because you believe in marriage. Marry because you want the joy of intimacy in your life. Then if you find somebody who shares your quest and also happens to be lovable, well, that’s a home run!
The first thing you want to know about the person you’re dating is, what do they feel and think of marriage? It should never happen that you date somebody for three years and then decide not to marry them. That is way too painful, too frustrating, and a waste of precious time. If your objective is marriage, then make it clear. And search for someone with the same goal.
How do you recognize someone with spouse potential?
After checking out all the values and the lifestyle that you want to live, that it’s all compatible, now you want to see what the chemistry is.
The real chemistry is “How does she make me feel about me?” Good chemistry happens when I’m sitting with a woman and I feel totally comfortable being a man. I feel completely comfortable with the thought that I could marry this woman and take care of her for the rest of my life. That’s good chemistry. And if she feels the same way, you’ve got a good thing going.
The New York Times Magazine ran a feature on teens and pornography, indicating that pornography has replaced sex ed for many teens. How will that affect their adult relationships?
Pornography used to be an alternative to reality. But today, pornography has become the standard. Sex itself is an object. It’s not a human interaction. And that is so destructive to the human spirit.
When I speak to teenage girls, they intuitively understand this whole thing so much better than adults. Maybe because they’re not so caught up in it yet, but they’re already turned off to the objectification. They’re just drowning in it and by the time they’re 17, they’re bored with it already. So they understand better than adults the tragedy of impersonal sex, the objectification of everything.
The biggest canard of contemporary culture is that casual sex is liberating. It is exactly the opposite.
Another thing. Although survey-takers say many teenagers are sexually active, in truth, they’re not actually having sex. They will do everything but have actual sex. Playing doctor is what they’re doing and they’re a little too old for that. That’s because the intimacy of real sex is scary. So they steer clear of intimacy.
Here is the thing about casual, commitment-free sex. The lure is that when it’s over, there’s no heartache. If the other person doesn’t care about you, you should not emerge bruised in any way. But we become so jaded, because what’s supposed to be beautiful and deep and intimate has now become transactional. Cold. I’m most encouraged by how teenagers understand this issue and how their natural inclination is to regard people with respect. That give me hope for the future.
How do parents raise children with a healthy sense of intimacy?
You can’t really protect your kids from seeing what is really not worth seeing, so you have to increase the positive rather than fight the negative. You have to be careful that in your home there’s a sense of modesty. Personal is personal, private is private.
We want the home to be healthy. We want the home to be idealistic. It is a haven and must be protected.
So how do you raise children properly? You create an atmosphere in the home, where you keep things sacred because they deserve to be sacred, and you separate the public from the private, the impersonal from the personal.
Although we are fighting the influence of the schoolyard, the marketplace, popular culture, and the street, we can win, because by nature we truly are innocent. And we feel spiritually adrift when we’ve lost our essential goodness, our intuitive reverence for one another. It’s called guilt and we don’t like it. It’s called depression. It’s called despair.
So help your children remain innocent, because that’s the most natural human state. And if we create that kind of atmosphere, children are smart enough to know which they side they should choose: the beauty of the home they came from or the heartless callousness of the street.
Any parting thoughts?
Love what is important in your life. Don’t love things that are not important.
And get rid of the idea of things, because nothing you get from your spouse is more important than your spouse.