Sep 20, 2001 at 2:06 pm

It's not often I clip and save a newspaper article. But I was particularly intrigued by a New York Times item reprinted in The Cincinnati Enquirer on Sept. 9 about a young couple — a 16-year-old girl and a 22-year-old man — who engaged in a "betrothal" two years ago. In short the couple who had never dated, never kissed nor engaged in other dating rituals promised themselves to each other in a ceremony considered as binding as marriage. Now, with parental supervision, they will get to know each other.

This couple was described to illustrate a growing trend of commitment before marriage. Two people, with guidance from parents, pastor and responsible peers, enter into a committed relationship first, then go on group dates and similar outings to get to know each other. The premise seems to be that love has nothing to do with marriage, and a couple commits to the institution of marriage not to an individual. Here's the quote that really stung me: "They are not simply saying no to premarital sex. They are essentially saying no to premarital romance. Convinced that dating causes emotional pain, broken promises and sexual straying, they are trying to rewrite the rules for relationships."

Arranged marriages can work. Again, you are committed to the relationship not the individual. Hoping you will learn to love that individual you are already betrothed to isn't impossible.

Indeed it is likely, because you have nothing to compare him to. I see it as a variation on the Stockholm Syndrome, where hostages develop emotional attachments to their captors. If you are committed to being with that one person, you have to develop positive feelings to make the situation bearable. It's just me, but I don't think it's real love unless you have options and know the joy and, yes, the pain, of having been in love before.

Sometimes dating does cause emotional pain. But you learn. If you learned to ride a bike, you probably fell and got scraped knees and elbows. But you keep going once you learn it's a beautiful ride. You also move on. The tricycle is traded in for a two-wheeler then a three-speed and so on. Dating is the same thing. You fall and get hurt, but you learn and you keep going until the fit is right. Then you make the commitment.

The Times article goes on to say that dating is preparation for divorce. I think just the opposite is true. Being stuck with a person you really aren't supposed to be with is the first step towards divorce. Also breaking up from a dating relationship usually costs just a piece of your heart. Divorce is a lot more emotionally and financially expensive. Dating is the opportunity to sample what's out there before making a long-term decision. As for the aforementioned sexual straying, I've said it before and I'll say it again: Better to get some sexual experience before marriage, or you'll be in for the shock of your life on your wedding night.

It's true that love and marriage don't necessarily go hand-in-hand. People marry for a lot of reasons. But until one does decide to marry, it's unreasonable to expect a person to sit on his hands without so much as a little kissing until that day comes. Considering I didn't get married until I was over 30, if I'd remained chaste that entire time ... well, let's just say you would have been well advised to buy stock in batteries.