All of the above independent togetherness arrangements make risk management the primary guiding force behind their level of investment in the relationship. Noted family psychiatrist Frank Pittman once said, “Marriage, like a submarine, is only safe if you get all the way inside.” I say it this way: when I am protecting me from you there can’t be an “us.”

The Blind-fold of Sex

The dark hole inside independent togetherness is fear. Sex becomes the hiding place, an external behavior that gives the appearance of intimacy, but is really striving for self-protection. Let’s consider this observation by comparing it to marital sex. One function of marital sex is renewing the emotional bond of the couple and reminding them of their covenant to one another. From within the safety of permanence, the couple is free to engage in sexual touch that sustains and reinforces the specialness and safety of their relationship.

Outside of marriage, sex has a very different function: it creates a pseudo-bond between the couple that blurs the definition of their developing relationship and confuses physical closeness for emotional safety. Couples with little foundation to their relationship can be fooled into thinking they have more in the bank with one another than they really do. Physiologically we can explain it this way: the hormone oxytocin, sometimes called the cuddle hormone, facilitates bonding in mammals (e.g., between a mother and her newborn child). It is also released when couples are affectionate and escalates dramatically after orgasm, especially in men. In short, it makes you feel connected even when there is no substance to a relationship. Couples having sex outside of marriage are quite possibly writing checks with their lives based on a bankrupt account. In the end, they get hurt and waste a lot of time on a quick but shallow high.

But then, who cares? At least you have a little fun and don’t open yourself to soul-level rejection that way, right? Wrong.

In a blind act of self-sabotage, sexuality in dating is not viewed by today’s culture as something that contributes to vulnerability, rather, the assumption is that you can enjoy it while maintaining your separateness. You can have your cake and eat it too.

  • You don’t have to reveal yourself to another
  • You don’t have to accommodate your preferences while living in intimate relationship with another
  • You don’t risk your accumulated wealth
  • You don’t have to lose your independence or identity by getting married
  • You don’t have to risk having your child(ren) to be raised by a stepparent
  • And you don’t risk being hurt…again.

In short, you can hide naked without consequence.

But this line of thinking is completely faulty. Independent togetherness strategies actually foster pain when what seemed to be real turns out not to be. Sometimes dating couples figure this out and breakup (because “he just wasn’t the one”) while other couples don’t realize what has happened until they have already married and discover they really don’t know—or like—each other. Either scenario is completely avoidable.

Courageous Dating

What is needed is the courage to date well (intelligently and romantically) and make a clear decision for marriage so that each person takes responsibility for leaping into the deep end of the pool. There are, of course, no guarantees of long-term marital success. Intimacy is inherently risky. But without the courage to take risks, love will remain a distant dream.

The measure of risk and self-sacrifice one gives while dating is commiserate with the depth of the relationship and the value placed on the other person. A first date requires the risk of time, extending yourself toward someone you don’t know anything about, perhaps a few bucks, and a few layers of emotional transparency as you begin to share yourself with them over dinner. In the grand scheme of life, that’s not much. On the other hand, a dating relationship that is nearing a decision about marriage is more likely characterized by extreme emotional vulnerability and openness about one’s life dreams, faults, pains, and fears. What moves couples from the former phase to the latter typically is a process of measured risk, emotional engagement, and an ensuing deepening trust that frees each person to unlock and expose a deeper layer of their soul to the other. New layers challenge each person to confront the temptation to hide in order to self-protect; to walk through fear and entrust yourself to another takes courage, but this is where relationship security is forged, tested, and affirmed. The result is deepening trust and confidence that you are loved and that your “usness” is comprised of something real.