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Courtship and Marriage

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JWs live by a very strict moral code, rather Puritanical in nature, that forbids any type of sexual contact between people who are not married to each other.  Once engaged to be married, the rigidity of that policy slackens only the tiniest bit.  As a result JWs do not engage in what most non-JWs would consider normal dating.

In order to be eligible for their brand of “dating” one must be of marriageable age and, as the Bible calls it, “past the bloom of youth” when hormonal urges might cloud their judgment and lead to an imprudent marriage.  Therefore, teenaged JWs do not date.  No prom; no, “Hey, wanna catch a movie on Friday?”  If they socialize at all it is in groups and chaperoned by a responsible adult (preferably a small army of adults).  This means that the normal process of exploring one’s own sexuality never happens until marriage.

A more mature JW (let’s call him “Don”) who desires marriage and sees an attractive prospect (let’s call her “Sue”) will have to angle to make sure they are invited to the same social events which, depending on the congregation, may be few and far between.

Lacking the requisite social events necessary for the desired contact, Don will attend meetings at Sue’s congregation whenever possible, engaging her in conversation or, perhaps just gazing longingly (at which point we must vigorously poke Don in the side and push him in Sue’s direction).

Once friendly contact has been established and mutual interest ascertained, the pair will have to create social events at which to mingle or press their married friends into service as chaperones on visits to museums, dinners out, and shopping excursions.  No hand-holding, kissing, or other physical contact is allowed except, perhaps, a supporting arm when walking across an icy sidewalk.

So, Don and Sue are smitten, and Don manages to find an opportunity to slip away from the chaperones and ask for Sue’s hand (having obtained her father’s permission).  Now they may hold hands and sit together at meetings.  Kissing is not recommended, although not forbidden.  No fumbling hands amongst the shirt buttons, now, Don!  Be a good boy.

A brief engagement is preferable in order to prevent lust from causing the premature loss of chastity.  In order to use a kingdom hall for their wedding, Don and Sue’s conduct during their courtship and engagement must be above reproach.

In practice, this repression of natural urges results in many early marriages, which leads to a great deal of unhappiness down the line.

In my own case, I was married at 18 to a 25-year-old man who, I found out some 25 years later, only wanted me for the basest of reasons.  I’ll write more about that in my book.

The wedding ceremony itself consists of a talk given by an elder and then the reciting of vows.  Oh gosh, let’s see if I can remember how it goes.  “I Sue take you Don to be my wedded husband, to love and to cherish and deeply respect for as long as we shall live together on earth according to God’s marital arrangements.”  Don uses basically the same vow, except he leaves off the “deeply respect” part.

Weddings are supposed to be fairly simple, especially if held in a kingdom hall.  Customs vary in different parts of the world, but lavish decorations are not allowed, you must use a Kingdom Melody (JW “hymn”) for the processional, and writing your own vows is not allowed.

Likewise, the reception is to be modest and controlled.  If the whole congregation is invited, probably there won’t be any alcohol served.  Weddings I attended in Maine back in the ‘70s usually were potluck affairs with square dancing.  By the ‘90s they were more likely to be catered and invitation-only with a hired band.  It is extremely unlikely that any JW in good standing would hire a wedding planner.

In my case, we had to do things on the cheap, even though I was engaged for nine months with plenty of time to plan.  Of course, I was only 17 for most of that time and had been trained not to expect much.  As was customary back in the ‘70s in my part of the world, I made my own wedding gown, and my groom wore his best suit.  I had two bridesmaids who also made their gowns and the male attendants wore their best suits.  We had a small reception at my parents’ home, mainly for family and close friends.

Once married, the JW wife is expected to be in subjection to her husband.  If there is a heavy decision to be made he will listen to her opinion and concerns, but it’s his decision, and she must support him no matter what she thinks of it.  As you can imagine, for a modern woman with a brain in her head this is nearly impossible and requires a huge amount of self-control and self-repression.  Now, there’s a recipe for lasting happiness!

A striking example of this dynamic in action occurred when my supervisor, a JW, received permission from her superior to attend a national trade association conference in a distant city.  It was shortly after 9/11, and her husband was uneasy about her taking a plane anywhere.  Of course, his fears were irrational, but she had to obey him and send someone else in her place.  Her chagrin was obvious, but she was forced by scriptural law to knuckle under.  The non-JWs in the office were astonished, and the ultimate result of this inexplicable turn of events was that the boss was diminished in the eyes of her staff.

As you can imagine, this dynamic works well only if the husband is a reasonable, loving man who follows the example of Jesus Christ.  Yeah, right.  Often, what you find in JW households is an abuse of power on the part of the husband/father.  Conversely, there are some women who will not be silenced and run roughshod over their husband’s authority – in private.  In public, they will put on a show of submissiveness.

The children in the household are subject to their parents’ authority, at least until a son gets baptized.  Once that happens, while still required to be obedient to his mother, he is considered her spiritual head.  Newly baptized boys tend to let this teensy bit of authority go to their heads and start trying to order their mothers around, a situation that never ends happily.

Girls in the household are absolutely the lowest forms of life on earth.  They have no voice whatsoever.  If an autocratic father rules the household, life can be pretty unbearable providing yet another reason for early marriage and escape.

More on a woman’s place in JWs next week.

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29 responses »

  1. What a sad “religion”. Amazing that you managed to come out so intact.

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  2. Sally, I got married in the 50’s and things were not anywhere near that restrictive, at least in my family and congregation. I know they got a lot worse later on. I don’t know how you ever came out of it with your positve attitude and sense of humor….but, I’m glad you did! …..Bill

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    • There are some congregations that are more lenient then others and then there are ” dark Kingdom Halls”. They are super strict.

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  3. Yo You writing a book? I want 1st dibs on that. Your down to earth and accurate. I love reading about JW life. Its like reading my bio over and over again. I’m always amazed of how ingnorant we are, and continue to be. Good luck oh I mean good fortune on that book. I actually got married to a JW sister because I got tired of running. Those sisters would get you involved with them in “heavy petting” and sorts. I mean even Pioneer sisters, then when you back out finding out that maybe your not compatable they would would rat you out to the elders and you know what follows. Hear ya next week peace

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  4. worse than the middle ages.

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  5. I always felt like I was living the story of “Clan of the Cave Bears”. These people were all I knew, all I was permitted to associate with, the people I was required to answer to at ALL times for ALL my actions and thoughts, and the people who abused and degraded me. I felt that I truly was an alien…..that I did not belong in any way and that I had no value or worth. Maybe it is a life that works for some people…..but it never worked for me. I look forward to reading your posts every week as they provide a healthy cathartic release for me. Thank you.

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  6. I recall that way back in the 60s it was nothing like so bad as it was later to become. During the summer of 64 it was rumoured that Bro Knorr had said – in a talk, I think – that just because a couple were engaged to be married it did not mean they were free to hold hands. It would have been a couple of years after that when, during a Wt study, the father of my former girlfriend made a comment about how grateful they all were for the wonderful provision of chaperoning. Since then they seem to have become as terrified of sex as they are of demons.

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    • Except for the pedophiles! The JW have PLENTY of those. Remember, don’t go to the authorities, you bring reproach on Jehovah’s Organization. How many little 12 yr. olds and YOUNGER were accused of leading the ” brother ” on?

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  7. Your’e killing me! You describe this all so perfectly!!!!

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  8. It was not brainwashing it was & is mind control

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  9. When I was 16 I had a 19 year old boyfriend, we were both jws. Hung out with his parents alot! One time we dared to hold hands at a meeting, which was met by a disapproving head shake by his mother, and she motioned us to stop. How ridiculous. He ended up pressuring me into sex. Figures.

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  10. Nice to point out how men leave out the “deeply respect” part of the vows. You wonder why there’s so much domestic violence and verbal/mental/emotional/physical abuse from husbands in the JWs? Well, when you make a point of reminding them that they don’t need to respect their wives right there at the wedding ceremony, what do you think will happen? Disgusting. You are one strong woman for surviving that *bleep* for so long.

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  11. I would just like to say that it is quite obvious that you are no longer a Witness. Most of the things you say here are bull. Witnesses and Witness children ARE allowed to socialize with people who aren’t Witnesses themselves, so, we CAN actually go out to “movies” with friends and going to prom is a personal decision you make yourself. From what you wrote here, you obviously think that all Witness husbands are monsters just because your’s was, there ARE in fact hundreds of thousands of Witness husbands who are true, loving Christian husbands and are not abusive or abuse the power of being the head of the household and where their homes are in fact democratic environments and not autocratic environments. Again, your wedding might have been a bore as well as the ones you might’ve attended. For MY wedding, I had a wedding planner and caterers and much, MUCH more. You obviously have some king of anger or something against Jehovah’s Witnesses but the way you are releasing it is just not right, if you have even the least bit of self-respect, this should stop. Stop all this bullshit lies of yours and get a hobby hoe!

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    • Once again, if you are a loyal JW, why are you reading this blog? Tsk, tsk.

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    • Things have changed drastically or you have your head in the ground! I was a JW for 30 years. My children were instructed very plainly by elders that to associate with non JW was associating with worldly people, bad association. Movies were to be G rated only, anything else was forbidden. To go to ANY school dances or sports games was forbidden. My daughter did country clogging dancing and was told she must give it up. There is NO close contact in that type of dancing. We were told that big weddings were worldly and the money was better spent donating to the contribution boxes. The elders had to ok everything in my daughters wedding, even the music. A wedding planner was unheard of unless it was sisters helping you. Mot EVERY JW husband is abusive but MANY are, it’s just not talked about. You would be surprised at how much is kept secret. I know!!! Including pedophiles in Kingdom Halls. Do some research and open your eyes!

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    • You must be a lukewarm JW.. does this mean you celebrate holidays? The blog is very accurate and yes I did have an abusive husband who I gladly divorced!
      TSK TSK you shouldn’t be calling people names: “get a hobby hoe”. How unchristian you are!

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    • Mbali….a cursing JW, how christian of you.

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  12. My life to the T….

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  13. I’m glad that I tumbled onto this site. I was a JW for many many years, and was a pioneer and traveled to bethel as well. I was brainwashed with the best of them. My father was very abusive, and got away with it for many years. Even when I brought it to the elder’s attention. I was told that I was very disrespectful, and I was lying. The abuse continued until I left at 18. I remember though, how controlling the elders were in our congregation. One time, an elder took a book away from me to check it out to make sure that it was “appropriate”. Even after I left the organization I was harassed by the elders. I got married to someone on the outside, and moved away. No wedding, not nothing, just met someone and got married. He was my escape. It lasted a good 10 years…But I remember when we first got married, and I moved to another state actually just the next state over, the elders found out where I was living, and had other elders from a nearby congregation hunt me down and they just keep “visiting” me. They were relentless. I finally moved, and didn’t tell any one, not my father, not my stepmother, no one. I have not had any contact with my father for years. Which actually is fine by me! But this author is right on point, no socializing with “worldly people”, no touching the opposite sex, whatever we did we were closely watched. JWs are very suppressed in everything they do, and the mind control, and fearing everything was evil, “worldly people”, geez I could keep going, page after page. I’m glad I’m OUT !

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  14. This guy who I really like (whom shares a mutral fondness) is a JW, but I am not (I don’t belong to a certain religion yet), should I persue it as my religion too? Pros and cons of doing so? Are there any beliefs/”rules” that would make a girl unworthy of “dating”?

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    • I recently started a relationship with a jw ,although I don’t have any religion I listen to what he says but honestly he is not acting according his religion. Long story short he is so passionate and open about sex that he amazed me every single day.He is aware that is not acting right but I believe his carnal desires are stronger than his beliefs, so to be honest it is kind of a hypocritical situation. But whom am I to complain? I love to make him question his beliefs. I know I sound like a horrible person but sometimes he acts so uptight.

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    • Cheyenne, Do you want to be treated like dirt?? Do you believe that women have no value?? Do you really want the elders of a church dictating your families every move?? If you want a life like that, then by all means join the JW’s.

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  15. How bizarre JW.

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  16. Maybe I doubt maybe not only Jehovah knows..eeek is that wrong mentioning Jehovah. I GET the whole strictness of things it makes sense. God would understand my sexual urges and understand that I have to have sex and explore my options . He is a loving father that would not frown at all if I have multiple sex partners. He will understand and celebrate that when I’m at age to drink I will get drunk and keep exploring my ever growing urges of partying and forgetting morals. Of course morals so old fashioned is not even “cool,chic,trendy,in style is not even on facebook,twitter or instagram ewwww morals” I’m no saint three children out of wedlock only two living.. why would I be mad if someone looked out for my well being.. sexual urges are natural yes but they lead to actions that are demoralizing you,knowing that it’s normal.. being around others in an environment and with people that will not let you give in.. why is it bad to know a person before marriage?? Sorry why is if bad to know a person before sex?.. I’ve heard good and bad about JW but most is about how STRICT I can’t party and get drunk , I can’t have sex before marriage, I can’t celebrate anything… I guess every congregation is different but they do warn you about bad association but hello even if we aren’t jw shouldn’t we know this? So I should let my daughter hang out with just anybody knowing that she might get hurt or should I warn her and keep her away from these people so when the time she is older and has a choice she knows why I “strict”… or better yet let her explore on her own she will learn … o that’s right wisdom is old and so not “hot” we should all learn from our own mistakes who cares if the same repeated story of underage sex leads to early pregnancy and older ones are more concerned about money and sex.. I mean I can go on.. and probably be criticized about how brainwashed I will be.. we know what is right and we know what is wrong the bible not jw let’s us know this.. never stop seeking Jehovah because some elders took advantage of their position.. or didn’t do enough … Jehovah will take care of those in due time.. domestic violence is a no no and if in your congregation allow it you know that it’s wrong because the bible says you should treat your wife with the same respect as you treat yourself… Jehovah blessed us with common sense we know when something is not right and the bible is his communication to us let us be modest let us be filled with morality let us be humble, let’s not desensitize what’s wrong and make it ok.. I believe that yes some people in the jw organization have done things wrong but let’s not judge everyone because of others… the teachings of the bible are true the message of Jehovah is there with every “STRICT” rule … and even with the ones that they have commited. .. a submissive wife does not mean that is your husband way or the highway… it means that if he is truly doing what is best and taking in consideration of his wife “compromise” he will lead his whole family … remember the bible says that the wife should be treated with respect and that she shouldn’t be talked down to she should be treated as the weaker vessel meaning “with care,sensitive” .. im sorry if some have been treated poorly with people who call themselves jw and are just as “wordly” those are the ones who have failed and discouraged some.. Keep searching for Jehovah for those who seek and for those who have been discouraged or moved to other teachings just cause of moral and ethical leniency pray to have more control over sinful urges instead of giving in and asking for “GOD’S ” forgiveness because is a natural thing,a normal phase, this century thing whatever it is that makes these wrongs right… I apologize so blah blah blah blah… but discernment is also a gift if used wisely… Poison should not be tasted just because it’s in a pretty bottle..

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    • I enjoyed reading your post. Yes, most of the things of the world is common sense and we learn from our past mistakes to not repeat. Discernment helps and there is nothing wrong with getting to know someone before marriage and emotional attachment. Some people consider those “old fashioned” but we live in a society where everything is so fast paced and divorce rates are on a high because people marry for the wrong reason and not based on bible standards

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