In a previous post, I commented that one of the ways that we can help singles to find thier mates is to reduce some of the societal barriers that prevent young adult men and women from ever coming into contact with the opposite gender. As I said it there:
We could reduce some of the societal barriers that prevent young men and young women from meeting each other. As it is, in many parts of our community, young men and women have only option to meet through "official" channels -- the shadchan. By increasing the chances that young men and women have to meet each other, you are almost certain to increase the marriage rate.
One of my commenters (whom I know in real life and is a very fine person) commented as follows:
I agree with you in theory, but in practice we know what intermingling will lead to. Is there any way to have general socialization amongst the unmarried sexes in a way that will not lead to other, serious, problems? I don't know.
I responded to him that life involves certain tradeoffs and the effects of any policy have to weighed against the unintended consequences of that policy. For example, I mentioned the proposal that all infants riding on airplanes have to be secured in infant seats. In theory, this is a good idea - it will potentially save infants lives in the case of an accident, which, we can all agree on, is a good thing. As some like to put it "if even a single infant's life is saved, then it's a good idea."
Such thinking, however, doesn't take into account the unintended consequences of such a decision. The unintended consequences are that such a policy would end up costing more lives than it saves. Imagine a young couple with an infant who are planning a trip. They have a choice - they could fly or they can drive on their trip. If they fly, they will have to pay for two tickets (or maybe two and a little extra for the kid - but they won't have to buy a third seat). Because they have a reduced cost to fly, they may decide to go for the airplane trip. However, if they are forced to buy another ticket (because the infant seat must be secured in a regular seat), then they may then opt to drive, rather than fly. Driving is a *much* more dangerous activity than flying. The chances of being killed on the road are far greater than the dangers of dying in a plane crash. Of course, with one couple, the odds are likely that they'll be safe either way. But multiply this over thousands of extra families on the roads and the years that the policy will be in effect, and the likelihood is that more infants (and adults) will die than would be saved by mandating safety seats for infants in airplanes.
It's these types of tradeoffs that we make in life and with regard to public policy. Will there be more "fooling around" if we reduce of the societal barriers? Almost certainly. But you have to avoid the knee-jerk reaction to saying "OK, then let's build the barriers higher," because you have to take into account what the cost of that extra "safety" is. The cost is that many young couples who could have met on their own and been happy are prevented from doing so. What is our goal? Our goal is to produce couples - happy, Torah-observant couples who will raise the next generation of Orthodox Jews. In order to acheive that goal, we have to facilitate meetings, not prevent them. Saying that if it "only prevents one couple from engaging in pre-marital sex then it's a good thing" is wrong - simply because the tradeoff cost is too high.
Lest the idea of making tradeoffs in public policy sound heretical, let's not forget that this is something that we do on a daily basis in our lives. One example is that we trade off the chance that our children will run into undesirable classmates for the convience and educational benefits of sending them to a school with other children. If you *really* want to make sure that your child doesn't come into contact with children from "undesireable" homes or heretical ideas, keep your kid home all day and teach him/her yourself and don't send them to summer camp.
When it comes to older singles, there is one more tradeoff to be considered. One must weigh the benefits of preventing singles from meeting casually when younger against the potential that they will meet casually when they are older, more experienced and more independent and more open to the idea of pre-marital sex than they would be if they were younger. In other words, how much pre-marital sex is the strict segregation policy preventing and how much pre-marital sex is it generating ten to fifteen years down the road?