People Magazine has another glimpse into the insular world of the prolific and religious Duggar family. The third oldest Duggar daughter, Jessa, 20 is currently dating an 18 year-old boy who has been hand-picked by her father. The Duggars don’t allow Jessa to kiss, hold hands or even hug her new beau, Ben. Jessa and Ben are only allowed to “side hug” and see each other in the company of others. The Duggars don’t even call it “dating,” it’s “courting” and there are some pretty strict rules to be followed. The couple is not permitted to kiss until they’re married. You would think that the Duggars would make an exception for an engagement:
Jessa Duggar, 20, the third daughter of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar of Tontitown, Ark.,has entered into a courtship with Ben Seewald, 18, who lives in nearby Hot Springs, Ark., PEOPLE confirms.
The couple’s relationship will be featured on the family’s TLC show, 19 Kids & Counting, which returns Tuesday at 9 p.m.
“We are so excited for Ben and Jessa,” Jim Bob, 48, tells PEOPLE. “They are enjoying getting to know each other and are recommending sermons to one another.”
Jim Bob explains: “Courting is getting to know each other in a group setting, both families spending time together and the couple setting goals together to determine if they are meant to marry. With dating, a couple will often pair off alone and that sometimes leads to a more physical relationship.”
Jessa and Ben met in church, Jim Bob says, and then asked to correspond via text and on the phone. The Duggars agreed – and were kept in the conversation as the couple texted each other, mostly asking each other questions about theology and scripture.
“Jessa has a very steady personality,” says Michelle. “It has been interesting to watch their interactions because for her personality type, they share very similar beliefs. It has been fun to watch them and both of our phones are going off back and forth, ping, ping, ping.”
“Courtship is not just about having fun,” she continues. “You are really considering if this person could be your life partner – you pray about it and see what happens.”
Though other men have approached Jim Bob to ask if they could begin a relationship with Jessa – as well as his other older daughters – Jim Bob says that Ben is the first to make the cut.
“He’s the first one she has shown interest in that has a spiritual focus and legitimate calling about ministry work,” he says. “When a guy is pursing your daughter, you want to check him out and see if there are any red flags and with Ben, there hasn’t been. He is very sharp. It appears like a match made in heaven.”
Like her older brother, Josh, whose courtship with now-wife Anna was documented on their reality show, Jessa will save her first kiss for marriage.
“Dad allowed them to do a side hug when they were officially courting,” Michelle, 47, explains. “Jessa and Ben have said that was the only contact they would have, when they initially greet each other, when he comes to visit for their first hello, they have a quick 30 second or less side hug and a goodbye side hug and they agreed that would be the only contact they should have.”
“They want to wait on the physical relationship until later,” she adds. “If there is an engagement that comes about, they will work together on their goals and standards for that.”
Jessa and three of her sisters – Jana, Jill and Jinger – have just completed the book Growing Up Duggar, to be released next year, about their relationships, including their thoughts about boys and what goes into deciding who and when to marry.
“It is sweet as a mom to watch Jessa go through this,” says Michelle. “She’s always been the organizer in our family unit and right now she is a little distracted. She and Ben are open to encourage others who may be considering relationships that you can stay morally pure and wait for the one God has for you and then on your wedding day, begin the physical aspects of your relationship.”
This seems like an example of how these kids are expected to live exactly like their parents, which would be fine if it were their choice. Jessa is legally an adult at 20. It sounds like she has very little freedom. Are the Duggar children expected to conform mo matter what? What if one of them decides that they want to date before marriage or that they’d like to go to secular college? (The Duggars are creationists and teach their children that the earth is 6,000 years old. Some of the older children are pursuing online bachelor’s degrees through Christian colleges.) What if one of them is gay?
These happy stories don’t show the other side of the Duggars’ beliefs, the side where young women have little option other than to become wives who are subservient to their husbands. Boys are similarly expected to marry young and have as many children as possible. Is marriage the only way to move out of the family home? Even Amish kids get Rumspringa by the time they’re 16. So far the only Duggar child who has left the house is Josh, 25, and he’s married with three kids and another one on the way.
I should be more positive, Jessa looks happy and maybe this guy is the one for her. If this works for them and is what they want they both want then good for them I guess.