Let’s get started! In the very first paragraph, Elliot gives us a straw man, hints at a slippery slope, and throws in some good old days nostalgia:
The word love has fallen on bad times. To many people it means nothing more nor less than going to bed with somebody, never mind what sex the other may belong to. Bumper stickers substitute a picture of a red heart for the word love and apply it to just about anything, anybody, or any place.
Love is a squishy word for a squishy thing. I love wasabi peas; I love my husband; I love your new haircut! All of these are true, and I’ll bet that you, reader, know exactly what I mean by each iteration of the word “love.” Of course my love for my husband is quite different from my love for wasabi peas. This is quite obvious and, of course, not a new problem in the English language or in our collective understanding of the concept of love. Does anyone really think that “I ❤ NY” bumper stickers somehow devalue the word “love”? (For the curious, Wikipedia tells us that “I ❤ NY” was introduced in 1977; this book was first published in 1984.)
I know exactly no people who think that “love” means “going to bed with someone regardless of their sex.” She seems to think that our modern loosey-goosey interpretation of the word “love” has lead to a slippery slope and now people just don’t know the difference between love and sex or even the difference between the sexes! Individual sexual identities are not the result of a too-wide definition of the word love or the casual use of hearts on bumper stickers. As in many Christian dating books, LGBTQ identities are completely overlooked, categorized here as meaningless, careless, and based solely on lust.
Most people make a distinction between sex, love, and different kinds of love, even if they are sleeping around, and even if they casually use phrases like “making love” or “falling in love” or, “I love this movie!” to mean something less significant than what Elliot would prefer.
No wonder people cast about for some other word to describe what they feel for an individual of the opposite sex. It’s new. It’s really neat. It’s special.
Well, duh. This is why we have love poetry–and tired cliches. It’s very hard to talk about an emotion that is so wild and profound. Most people have difficulty conveying it. This is not a modern phenomenon. The relationship between sex and love and sexuality is much messier than she allows for, and it always has been. It’s confusing to like someone, or to like like them, or to love them but be unsure if they love you back. Love is a mess! It’s always been a mess. It’s a mess when you’re a virgin; it’s a mess when you’re not. It’s a mess when you’re happily married; it’s a mess when you’re unhappily married; it’s a mess when you’re single. And messes are hard to describe. “New” and “neat” and “special” seem like perfect words for this, in fact.
She’s using a familiar persuasive tactic: take an illustration we can all nod along to, play fast and loose with causation, and then quickly jump to your foregone conclusion. In this case, she’s taken something we can all agree with (“love” is an imprecise word) offered a reason for why this must be the case, without accounting for other possible explanations (“love” is an imprecise word because we have devalued it by applying it to things that are not sacred) and then quickly used this to support her next point (“love is an imprecise word because we have devalued it, and that’s why we are so confused about relationships these days.) It’s pretty shaky logic. Couldn’t there be other reasons that love is an imprecise word and that relationships are confusing? Are relationships really more baffling now than before? And if so, is that really a bad thing? Elliot has yet to sufficiently answer any of these questions–but after all, it’s only the preface, so we have a whole book still to get to her answer!
The rest of the preface is straightforward: she gives us snippets of letters she’s received over the years asking for her advice on purity, singleness, courtship, and relationships.
It is, to be blunt, a book about virginity. It is possible to love passionately and to stay out of bed. I know. We did it. …Those who have given away their virginity write to me too, some in despair, feeling that they are forever banished from purity. I write to them to say that there is no purity in any of us apart from the blood of Jesus.
Why would someone feel “in despair” that they are forever banished from purity? Perhaps because they’ve been taught over and over that purity = virginity, no more and no less. Perhaps because this idea has been expanded to include “emotional virginity.” Perhaps because the conversation about sex has focused on shame rather than on self-awareness and consent. And perhaps because books like Passion and Purity and its ideological offspring I Kissed Dating Goodbye have reinforced that message.