By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 14, 2010; E10
Gareth Warren didn't know what to think in the summer of 2008 when the grandmother of his godson handed him a book titled "The Best Sex of My Life."
Then he read the subtitle: "A Guide to Purity."
"She just said, 'I want to give this to you,' " says Warren, who wasn't exactly focused on sexual purification at that point.
In his dating life, the 26-year-old assistant vice president at GE Capital had always gravitated toward models and cheerleaders. His relationships were usually fun, but ultimately unfulfilling.
"It'd feel great when you're out with people, but when you come to a certain point after you had sex, it's like the conversation ended because you don't have a friendship," he says. "There's no substance to it. It's surface."
Over the next few months he occasionally picked up the book, reading a chapter at a time. Author Lindsay Marsh describes her Shaker Heights, Ohio, upbringing in a home where virginity was valued but not explicitly discussed. During high school her sexual interactions with a boyfriend were quickly escalating when she found out he was sleeping with another girl. Dejected, she turned to her faith for solace. In the years that followed, Marsh's virginity became increasingly important to her, eventually inspiring her to write the book and launch an organization, Worth the Wait Revolution, which encourages others to reserve sex for marriage.
The book "guided me in the right direction," says Warren, who stopped listening to music with hyper-sexualized lyrics and cut ties with a woman whose values didn't match up with what he now believed.
In early February 2009, days after attending a church ceremony with his godson's family, the woman who gave him the book asked if he'd be interested in being set up with a young lady who'd been seated in the row behind them. Her name was Lindsay Marsh.
"I was like, 'Wow,' " he says. "Because I read the book, I feel like I know who she is, and I know all about her."
Marsh, an anesthesiologist who was then 32, knew very little about Warren, but she'd been attending the Spirit of Faith Christian Center since she was a freshman at George Washington University and she trusted the opinion of the woman playing cupid.
Marsh had noticed Warren sitting in front of her that Sunday and thought, Oooh, he's nice looking. It had been years since she dated anyone seriously; while she believed she was meant to have a husband, she was unwilling to waste time seeing men who didn't share her moral code.
"For me, any level of dating would've been dating with a purpose in mind," she says. "I knew I desired marriage. I knew I desired a family, and I knew I desired to do things the right way -- a proper way -- in that dating relationship. So if someone wasn't willing to accommodate those simple goals, then it just wasn't worth it."
That week, an e-mail from Warren came through Marsh's Worth the Wait Web site. The short message explained that he had a past but was changed by her book. "I just fell in love with the fact that he was so sincere and genuine," she says.
The next Saturday, Marsh decided to call Warren. "I know a guy like that thinks he's got a lot of game, so I'm gonna switch it up," she remembers thinking. "Plus, I'm just a little bit of a go-getter."
When he called her back, she proposed dinner that night with her sister and brother-in-law, two of the many protective people in Marsh's life who were quick to assess any guy she considered dating.
Once the four were seated around a TGIFriday's table at Arundel Mills Mall, the evening became "a Gareth talk session," Warren says. He unraveled his life story, replete with sins and shortcomings. "It's better to hear from the horse's mouth," he explains. Otherwise, "you leave people to kinda imagine or do their research or hear from other people."
Marsh was impressed by the honesty, and as they drove home, her brother-in-law said he felt like Warren was "somebody who knows your worth."
The next week, Marsh and Warren went out by themselves and began speaking every day by phone. Because Warren had read the book, Marsh says, "he knew exactly how I felt on every level of dating and waiting and why." That meant she didn't have to explain she hadn't kissed a man in nearly a decade and didn't plan on doing so until she was married because, she says, "now that I understood my worth and value, I don't give out any discounts."
Holding off, she says, "became as important to him as it was to me."
The relationship felt like a revelation to Warren. "Lindsay and I have gone far deeper than I have gone with any other woman," he says, despite the fact that they had never been physically intimate.
They were making the commute between Washington and Baltimore, where he lived, three or four times a week. By the end of March, she says, "we already knew. Like, 'Okay, we're for each other.' "
They spent the next nine months acclimating their families to the idea of the relationship and attending couples communications workshops at Spirit of Faith. On Christmas Eve, with their families gathered around, Warren, now 28, played a video he'd made for Marsh and asked her to marry him.
Throughout their engagement, Warren became Marsh's partner in Worth the Wait, speaking on panels and helping to tailor the message in an effort to reach more men. Together, she says, they hope to expand the organization to promote "purity in marriage" by discouraging adultery and the use of pornography.
Marsh, now 34, suspects that many people thought she would end up with a virgin or a pastor's son. "But I never wanted to marry a virgin," she says. "I wanted to marry somebody that would be a virgin in their heart toward me and toward God."
In fact, she thinks that marrying Warren will make people more receptive to their message of "restoration and renewal -- that regardless of your path, you can make the decision to wait today."
"Although he's not a virgin, it'll almost be like he is on our wedding night because we haven't had sex," she adds. "So, you know -- we're looking forward to it."
Marsh and Warren invited the whole congregation to watch them exchange vows at the Spirit of Faith church in Temple Hills on Oct. 30. Including ushers and hostesses, it was a nearly 40-person bridal party, who erupted in cheers as the two kissed for the first time after being presented as husband and wife.
Later, 280 friends and family members gathered for a reception at the National Golf Club at Tantallon in Fort Washington. Marsh and Warren entered the ballroom dancing to a song by the Black Eyed Peas. The couple's guests raised their hands while shouting out the refrain: "Tonight's gonna be a good night."