It’s all well and good for a single gal to tell y’all to be good, but when you’re really in love things can get hard. After last week’s post on chastity, some of you might be wondering how on earth people do it. From what I’ve gathered, it generally involves more than just a strong will; it involves prayer and guidelines and communication and mercy. So for those of you who are in a relationship and struggling–or who aren’t in a relationship but are still struggling or who aren’t either but expect one day to be–here are some tips on pursuing chastity when love and chemistry seem to be conspiring against your better judgment.
- Be committed. Know who you are and whose you are. Know why chastity matters. Then make a commitment–to God, to yourself, and to each other–that you will strive for chastity. If you’re halfhearted, your resolve won’t last long. And if you’re not on the same page, it’ll be very, very difficult. But if you’re both serious about being holy and keeping your relationship pure, you have a real shot.
- Pray for each other. The purpose of dating is to discern marriage; the purpose of marriage is to get each other to heaven. If you’re not praying avidly for your partner’s sanctification, what are you doing? Pray for your own chastity, of course, but pray for your partner’s even more. It’s easier, I think, to be willing to compromise your own salvation in the heat of the moment than to endanger the soul of someone you love and for whom you pray daily. Making little sacrifices and offering them for your partner’s chastity will keep this at the forefront of your mind–and probably bring that desire to mind when other desires threaten to push it aside.
Pray with each other. If you’re praying together for purity, you begin to see each other in a more sanctified light. Try beginning each date with Mass or a rosary before the Blessed Sacrament. It sets the tone for the evening and strengthens you against temptation. If it’s possible, end each date in the chapel. If you’re planning to stop in to see Jesus before you say goodnight (or if you’re dropping her off after having done so), it’s harder to transgress those boundaries.
- Fast. I’ve said it before: I don’t know how people can be chaste if they don’t fast. Not only does it strengthen your prayer, it gives you mastery over your body. The more you’re able to deny your body what it needs, the more you’re able to deny it what it wants. If you’re really struggling with chastity, I’d recommend picking one day a week1 to skip a meal or two. Fast (to the point of being hungry), learn some self-control, and ask the Lord to strengthen your love of purity.
Set boundaries. “We’re not going to have sex” is a great start, but there’s more to chastity than just avoiding intercourse before marriage. Sit down early in the relationship and discuss what you think is appropriate in different stages in your relationship. It strikes me as fairly obvious that touching things you don’t have (pause to make sure everyone’s grasping my euphemism) is reserved for marriage. But maybe you’re like me and you think “Don’t do anything you wouldn’t do with your grandma looking on” is a good rule of thumb. Or maybe you don’t want to kiss before you’re engaged. Maybe you want to talk about how many feet should be on the floor when you’re cuddling. Try not to be too legalistic, but do be aware that there’s more to chastity than sex. If you’re not comfortable having this conversation with your partner, you might want to reconsider either this relationship or your readiness to be in a relationship. It might be awkward but it’s important enough to endure.
- Be intentional about being alone. There’s a reason the Church talks so much about the “near occasion of sin.” Even if you’ve got the self control of a saint, sleeping in the same bed is a bad idea before you’re married.2 In less extreme situations, standards are going to differ dramatically. The more you’ve fallen in the area of sexual sin in the past, the more careful you’ll have to be. I know some people who have to be sure never to be alone with their significant others. They spend time in parks and coffee shops and movie theaters but never just the two of them in someone’s apartment; they know themselves. You might be able to handle some alone time but need to have the possibility of a roommate walking in at any moment to keep things PG–know yourself and do what you have to.
- Be accountable to someone. If you’ve got a roommate, give her permission to ask how your date went–and promise to tell her, down to the last detail. Ask your buddy to call you Saturday morning and ask if you were good the night before. Heck, give me your number and I’ll text you at midnight to make sure everything’s still holy.3 We can’t do it alone and a real community could be just what you need.
- Dress chastely. I’m looking mostly at you ladies here. Your bodies are lovely and there’s nothing dirty or wrong about them. But they were made to be given only to the body–and the eyes–of your husband. Even if you’re not willing to dress chastely for the myriad men in your life who are trying desperately to see you as a person and not an object, do it for the one man you love. If you’re dressed like you’re wearing clothes, not underwear4, then he’ll have less trouble not thinking about removing said clothes.
- Be chaste alone. The solution to temptation is not to indulge that temptation in another venue. Using pornography and masturbating don’t release sexual tension, they distort it and cause it to grow. Pornography is also as addictive as crack and has serious consequences on more than just your love life. Here are some tips on leaving pornography behind. Do it now.
- Repent. You’re going to fall. Don’t give up! Get up, get to confession, and redouble your effort. Reconsider your relationship and the rules you’ve set for yourself. Talk to a trusted friend. Cry and pout and punch a wall but do NOT give up. It’s a hard road, but remember that you follow a God who fell three times under the cross. He knew you would fall. He forgives you. He wants you to try again.
Every relationship is different which is why these are more broad guidelines than hard-and-fast rules. What seems to be universal is the fact that people don’t stumble into chastity–they work for it. It’s not just about rules, it’s about building your relationship with Christ first and foremost; purity is just a means to that end. And if we’re not just talking about abstinence but about glory and virtue and true love and a real, eternal happily-ever-after, nothing should stand in our way.
It’s hard. It’s worth it. Be strong when you can and when you’re weak, let Christ be strong for you.
- Friday would be ideal: all Catholics are required to perform some act of penance every Friday (per the Code of Canon Law). The U.S. Bishops recommend abstaining from meat. [↩]
- For a number of reasons. It might not be sex, but it’s certainly intimacy. [↩]
- Limited offer and bear in mind that a lot of the time I don’t have service, so…maybe make a new friend at church. [↩]
- You know what I mean–sheer shirts, short shorts, leggings that you’re pretending are pants…. [↩]