In reaction to the increasing physical immorality spreading through society today, and in an attempt to counter the message constantly being sold through advertising, movies, music, and even best-selling books that says sexual intimacy is not only okay, but expected, outside of marriage, the Catholic online world has been buzzing with all sorts of articles on how to stay pure. Each week it seems Jason Evert’s online blog for young adults comes out with a new list of suggestions for how to become pure, remain pure, return to purity, or increase in purity. And while this is an incredibly important message, it can be a little discouraging when you prioritize purity as a couple, but still find it very hard to do so—not because you’re tempted to break the rules, but because saying no to what feels good and natural is hard.
For couples who have been dating long enough to be past the “he’s perfect, she’s perfect, we’re perfect for each other and neither of us can find fault in the other” phase, the struggle to remain pure becomes hard on a whole new level when you reach an understanding that comes with trusting each other with more of yourselves. While physical attraction tends to be an initiator of relationships, and the main facet in them in the beginning (which is perfectly acceptable, as long as there is a desire to know the person better individually, and not just use them for their appearance), the temptations to take things too far tend to center around the “newness” of it all. You’re both excited to be discovering each other, you’re not serious enough yet to be having intimate conversations or discussing deep mutual feelings, and simply touching each other sends electric sparks through the air. During this phase, purity is hard because it puts a limit on how many new things can be experienced, but it is also the beautiful restraint which forces the couple to look beyond the physical attraction and truly learn to love each other’s hearts and souls.
But after the two of you have your first fight, endure hardship together, and start to learn all the “perfections and imperfections” (to use a beautiful phrase from Inception) that make your partner who he/she is, you start to form a deeper bond with him/her. The deeper it goes, the more intimately you begin to know each other, and the more you desire simple affections, quiet moments, and complete closeness. Your hearts start to feel so intertwined, you become so familiar with the quirks and little things about the other one that make them so unique, and you start to share things together more exclusively. And as this emotional nearness increases, the longing to physically be as close as possible to the other person, to physically become close to them in the way you are becoming emotionally close, can often be even stronger and harder to resist than the initial, flirtatious, excited temptations.
When your longing to take the next step in the physical area of the relationship is based on a desire to complete the feelings of unity that the two of you have been building, when it comes from an almost spiritual yearning rather than just base attraction, it becomes easy to justify the temptation in your mind. It’s easy to think “I’m not lusting after them, I just want to be close to them”; while this is a beautiful desire, outside of marriage it is a very persuading argument for impurity. When thoughts like that take over the mind, not only does it become harder to say “no” when you both feel so united, but it also becomes harder to keep your thoughts pure—because when you’re thinking like an engaged couple, but not actually engaged, your mind starts dreaming of and preparing for things upon which it is not yet appropriate to dwell.
This is a very personal topic, and it is easy to feel alone in this struggle when so many articles and talks about purity make it seem like if you’re following the rules, everything should just be easy. For those out there dating, trying to do so in a holy, pure, Catholic way, but still finding it incredibly hard nonetheless, do not be discouraged. As paradoxical as it may sound, a date cut short because temptation was particularly intense is more rewarding than a date that went too far. When you both look at each other at the end of the night, hold hands, exchange chaste kisses on cheeks, and know that you both want so much more but are offering it up for the sake of pleasing God before yourselves, then kneel before your separate beds to pray, being able to say to God “We took care of each other, Lord. I put his/her soul before my own desires tonight, so I could take care of him/her for You. Please see the sacrifice and give us grace instead. Bless her/him, who I miss so much already, and thank you for the gift of true love stronger than lust”, nothing is more rewarding. And should God join the two of you together “until Death do you part” one day in the future, the reward will be tenfold when you can pull each other close and come together as husband and wife, giving each other the gift of yourselves so carefully preserved, and showered with grace as you unite both body and soul. So do not feel guilty or alone when your God-centered relationship still hurts sometimes when yearnings cannot be satisfied: purity is extremely hard, but it is so worth the wait.
St. Joseph, Most Chaste Spouse of Mary, pray for us!