Cut to the Chaste

Week Six: Sex Before Marriage

“Cut to the Chaste” by Elizabeth at Startling the Day

This is the sixth post of a blog post series called “Bright Maidens.” We three are from the oft-mentioned, widely-speculated upon demographic of young, twenty-something Catholic women. We’re here to dispel the myths and misconceptions- please join us for the discussion!

The Big Rule: no sex before marriage. It’s a concept that seems pretty simple when you forget that rules are often useless to the flawed human race without reasoning and understanding supporting them.

(I don’t own the rights)

My mom “conditioned” my sisters and me from the tender age of three to follow this big abstinence rule. As I mentioned in my review of Jason and Crystalina’s newest book, my mom sat her daughters in front of the 1954 musical, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and drove home the point that men and women sleep separately until they get married.

I intend to buy the Blu-ray version of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and convert it to hologramray or whatever technology comes next until I have my own children. Learning that men and women sleep separately until marriage when I was still eating glue and drawing incomprehensible crayon artwork on the floor was immeasurably helpful in my life.

This is especially accurate considering life outside of my home tried to make fun of the values that my parents instilled. The TVs played music when the characters finally got together, suggesting there was actual magic shooting back and forth between those kisses. Now we harbor little doubt that the next step these characters take will lead to the bedroom.

The commercials started to use innuendo and now we have public displays of American embarrassment in shows like Teen Mom and The Secret Life of the American Teenager.

My mother got to me early and drove home the Big Rule before the media had a chance to get me, but it was really my peers I had to worry about. The media plague got to many of my classmates before it affected me (thanks mom and dad, for banning shows like “The Simpsons”).  These peers’ influence, sarcasm, and general attitude about topics such as sex and romantic love started acting like a marinade on me.

Society’s lessons about how to be “normal” finally got to me and all of the champion avoidance efforts I could muster were no match for an attack from all sides.

Happily, my parents used anatomical names instead of cutesy names, they were always available to talk, unembarrassed, and transparent when we had questions. We had comfortable talks about sex instead of ones that made you want to crawl into a ball and be absorbed by the carpet.

The supposedly liberated media can’t claim to be unembarrassed like my parents. Movies or TV shows with any sexual innuendo carry a hint of embarrassment, wrongdoing, or “shoulda, woulda, coulda” when the sexual relationship doesn’t pan out as the characters anticipate.

You knew I had to add Grey’s Anatomy (I don’t own rights)

What is missing? Where is the freedom?

I was brought up to mutter commentary like, “Well, maybe you shouldn’t have had sex,” whenever the characters broke down in tears after a break up. I followed the rule to a T. No sex until marriage, at all costs.

Then came high school where my friends and classmates started drinking and having sex, making me feel like I was far better than most and that I didn’t want to judge these people for their decisions.

My solution was to continue my non-drinking, non-sexual ways and decide that my decision was my decision alone. It mattered not what they did — sometimes this attitude led to my encouragement of behavior I would never consider, softening my perception of the wrongs I was opposed to my entire life.

Then came college and the “normal” college lifestyle I knew so well from the movies and TV shows. The fun happens at parties: the end. Therefore, go to parties and do fun things like drink, flirt with the opposite sex, and make-out with complete strangers while the smell of Natty Light and Axe hangs in the air.

Cut to the Chaste

The mantra went: I wasn’t having sex, my outfits were classier than those girls, I wasn’t getting wasted every weekend, and I only had the stranger encounters a few times.

But was I still the three-year-old sitting Indian style in front of the musicals and wholesome movies I would watch as a child? The “bloom” had been rubbed off because I was advancing away from that simple, innocent life, edging as close as possible to sin, and treading through Sin Candyland “for fun.”

I started dating and with that comes smooching.

It’s risky to think we can go at full speed in a passionate make out session with petting and expect to put on the breaks every time. In fact, it’s just plain mean to yourself and to your partner to get hot and heavy with the expectation that you’re going to stop before sex “happens.”

Sex doesn’t just happen, choices are made and then adults consent (except in the obvious cases of rape). One of these choice checkpoint is kissing and it’s up to the individual to know when we start to lie to our body saying, “Hey, we’re going to have sex with this person before we get off the couch,” when we have no intention to advance that far.

Sexuality isn’t one size fits all. Sex isn’t dirty or evil either. It’s supposed to be a beautiful foreshadowing of the union with God in heaven.

(I don’t own the rights)

God is supposed to be involved, much like He is supposed to be involved in relationships leading to marriage and involved in the marriage itself. Sacrament is the key word we’re searching for.

We can blame society until our faces turn blue because it pushes a subtle (and not-so-subtle) agenda on us. However, I don’t think we can be satisfied with this one Big Rule.

We need to understand why we’re choosing differently than the characters in Friends. We need to understand why making out with everything with a heartbeat devalues our perception of what should be a tender moment. We need to date with purpose instead of treating the people of the opposite sex as truck stops on the way to the destination.

Ladies, we need to know we’re dressing modestly so we know that the men in our lives are there because they see something revealed within us instead of something revealed by our blouses. Gentlemen, you need to know you’re half of the equation and your conviction needs to be steadfast and consistent, even if you’re dating someone with a less than pure past.

Chastity means learning and respecting all of the reasons we were created. Love your spouse before you meet them and prevent yourself from making the mistakes that don’t easily leave your memory.

I’ve written letters to my future husband at many points in my transition back to chastity. They explain that I already love him and that I’m excited to share the fruits of my chaste labors in our marriage. I think these fruits will show themselves in our relationship before marriage, on our wedding night, and in our public married life.

A fruit basket from Me, to Me, stocked by God. I bet it tastes like freedom.

Less is More

Week Four: Patron Saints

“Less is More” by Elizabeth at Startling the Day

This is the fourth post of a Lenten blog post series called “Bright Maidens.” We three are from the oft-mentioned, widely-speculated upon demographic of young, twenty-something Catholic women. We’re here to dispel the myths and misconceptions- please join us for the discussion!

A few months ago, Jen Fulwiler created and shared a “Saint Generator” that randomly conjured a saint’s name and brief bio for users. She suggested we say a prayer and adopt the resulting saint, giving him or her a little test drive with the impression that we were meant to “get” that saint.

Drum roll, please, I thought. CLICKSt. Thomas More. Hrmpf.

Don’t misunderstand: he’s a fascinating, intelligent, wonderful man we can all look to for sound words of wisdom. But I already knew about him.

I wanted to get a random saint I’d never heard of and converse with them over their bizarre life. “You had how many animals? And with how many swords did they impale you? Cool!”

Most of my English literature classes in college revolved around the Reformation, so I have read Utopia, heard the story of St. Thomas More from the mouths of secular professors, and danced politely in a discourse with my fellow students about the split from the Church.

St. Thomas More was old news. Or so I thought. In preparing for this post, I realized how my chosen patron saint and this randomly selected adopted saint relate to a recent revelation.

Elizabeth Anne Seton

Like so many things about the beginning of my faith life, I sided with convenience and routine during my confirmation preparation. There is something to be said in support of ritual. 

Even prayers we invent as we lay down to speak to Jesus before we sleep have a pattern to them, all Christians can agree to this. Standing in a circle, holding hands with strangers or acquaintances so that we can join in unity with the words of the Our Father (Lord’s Prayer) is a ritual.
Many of you might have chosen your patron saints for spiritual reasons. I picked Elizabeth Ann Seton because we shared two names (cue Anne of Green Gables speech about Anne with an “E”).
Statue of Elizabeth. (I don’t own the rights)

My name, as the Church recognizes it, is Elizabeth Anne Elizabeth Ann Seton Hillgrove. I received books, medals, and pamphlets all about the life of Elizabeth Ann Seton and what did I know about her after two years of study? 
She was the first American-born saint, her husband died of tuberculosis, and she was the patron saint of widows, against the death of children, and against in-law problems. Dang, I picked a morbid one.
It’s possible she will help me with one or more of those (please, with the latter), but the fact that she was a convert from Episcopalian faith begs more of my attention today. This woman faced more tragedy and up-current swimming than many people half as busy as she was.

Her husband died in Italy, where they had traveled to nurse him back to health, and she found herself an Episcopalian widow surrounded by physical reminders of the Catholic Church.

Soon she was inspired, uplifted and felt called to convert, though she would soon be without finances. Her conversion alienated her from the family upon whom she would ordinarily be able to depend.

Liz meets More

Eventually, St. Elizabeth founded the Sisters of Charity and became the first American-born saint at her canonization in 1975. I don’t think I knew she was a convert when I picked her for my confirmation, but I’m glad she was.

My “I have this log in my eye…” post addressed my impatience with Protestants. I have a problem and I need God’s Grace to reverse it. It’s no coincidence that I have faced anti-Catholicism, now I resent it, and both my patron and adopted saint dealt with both sides of the same see-saw.

St. Thomas More (I don’t own the rights)

The intersection of my patron and my adopted saint affords me something to reflect upon. How to stand up for the Church, how to attempt intelligent discourse among people with whom I disagree, how to be willing to offer up my suffering or how give my life in martyrdom.

This seems like a coincidence, and of course I’m focusing on this aspect of their similarities, but recognizing the connection between my saints has opened a can of worms. They weave themselves into my day. I’m still learning what this connection means, but I’m doing so with a simple approach.

I just suggest that you recall your patron saint, say a prayer, and click “Show Me My Saint” on Jen Fulwiler’s Saint Generator. See what kind of connection is waiting to happen in the Communion of Saints.

Christian Commitophobia

Week Three: Dating

“Christian Commitophobia” by Elizabeth at Startling the Day

This is the third post of a Lenten blog post series called “Bright Maidens.” We three are from the oft-mentioned, widely-speculated upon demographic of young, twenty-something Catholic women. We’re here to dispel the myths and misconceptions- please join us for the discussion!

“So you’re an actively dating commitophobe who desperately wants to find Mr. Right?”

A friend recently summed up how the world categorizes my dating style. My answer to him at the time was a laugh and a “yes, you got it.” But really, the answer is more complicated than that and the end result is: commitophobia isn’t always a bad thing.

Break it down:

*Actively dating: yes. I’m getting to know men.

Your mom told you friendship should come first and I think she was right. You know how easy it is to be friends with someone with whom you really connect? Why deprive yourself of the same ease with a significant other? I am getting to know men as friends and taking it no faster than that, for the time being.

*Commitophobe: that’s how the world sees me. I have dated several men over the years and I’ve gotten serious with one of them.

My 24th birthday is tomorrow. This makes me either a late bloomer (first date: age 15 — pretty early), a weirdo (this is entirely possible, but what would that make you, dear reader?), in a place without a sufficient supply of men (that is not the case for anyone when online dating has graduated to non-sketchiness, for the most part) or a commitophobe.

*Desperately: No. Not desperately. Ouch. If I was desperately searching for Mr. Right, I think I would have found Mr. Okay Enough and married him by now.

Desperation, in this case, would cloud my mind and make me settle because the desperation would be less about finding the right person and more about hunkering down into the idea of marriage.

*Wants to find Mr. Right: check. If God is calling me to marriage, I feel prepared to meet the man I will marry. If He’s not calling me to marriage, this post is still a pillar of what I believe about the subject of dating.

I want to be like them

In my teen years and in most of my college years, I felt the ache for the “kind of” companionship I witnessed in couples around me. I liked the idea of holding hands with a nice, cute boy and telling him about my day like the “other girls” did.

To have a male confidant who would be romantic and wait outside of school at the ending bell, leaning against the hood of his car, hand-picked long-stem roses in hand with a poem memorized for recitation… would be divine.

How dreamy this boy would be. He would treat me well, make me laugh, understand my cryptic humor, get along with my family, and respect my boundaries. Finally, the girls at my school would see that someone found me desirable and worthy enough to call me “girlfriend.”

Insecurities like this feed like a parasite on most teenage girls. I’m so grateful to have my parents, for without the motivation to remain true to myself, I could have taken that crazy thought train into a premarital, sexual relationship with the first squeaky-voiced, teen guy who would show me any of the affection I craved.

To clarify, I was quite invisible in high school and was especially so in the minds of the the all-boys’ brother school down the street. I was invisible, but I still emitted a non-silly air.

Being invisible erases the chance of pursuit by some disrespectful guy, but my demeanor prevented it, as well. A foundation of confidence supported me, though it was hidden under many layers of these insecurities, so the threat of losing myself never followed through.


Naptime with Daddy

My hero, my Daddy, gets to take a lot of the credit for this. He was and is a spectacular part of my life and has built up quite an example of manhood. Any prospects, past or future, tend to pale in comparison.

I dated a few men in college and beyond but I often put the breaks on the momentum of the relationship, hence commitophobe. Of course, this has been an effort to avoid pain but also to avoid dating for the sake of dating.

My father’s fervent devotion to our relationship and his relationships with my mother and my sisters prevents me from settling. In fact, he has made finding the right guy nearly impossible because of his example and ability to make me double over in laughter. He’s ruined it for lots of men.

Why would I date someone when I can see he doesn’t value the foundations that support my father’s strong points?

Yes, as my friend from the beginning of the post pointed out to me, it takes a long time to get to know someone. This doesn’t mean we launch into an emotional and physical relationship with everyone who shows interest in us.

When we approach dating as a way to get to know someone instead of a mid-life circus act to convince someone to like us, we can reach a level of comfort.

Taking this path allows both parties to “interview” the other in the same way they learn about other friends. If it turns out that there is something missing between you, at least you haven’t fumbled through a physical relationship before its too late to get out relatively unscathed.

Another friend once described the ideal relationship between a man and woman like a triangle. As a man and a woman work toward God at the top of the triangle, they’re also getting closer to each other.

Seeking to know God helps us grow closer to each other because of the Love that growing close to God fosters.

I have not always agreed with this. In fact, for a time I was pretty cavalier with giving away my kisses and entertaining the idea of dating men who didn’t hold value for the walk toward God.

When it came down to it, my deep-rooted “commitophobia” prevented me from ignoring my inner voices and slapping a “boyfriend” label on the relationship.

Now I believe skipping the step of getting to know someone before allowing a physical relationship to try to push it along is counter productive. Kissing is great fun  
because of the chemicals it releases and the bond it creates between two people.

I don’t want a bunch of chemicals clouding my mind in the early stage of knowing someone. My mind is cloudy enough. I’m a Christian Commiophobe.

Prepare now

It doesn’t take much to set off a teen, but if you wanted to ignite my temper in high school, all you had to do was put on an “Elizabeth’s Mom” mask and say the words, “It will happen when you least expect it.”

So many other nuggets of my mother’s advice have proven annoyingly true, so I’ve decided to trust that she’s right. In the meantime, I’m surrounding myself with a cushion of wonderful, beautiful friends.

My close friends are good, faithful people who help me walk closer to God with each step.

Keeping them around is narrowing my choices in dating even more because I will not be caught off guard or charmed when someone treats me with respect or agrees with my core beliefs. I have a whole pile of those friends at home. Those are now nonnegotiable traits.

This was one of the hardest posts to write and I think it’s because these are new conscious beliefs based on the subconscious beliefs I’ve held my entire life. I’ve always been a little afraid of getting to close to someone in a romantic relationship.

It has taken years of reflection, but I’m grateful for my commitophobia. I know I won’t settle; I know I will attempt to see every friendship and relationship as a journey to Christ and to becoming who I am.

“The biggest human temptation is to settle for too little.” -Thomas Merton