TBM Topic 17: Emotional Chastity
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 on Facebook and Twitter!
In the second grade, I received a cootie shot/ anti-boy inoculation from a retractable lead pencil. Don’t worry, it was given to me by a professional- my seatmate had given them to nearly every other girl in the class too. From then on, I was (mostly) immune to male charms. I was one of the few girls still playing soccer with the boys in junior high. I focused on making good friends, both male and female, in high school. I was realistic about dating in college, following the sage wisdom of my parents: A date isn’t a proposal. A dance isn’t a commitment. Enjoying another person’s company doesn’t mean you’re meant to be together forever.
Emotional chastity is about protecting your heart. It does not mean being unwilling to give it, but rather, give it selflessly, without regard to return. A perfect example of this is Elinor from Sense and Sensibility. She really liked Edward, but when she found out he was secretly engaged to another woman, she protected her feelings and let life play itself out. On the opposite side, her sister Marianne committed crimes of emotional exhibitionism. Fortunately, for us readers as well as both Dashwood sisters, true love wins out in the end.
I’ll give a more probably example: menfolk as friends. I’ve never believed the old adage of “men and women can’t be friends.” I think such generalities are poppycock. Friendship, like love, is a choice and an action. Attraction, on the other hand, is not.
On of the biggest conundrums women face today is the acceptability of “friends with benefits.” Girl meets guy. They become friends. They’re not interested in each other, so they only pursue friendship. Then, something changes. They start to feel attracted towards each other. What then?
One of possibility is to pursue a relationship.
Another possibility is to have a mature conversation and decide friendship is the best course of action.
Then, there is technically a third option. Really, a fraction of a choice, an algebraic mixture of the above: the friendship as the core, plus the heart-break, minus the commitment, and plenty of unknown variables. Friends with benefits is possibly one of the worst violations of emotional chastity. The benefits are purely physical. It is a utilitarian friendship where two people seek something from the other person. Neither party will grow as a human being because humanity needs virtue and goodness, not consensual vices or an emulation of shallowness, to flourish.
Here are two recent Hollywood examples:
Exhibit A, “Friends with Benefits” (2011)
Exhibit B, “No Strings Attached” (2011)
I would like to point out that both movies involve the complication of falling in genuine love with the other person. Do you think anyone would want to watch the movie if the people only submitted to their animalistic natures, opposed to rising above the banal situation towards the true, goodness and beauty of Love?
What a conundrum the modern world is in! Even if one does not participate in the friends-with-benefits arena, watching these type of movies, reading chick lit and endlessly daydreaming about a future with someone you have not had that type of conversation with is hazardous to feminine mental health. The unrealistic expectations set up by thinking about handsome men and allowing one’s mind to wander into fictional romance does not allow the heart to grow towards genuine love, which comes with time, honesty, purpose and virtue.
Self-control, therefore, is what is most needed in emotional chastity. It means not dwelling on the good times. It means not over-analyzing every word a cute guy said to you. It means not planning out one’s future with the man you’ve started dating or just met. It is not easy, and requires constant vigilance. This does not mean one cannot enjoy romance, consider the future or giggle over cuteness. But people want mature love, which can only be achieved through pure intentions and not rushing into emotional bonds.
The best advice I’ve been given on the subject came from my bestie Julia, before I started dating B. It also happens to be the advice I gave her before she started dating her now-husband. To achieve happiness in life, you have to be content with yourself. More importantly, though, you have to be content with your situation.
If you are single and praying every night for love to find you, I suggest praying instead for God to give you purpose in your singleness. This, like most things, may only be a season, and use it as a way to serve God more fully. If you feel called towards the vocation of marriage, God will provide.
If you’re still feeling like you’re in a pickle, I suggest an old-school cootie shot. All you need is a #2 retractable pencil and a second grader to administer a dose of perspective!