Wednesday, December 19, 2012

"How far is too far?" Finally a REAL answer

Every Christian teenager wants to know, "How far is too far?"

We're told we're not allowed to have sex before marriage. Okay, fine. What CAN I do with my boyfriend then? Kissing? Making out? Holding hands? Hugs? Cuddling? Just tell me which things are allowed and which are not.

Only when I'm married, right? Image source.
And every time this question is asked, the answer goes like this:
"You're asking the wrong question. Your goal shouldn't be to find out exactly where the line is, and then go as close to it as possible. Your goal should be to honor God in everything you do."

Yes! Totally agree with this. Okay but seriously, how far is too far? This doesn't answer the question of whether it's a terrible sin to hold hands with my boyfriend.

Sometimes, this answer is given:
"Let's suppose your future husband/wife, whom you haven't met yet, is going out on a date tonight with someone else. What do you want him/her to do physically/sexually with this person?"
everyone's gut reaction: "NOTHING!"
"Well there's your answer."

Yeah... I have a lot of problems with that answer. First of all, we should all know that emotions shouldn't be taken as absolute truth. Just because your gut reaction says "NOTHING!" doesn't mean that's the correct way to look at the situation. Also, if this is your future husband/wife, but they haven't met you yet, do they have any sort of responsibility to you? That's a complicated question, and I'm not going to get into it in this post.

And now, I'd like to present a totally radical new way of looking at this, a REAL ANSWER to "how far is too far?"

Are you sitting down? Because seriously, this is an earth-shattering revelation.

Here it is: In a dating relationship, you are building a connection with your boyfriend/girlfriend along several different dimensions, for example, there's an emotional connection, mental connection, spiritual connection, friendship connection, and yes, of course, the physical connection.

A healthy relationship will have all of these different dimensions matched and growing at a similar rate. So your physical connection should be at the same level as the emotional/mental/etc connection, and it should match reality.

Yep. Let me say it again. So your physical connection should be at the same level as the emotional/mental/etc connection, and it should match reality.

That's the answer. Not, as I used to think, all physical interactions with boys would be rigidly divided into 4 categories:
  1. Not dating
  2. Dating
  3. Engaged
  4. Married
where we know that "sex" belongs only in the "married" box, and then we need to do a lot of analysis to figure out what box everything else goes in. NO!

I say "NO!" because there are some things that do not make sense when you first start dating, but after a month or so they do make sense. Not that they're "not okay" but that they "don't make sense."

Let me give you an example. When I first started dating my boyfriend, there was this one time we were sitting together holding hands. And it really affected me a lot- it felt really good because it felt like we know each other so well and that he understands me. (And I could speculate about the reasons I felt that way- maybe because I had been single for such a long time and this was a new exciting thing. I know that not every girl would have been affected the same way.)

But there was something that didn't make sense... I did a reality check and realized, no, we don't actually know each other that well- we just started dating. The physical act of sitting next to each other and holding hands was making me feel things that didn't match reality- and that's a problem.

Not that it's "wrong" and it's "a sin"- no, it's a problem because it doesn't make sense, it doesn't match reality. And if I didn't do a reality check and realize that, then I might be surprised and hurt if I later started to discuss some important topic with my boyfriend and he disagreed with me- I'd be so shocked... it felt like we understood each other so well. :(

THIS is why you need to have honest communication in a relationship. (And CONSENT! This post is just about determining what you personally are okay with, but you absolutely need to respect what your boyfriend/girlfriend is okay with.) Because certain actions may mean completely different things to different people, and you have to make sure you're communicating the right things. You have to TALK about it.

Image source.

So what ended up happening? Well we slowed stuff down, and we spent time together and got to know each other more, and very soon the act of sitting together and holding hands did NOT make me feel things that were unreasonable. So we still do that, and other stuff too (which I'm not going to broadcast to the entire internet). Because it's not wrong to do that kind of physical stuff, it's just that it was moving too fast for me in the beginning.

And yes, that's a really tame example. Just holding hands. But I've used this same logic to decide my current policy toward everything else- cuddling, kissing, making out, and that's personal so I'm not going to tell the entire internet about it.

But Perfect Number! Didn't you just say "emotions are not absolute truth"? If kissing your boyfriend or whatever makes you feel like you're going to marry him, why don't you just get over it? Just try to ignore that feeling and enjoy it.

Yeah, don't take this too far to the extreme and decide you mustn't do ANYTHING. Remember how I said the different dimensions of a relationship should all be growing together?

But at the same time, I think there's something horribly wrong with the idea that you should just deaden your emotions so you can "enjoy" the physical things without being all emotionally tied up.

I believe God made sex and God made emotions, and there is supposed to be a connection between them. It would be very unhealthy to try and suppress that.

Also, people say that women tend to be more emotionally affected by sex (and other levels of physical closeness with their significant other) than men are. I'd actually be interested what guys think about my groundbreaking answer to "how far is too far".

Let me emphasize that this is not about me making rules for you. If you read this and think "oh I can't hold hands with my boyfriend" then you missed the point by several parsecs. What I actually said was, if holding hands makes you feel like you and your boyfriend are so incredibly close, but in reality you aren't, then you'd better stop for now. Later, when your relationship is at the point that holding hands doesn't make you believe things that are totally incorrect, then go for it. Hold hands all you want.

Seriously, go for it. No shame. (I take issue with the idea that it's by definition more godly to have less physical contact with one's boyfriend/girlfriend.)

There aren't "rules." What's healthy and unhealthy will depend on how you personally respond to these things.

Give your emotions a reality check. Check them against the reality of how well you know each other, how committed you are to each other. Check them against the reality that you might end up breaking up and later marrying someone else. Check them against the reality that you've committed to not have sex until marriage and it's pointless to tempt yourself toward something you can't have.

At the same time, don't be paranoid about it. If you feel pretty good, and you don't feel like something's wrong or you have to hide something from God, then that's wonderful and you're doing fine. Don't overanalyze everything.

Image source.

All right, that's today's edition of "Dating advice from perfectnumber628". Thanks for reading! What do you think? For one thing, I'm wondering if a guy's perspective on this would be different than mine, because I've heard that (in general) women are more emotionally affected by physical stuff than men are. (Also, if you read this and thought "well, that's obvious, why does she think this is such a revolutionary idea?" then WHY DIDN'T ANYONE EVER TELL ME? I came up with this on my own. Geez.)


  1. This isn't groundbreaking for me- I felt this same answer in my heart several years ago, but no one ever told me this was the answer to that big question. But my boyfriend had grown up in a conservative church, and never questioned the assumption that it is inherently more Godly to have less physical contact. It's taken a long time for my point of view to penetrate the years of conditioning he grew up with, and there used to be a lot of emotional anguish about what we should or should not be doing. But we now both agree that our level of commitment to each other and our physical intimacy should match, and I think I can speak for both of us and say that we are happier for it.

    That, I think, is the real reason WHY God put "sex" in the "marriage" box- it's the final and ultimate expression of physical connection, and it doesn't make sense to do it until there is the final and ultimate expression of emotional and spiritual connection- marriage. Turn it around: it wouldn't make sense for a couple to get married and still never have sex. There would be a mismatch in the opposite direction. It's the matching that's important, however slow or fast the growth happens. Excellent post!

  2. Thank you for sharing your experiences, not insisting they're one-size-fits-all, but nonetheless making them available to people. Had I had more exposure to these kinds of ideas when I was first starting to date back in college, I might have behaved much differently and saved myself a LOT of heartbreak.

  3. Cool! I think you're totally right about "the reason why God put sex in the marriage box"- God doesn't just make arbitrary rules just for fun- there HAS to be a good reason behind it. And ideally we should understand those reasons rather than subdividing every physical action into categories and analyzing and trying to make all kinds of rigid rules. :)

  4. I can imagine that this principle works within marriage as well.

    Early in our marriage, my husband raped me. (He said God wanted him to.) He immediately knew it was stupid and profoundly regretted it, and we tried to forgive, forget, and go on. But trust had been severed. Years later it's clear why it didn't work to continue with the physical relationship as before. We needed to stop having sex -- maybe even live separately -- and work on trying to rebuild trust between us. Our physical connection and emotional connection no longer matched. Not hardly.

    This is a good insight. Thank you.