Thursday, 17 June 2010

Auntie Seraphic & the Kissing Fan

Dear Auntie Seraphic

I have been dating a young man [with a job and of marriageable age]. He is a much better Catholic than I. In fact he attends Mass daily and has a very regular prayer life. He also speaks to his spiritual director regularly. He did his "discerning his vocation" thing through his twenties and is now certain that he is not supposed to be a priest or a consecrated celibate of some kind. Through all this discerning he had very little experience with women or relationships. He did not want to hurt anyone or get their hopes up when he was not ready to marry and so he did not really date.

He has had no experience with physical affection with a woman. He grew up in a family where his parents did now show him any physical affection.

After a few dates he held my hand and that was a pretty big deal for him. He also kissed me that night and it was his first kiss. I noticed his heart was racing when he hugged me and I asked if he was ok.

He dropped me home and we made a plan to go to Mass together the next morning. After Mass we went for a coffee and a chat. He told me that he had not been to sleep all night and had actually called a priest for confession that morning before Mass. He said that while we had not done anything sinful, his reaction to what had happened caused him to struggle with temptation all night. He stressed that it was not my fault and that no doubt other men can cope much better but that because of his inexperience he didnt know how sensitively he would react. He said that he had decided that he didn't think he should engage in passionate kissing again until he was married. He also said that he didn't think he could hold hands with me for awhile either and just needed space to relax.

This is all very new territory for me. I am a very physically affectionate person and I like to be hugged and have my hand held etc. I agree that passionate kissing is problematic and I am willing to forgo that. But as we have been getting to know each other more and more my feelings for him are growing stronger. And as my feelings grow stronger I want to be close to him.

In one sense it is nice because other guys I have gone out with have just tried to push and see how far they could get. [And this man calls almost every day, pays on dates, and takes great care in planning things for us.]

My question is, what should I do about this? I need more physical affection than is there right now. I have also never been the girl to make the first move. Am I being silly? Is this a symptom of the fact that I have been too sexual in previous relationships? I am not a virgin and have slept with more than one man. I have not told him this, and he has not asked! He did say, "I suppose you've had a few boyfriends before?" and I said yes.

Advice? You may ask B.A. for a NCB-eye view.

Kissing Fan

Dear Kissing Fan,

Thank you very much for this email. This is a most important issue and affects many more Christian men and women than you could guess.

First of all, congratulations on meeting such a nice man. From a NCG point of view, he sounds fantastic. Very thoughtful and kind.

Second, this is not an unusual situation. I have dated a NCB who was 34 years old and had never kissed a girl. And I know of a 20-something NCB who only ever kissed his NCG on the cheek, and when, worried, she asked him about it, he explained that he didn't want to go too far. Some NCBs think they are sexual werewolves that will not be able to stop themselves from becoming hairy, fanged creatures of lust if they engage in passionate kissing and, hey, maybe they are.

I did check with B.A., and B.A. said "Is she sure he wants to make out?" which is a polite way of asking, "Could he be in the grip of a strong and exclusive Same-Sex Attraction?" This, of course, is always a NCG worry with super-chaste NCBs, but if the guy agonized all night about temptation, I think we can rule that out. He sounds like future husband material. How nice it will be for him when he is married and can stop worrying.

Don't, don't, don't, don't make a new "first move" here. I can not stress this enough. You've suffered from men not respecting your boundaries; now you must respect your boyfriend's boundaries. Forget all about hand-holding, hugs, kisses, making out and whatever else for now. His family didn't hug, so even hugs may be sexual to him. For hugs, hug your parents and your girlfriends. I sympathize about wanting hugs; when I've had too much to drink, I go around patting people I like, and that is a total no-no in Scotland, let me tell you.

But listen up: you do NOT need physical affection. You have no right to physical affection. It is nice that your family and friends hug you (when they do), but you have no right to those hugs. Even more, you have no right to kisses, caresses or any other physical manifestation of affection from a man not your husband.

Sex and sexual behaviour are rather addictive, so I am going to go out on a limb and say that yes, your hunger for physical expressions of affection may be linked to your sexual past. However, you are in control of you, so you can tell your hunger for physical expression to shut up. This desire is called concupiscence--it usually has a sexual connotation, but I think concupiscence is actually a deep, deep hunger for more than our proper share of anything.

Are you going to suffer? Yes. Offer it up in penance for past sins. Like Sister said in my Grade Nine religion class, sin has its own built-in punishment: extramarital sex makes you want more sex, sex that it not yours to have. Meanwhile, you may want to tell this whole story to a good, orthodox priest in the confessional because he might have some additional advice.

Please do not make a first move. And do not discuss your sexual past. (Good for you for resisting that temptation so far. He's SO not ready to hear it.) It's good that he knows you've had boyfriends before, and that is enough for now. Don't forget that your sexual past is in the past. It doesn't have to be your present--or your future.

I hope this is helpful. Enjoy the wonderful times you are having with your chaste boyfriend (for whom half the women reading this would cheerfully murder you), and allow him to keep his peace of mind.

Grace and Peace,
Auntie Seraphic

P.S. I suspect that, after awhile, he will make another attempt at hand-holding. If he gives you that inch, though, don't take a mile or no more hand-holding will you get.

Update: For anyone dying to know how far I think you can go, I have become intensely conservative about this since my marriage, and I think passionate kissing should be reserved to engaged people. Real hardliners will say married people, but I have discovered that that is practically impossible, at least if you're engaged to B.A. (Sniff.) (Hee hee hee!)

UPDATE 2: A Catholic priest writes in: The one thing I would add is...that the boyfriend in question will need to loosen up a little before he's ready for marriage. (I mean loosen up psychologically rather than morally.)

I approve of his chaste behaviour and his moral outlook, but his psychological/physiological reaction to a kiss suggests that there are certain issues of comfort vis-a-vis physicality which will need to be resolved before marriage. I mean, if he still reacts so intensely to being kissed, then marriage itself will have its own difficulties...

As I say, I agree with you 100% in your moral assessment of the situation, but I would suggest to your correspondent that if her boyfriend isn't comfortable holding her hand, hugging her chastely or exchanging a chaste kiss with her, then marriage should wait until he's a lot lot more comfortable and restrained in his sexual impulses. If everything is normal, he'll gradually grow used to dating, etc, and this won't be a problem.


Lucia said...

"I think passionate kissing should be reserved to engaged people."

Says the woman engaged after two weeks. :P

theobromophile said...

Small point of disagreement:
But listen up: you do NOT need physical affection. You have no right to physical affection.

Too often, "physical" connotes "sexual", and this is a perfect example of the problem with that. Humans do need affection - we see this in the desire to touch the hand of someone suffering, wipe tears away, wash feet, hug, etc. Every study shows that people who get touched in loving, non-sexual manners are happier - and there's even a (almost frightening) study about how young mice (okay, mice, I know, but still) who aren't touched by their mothers end up with all sorts of health problems as they age.

Back in the day, it was common for women to link arms together and walk, wrap their arms around each other's waists, and even lay in bed together at night, giggling the evening away. Women got the happy, sweet part of affection without all of the complication (and potential for sin) of sexual affection.


One of the huge differences between men and women, which I did not understand for a long time, is that women can kiss passionately and want to... kiss passionately. Or maybe hold hands. Men can sit across from you in a restaurant and think about sex.

One of my male friends best characterised the male sexual drive as "not something we are proud of". As much as men in their 30s have calmed down, there is still a tremendous desire there that they have to deal with. I don't think we do men any favours by pretending, as we often do, that they are wired like we are. Further, I do wish that we would explain to men that desire is one thing, and indulging it - in thought or action - is another.

From the way I'm reading Kissing's letter, it sounds like NCB is struggling with the existence of this desire, not just with how to act on it. Just my take.

My thought for Kissing is to not think of following NCB's lead as deprivation, or "never" having affection, or what-have-you, but to think about it as not having affection yet. It's waiting, not denial.

(Hey, there is a reason why Alcoholics Anonymous tells its members to take each day at a time and not to think about a lifetime without alcohol - that will make them go crazy and sets them up for failure. Likewise, with any temptation, it's about working through that particular day or instance with grace, then on to the next one, until it becomes a habit.)

Seraphic said...

Lucia, you have no idea how proud I am for not making the first move.

Theobrom, the computer keeps erasing my wise answer. In short, babies probably have the right to physical touch because they will die without it. The rest of us have to count on the generosity of others, or pay an RMT.

What is non-sexual to one person may be very sexual to another, and men are indeed wired differently than we are. And indeed, just as we would like men to realize that physical affection creates emotional bonds for us--if not them, we need to realize that what leaves us serene and contented, can leave them seriously frustrated.

I hope Mr. X relaxes enough to enjoy holding Miss Kissing's hand again, but in the meantime, no means no.

Incidentally, I've gotten email from men readers devasted by women who've been completely nasty to them for NOT making sexual demands.

MargoB said...

I don't know, Seraphic; I'm with theobromophile, here. While I wouldn't use the terminology of 'having a right' to it, I do think that humans need physical affection. Not, as theobromophile rightly notes, sexual affection; but the care of physical touch.

Now, I'll grant you that what is non-sexual physical affection for one person has a decided sexual flavor for another person.

Perhaps reversing the telescope will help: can I, in offering physical affection to someone, show greater charity to them? Or, at least: I always touch/pick up little children (who are related or are friends) who are in distress; when adults I know are in distress, touching them to show care is something I do consider, also considering whether they'll be comfortable with it.

But yikes: I don't want to scrimmage too far into this field, as too much thought about affection can kill the spontaneity that can add to its power to show the recipient that s/he is loved.

theobromophile said...

Oh, I hate when my computer gets hungry and eats things.

Maybe it's a semantics issue: I was responding to the distinction between needs and rights. That you need (or would do much better with) something does not mean that you have an absolute right to it, especially when that comes at the expense of another human being.

Incidentally, I've gotten email from men readers devasted by women who've been completely nasty to them for NOT making sexual demands.

Oh, I've had that, too (well, nasty to me for not capitulating to their demands), and it is horrible. It's hard to describe what it does to a person - not just having it happen once, but the repeated cruelty for not acting like your sole purpose on earth is to be there to satisfy someone sexually.

Pedantic Classicist said...

Hi Seraphic,

Good post and good response on the whole. I think our neighborhood Chocolate Lover makes a really good point about the difference btw men's and women's desires as well, something I hadn't thought about.

I think, too, that the difficulties experienced by this particular NCB--heart racing, can't sleep, etc just from some simple affection--will be all too familiar to many of your male readers. I am reminded of the (apocryphal?) story of St. Francis calling his body his "Brother Ass" and I think most men can certainly identify with that sentiment, not the least when it comes to physical desire. I do hope KF's NCB can (eventually!) look past the temptation and maybe find some (healthy) humor here at his own expense, as Francis did: perhaps it would be helpful going forward.

IA_ said...

Auntie Seraphic

I don't know if this comment is appropriate to post.

I listened to a very interesting radio program mp3 on testosterone by "This American Life" episode 220.

They interviewed a man with a medical condition that left him devoid of testosterone and a transvestite who began taking testosterone injections. Men and women are wired very differently when it comes to attraction.

Men really appreciate it when women, even if they can't understand the specific battles men face, assist in preventing temptation.

Jessica said...

"How nice it will be for him when he is married and can stop worrying."

I haven't ever been in a situation like this, but I think the quote above summarizes why there are some red flags for me, and I agree with the priest who wrote in saying that he needs to "loosen up" psychologically. A kiss led him into such strong temptation that he had to go to confession? How is he going to be able to lead a chaste married life? What will he do during times of abstinence in marriage?

It sounds to me like his form of chastity leads to the same type of separation between the person and her sexuality as one might expect from a worldly, sex-obsessed person. Is he unable to express his affection for her in a physical but non-sexual way?

Maybe it would help to clarify if his decision to avoid hand-holding, etc., was a "won't" or a "can't." In other words, is he choosing to avoid these actions because they are a temptation to sin, or does he feel forced to avoid these actions because they will immediately and inescapably lead to sin?

sciencegirl said...

Humans need/benefit from some physical affection sometime it is true. A crying person indeed feels comforted when hugged by a friend, & a nice pat on the back for a job well done feels rewarding, but I think many people overdo it and turn their physical friendliness into a demand. I for one would appreciate some of the huggers in the world backing off and ceasing from imposing their physical desires for comfort on the rest of us who may want physical affection occasionally from close friends and relatives, but don't want it most of the time or from most people. People with overwhelming desires for cuddling and hugging should get a kitty or puppy or something & leave the rest of us out of it.

I am talking about non-sexual hugging and touching done in a friendly way by those who are not in my close circle of friends. This boundary existed when I was a kid too. I wasn't one of the girls hugging all her friends every hour, and in fact I can't remember hugging a friend until high school. My friends & I knew we liked each other because we played & talked together. If I was in distress, a hug would be very comforting and much appreciated! But all too often I was being hugged by random friends of my parents and I just found it annoying and invasive. I'm sure they were fond of me & just wanted to show that, & since I was fond of them & polite, I put up with it, but we really were not on the same page. Girls may have walked arm in arm together, but Alice did not like it when the Duchess did the same with her.

Conversely, if I were dating, I would feel sad if I could not show physical affection to my boyfriend, because to me a romantic relationship usually goes with some sort of (chaste) physical sign. It's one of the ways I distinguish a romantic relationship from all my other relationships, but I know it has to be mutual if it is worth anything. I would respect ChasteMan's boundaries, but would try to find some physical form of affection that would not scare him. Secret chastity handshake? Maori nosepress? Pinky swear? Fist bump? Even as a physically reserved person, I agree with the priest: romance and touch takes some getting used to, but if all is normal, it will happen -- and needs to happen for a successful marriage.

some guy on the street said...

IA_, it's true!

Exemplum gratium: the most fetching modes of vestment I've ever encountered are also always the most modest (the merely "frumpy" is not modest; it just looks unnatural). I honestly don't understand what's passed for "fashion" these last eight years or more, but the closer it approaches framing and exhibition, the more it bothers, and the more I'm put-off.

Alisha said...

I think it's very important to distinguish between a need and a right, as has already been done...I agree it is not a right but I believe it is a need at any age, not just for babies. I think it's particularly significant that Jesus often healed (and not just physical illnesses) through touch - He could have just spoken a word or even just thought about the healing...but He didn't; He touched people. And as He did nothing by accident, and we are supposed to imitate Him...moreover, the "holy kiss" we are exhorted to greet each other as Christians with is mentioned several times in the New Testament.
As much as it is great that K. should want to help her bf remain chaste, I think she should also help him get HEALTHY (suggest some kind of good therapy? maybe learn partner dancing!) because it isn't normal that 1 kiss should have that effect, no matter how differently wired men and women are. A person who responds that way has been seriously deprived of affection and so hasn't learned the "meaning" of these gestures in a way that allows them not to be a stumbling block...and that will be a problem not only for chastity within marriage but showing affection to his kids: if a kiss has such an affect on him, he may become afraid to kiss his daughter or hug his son, and that would be sad...I think Theom is totally right when he says he believes the young man is struggling with the existence of this desire and not just how to handle it.
I think what would be highly useful in our society is to spend time at a young age learning how to observe body language as much as we do written or spoken language - then affectionate people would not be infringing on other's spaces but we could reclaim what has been created good yet has unfortunately become so tainted - by sexual excess, and consequently fear, even by those who are not given to such excesses.

Seraphic said...

Alisha, it turns out that it was not just a little kiss that set him off. And, happily, it turns out too that there are hugs and little pecks going on. (See the com box on the post after this one.)

I agree that it is something to worry about when your sweetheart doesn't like to hug or give "holy kisses" while at the same time maintaining people's right not to be touched or to touch, if that is what they prefer.

Seraphic said...

Alisha, it turns out that it was not just a little kiss that set him off. And, happily, it turns out too that there are hugs and little pecks going on. (See the com box on the post after this one.)

I agree that it is something to worry about when your sweetheart doesn't like to hug or give "holy kisses" while at the same time maintaining people's right not to be touched or to touch, if that is what they prefer.

theobromophile (the lady chocolate lover) said...

I think Theom is totally right when he says he believes the young man is struggling with the existence of this desire and not just how to handle it.

I'm a girl!

(In retrospect, my bloggy name should have been theabromaphile, which might have avoided some confusion....)