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.
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,
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.