Here and Now: Emotional Chastity in a Relationship

A priest gave a talk that I heard about recently regarding femininity and beauty.  His definition of beauty was simple: Something is beautiful in the sense that it reflects reality.  We are able to recognize the beauty of God’s plan for when His creation fulfill their purpose.

This perception of beauty as reality is why magazines like Verily have championed in the advertisement department for women’s magazines.  Their editors and team reject photo shop and their models are realistic.  Verily’s representation of beauty reflects the reality of their model’s person-hood.  Women and men are appreciated in their photos as their whole selves, not partially rejected or deemed ugly because of body type, hair length, height or weight.

The ability of beauty to reflect reality applies to more than just physical beauty, though.  It also applies in terms of vocational beauty.  What could be more beautiful than a soul who has listened to voice of his or her maker and discovers the joy of the best versions of themselves? There is a sense of joy the radiates from the lives of priests, sisters, nuns, brothers, friars, married couples and consecrated singles when they are living a life fully dedicated to the reality God planned for them.  I remember going to a Steubenville conference my junior year of high school and, for the first time, having the chance to interact with people on fire in their religious vocations.  It was incredible to see people who were so blatantly in love with not only their calling in life and those around them, but with the God who gave them that calling.

So, this brings us to the beauty of reality in a romantic relationship where two people are discerning the vocation of marriage together.  There is a temptation to slip into the fantasized beauty of non-reality through the rejection of the virtue of chastity.  Not necessarily within a physical context – but through the thoughts and conversations that guide your interaction as a couple.   It can be easy to give into the temptation that emotional unchastity offers -to reject ideas of keeping your heart in check because what you feel entitled to thoughts about your future when you’re dating someone.

Gone are the days of jumping mentally from one person to the next and dreaming of potential relationships.  You’re in a relationship after all, shouldn’t emotional chastity not be a concern anymore?

From my own personal experience, especially the case of an intentional relationship, emotional chastity is a beast.  If both people in the relationship are regularly discussing things like marriage, intentional communication, ways to challenge the other person, the continual process of taking off masks and showing the other person your weakest points, then the bonding that occurs over the shared experience of your relationship has potential to turn into a seemingly justified flinging off of emotional chastity.  It seems like a right – of course you can allow yourself to dream about your future with your significant other (mentally, or verbally in conversation with them as well) because your future is inevitable, it’s purposeful and you could marry this person, right?

Wrong.  Intentional relationships beg for a better grasp on emotional chastity.  If you completely abandon yourself to projection of a future relationship, you start to lose the beauty of the here and now.  Going back to the phrase about beauty reflecting reality, the reality of your relationships is probably the fact that you can’t get married to that other person right now.  You may have the spiritual, emotional and physical attraction down, but your situation may hinder that marriage commitment.  Maybe you’re long distance and need to proceed with an awareness that you haven’t seen each other in day-to-day living.  Maybe you are both students at different schools and your programs require you to be fully present.  Regardless of the situation, the reality of the situation is what it is…and no amount of future planning can change that.

Is it tempting to let conversations about your best friends lead to who you want in your wedding party? Yes.  Is it enticing to let chats about travel lead to where you’d like to spend your honeymoon together? Mhmm.  Is that helping your relationship though? Or is it taking the here and now and trampling it underfoot as you rush off, even if it’s just a verbal journey, down the road of the future?

This, once again, can get especially tricky in the phrase between committed dating and an engagement.  Look at your left hand.  Is there an engagement ring on it? If not, you probably don’t need to be spending your free time on Pinterest planning out your wedding colors.  Even if you do have a guy beside you who very well could be at the end of the aisle one day in the not-so-distant future, reducing your relationship down to a wedding can prove detrimental to not only your relationship, but also your future potential marriage to that human being.

The time of dating before engagement, and even the time of engagement, allows a unique opportunity to love the other person in your relationship with in a unique way.  This is a time set apart in the relationship process for delving down into the reality (read: beauty) of the other person.  Their personality, desires, hopes and plans.  Their jokes, the way they say certain words that makes you smile, the simplicity of appreciating another person for who they are.  Can those things still be experienced in marriage? Absolutely – but in a different sense.  Don’t throw away the here and now and the beauty of reality just to jump into a white dress and tux and run down the aisle.

Chastity gives couples in a relationship an environment to truly and selflessly love each other and will the other’s good.  Enjoy it…the future will worry about itself, and will come sooner than you think.