So apparently I'm not the only one.
The only what, you ask? The only single Catholic who has been looking for the 'How Far Is Too Far List Of Rules.' Preferably issued by the Church, but if not then perhaps something from a single Catholic writer who has been dating since the Vatican II Council. (Not the case for me, although I might come close if you count my childhood crush on David Cassidy.) You know, a list on a scroll, with lots of calligraphy, saying things like 'Thou Shalt Not Kiss for More than 15 seconds.' With a nice big imprimatur at the bottom.
Yeah, sorry. No such list exists. We sort of have to figure it out on our own.
I took a running start at it last month. I gave the rationale — that 'using' another person's body for our own personal pleasure doesn't just happen in 'going all the way,' but in all of the easier-to rationalize in-between stuff as well. I talked about how the hormone oxytocin, the 'bonding hormone', is secreted in sexually arousing activity, and how that can mess up relationships even if a couple doesn't actually have sex. I talked about how the body is programmed to move forward sexually. I even gave one good 'rule' — that private body parts are off limits.
But apparently that's not enough. You all want a list.
I did, of course, leave some pretty big questions dangling out there. Like 'what do we do with the fact that we're attracted to each other, and supposedly that's how God made us and the way it's supposed to be, and yet it has the potential to get us into so much trouble?'
Many good Catholic people, given the absence of a list and the presence of strong sexual attraction, decide that the best rule is the 'ultimate' rule. They'll just abstain from all affection. They won't kiss. They won't hug. They won't hold hands. Makes sense, doesn't it?
You would think so, but as much as I admire the intent of people who go this route, I actually don't think it's such a great idea.
Here's the problem. Affection is a good thing. We are bodily persons — we encounter life through our bodies. We express ourselves, and our feelings, through our bodies. We express love through our bodies, through affection. John Paul II said in Love and Responsibility that sharing affection 'has the power to deliver love from the various dangers implicit in the egoism of the senses.' As I said last time, I'm Italian and a big fan of physical affection.
I get that affection in dating, with someone to whom we're attracted, requires self-control. But when couples go too far the other way, when they abstain from showing any physical affection until they consummate their relationship on their wedding night, I get concerned. My concern is that there is a subtle but very real implication that all affection between them is sexual. It becomes merely a form of foreplay. They are only physically affectionate with each other when they are about to have sex. They lose any appreciation of the beauty and importance of physical affection for its own sake.
In addition, sometimes a person — because of issues in their past or some other problem — has an actual aversion to physical affection. Completely abstaining from physical affection, while seeming very righteous and holy, actually masks that problem until after the marriage. And after the marriage is a very bad time to discover a problem like that.
So what's the answer? Where's the line?
Look, nobody — myself included — has the nerve to say definitively What You Should And Should Not Do. But I am willing to pass on a few recommendations that I've found to be helpful:
- Avoid the long make-out sessions.
- Avoid lying down together. (Which, it goes without saying, also means you shouldn't be sleeping in the same bed.)
- Keep the kisses 'domestic.' As opposed to 'foreign.' You know, like the kind originating in European nations where they eat croissants and pommes frites
I know, you still want to know exactly how far you can go. I can't tell you. But you can tell you. You have to follow along with a brief little story first:
Imagine that you're a guy, and you fall in love with the most wonderful woman in the world. She's your best friend and your soul mate, and you propose and she says 'yes' and you get married and she gets pregnant and you're in the delivery room and you're the first one to see your beautiful brand new baby girl. And you're madly in love with her. She looks kinda like you, and kinda like your wife, and she's a miracle that came from your love. She grows up and she's a daddy's girl and you take her to her first day of kindergarten and she cries when it's time for you to leave and you worry all afternoon that the teacher doesn't understand her sensitive soul or doesn't know that she needs to go potty after her snack. Then she's in fourth grade and she's at her piano recital in her frilly little dress and her curly little hair and she plays her little song and dedicates it to Daddy.
Then she's in ninth grade and she comes home from school all excited because she has a date. With a senior. Who drives a van.
How far is too far?
I know, you don't even want Mr. Senior With a Van to hold her hand. You don't want him driving up the driveway. But somehow, I suspect that the basic truth of that story will help you when the time comes. Everyone you date is somebody's daughter, somebody's son, somebody's brother or sister. Everyone you date is created by God, in His image and likeness.
Remembering that will go a long way in helping you to figure out how far is too far.