Over the last few posts in this “Pathway to Love” series, we have examined some of the pitfalls associated with taking relationships too quickly and how to prevent a blossoming love from failing.
One common pitfall that prevents love from forming properly is engaging in physical affection too quickly and for the wrong reasons.
A Catholic couple may understand that they can’t sleep together before taking vows because God reserved that for marriage.They may also realize that engaging in sexual touching or other like signs of affection are part of the martial act and are therefore not appropriate before marriage. However, many people then ask, “What can we do?” Many will want to know the answer to the question: “How far is too far on a date or in a relationship?”
Before answering this, we must understand what love is. In short, love is a committed decision to work for the good of the beloved. It is selfless, and it works hard to make the beloved happy and holy. Love never willingly leads a person to harm, but rather it seeks to do what’s best for the other in mind, heart, and emotions. Moreover, Christian love does what is best for the soul and seeks to protect it and keep it pure.
Therefore, if love is the goal in our relationships, then “how far is too far” is the wrong question to ask. If we truly care about the good of the other person, we will reverse the question.
For example, I once heard a speaker liken this question to a man who brings his girlfriend to the Grand Canyon. He picks her up in his arms and carries her to the edge of the cliff to see how close he can get her to the edge without actually dropping her off.
Of course, if this man truly loved her, he wouldn’t do that. He would ask instead; “How far can I move my girlfriend/fiancée/wife away from the edge of the cliff so she doesn’t get hurt?”
In like manner, we should not want to lead someone we love to a place of sin. We shouldn’t even desire to get close to the line. The question that should be asked is; “How far can I go to keep her safe—to protect her heart, her mind, and her soul?” (The person used in this analogy is a man, but this goes both ways. Men and women should work towards true love and purifying lust). Leading someone away from God through sin is never love.
I have had sincere couples confess to me their love for each other, but also their struggle of falling into sexual sin. I tell them that their words and actions contradict each other, and that those two things need to be reconciled. Through their actions, they are leading their significant other away from heaven and closer to hell, but then looking them in the eyes and saying, “I love you.” This cannot be true love, but is probably passion, lust, or strong desire.
My old girlfriend and I used to often struggle to stay pure. As Catholics, we knew we weren’t supposed to enter the sexual realm (2nd base, 3rd base, etc). Thus, like many Catholic couples, we set up “rules” to prevent ourselves from crossing the lines. As is often the case, we found ways to break those rules and were forced to make new ones, creating a never ending cycle based on lust.
It was all problem of the heart filled with lust and sensuality and not true love. I have since learned that love always seeks to give, even when it’s a sacrifice. It puts the good of the other person above all things, and that includes keeping her soul right before God. Conversely, lust is selfish and seeks to take for one’s own pleasure—even at the expense of the other person’s good. Lust is always the opposite of true love.
After that relationship, I prayed a lot, read a lot, and worked on forming good habits before dating the woman who is now my wife. God helped change my heart. When that happened, there was no need to make rules, for I didn’t care to break them. Rather, my desire was to protect her and her purity and to lead her closer to God at all costs. There was a freedom that was not controlled by those “needs.” Consequently, our love has flourished beautifully, and for that, I thank God!