How Far is Too Far: A Different Way of Viewing It


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!



  1. Tony-953748 March 12, 2015 Reply

    My problem is that I was married for 37 wonderful years.I was only 63 at the time.Now I am a lonely 66 but have no clue that after a date or two I just lose contact with them.I do not believe I have any moral or character issues but rarely get past the first or second date.I stay within my age range so what am I doing wrong? Please help.

  2. Nick-1115891 September 5, 2014 Reply

    This article is good but it is missing something. Anyone who is confused regarding this topic will still be scratching their heads, wondering, so what is appropriate before marriage? Everyone I’ve heard or read that tackles this question has failed to answer that. I think part of the problem is that we are assuming those who ask “what can we do?” or “what is appropriate?” before marriage have bad intentions and that they really mean “what can we get away with?” I am usually not one to give the benefit of the doubt, but I think that there are some people who are genuinely confused and would like to know so that they can avoid sin. The fact of the matter is that if you are simply being affectionate to one another (e.g. hugging, kissing), it is not a sin and is perfectly okay before marriage. On the other hand, if it starts to tread into the realm of foreplay you’re definitely going in the wrong direction. I describe myself as a traditional Catholic but I can already here my “more Catholic than the Pope” friends saying “but, but, but, hugging and kissing could LEAD to sex before marriage.” WHAT?! Sorry, but the Church doesn’t deal in “possibles” or “maybes.” The Church doesn’t teach that sex before marriage is a sin because it MIGHT lead to infidelity after marriage, it teaches it is a sin because it desecrates an act that is intrinsically united to the state of marriage. That’s like saying that it’s a sin to get angry because I MIGHT lose my temper and hurt someone. Therefore, so long as your affectionate actions do not become lustful and sexual actions, you need not be worried. To avoid sin it is important to 1. Respect the person, and 2. Respect the sanctity of marriage and the sanctity of sexuality in the context of marriage. My whole point here is that when explaining to people “how far is too far,” we need to be more specific in our answers, or they will just be more confused.

    • Michael-85720 June 24, 2015 Reply

      Young man, it’s as if you are actually an old soul, having articulated such! In my many years of dating I have either experienced “crossing the line” or wondered where the line was. I’ve also wondered, when things got steamy or went overboard, how much was the woman’s fault. Men are generally more aggressive but women are oh-so-subtle. Anyway, I really appreciate your explanation of the distinction between actual sin and “maybes.” Another thing is: Yes, purity in a relationship is to be had but ya just can’t have a very good relationship if there’s not enough affection and closeness. I had a relationship with a girl who was all “rules” and “maybe”s. Well, I couldn’t marry her for her scrupulosity, pride and being in denial, and more (and I doubt that she’ll ever marry).

      You rock on, brother! BTW, you are blessed to be retro in your like of the amazing era of originality, great melody, super integrated composition, superior use of instruments – the classic rock era! I’m a huge Beatles and Boston fan who got the first taste! Did you know that Boston had always openly voiced and discouraged drug use?

  3. Elissa-829089 December 15, 2013 Reply

    Really hoping and praying to find a guy who is attracted to me and yet wants to be truly chaste until marriage. So far every guy I’ve started to get serious with has found my purity to be just an obstacle. This is discouraging after the sacrifices I’ve made to remain innocent; but I’m still hoping to find the right kind of guy.

    With the next guy, I will make an effort to bring this topic up earlier and avoid surprises!

  4. Sandra-989065 August 30, 2013 Reply

    Bryan, your advice to Nancy gives me guidance for my own situation. Thank you and may God continue to bless and inspire you to be a light to others.

  5. Bryan M. August 13, 2013 Reply

    @NANCY: A great question. One I am sure many people have. There are a few pieces of advice I would offer:
    First: Learn from your mistakes. Meditate on where you went wrong and how you can not make the same mistakes in the future.
    Second: On that same note, make a commitment to start over again! Begin again in your commitment to purity, to your future husband, and to waiting for marriage. Imagine that your most beautiful gift of sexuality is like a bank full of money. We are supposed to save it all for our soulmate and spend it into happily ever after with them. However, sometimes, we make a mistake and give it away (only realizing too late it was a big mistake. Sometimes our gift can even be taken from us. Either way, you can make the definitive decision to start again. Start saving that money and make a commitment to your future husband. Write a letter of commitment if you need to.
    Third: pray a lot and Go to confession if you haven’t yet. This is the best way to start over, with God, with yourself, and a great way to help wash away any guilt. Many people feel like “used goods” after they give their sexuality away, but you are NOT! God can purify you and make you as white as snow! Sadly, some people have made mistakes, but when they recommitted their life to God, He healed them, helped them, and prepared them for marriage. They are in successful marriages now because they turned to God.

    By the way, I am so proud of you for turning away from this relationship, for realizing that this man was not godly and didn’t want to be. Slam that door behind you and start walking toward the much more beautiful one God has for you. It will certainly be difficult, but find good friends to support you, read good books on the subject (books by Jason and/or Crystalina Evert are incredibly helpful and healing), and stay close to Jesus who loves you so much, unconditionally, forever!

    I hope this was helpful. God bless you.

    • Rachael-729451 August 14, 2013 Reply

      Wow Bryan, that was a perfect and beautiful response to Nancy’s question. Nancy, I feel for you and will keep you in my prayers.

  6. Margott-983372 August 13, 2013 Reply


  7. Nancy P. August 13, 2013 Reply

    What if it is too late? I met a Catholic man, fell head over heels, and immediately I became pregnant. Now, as I am getting to know this person, I’ve come to realize that he doesn’t want marriage, he is not dedicated to godliness, doesn’t see anything wrong with porn, as an example. I am heartbroken and I cry daily. Do you have any advice?

  8. Carol-799486 August 13, 2013 Reply

    Thank you Bryan for sharing this post with us. My mom use to tell me that a woman must be a guardian angel to her boyfriend/husband. She is duty bound to bring him more closer to God. That is her mission for God’s greater glory. It would be indeed a great blessing if a man could also think along my wavelength of thinking and feeling. To guide, protect, and bring me more closer to God and never in harms way nor throw my soul to hell.
    You are a good man Bryan. Your wife is blessed to meet a husband such as you. Strong in heart and in spirit. Ever trusting in God’s mighty hands to weave miracles where miracles ought to be.
    A girlfriend/wife must be an angel to her boyfriend/husband.

  9. Joan-529855 August 12, 2013 Reply

    Bryan, DITTO what Lisa said!! THANK YOU SO MUCH.

  10. Wen-987739 August 12, 2013 Reply

    love this post, 🙂

  11. Alice-788574 August 12, 2013 Reply

    True love waits. There are so many aspects to a relationship to be explored. Purified of lust, a couple can see each other with clear eyes and seek Heaven first before all else, for themselves and for the beloved. Beautiful message, Bryan.

  12. Michael-1806 August 11, 2013 Reply

    Well done Bryan,
    Thanks for the post and sharing your experiences and what you’ve learned.

    The world will not teach us these valuable lessons. Only in the context of our faith can we really gain the proper understand in form appropriate habits. As imperfect beings left to our own devices, we will inevitably stumble. What’s worse is to not even learn but continue to compromise ourselves and our principles. Sin is separation from God and we don’t want that for ourselves, our partner or anyone.

    If recognized as God’s gift, all should want to reserve the beauty, sharing and creative power for marriage. With real respect and love for one another, we can’t help but want to protect, preserve and get each other into Heaven. This must be foremost in our minds.

    Once we accept the challenge, God provides inordinate graces for us. We have to actively work, pray and love. He will then sanctify our courtships and, ultimately, our marriages.

    May we all do our part to better instruct and give good witness to the Gift God had prepared for us.

  13. Lisa-933589 August 11, 2013 Reply

    Hi Bryan,

    Thank you for this particular post and your testimony, you are honest, sincere and spot on. When a man acts in this way, making a committed decision to protect heart, mind and soul of a lady–love is pure and has a chance to really blossom. But only under these circumstances does pure love mature. I feel more secure and peaceful when a man takes the lead, my hand as we keep gaze on Christ–in protection of the love that is truly a gift/treasure. Reverence for each other’s heart is key too- with God as three.

    You are blessed in that you realized and were given the grace to pray, read, work & form new habits–let your heart be changed by God! This gives me such hope–that men will read this, and want to chose to do the same-and we, ladies can be receptive and affirming in this as well. I think it’s what all men and women truly want deep down! It is complimentary and helps us to be truly free to relax and get to really know one another.

    The truth is in our hearts, and we can all be formed, prepared and transformed through God’s grace–we only need to ask and be open! It helps too, if we work together to affirm and communicate honestly with one another.

    I want to reserve this love for my husband–and I know the waiting is not in vain (despite what Bob Marley sings-” I don’t want to wait in vain for your love”-though I do like the song :)– I pray that my HTB is protected from all evil and temptation and that he/we have the courage and faith to help each other get to heaven–by not leading each other into sin, and when/if we fall or hurt each other–we reconcile it by making direct amends and confessing/reconciliation–so graces can be won–and true love has a chance==reading, praying and good habits in preparation of our hearts can only be a good thing!

    St Raphael, Pray for us all!

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