Okay, so now it’s my turn to write on emotional chastity (thank you to our Tumblr followers for suggesting the topic!) since Caitlin already took the religious-vocation aspect. This post will be very marriage-vocation oriented, so I apologize if I turn some of my readers off because of it. I’m assuming that if you’re reading this, you know for certain that you are called to marriage. Sorry if not!
Fair warning, though – I don’t claim to be any sort of expert when it comes to emotional chastity, and I don’t usually know anything about anything. So take a grain of salt with any and all advice you find on this blog.
Okay. So. Emotional chastity. Big words that didn’t mean anything to me until about three years ago. Because I’m a word person, I decided to look up the definition for “chaste,” and this is what I came up with.
Chaste: refraining from sexual intercourse that is regarded as contrary to morality or religion, virtuous; virgin; free from obscenity, decent; undefiled or stainless.
When it comes to emotional chastity, the last two words become the most applicable. Therefore, emotional chastity is “being stainless in emotions.”
Sounds high-falutin’ and just plain annoying, doesn’t it? How is one supposed to be stainless in emotions? Don’t you experience emotions unintentionally every day, and aren’t they supposed to be good things? (On a side note, how does one kick the habit of using “one” in supposedly informal settings? Anyone? Bueller?)
Well, see here’s the thing. God gave us women the ability to be especially attuned to our emotions, but we as flawed beings have distorted that to the point of emotional harm (not all the time, but sometimes). Emotional chastity, from what I can tell, is the constant state of being in control of one’s emotions and thoughts – or trying to restore the original intention of emotions back to God’s plan for them.
Now, don’t get me wrong here. Emotions are a good thing. But when girls spend too much time devoted to dreaming about their emotions – planning their future when nothing seems in sight – that can be really harmful to a girl’s mental health.
Say a girl sees a boy she doesn’t know at whatever school she attends, and realizes that he’s kind of cute and she kind of likes him. If you’re a girl and you are in this situation, what is your mind immediately drawn to? Getting to know him, going on a date, dating him, getting married, and having babies. Come on. As embarrassing as that sounds when listed out like that, you know it’s true. (I promise, the first step to recovery is admission.)
If you say to me then, “Hannah, why is that bad? If everyone does it, how can that be bad for me?” I know, I know, I had the same internal struggle. But when you really look at it from a Catholic perspective, it makes total sense.
God designed human beings who are called to marriage to be made to marry one person. One person. That’s really different from the societal norm, isn’t it? Yet in Genesis 2 God says: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” It says A man. And A woman. Not “once you get tired of a girl you can get rid of her through a legal process and find somebody else.” (Sorry, mini anti-divorce rant. I’ll save it for another post.)
But you get the picture. Man and woman were literally made for each other. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “Man and woman were made “for each other” – not that God left them half-made and incomplete: he created them to be a communion of persons, in which each can be “helpmate” to the other, for they are equal as persons (“bone of my bones. . .”) and complementary as masculine and feminine. In marriage God unites them in such a way that, by forming “one flesh”, they can transmit human life: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” By transmitting human life to their descendants, man and woman as spouses and parents cooperate in a unique way in the Creator’s work” (CCC 372).
Okay, so admitting this, how does that work into the argument of emotional chastity and why it is necessary? Well, if we take the point that we are made to be fully united with one person (physically AND emotionally), then isn’t it logical to presume that emotionally connecting yourself to another person who is not your future spouse is harmful for your heart?
There are many many studies that prove that being physically unchaste (aka having premarital sex or many sexual partners) are harmful for a person’s health and emotional well-being. The same goes for your emotions, especially for women. If you see a boy and immediately dream of what it would be like to be married to him, you’re giving him (unintentionally) a part of your heart. And that’s just contrary to the way God designed marriage. We are meant to be given in whole (heart, mind, soul, and body) to one man when we marry – and giving away a part of yourself in your heart to a man who isn’t your future spouse is against that.
Girls grow up in an extremely emotionally-unchaste environment. They are taught to dream of their weddings from a very early age, asked to describe their “ideal husband” as a fun game, and are constantly bombarded with imagery and media that urge girls that nothing in their lives will be right until they have found their future husband. And that’s just plain sad!
God designed us to be born, grow up, and when the time is right, find a man to help us get to Heaven (and to get him to Heaven as well). Giving ourselves away prematurely to men who are not our husband draws us closer to them and heightens the pain and scarring that can happen if that relationship either never happens or doesn’t work out for the long haul.
So, tips for emotional chastity. For fear of repeating Caitlin, I will say also that I make these rules for myself and break them, then try again over and over again. So don’t worry if you fail a little bit at the beginning. God loves that you are trying, and each time you guard your heart a little more it becomes easier and easier.
- No Facebook stalking, and I mean it. If you just meet a guy and you’re curious as to what kind of a man he is (remember ladies, women only date men, not boys), then I think it’s permissible to go through a couple of his pictures once. And only once. None of that “Oh I’m bored let me go through every picture he’s ever been tagged in” stuff. That just leads to harmful thoughts like “Who’s that girl? I’ve never seen her and he’s hugging her in that picture…man that could be me! Wait I’m not as pretty as she is, I’ll never have the chance to date him…” etc. etc. etc. So just don’t do it.
- Control your daydreams. Be very conscious of the images and thoughts you dwell on. Women are very emotionally-driven, and it’s easy for us to get lost in our daydreams about a boy we like. But imagining the future that might not happen is bad, bad, bad.
- Get to know a guy before you judge him. Sure, the cute guy sitting across from you in your English class might have great insight into the poetry you’re discussing, but he also might be a drug dealer. Guarding your heart means being smart about the men you interact with – find a good group of holy men who will help you protect your heart, and don’t fall for the bad guys just because they’re handsome.
- Don’t completely shut out your emotions, either, though. If you feel something for a nice boy, then by all means pursue that! God doesn’t want you to be a clam until your wedding day. He knows better than we do how much our emotions can help us make great decisions, so if your heart and prayer are telling you to pursue a relationship with a man, by all means do so. Which leads me to my last point…
- Pray, hope, and don’t worry (Padre Pio). Pray for your vocation. Pray for your future spouse. Pray for the strength to be emotionally chaste. Pray to know God’s will for you in every aspect of your life. Have hope in the fact that God has the perfect plan for you, and He will show you when it is right. And don’t worry – He’s got it all under control
Hopefully that helps a little bit. If there’s any aspect of emotional chastity you’d like to know more about, feel free to message me at any time or just comment on the post. If you’re looking for more resources, this is a great resource, and Lisa Cotter has a talk she gave at FOCUS National Conference somewhere floating around on the internet. (If you can’t find it, I can probably hook you up.)