You have ravished my heart, my love, with one glance of your eyes, with one hair of your neck. … My love is a garden enclosed: a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed—Song of Songs 4:9, 12
I met her on Facebook; I saw her on Mark Shea’s page. (Isn’t that how all love stories begin? Our eyes met across Mark Shea’s crowded Facebook wall.) I said to myself: She has some smart, interesting things to say. So I sent her a friend request.
She accepted, and became a frequent commenter on my own posts. I said to myself: She has some smart, interesting things to say.
That was in October; come April, we started an entirely innocent conversation in private message. I said to myself: She has some smart, interesting things to say. I said to myself: She is also quite striking. Our messaging went on. We realized we were attracted to each other.
Cynthia and I exchanged numbers. We spoke by phone and text. We kept speaking by phone and text.
On the first weekend in June, I drove from Cincinnati to Ft. Wayne to meet her. I was there four days. It went well. It went very well.
A friend of mine, acquainted with my past proclivities, asked a frank question: “Are you going to stay at her place?”
“No!” I said. “Cynthia and I agree that would be inappropriate.”
Dear reader, during the entire visit, I did not set one foot in Cynthia’s home; nor one foot even on her porch. Nor did she invite me to. She said: It would be too great a risk. She said: I will not sleep with you unless we marry.
Fact is, I am glad she was the one who took the initiative and said this. It meant I could breathe; it meant I would not have to say these things myself. I’m tired of that. I’m 47 (almost): I want more.
I have not once, ever, been in a relationship in which at least one of us, and usually both, wanted to have sex while dating as a matter of course. Nor have I ever dated anyone with whom I did not have sex, who would make with me the resolution I have made with Cynthia: No sex. Not unless we marry, and say the vows.
I want more, and better, than these tired compromises on what’s right. It is well that I have met someone who also wants better.
But it’s not easy.
You ask: Why? You say: Don’t tell me the Church says no; how many Catholics listen to that? (Indeed.) Why?
Okay. I will tell you.
She might get pregnant. And no, contraception is not an option. No. No. Just. No. Sure, she is 51; sure, the chances are much, much smaller than if she were 31; but she is still fertile, and the chances are not zero.
Now, look: She lives three hours away; and I have lost my only child. My ex-wife had eclampsia, largely the result of her being in her late thirties and unpregnant for fifteen years. Our daughter, Caitlyn, was stillborn. One of my greatest fears has always been, in the event I were to get someone else pregnant, that the same thing would happen again. I would be a wreck for nine months.
Given Cynthia’s age, given the amount of time since her last pregnancy (her daughter is 24), the chances of a similar high-risk pregnancy, a similar scenario, are greater. And I am three hours away and can’t be attentive and be there and look after her, and my unborn child, every day.
Not to mention the fact that a pregnancy interferes with proper discernment and could lead to another invalid marriage for both of us. Or, if we didn’t marry, I’d have to be apart from my child.
I can’t risk that. Just. No.
I don’t want the same old thing. Pre-marital sex is boring, and it is done by two people who are bored. It is like reading a few chapters of a book and skipping ahead to the climax and the end. That is what people do when they don’t like plot, or mystery, or tension, and they lack patience.
I don’t mean that it is bad sex, or that married sex is always great. What I do mean is that it is an action of two impatient people who can’t figure out what else to do with themselves.
Dating is not about going to dinner a few times and then rushing into bed because “I guess it’s the time.” It is not about spending hours lounging around watching TV and having sex because it kills time and it’s something to do.
Dating is about discerning marriage, and part of that is finding and developing and sharing common interests. It’s about finding out who this other person is—not what she’s like in bed—and what you like to do together when you’re not having sex, what kind of things you like to talk about, what your common values and objectives are. Sex is the crown on all those other things, and it is the crown on completed discernment; it doesn’t replace it.
And so, while I was in Ft. Wayne, Cynthia and I went to the zoo; to the art museum; to the park. We went shopping at Barnes and Noble, and to the Arabfest. Most importantly, we went to Mass every day, we went to Adoration. And we prayed the Rosary together. The first thing we did was to go to Mass; the last thing we did, before I said goodbye and drove home, was pray a Hail Mary and ask for the intercession of St. Thèrése. (Cynthia has a great devotion to the Little Flower.)
We began the process of getting to know each other and what we like to do together. We invited Christ and the saints into our courtship. And we will need them, for we are weak, and very attracted, and we have passion.
I love her. Being in love is desiring, not your own good, but the good of the Beloved One. It is not desiring Cynthia’s good for me to lead her into mortal sin. It is not desiring Cynthia’s good for me to take her (you know what I mean) before she has given herself to me in marriage.
She does not want to. Okay, okay, she wants to. We both want to. Let me be frank: I was in Ft. Wayne four days; we kissed, and kissed again, and kissed still more; there was definite, and unmistakable, sexual chemistry between us. But she wants to wait for the sake of virtue; and it would not be virtue, it would not be love, but desire of merely my own pleasure, to entice her to weakness and to a fall (or to allow her to entice me if she is weak) in spite of her stated desire to wait. Even though it would be consensual, it would be robbery. It would be a betrayal.
It interferes with discernment. Of course two people who are dating can express physical affection in any number of ways. But when you are having sex, and the sex is good, the rush of pleasure and chemicals can too easily delude your judgment. Right discernment—I said it above—involves discovering things you like to do together, who this other person is, what this other person values, how your separate lives are meant to become one single life. Discovering that you really like to orgasm with this other person has nothing to do with it and robs you of your judgment on these other questions.
Some ask: But shouldn’t you also find out whether you two are sexually compatible?
Look. I will be frank: If you both have the equipment, and it works, then you are compatible. I have had sex with plenty enough women, and there is not one I wasn’t compatible with. It sometimes, yes, takes time to learn how to respond properly to the other, and turn them on, and click together: But that’s part of loving another person, and any two people can do this.
It robs you of the thrill of the wedding night. If you have sex before your wedding night, then why is this night different from every other night?
Waiting is more erotic than seizing.
It robs you of mystery, of discovery, of waiting, and waiting, of longing, longing for something that has been kept enclosed for you until this one night when you have, before God, made a vow to be faithful to this one person, your one Beloved, until death parts you from her. This alone is the appointed time.
It is trying to marry someone before you’ve married her. It is trying to be one without actually being one. And then, when you are married, when you are one, it is nothing new. Nothing remains to consummate the vow.
Now, do not mistake: I do not claim that Cynthia and I will, with ease, succeed in our resolution to wait for the wedding night. Pride goeth. I know myself too well. Chastity is hard. It is supposed to be.
And not giving in to sexual temptation is particularly hard in a long-distance relationship. There is a powerful sense of absence from the Beloved, and then when you do get to see each other, just as powerful a rush of emotion. In your eagerness to embrace after so much longing and absence, it is too easy to give in to passion and start tearing off your clothes and hop into bed and get … ahem … close.
So it is important to always set bars and doors (which Cynthia speaks about on her blog) and ask for the intercession of the saints. Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further. Only with their help, only with the help of Christ, can Cynthia and I ever hope to keep this determination of ours. For there is great passion.
You too, dear reader, must pray for us.
My love is a garden enclosed. May the watchman not slumber, may I not enter through the gates, before the appointed time.