One day, a handsome, mysterious stranger walked into the shop where I work and I gave him a job. I had no idea where he had come from or how he found me, but we needed the help and he was willing to work. Over time, despite many obstacles, we fell in love – but then he was discovered with a photograph of me that I had given to my brother to protect him during his military service and my trust in him was shattered.
. . . Wait, no, that's the plot of The Lucky One, and I've never met Zac Efron.
Or how about the time I went to the carnival, and met a handsome young man for whom I immediately fell head-over-heels in love. But he didn't come from money, and my parents disapproved. So they separated us, and even though he wrote me 365 letters, I never received them. Then I fell in love with a soldier, and agreed to marry him. But before I wedding, I ran into that first love again, and had to make the gut-wrenching decision on whether or not go through with my wedding.
. . . Shoot, wrong again! That's The Notebook. I've never been engaged. And I certainly wouldn't ever struggle with choosing between Ryan Gosling and anyone else.
Once more try: there was this guy, a dear friend of mine, and while I always claimed to be “just friends,” we were actually both secretly in love with one another. But no one had the courage to do anything about it, so we carried on as “friends” until one of us fell in love with someone else and the poor friend left behind began struggling to pick up the broken pieces of his or her heart off the floor.
What movie is that? It doesn't matter. I hate that movie . . . but I hate it more when it happens in real life. To protect us all from such a fate, I think we could stand to have a little more emotional chastity in our lives.
Chastity is a virtue – a habit of good – about self-mastery and freedom. We all have sexual drive and desire, but by living the virtue of chastity, we don't let those desires control us. We control them, by respecting our sexuality and saving sex for marriage.
But even though sex is physical (duh), chastity is about so much more than that. Because we aren't just bodies – we are bodies, hearts, minds, and souls, and chastity is about purity in all of those areas. Emotional chastity is about guarding the purity of our hearts and minds . . . which can sometimes be just as challenging as guarding the purity of our bodies.
So what does that look like?
1. Rooted in Reality
I have seen my fair share of chick flicks – in fact, I think I've seen most people's fair share of them. And even though the plots are ridiculous and the lines are cheesy, I totally love them. But I know better than to expect those kind of plot twists to happen in real life.
Because that guy you're dating? His name is Nicholas Smith, not Nicholas Sparks . . . and unless you made him watch it, he's never seen that movie. He's not going to act like Zac, or Ryan, or Channing. And that girl you just asked out? She's probably seen all of those movies – but that doesn't mean you need to act like Zac, or Ryan, or Channing (sidenote: if you don't know who those dudes are . . . good for you, bro).
Watch all the rom-coms you want. But don't let your imagination take over your real-life relationships, because that can be dangerous for your heart. Emotional chastity asks the question: 'What is the reality of this relationship?'
That means treating your opposite-sex friends like friends, not like placeholders for your emotional needs until a “real” relationship comes along. It also means treating the person you're crushing on like a friend, not your imaginary boyfriend or girlfriend. It means treating the person you're dating like the person you're dating – not comparing them to characters in movies or to other relationships.
And it means treating your spouse – and only once he or she becomes your spouse – like the person that you are committed to fully, but don't expect to fulfill you. If you get married one day, you are going to marry an imperfect human being, and it would be emotionally unhealthy to expect that person to take care of all your needs. Our hearts will always be restless unless they rest in God.
2. Friends Without Benefits
Some have interpreted emotional chastity to mean that we can no longer be friends with members of the opposite sex, since everyone knows men and women can't be really be just friends anyway, right?
Wrong. Opposite-sex friendships are a really good thing – we have a lot to learn from each other, as brothers and sisters in Christ, and there are gifts that opposite-sex friends bring to our lives that same-sex friends sometimes can't (my guy friends make me laugh over stupid movie lines and can sit silently in front of a sporting event with me, and my girl friends . . . have seen that Nicholas Sparks movie).
Learning how to be authentic friends with a member of the opposite sex is a valuable life skill – because, let's face it: if you marry someone one day, you're only marrying some one. And if you'd like to be an emotionally healthy adult one day (I know I would), you will need to know how to be friends with others outside of your marriage.
So how does an authentic friendship work? Nerd alert: the ancient Greeks had a bunch of words for different kinds of love. And before they knew about agape (the life-giving love of God), their highest form of love wasn't eros (romantic love), but phileo – friendship love. Friendship love was the best love because it meant never using another person.
Emotional chastity helps our friendships look more like that – we look to give to our friends, not to get. So make sure that the texts you send and the time you hang out is about simply sharing the joys of friendship, not about easing an aching of loneliness. And watch the flirting with your opposite-sex friends: it may seem harmless enough, but if they have any feelings for you, it will cause them a lot of pain.
3. Practice Makes Perfect
In no way do I claim to have it all figured out. I had my first crush at age 6 (Kyle, from my brother's t-ball team . . . what a cutie), my first boyfriend at 16 (and that lasted three and half years), and now, at 26, I'm still learning a lot about love and life. But I do know that the sooner we start living the virtue of chastity – physically and emotionally – the easier it will be to live it for the rest of our lives.
I was going to marry my high school boyfriend (wouldn't have dated him for so long if I didn't think it wasn't going somewhere), but now that we aren't together, I am so glad that there are some parts of me I didn't give away to him – and I'm not just talking about my body, but about my heart and mind and soul, too.
Emotional chastity is important at any age – and to live it well as an adult, start living it well now, as a teenager. The reality is that you have a loooooong time until you'll be ready to settle down, into whatever vocation, but no matter what the future holds, chastity will bring you freedom. So start living it now, and live it for the rest of your life.
Because you never know what the future might hold . . . and if Zac or Ryan ever come calling, I want to make sure my heart, mind, and soul are in the right place.