Earlier today, I wrote about the struggles of living out physical chastity as a single woman. A broader understanding of the virtue [link]—beyond its connection to physical intimacy—allows us to live it out in other spheres of life, especially our emotions.
The word intimacy can be broken down to the phrase “into me see.” So emotional chastity is a means of protecting that view of your inner self, and the inner self of your guy.
As with physical chastity, married people are called to emotional chastity, too, but like with physical chastity, it will look different to them than to singletons. And once again, there’s no list of what’s correct or incorrect for all people. But there are some commonalities that make living it out a struggle:
Some Inconvenient Truths
1. Women primarily relate emotionally. Often, once we feel “safe” to let our guard down around a guy, we end up rolling that sucker all the way down, leaving us unnecessarily exposed. We will either be wounded by an assault or embarrassed if the guy gets a full view and then just walks away.
2. Women are more receptive; we are the “gatherers.” We take in information. We’re good shoulders to cry on; sympathetic listeners; comforters. Without any barriers, guys can take advantage of that, giving us all of their feelings, and we think that means something. But very often it does not.
3. Women have more interest in relationships: the cultivating of them, the discussing of them, the improving of them. So we interact with men from that perspective even if they have a very different one, which means Big Revelation or Focus on Feelings either scares them off, or we become oblivious to their boundaries or consideration of how they engage with us: “we are relating, but this is not a ‘relationship,’” which to men can have connotations of something more serious.
Ways to Deal:
1. Think of the sharing of emotions and “letting your guard down” as an onion (thank you, Pure in Heart [link]). Layer by layer, you slowly strip away that protective skin until you meet the person or until that time you can trust the revelation of your core.
2. Talk with a spiritual director or other wiser person in your faith community about your struggles. I have many adoptive “aunts” who guide me through my questions about if I’m sharing too much, or in some cases, not enough (sometimes, it’s okay, even necessary to go deeper with someone).
3. Set some guidelines for yourself. Maybe you won’t tell your whole life story to the guy you meet the first night of the weekend retreat. Communicate your comfort level with certain things to your guy: “I appreciate your concern, but right now I don’t feel comfortable telling you about Horrific Childhood Incident,” for example.
4. Set some guidelines for the guy. “I’m sorry to interrupt and I’m sorry you’re upset, and I will pray for you. But right now I don’t feel I am the appropriate person to talk to about this.” Do not become an emotional dumping ground or “be there for” the guy friend who should be asking you out but never has. Maybe don’t listen to your ex-but-still-a-friend’s new girl troubles or be his go-to gal for his drama (especially if he has a girlfriend).
5. Pray. Communicate to God what you feel compelled to tell the guy. God is the best listener: you can trust Him, He will not use information against you, and you know your conversations will preserve your dignity.
Emotional chastity is something I admit to taking a long time to not only understand but also to accept as a virtue I needed to incorporate into my life. But like physical chastity, so, so worth it.