Parents – If the title wasn’t incentive enough, go ahead and skip this one.
Everyone else - Let’s not pretend like you don’t know of which I speak. Granted, it’s been a while since my clothes have actually gone flying. But before I figured out that you have to intentionally set boundaries, they sure did. It’d start innocently enough, and truthfully it’d end innocently enough as long as we’re willing to stretch the definition of “innocently” and accept the absence of a shirt or two.
Looking back, I recognize that the whole thing was fraught with an absurd level of moral ambiguity and I fully acknowledge that there was a bit of a learning curve when it came to figuring out my boundaries. Truthfully though, the discovery that these lines could be quickly blurred came as a surprise to me. Growing up — well before hormones kicked in and had their way with me — I always thought sex (or the not having of it) was something I’d only struggle with when deep, deep feelings were involved. I also thought that the women who did struggle with their sexuality were either seriously depraved or seriously insecure. It was only when I found myself in scenarios that required choice, that I began to understand that the line most Christians draw when it came to dealing with issues of sexuality was a fuzzy one at best. That disclaimer aside, here’s a few guidelines that have made it easier to avoid clothes ending up on the floor:
- Date someone whose maturity parallels your own.
The vulnerability required in relationship is hard enough, without the added challenge of one person consistently having to be the stronger person. Date someone who can hold you accountable, who can encourage you when circumstances call for it.
- Use your words.
I once dated a guy who explicitly asked if I was ok with watching a movie from the comfort of his bed. Hanging out there ensured that we wouldn’t spend the entire night in the company of his roommates. I knew him well enough to know that there was never a question of physical boundaries getting crossed, but I appreciated him asking the question even as it related to a relatively minor decision. It reassured me that our boundaries would be something that would be openly discussed before making decisions about how we conducted ourselves.
- Set a curfew.
I know this feels super old-school, but hear me out. Spending the night with the person you’re dating ups the ante significantly. Having a set time that you’re going to head home helps ensure that your not inadvertently upping the stakes just for the sake of convenience.
- Assume that it won’t work out.
This seems like an unbelievably pessimistic stance until you consider that theoretically anyway, it only works out once. Assuming the worst can serve as a healthy reminder that you don’t ever want to glance across the room at your ex and their significant other, and sit with the knowledge that you claimed levels of intimacy that weren’t yours to own.
- Be accountable.
If you or your significant other are having a hard time sticking to the parameters that have been set, find someone else you can be accountable to. By acknowledging the places you’re struggling, you welcome the influence of wise counsel and prayer on your behalf in helping to determine the nature of the relationship.
Learning to pump the breaks takes a certain level of conviction about what you’ve deemed to be appropriate. Take time to consider where your physical and emotional boundaries sit and why. Then, if you find yourself in relationship, vocalize those boundaries. Doing so protects you both. You remain clear on your expectations for the relationship. They don’t inadvertently wound you by crossing some unspoken line.
Finally, a message for those who feel burdened by the choices that they’ve made. Because of the nature of this site we’ll occasionally get invited into one-on-one conversations with people who are attempting to process through their past relationships. These conversations drive home the obvious reality that we frequently fail both ourselves and the ones that we love. But the thing we always remind our friends –the thing we want to always remind you of– is the unbelievable grace that’s already been extended to us. Historically, the Christian church has buried grace beneath layers of guilt and condemnation and yet, this is what is true: If you’re a Christian, no matter what lies you believe of yourself and your worth, you have been redeemed from the pit and crowned with love and compassion (Psalms 103). Whatever your mistakes, whatever aspects of your sexuality that were wrongfully submitted or have been wrongfully stolen, your story is not one without hope. Freedom is not the exclusive right of those who’ve never had to apologize for their actions. You have been redeemed. Your sins have been forgotten and are not counted against you. Do not live under the false assumption that your past dictates the future that God holds in store for you.
Thoughts on the matter? We’d love to hear from you.