Why I STILL don’t date men who are ‘willing’ to save sex.

In his quiet apartment, I stirred a pot of mac ‘n’ cheese while I watched him watch TV. He sighed. So did I, and for the same reason that he did: As of a few minutes earlier, I wasn’t his girlfriend anymore.

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His was a sigh of resignation. Mine was a sigh of relief.

When we first met, I was 23. He was 27. I was a virgin. He wasn’t. I wanted a chaste relationship. He didn’t. We dated anyway. He was “willing” to save sex for marriage: he saw no merit in it, outside of getting to date me, but agreed, under protest, to abstain.

The first time he asked me to do what I couldn’t, to let him touch me where he shouldn’t, he said please. I said no. He asked again. I always said no. He was frustrated by my objection to helping him satisfy the urges he didn’t want to govern. Eventually, he was mean.

“Your boundaries are killing me,” he said.

“You’re a 13-year-old.”

“No man will wait that long.”

Even he admitted that his desires were fueled by lust. And his “willingness” to save sex — which, as implied by the quotes around the word, wasn’t actually willingness — had waned. He wanted me to break my promise to practice chastity. Instead, I broke up with him.

I shut off the stove, and picked the pot of mac ‘n’ cheese up off the burner. I was sure I’d never date a guy again who was only “willing” to save sex. Last year, I wrote about it.*

The post, called “Why I don’t date men who are ‘willing’ to save sex for marriage,” is the most-read thing I have ever written. It struck a chord with lots of readers. It also struck lots of readers’ nerves:

“…sanctification is a process… Is it fair to categorically dismiss those who haven’t fully matured in mastering their sexual appetites?”

“By automatically avoiding these men, you rule out the possibility that Jesus might be presenting you with an opportunity to aide in someone’s conversion…”

“I would not automatically disqualify someone if they were willing to just ‘wait it out.’ Not every guy received good formation, often through no fault of his own. Being willing to just ‘wait it out’ is also noble…”

“…such an attitude as yours seems very unloving. … (His) willingness is a step in the right direction and is worthy of great respect!”

“Your present plan has you on track for living alone with three cats for whom you sew tiny costumes. …men could learn to see chastity as we do, if a girl who respected herself challenged him to respect her, too.”

With those readers and others, my decision not to date men anymore who are “willing” to save sex didn’t sit well. After all, an unchaste man’s decision to abstain from sex is indicative of his potential to change. Indeed, my decision to date a man who doesn’t believe what I do — about Jesus, about sex, or about anything at all — could be a catalyst for his conversion.

And I want a catalyst to exist. I want him to know that we were designed by Love, for love; that we are created able to become like God’s son, Jesus Christ, who — out of love — died and rose that we might live.

If an unchaste man knew what I know, he would want to practice chastity.

He could learn if I date him. But I still won’t. Here’s why:

Because chaste people don’t owe unchaste people a chance.

Neither my attraction to an unchaste man nor an unchaste man’s potential to change obligates me to date him. In fact, nothing obligates any person to date another, ever. It is your right to have a stable set of standards, and it is your right to rule out the men or women who don’t meet them.

Because people who practice chastity do exist. 

Is a chaste person hesitant to rule out an unchaste person because he or she can be the catalyst for his or her conversion, or because he or she is afraid that people who are already chaste don’t exist? Your standards — like mine — might mean that the pool of people from whom you can pick is smaller than other peoples’ pools. Meeting somebody to date could take awhile. But people who practice chastity today — regardless of their pasts — exist. I don’t meet them while I’m dating a man who doesn’t.

Because a romantic relationship with a chaste person isn’t an unchaste person’s only path to chastity. 

Any unchaste man I meet does need Jesus. He does need virtue. But I do not need to be his girlfriend to introduce them to him. A chaste person’s decision not to date an unchaste person doesn’t deprive an unchaste person of what he or she actually needs: an introduction to chastity, and an encounter with the Holy Spirit. If we treat unchaste people like they can’t become chaste unless or until a chaste person dates them, we underestimate them, and we underestimate God.

*Click here to read “Why I don’t date men who are ‘willing’ to save sex.”

Related: Click here to watch Catholic speaker Marcus Guevara tell his conversion story, which started when a chaste woman wouldn’t date him.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • You are right on to disqualify men who have not yet learned that sexuality is a gift. Sadly men are taught that they cannot control their sexual desire. This is a problem not only during dating but in marriage – all Christians are called in the Bible to lead chaste lives.

    There is hope for men: God’s loving grace.

    Here are 3 of prayers that will help male readers that desire both a pure heart and (perhaps) a date with Miss Spenceley

    Prayer for chastity:

    Dear Jesus,
    I know that every perfect gift, and especially that of chastity, depends on the power of Your providence. Without You a mere creature can do nothing. Therefore, I beg You to defend by Your grace the chastity and purity of my body and soul. And if I have ever sensed or imagined anything that could stain my chastity and purity, blot it out, Supreme Lord of my powers, that I may advance with a pure heart in Your love and service, offering myself on the most pure altar of Your divinity all the days of my life. Amen.

    Prayer for purity of heart:

    Lord, help me to accept and receive my sexuality as a gift from you. Grant me the grace to resist the many lies that distort this divine gift and help me to live my sexuality according to the truth of self-giving love. Grant me purity of heart so that I might see the image of your glory in the beauty of others, and one day see you face to face. Amen.

    Prayer in a moment of temptation to lust:

    Lord, thank you for the beauty of this person whom you made to be loved—never to be treated as a thing for my gratification. I renounce any tendency within me to use this person for my own pleasure, and I ask you to set my desires aright. Amen.

  • I detect throughout commentary such as the remarks you’ve quoted from readers above (and countless other remarks I’ve read and heard over the years) an overall disdain for the importance of the commandment against sexual immorality. Often this attitude is a bit concealed, but generally sexual virtue seems to take a back seat to most of the rest of the commandments in many eyes. I hardly think that your readers would be so quick to tell you to be an instrument of a man’s conversion if, say, he were an unrepentant thief or habitually cursed his mother.

    One also assumes that you are dating grown men who are well formed in their habits and perceptions of the world. Sure, folk do mature beyond their twenties (thank goodness!), but a man in his twenties or older who thinks or acts as though sexual morality is optional is likely well entrenched in those views. Why not try to be an instrument of his “conversion,” your readers ask? The Apostle Paul advises those already married to unbelieving spouses to stay with them in order to sanctify them. He does not, however, advise anyone to begin romantic relationships with unbelievers in order to convert them through romantic love. Just think of how absurd it is: a romantic relationship as a means of proselytizing. How is one or the other in the relationship to be sure that his motives are a love of the truth rather than the affection inherent to romance? I can scarcely think of a poorer way to try to show someone the Gospel than to begin a committed romantic relationship with them and then hope that they’ll come around for the Gospel and not for any of the other motives in the relationship—the latter kind of “conversion,” of course being the sort that leads to bitterness and resentment.

  • It shows how distorted our dating culture is when it’s considered a virtue to date someone who you know doesn’t share your core beliefs on the off chance that maybe someday they will.

  • Rianna Shannon Johnson

    I thank God for your boldness! I am, one of many moved and inspired by that 1st post-I believe this is what brought me to your blog. Last year around this time I started a relationship with a man who didn’t share my beliefs. I was willing and did compromise my chastity and lied to myself- to appease myself that maybe I could still be an example or his chance to encounter God. Needless to say I was only fooling me, I eventually ended the relationship. I’m still processing the guilt that I feel knowing that he may be even further away from God than he was prior to us because of how I failed. I pray for him daily.Thanks again for being an encouragement! May Jesus continue to strengthen you and fill you and all your readers with His joy as we lay down our lives for the love of Him, who did it first for us!

  • Lynette

    good for you! you have a right to seek out men to date who will support the values you hold most dear.

  • writersoapbox

    Here’s the thing. My husband was a man of virtue and through out all the years we dated, never pressured me or suggested actions that would put us into temptation. I broke up with him several times because I thought he wasn’t into me. I loved him but i felt that he didn’t love me. I ended up dating and getting hurt because there was no one like my husband. My husband and i remained best friends through out the whole time but i was convinced that he didn’t love me the way i loved him. After 10 years he asked me out again and i was excited to give us another shot. But we ran into the same problem… i didn’t think he desired me. But this time around, he communicated to me in a different way through the words that he said, the things he did like making me and my mom dinner, he was always there for me. I was so happy to remain abstinate for him because he had to remove himself from my presence when it was to hard for him to follow on his commitment to God.
    MY POINT IS: my husband changed me by his example but he had to show me in other ways that he did want me. He didn’t hide that it wasn’t difficult for him at times and we fought the battle together. Our marriage is so strong for it now. Our communication is amazing and when we do fight, we have more compassion for each other. Because we know each other so incredibly well…. IT is amazing and we are so connected that we are two people but at the same time…. we ‘re like the same person. I have NEVER seen a relationship like ours except in the oldest generation that is still alive. DAVID TOOK A CHANCE ON ME. He knew I might break up with him or he might have to break up with me. Don’t count us non-chaste out. We can surprise ourselves and you.

  • Val

    I agree. I can’t date a men hoping that he will change. He is a person not a project: or he is the man I want or he isn’t. And the decision to have premarital sex is a clue of how he sees life. I want a Christian family, i want to grow in virtue with my husband and to raise my children as Catholics. Abortion, contraception and divorce are not an option. I don’t think I could have all this with a not catholic guy or a not-so-catholic guy. Marriage is hard: if it is not built on the same values it will be harder.
    I know that there are some exceptions and I’m open to whatever God has in store for me but now this is what I think.

  • pastordavidrn

    God has only one standard for human sexual intercourse: marriage (the biblical “one-flesh” relationship of a male and a female—a definition that corresponds scientifically to the actual physiology of “sexual union”). That timeless standard holds as the divine guide for both singles and marrieds. There is no double-standard for singles.

    Premarital sexual union disregards that one standard and cheats a future spouse by forming a “one-flesh” bond with one or more strangers (1 Cor 6:16) that will involuntarily be brought into a future marriage. That psycho-somatic union—an inherent capacity in the creation of human nature—is a gift with which God intended to bless marriage. We can break from a relationship with someone, but it is impossible without divine intervention to break that “one-flesh” bond. Sorry, folks, but this is how we are built, no matter how cultural behavior changes standards. It’s an unavoidable part of the theology of our bodies.

    The standard of marriage for singles is the same exact loyalty to a future mate that is supposed to be manifested to a spouse when vows are made. If your personal gift is to be married, your mate is right now walking around. Your marital loyalty is owed to that future mate right now. And the measure of what you can and can’t do with another person as a single is set by what that action would look like to God and others if you were doing it as a married person with someone who is not your spouse. No double standards!

  • Nick

    Happy Feast of the Nativity everyone! I’m Nick. Yes, I’m an Orthodox Christian, writing from Russia where we use the Old Calendar and feast days are different by 2 weeks. No matter though. Since I talked with Arleen by email last week and she included one of my quotes in this post, I thought that I’d comment and put in my “2 cents” (or kopeks… ;).

    Firstly, this post might come across as “friendly fire”, so my apologies in advance if anyone finds it difficult to read. To clear the air for those who don’t know much about Orthodoxy: sex before marriage is a serious sin, ALL people (including those already married) must live chastely, and marriage is not temporal, but eternal!

    To be quite honest, I have a headache after reading Arleen’s post, and this headache seems very similar to the one I experience after reading feminist literature. None of it seems to be very edifying, since there is a lot of discussion about externals, but spiritual depth is lacking. When living by the Holy Spirit, true respect towards women will come naturally. Therefore, feminism is irrelevant. Likewise with chastity. When living by the Holy Spirit, chastity comes naturally, without excessive effort (beyond what you normally need to combat pride, anger, despair, etc.). Acquiring the Holy Spirit is the goal, not chastity. Find “fellow travellers”, and you’ll find someone who you can date.

    Also, and this is key, you CANNOT acquire the Holy Spirit by living chastely! But, only by God’s Will, and by living in repentance and continual prayer.

    • This comment puzzles me in a few ways. I’ll limit my reply, though, to the topic of Ms Spenceley’s post. I’m Orthodox myself, by the way.

      Your remarks remind me of St. Seraphim of Sarov. St. Seraphim famously said that the goal of Christian life consisted of the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. You say that too. That just living chastely is not the goal of our lives is, I think, pretty much beyond reproach, and I suspect our Roman Catholic friends would agree. St. Seraphim, however, goes on to say that virtues such as chastity are means of acquiring the Holy Spirit, and yet you say the opposite, that acquiring the Holy Spirit is the means of living chastely: “[w]hen living by the Holy Spirit, chastity comes naturally ….” This is rather discombobulated. You make the Spirit both means and end and criticize the post on that somewhat confusing basis.

      Now I don’t want to put all of Orthodoxy on St. Seraphim, mind you, but I also don’t want to write an overlong comment. Mainly, I just see no reason to take issue with the post on any of what seem from your last paragraph to be the main grounds of your criticism. I wouldn’t expect from a fairly practical commentary such as Ms. Spenceley’s essay above a deep contemplation of, say, prayer and repentance. She’s talking about the concerns of social life in the world and giving a pragmatic analysis of it. She wants to practice chastity, and she wants to do it in an intelligent and not self-defeating way: hence, by not dating men who have no real desire to be chaste. Where is the flaw in that? If she has thoughts about repentance and prayer (and no doubt she does), I don’t think their absence from this post is fatal to what she’s trying to say here.

      And in conclusion, Merry Christmas! 🙂

      • Nick

        Thank you very much for the reply Virgil!

        I’ve thought about it some more, and I hope that I’m writing correctly. Please forgive me if anything isn’t clear.

        My experience on this topic is very extensive, and it’s very difficult to debate one specific point. If an Orthodox person comes to me and asks, “how can I stop doing such an unchaste action?” I will just give them a short list of books to read (for example, by St. Theophan the Recluse), then tell them to keep to a daily prayer rule, attend services and receive the Holy Mysteries regularly, do the fasts as the Church prescribes, and to say the Jesus Prayer at all times possible. The problem will resolve itself in time, with some strategic effort at making sure what goes into the mind is healthy and while taking care that whatever the person’s spiritual and psychological weaknesses are (causing unchastity), they are addressed.

        On practical things: prayer is the most practical thing you can do! And, when you encounter someone with a spiritual weakness such as unchastity, the most important thing is to pray and fast for them! Shunning them will not help them. Also, be sure to avoid situations of weakness, like being alone together. When they ask, it is a good chance to explain how healthy, peaceful and consistent a life of chastity is. Explanations must be reasonable, loving, and (honestly) cannot be based on fear or immaturity… people must also get to know God before a life of chastity will make any sense. Usually also, it is better to know someone for awhile before making a romantic commitment.

        Of course, you can date whoever you choose. A good match is someone who brings you closer to God, and whose weaknesses are matched by your strengths, and vice-versa. To be able to live a chaste life is vital for the success of a marriage though… it is true that if someone is not willing, the chances of success in the future are not very high.

        I do not have any big problems with Arleen’s essay, except for emphasis.