Ok so for those of you who go to RLC or who happened to catch the singles panel I was on maybe you remember when we talked about boundaries in dating, particularly regarding sexuality as a single. It was a topic that we didn’t really get very far into it as much as we would have liked, but my own real life dating experiences touched on it this last 48 hours and I figured I would share. Maybe some of it is TMI but I think there’s also a lot that we don’t talk about in the church when it comes to the knitty gritty of sex and sexuality.
Sometimes it really is as simple as wanting to know how far is too far.
Which isn’t actually what I’m coming here to tell you, because I think oftentimes when we are asking how far is too far we are typically asking the wrong question. I think the right questions we should be asking ourselves are:
- What are my values and how can I authentically show up in them?
- What things make it difficult for me to live authentically in my values?
For those who don’t already know, I’ve recently taken Sleepless in Sacramento on the road. I’ve been Sleepless in Boulder, Sleepless in Indianapolis, Sleepless in Washington DC, and even Sleepless in Savannah. Along the way I’ve toyed with the idea of dating and tried to dip my foot back in a couple of times.
One of the bright spots was a nearly three hour phone conversation I had with a boy from DC that encouraged me that there’s hope out there for finding my partner, best friend, and lover. When I came to DC I’m not going to lie, I chickened out hardcore. Not just with him but with some of the other guys I met online as well. Something about trying to date in a new city in the middle of a panorama… But I’ll save that story for another day.
Fast forward to good ‘ol Georgia. Blame it on my low self-esteem at times but I still find myself a smitten kitten at times when the boys swipe back – especially the ones I think instantly are out of my league. So when a suave and handsome fellow swipes on me and messages me and ultimately asks me for my number, I was certainly not opposed- to handing out my google voice number at least lol.
Vibes are flowing, we are flirting and having fun and chatting back and forth and then homie goes ahead and says “Ok tell me, do you have any fantasies?” Now as the good Christian girl that I am, this convo could have gone a very different way….
Here are some of the things I have learned about boundaries over the years to help me navigate situations like this and others:
Let people know the way in not just the way out.
We often treat boundaries as something to keep people out rather than as an invitation to come in.
In the panel I compared this to building a fence with a gate around your yard. Setting boundaries with someone is actually just showing them where the gate is. They are welcome to come inside the yard, but they have to come in the gate- not hop the fence, not bulldoze or burn down the fence. The specifics of what that looks like? If you don’t want to get talking about sex or encourage/participate in what a friend of mine would call “spicy flirting” then when someone asks a question about if you have fantasies, saying something like “I do but those are something I plan on only sharing with my husband when we are married”. That provides not just a hard “no, ew, how could you ask me that” but also says, I’m not denying that I am a sexual being but the way to get to be apart of that is exclusively with the person I’m marrying and only when I’m married to them.
Truth is, I don’t know someone’s story until I do. Taking every moment in which someone lets me down as proof they aren’t “worthy” discounts their inherent worth as a child of Christ. Maybe they didn’t share my story, my struggles, and my boundaries. But if I give someone the chance to meet me where I am, to learn and love me and my boundaries and values, that is just as beautiful a miracle as if they knew and shared my values all along. At least to me it is.
Random side note: Have you ever been disappointed to be the one before the one?
Like you hoped/believed/prayed for the potential you saw in him/her only for them to never step up, never come into their potential. You move on only to watch them finally step up for the next person? Its frustrating and disappointing. But at the same time, I think that’s the very reason to show people where the gate is. Our hope in people is a beautiful and powerful thing, but be careful about moving yourself outside the fence in order to lure them out. Don’t lower your standards in hopes of enticing them to step UP to your standards. That’s deceptive to them, and a betrayal to you and your values. Don’t betray yourself
Don’t go there with someone who jokes about convincing you out of your standards or beliefs.
Its funny/not funny that this is one that even needs addressing but I’ve been on this quite a few times and have watched it with friends as well- both men and women.
Ya’ll. Don’t. Play. Games. If someone says “I wanna corrupt you”, “I bet I can change your mind”, or “Insert other spicy flirting intended to get you to let them in without agreeing to respecting your boundaries”. It is manipulation. It is manipulation that goes down smooth don’t get me wrong.
I have been the one who enjoyed that, seemingly, the boy I thought I’d scare away with my standards still wanted me. That’s ever the real fear though! That our boundaries that protect things we hold extra close to the heart, will be the thing that drives someone away. I get it believe me. But how he/she chooses to respond to your boundaries even at the beginning is genuinely indicative of the direction of respect or lack thereof that you will see in the moments when it counts, when you are hedging your bets, and your will power is at its weakest.
How he respects your boundaries- and ultimately you- at the beginning, is definitely a sign of how he will respect them when you are at your most vulnerable. And isn’t that what we want? Some who guards us when we are at our most vulnerable? True intimacy? To be known and to feel safe being known?
I remember back in my bartending days, when I was still freshly wounded and finding my way back to Jesus and navigating even dating from that lense. There was one of the sweetest kindest boys I’ve ever known. Now we didn’t share a lot of values in common when it came to dating. I was Christian, he was not. I was a virgin, he was not. There’s a lot of other values we did share in common as human beings but some of the foundational pieces we didn’t. But there was definitely mutual interest there. He used to sit with me most nights and talk to me until I closed the bar.
I will never forget the conversation we had in which he brought up that if someone he was dating valued waiting till marriage for sex that he would wait without a doubt. Compare that to my highschool christian boyfriend who I could barely get to stop shoving his hand up my shirt to cop a feel.
If he wanted to he would sis.
Find someone who respects YOU. Your boundaries don’t make him unworthy. His don’t make YOU unworthy. But find and recognize someone who sees your values and doesn’t belittle, mock, cajole, or try to convince you out of them. If he is trying to charm you out of your pants after you’ve set the fence and marked the gate, then he’s not living in his worth and integrity as a man. He has not yet learned how to value and uphold someone who thinks differently.
This recently played out with a guy I was talking to here in Georgia and the conversation ended with me saying, still flirty and fun, “its been 30 years of being resolute on this 😉 its not going to be something you are going to talk me out of”. His response was still a loaded one and ultimately disappointing.
Let them walk away.
Telling someone where the fence is and where the gate is to come inside is going to be a deal breaker for some. And that’s ok. I go back to my earlier point, don’t step outside of your fence to be with someone. But also don’t start picking up the fence line and moving it so that they are somehow inside your yard.
Its funny how someone walking away is often times the thing that triggers us re-evaluating everything. I think back to college and a boy that I gave a boundary to. I felt like we were moving too fast so I asked him to slow down. Even gave out ideas of how we could continue to get to know each other without going too fast. His response? He stopped. No more texts, no more walks, no more contact at all. As frustrating as that was I wish I would have let him go. Instead, I changed it up. I texted him telling him I missed him. I said maybe we didn’t need to go slow. And then in the end I ended up heartbroken and sad when I found out that he was telling his buddies that he wanted a girl to hook up with since the girl he’d been dating was “nobody to him and there were no good girls out there”.
The disappointment I felt in that moment was half at him but also half at myself for betraying myself. I want to be my biggest advocate, the person to whom I am truest and most honest and most dependable. But I didn’t do that and I let myself down when I should have let him walk away.
Maybe some of that wasn’t as practical as you were hoping for. I will say, my boundaries are not yours and I’m not here to say what you should do or not do. I think there is wisdom in council (community, friends who know you and your values), and also that there is wisdom in the Bible. Those are the things that I try to live my life by.
- I don’t do sexting or sexually suggestive texting. The line of that and flirting can get blurry so I get it. You could try and figure out, is it sin is it not, but at the end of the day, I know me. Walking down the path of certain conversations leaves me hot and bothered- which is problematic because the resolution of my desire comes from things I’ve already determined I want to save for marriage.
- I think twice about overnights/road trips solo with even a male friend. This actually has more to do with my theory that men and women are very rarely just friends. Someone typically has feelings to some degree. So if I can’t have an honest discission with myself and them and really know where things lie in that regard then its probably not a good idea to me. More an emotional than a sexual boundary there. I want to have healthy boundaries around intimacy across the board.
- I will not watch movies/shows with a bunch of sexual content with a guy I’m dating. More my own vulnerabilities and past ties to porn that have left me realizing that visual stimulants lead me down the hot and bothered path and then they leave me looking at the person near me through momentary lenses of being someone with potential to satisfy those needs. But they are more than a means to an end. They are an image bearer and I want to show up authentically in those moments treating them that way.
- Sex outside of marriage is off the table for me. Not when I’m seriously committed, not when I’m engaged. Not oral, not touching, not intercourse. I’ve found its not been something I’ve had to bring up often but it does tend to surprise and very often be a deal breaker.
- I won’t be in my underwear around a guy that I’m dating. I’m also a little pickier at times with the swimwear I’ll choose when I’m with someone that I’m dating too- more an internal thing that makes me feel safe. I’ve shown up and been objectified by the guy I’m dating in ways that put the true intimacy I longed for on the back burner and made me feel cheap. Is that my fault? Not really, the kinda of guy I’m looking for isn’t one who objectifies anyway, but I just feel safer and more comfortable to be me when I’m being more covered up in those moments.
- I don’t do drinks especially for a first date. This has been a long rule. I don’t want my mind, my tongue, my values to become blurry especially with someone who doesn’t know me and love me enough to remind me and call me into living out my values.
Now maybe you are reading some of my boundaries and already have a list of things I left off or are shocked that my boundaries aren’t much stricter. I think back to my dad jokingly telling people that I wasn’t allow to date till I was 30 and then when I was 34, I could kiss the chaperone goodnight.
Guess I’m just 4 years away from kissing the chaperone goodnight… My poor date won’t even see it coming when I run off with the chaperone….
Or maybe you read this list and are thinking what a conservative prude I am. I don’t really mind whichever you think about me. My boundaries are my own and have come through a lot of thought and prayer and I love the person that I am and am choosing to be authentically every day. But here’s what I hope you come away with even if you don’t share the same boundaries as I do.
- Know yourself- your values, your vulnerabilities, your priorities.
- Be yourself- unapologetically, confidently, confidently
- Don’t let anyone, yourself included, detract or dull you from living that out.
- Be gracious with yourself. I’ve laid out my boundaries that I try to live by above but man, the number of times I have failed and fallen short. I try to remind myself that my mistakes don’t define me and strive to be my best self. Celebrate the moments when you courageously live out your values, but be gracious and kind to yourself in the moments when it got the best of you and you didn’t