Most dating and relationships books, columns and shows won’t go near issues of faith. Author, professor and speaker Dr. Christine B. Whelan assumes faith has some role, and tackles even the toughest questions.
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Pure Sex, Pure Love
The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde: Our readers respond to Dr. Whelan's latest Pure Sex column on the challenges of cohabitation
In my last column, I wrote about Bonnie and Clyde, a couple who have been dating for three years and living together for the past year, with no plans for marriage. Bonnie was getting concerned that Clyde wasn’t ever going to propose and she wondered how she should proceed. Did he love her? Was this a longterm relationship? Click here to read the column.
Dozens of you shared your advice for Bonnie and Clyde—Here’s what the BustedHalo community has to say. Do you have any more advice? Write to me a firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll continue to add to this list.
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Dr. Whelan, in Christ,
Nice article, no complaints. I just notice that when people, even Catholics, even priests, discuss cohabitation and sexual activity prior to marriage, no one dares use the word “sin.” Yet that is the essence of extra-marital sex, and all of the devastating effects flow from sin. The psychological and even physiological data about marriages that go bust because of sexual sins are certainly important, and often more persuasive than discussing something like “sin.”
Poor catechesis today has left several generations of Catholics, besides, almost entirely in the dark about the Church’s teachings about sin and grace. Much of this can be accounted for due to the liturgical translations, which regularly change the Latin terms for these things from “sin” and “grace” to other more nebulous and less theologically rich English terms.
Lack of commitment, imprudent timing of one’s marriage, and avoiding the marriage question are bad things, big problems. But sin is the worst of all bad things. It’s the worst thing that could ever happen to anybody, and it’s the most evil thing anyone can ever do.
As long as young people turn their eyes away from God, cast themselves into the slavery of sin, and consider the blood which their sins drew from Jesus as something of no consequence, the hopes we have of talking them into living a Catholic marriage is near null. For without the sacrament of marriage, which Jesus entrusted to the Catholic Church, and which the Church in turn brought into the world, the riddle of human sexuality is a question without a clear answer. And so every people in every age who have been alien to the Catholic faith have had vastly different ways of settling the mystery of sex. Harems, concubines, even promiscuity and prostitution – even religious prostitution, as ludicrous as that may sound! Yet none of these things are intended by this God who revealed himself as Father, and as Son, and as Holy Spirit.
In the parishes where I am and have previously served, you always find this tiny number of Catholic couples who “get it.” They see their marriage as a way of worshipping God, and of sanctifying themselves and others. They are happy even amid trials, they are faithful and pure, they have plenty of children and are proud of having a big family (proud in the good way, not the arrogant way). The spouses love one another, and their sexual lives are profoundly satisfying, and they zealously defend their sex life from sin even within marriage (such as contraception, unjust withdrawing from one’s spouse, unnatural conduct, etc.).
A comparison can be made here between heaven and marriage. In heaven, there is an essential and accidental aspect to the soul’s happiness. The essence of the happiness of heaven consists in the vision of God forever and ever with all the angels and saints. There are accidental forms of happiness, however, which come with that, such as the resurrection of the flesh, the joy the saints experience in seeing us below make progress in the spiritual life, the “society” of the saints and angels in heaven, and so on. In marriage similarly, there are essential goods and other accidental goods. Essentially it is about the living of the sacrament as a source of grace and worship of the Holy Trinity by means of the love of the spouses and procreation of children. There are accidental goods, such as the common life, the joy children bring, support and motivation for all the trials of life, participation in the larger civil community as a family, and even the pleasure and comfort that is proper to an active sexual life.
Aristotle taught that what is first in principle is not necessarily the first in teaching or learning. And so we may start with the accidental goods, for example, telling a couple that if they are promiscuous before marriage they are putting a serious cramp in their future sexual lives, their emotional stability and maturity, the risks of the lady finding herself alone with a baby later on, financial troubles, etc. But to stop there, as is usually the case in so much literature I see, literature produced by very well meaning and often well informed persons who want to help couples attain God’s ideal for marriage, and then to fail to discuss the relationship of marriage to heaven, grace, sin, judgment, death and the other things which really matter, it to seriously miss the point.
Yet God calls to the hearts of young people! And their hearts are dying to hear the message of salvation, which is not found in psychology or health studies, but only in the Gospel of the Incarnate Word. And because young couples, who enjoy extra-marital sex, are continually in mortal sin and never confess or repent from it, they never heal. Until the soul heals, how can the emotions and then the body too? And if Jesus spoke about the consequences of sin, never backing down from discussing hell – indeed, no one in the whole bible talks about it more than he, as if to say, “My children, this is what you’re preparing for yourselves, but let me tell you how bad it really is, so as to motivate you to avoid it…the Father’s love is the alternative, and it’s worth everything!” – then how can we say we are charitable to those young people whom we fail to say, “If you keep on like this, and don’t repent, you know you can’t get into heaven like this…”
Anyway, this is just a long-winded suggestion to not back off from the faith part of it. Both the positive (the sacramental purpose of sex within marriage) and the negative (the consequences of sin in this life and eternally after death) form the whole message as the Lord gave it to us. Psychology can’t save us; only Jesus can, and on his terms.
Fr. Paul Ward,
If I were Bonnie, once I got a negative reaction from Clyde regarding marriage I would have ended it. She needs to realize that the relationship is never going to be what she wants it to be and get out of it. Why should Clyde ever change his feelings about getting married? He is already getting all the perks of marriage with none of the commitment. Bonnie needs to leave and start a new life. Perhaps it would make Clyde wake up and realize he does want a future. If not, it’s better Bonnie knows that sooner rather than later.
I’ve seen so many situations like this (and was in one many, many years ago), and I agree with everything you’ve said. And I believe Clyde has already answered the question by his reaction to Bonnie’s mention of marriage, and by the fact that in three years he has never said, “I love you”. But Bonnie needs to hear it verbally so she can see the situation for what it truly is rather than what her hopes, dreams and love wish it to be. My prayers are certainly with her.
I think the issue with Bonnie and Clyde is a small instance that points to a larger problem in how we young people are constructing our spiritual and romantic worlds. You are right to raise the question of whether Clyde is committed to Bonnie personally, and the relationship generally. But I think something else also needs to be established before faith bears in on the matter: Is either partner committed to a relationship that is accountable to the Church? If so, then Bonnie needs to follow the Church’s protocol on this matter, as you laid out. In this case I think that protocol is especially well-thought out and sensible. If not, then it’s a matter for Dr. Phil. Ethics without Christ are easy enough. Evaluate what you want, ask the other person for it (in such a way as to maximize your preferred results), and then move out if they don’t give it to you. Doesn’t seem like Clyde wants that step, so I wouldn’t suggest pushing him into it. I feel pity for Bonnie, but I really do think it’s that clear-cut.
I am troubled by your report that, after getting quiet and looking pained, Clyde “did not want to talk about ” future intentions. Willingness for sexual intimacy but not the personal intimacy of frank conversation is very worrisome, reflecting negatively on the degree of Clyde’s esteem for you. It sounds to me that he is in the relationship for what he can get from it, with little concern for your needs, desires, or feelings. That formula will bring you sorrow in the long run, even if he eventually marries you. By all means, try Dr. Whelan’s prescribed attempt to again get a conversation going with him. But, if he blows you off again, you ought to head for the exit.
What an interesting column! When I read this I kept thinking the same thing, and not with judgment, but with wonder…how did they get this far without any real expression of love?
By no means do I think that saying “I love you” is the end all/be all. Quite the contrary, talk is cheap, isn’t it? But to have not brooked that and be this deep, 3 years into it and living together to boot and he has never said that? It just makes me curious first and foremost. It makes me wonder why and how and it never came up before?!
So it comes as no real surprise that Clyde kind of “checks out” when Bonnie brings up marriage. I mean- why wouldn’t it? It sounds like all the time and energy that she has invested has not been- as you aptly point out- clearly and openly discussed.
Very provocative column here and one that many should be aware of. I will say that I recently got married. I am Catholic and I am 49. My husband and I were very clear, for a variety of reasons, all discussed (and man does he hate talking!) openly about why we would absolutely not live together beforehand.
You can accuse me/us of theological hairsplitting, given that we didn’t wait for it all, but we were very clear about what the implications of building our lives together meant in the spirit of marriage.
Anyway, we all do crazy things. Thank God for grace!
My fiance and I have been dating consecutively for about 3 years but at one time years ago were high school sweethearts. We recently made the move, about 2 months ago, to live together. This was an extremely difficult decision to make because I have grown-up in a very strong Catholic family with conservative Catholic rules.
There are two reasons why I made the move, rather than waiting for the day of “I do’s”. One, was because early on in our relationship (round two) I made it very clear that I would not even consider or discuss the idea of cohabitation until there was a ring on my finger. What Jake (my fiance) took that to mean was “ring on finger = engaged”, not necessarly married like I had meant. So the day he asked me to marry him, he said, “so now that you have ‘a ring on your finger’, how about moving in together”. I laughed so hard I actually considered it.
The second reason was financial. We both just graduated from college and our jobs were in the bay area which can be a bit pricey. The thought of living separately and paying twice as much for rent was ridiculous. So we made the move.
These past few months, our current living situation has been at the forefront of my prayer life even though things have been going very well. I have to say that the idea of moving out a few months before the wedding sounds very very appealing.
But anyways, to the point I am writing this e-mail. I have to say, reading Bonnie and Clyde’s story, I am amazed that marriage was never discussed in the three years they have been together. I guess I would like to know more as to how they decided to move in together before the “I love you’s” and the M-bomb? It just seems to me that they missed a few steps. Like they went from step 3 to step 10 and now Bonnie’s looking back going, “but hey, steps 4 through 9 are kind of important” and Clyde’s saying, “but we’re already at step 10, why would we want to back-track?” Coming from a fellow “Catholic Cohabitator”, my advice would be to definitely move out and see if they can’t try going from step 3 to 4… and so on.
Yours truly in Christ,