The boyfriend who I thought was the love of my life, and who broke up with me a while ago, to my confusion, has been asking me out to dinner again. I haven't said yes yet, because I don't know what's at stake here, and what it means! Does he want to mend fences? Get closure? Get back together? Or just get some?
My well-intentioned, loving and very God-fearing aunt had me well-convinced that my relationship failings were due in large part to sex outside of marriage. Men, she goes on to say, have a duty to protect the women they love and will do so by waiting for marriage. If not, they are not Christian men and I, as a woman, am being seduced rather than truly loved. Uh???!!! Help! When given the choice, at 31, I am seeking love rather than mere seduction, but seriously, I'm supposed to wait? What do the gospels have to say about this? I am a Bible baby, despite growing up Catholic, and would like to know what wisdom the Bible has on this.
I have heard criticisms of those who invent their own faith rules and bend them to fit the lifestyle they want to lead rather than adhere their life to the life God has set out as being the way. Am I doing that if I have sex?! Oh geesh!!!
Dinner (and more?) with the ex
You sound cautious, and that is a good idea.
About having dinner with the ex, I would assess his motives and also your emotional readiness. It is very seductive to be invited back in by someone who rejected you, but you are to be "wise as serpents and innocent as doves" as Jesus counseled.
You can be openhearted while still wondering to yourself: is he doing this to make himself feel better and get closure? Am I ready to let him off the hook like that, or does he need to do more due diligence? Does he think he made a terrible mistake, is he lonely and Valentine's Day is coming and he wants me back? If he does, do I want him back, because my feelings matter? Do we all have the right motives here?
About sex, some of Paul's New Testament letters to the early church, especially Romans and I Corinthians, are a resource on guidance about sex. There are all kinds of differing ways to read his pretty cryptic teachings about sex that I'm not going to get into here, but it's important to remember, for example, that these letters were written to people as conflicted as you.
I Corinthians, for example, was written to the church in the city of Corinth, a port city and a hub in the Greco-Roman world, a place known for its reluctance to put up boundaries. It was the Vegas of the first-century world. The Greco-Roman world didn't see much of a connection between sex and religion (maybe it should have stayed that way!).
On the other hand, Paul was trying to establish some ground rules in an environment that didn't have any—most of the Corinthian Christians were not Jews, who would have had a lot of rules about sex—they were Gentiles, or non-Jews. They were all trying to work out what was permitted, and what was not permitted. Gentiles were living in an anything-goes culture in regard to sex, which is why Paul wrote to them, "[You say] all things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful."
This is maybe a good yardstick for making choices in regard to our bodies: helpful, versus lawful. Some of the worst trouble my heart and life have gotten into has been around sex. I think it's hard for (most) women (generalization alert!) to separate sex from love and commitment. Even if we agree to what seems like something more casual or uncommitted, and think we can handle it, when we offer our bodies in intimate ways, we get snagged.
This is as it should be—it is how God made us (and not just women!). Paul goes on to say in I Corinthians, "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own: so glorify God in your body." Holy sex is sex that glorifies God: that makes God more visible and more touchable.
Sex is supposed to make us deeply vulnerable with another human being; it is a sort of surrender. The question is: is your ex worthy of that kind of vulnerability and surrender?
I assume you have had sex with this ex before. If you have, it probably complicates things now that you might be/are starting things up again. It would be easy to slip back into the old mode of being together physically, because there's precedent. You'll both want to bring some intentionality to this decision, and not just let it happen.
One thing I teach my kids is: if you can't talk to your partner openly about what you want and don't want in regard to sex, you're not ready to do it. You can't rely on furtive groping and body language to say what you're too embarrassed to say out loud. And if you haven't had sex with your ex, you can take it as slow as you feel is right (well, you can do that anyhow, it'll just be less loaded). There are other considerations. Here's the short list of dumb questions:
• birth control (do you have a foolproof method? what would you do if you two found yourselves pregnant?)
• STDs (have you both been tested? Don't be naive!)
• reciprocation and attention to each other's pleasure/climax (does it go both ways? Do both partners take each others' needs fully into account? And: there's a lot of fun you can have without having intercourse)
I hope I haven't made the waters murkier. This is a big and complicated thing, as you know, or we wouldn't all be so obsessed with it. And it goes without saying: if you don't feel ready, say no. Again, you have a very quiet voice at the center of your being, the God-voice. What is IT saying? It's kind, and it loves you. It's not a Puritan, or a fundamentalist; but it does know you and have your best interests at heart. bless you, and may you be a blessing!
"Dear Theo" is written anonymously by three UCC ministers of different ages and backgrounds - one main writer and two respite writers. We're hoping the questions will span all kinds of topics: from sexuality and relationships to church culture and conflict to mental health, family drama, ethical and moral dilemmas, and everything in between.
Every week will feature a new letter and a new answer. Please write Dear Theo with your questions and problems by sending to email@example.com. Letter writers identities will also ALWAYS remain anonymous.