In case you’re not aware, girls are really creepy. When a girl is interested in a guy, his Facebook page holds no secrets. She thinks about him constantly. She wonders what he’s doing, if he’s thinking about her, and what they will name their future babies (John Paul, Thérèse, and Mary-Something are all at the top of the list). She imagines what it will be like to date him, and how perfect they will look on their wedding day, surrounded by flowers that perfectly match the blue of his eyes. Okay, maybe not that last part. But still, that’s not even much of an exaggeration.
Daydreams like these can be pervasive in the minds of many a young woman, whether or not she is consciously aware of them. Does this sound like something which prepares young women for holy, authentic love in their future vocations? In case you’re unsure, the answer to that question is a resounding No.
But why do girls do this? What is going on in the heart of a woman that prompts this behavior?
There are two types of attraction that play a part in human relationships, particularly relationships between men and women. The first is sensual attraction, or sensuality, which focuses on a person’s material value, such as physical attractiveness. The second is sentimental attraction, or sentimentality, which refers to what we find emotionally attractive about a person; kindness, honesty, and courage all fall into this category. 1 A healthy, functioning relationship needs both kinds of attraction in order to grow.
However, both sensuality and sentimentality can be twisted into distortions of their true, beautiful nature.
In today’s culture of hook-ups and hangovers, distorted sensuality has received a lot of attention in Christian circles, and many leaders have made an effort to give people a greater awareness of their human dignity as sons and daughters of God. Distorted sentimentality, however, is much more subtle and is therefore more difficult to combat. Rather than being displayed in outward acts, it often takes place interiorly, within our minds and hearts. This happens when a woman allows her emotions to rule over her mind and control her imagination.
It is this distorted sentimentality that causes many young people to daydream incessantly, to get lost in possibilities rather than live in the reality of each moment given to them by God. Exercising the imagination in this way turns God’s beautiful gift into a vehicle for achieving an emotional rush. Oftentimes this is a form of escapism. The dreamer will dwell on a fictitious relationship or plan an imaginary wedding to avoid thinking about the reality of his or her life, particularly if that life seems boring or disappointing in the moment. Emotionally charged chick flicks and love songs also play into these daydreams, providing plenty of material for the imagination.
To counteract this, we have what is sometimes called emotional chastity – a term for the virtues of temperance and prudence in human relationships. According to the Catechism, a virtue is “an habitual and firm disposition to do the good.”2 Virtues don’t just allow us to do good things; they enable us to give the best of ourselves by consistently practicing acts of selflessness.
It is the emotional element of chastity which supports and makes the physical element of chastity beautiful.
However, since words such as temperance and prudence don’t necessarily fill most young people with excitement and zeal, emotional chastity has become a popular way of describing the need to moderate sentimentality and reserve it for its proper place. Chastity itself does not refer simply to not having sex, but to “the successful integration of sexuality within the person.”3 This integration requires a commitment to chastity in both the body and the emotions. More precisely, it is the emotional element of chastity which supports and makes the physical element of chastity beautiful. Without the emotional or sentimental aspect of chastity, physical chastity would be mere abstention.
The Catechism states that temperance “ensures the will’s mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable.”4 Temperance allows us to be in control of our emotions and to moderate our desires, which are naturally good. But if our desires are good, why do we have to moderate them? The problem with desire is that it requires a balancing act on our part.
Our desires, at their core, all point us toward God, so they are therefore truly good. At the same time, unfortunately, an excess of any desire – whether for food or for love – steers us away from the Giver of all good gifts. Rather than seeing the Giver and praising God for his kindness, we focus on the gifts and forget that they were freely given to us. If we allow our desires to dictate our will, then we make pleasure the center of our universe and push God off to the side. By keeping our desires under control, we allow them to direct us toward God’s will for our lives.
The deepest desires of our hearts are little signposts toward Heaven.
The deepest desires of our hearts, revealed in the twinge of longing we feel in the face of something true and beautiful, guide us along our pilgrimage through life. The desire to love and be loved, to be a part of something meaningful – all of these deep desires reflect the reality that we are made by God and for God. They serve as little signposts toward Heaven, leading us through the amazing adventure He has planned for us.
In all of this, temperance is there to keep our desires from running wild and becoming the master of our will. Prudence, called the “charioteer of the virtues”5 in the Catechism, is there to help temperance with this task. Prudence leads our reason “to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it.”6 Basically, prudence guides and directs the other virtues, enabling them to grow and develop in us so that each of us can become the best version of ourselves. Working together, temperance and prudence help us to rein in our emotions and keep our hearts safe from the anxiety and brokenness caused by investing ourselves in relationships that exist solely within our minds.
Here are just a few simple ways to move away from these fantasies:
- Pray for your future spouse – for his or her faults as well as virtues.
- Build relationships with other people who are striving to grow closer to Christ, not with the intention of finding your future spouse along the way, but with the intention of building communities that will foster growth in virtue.
- Let God love you. No human relationship, however holy, will ever fill the deepest desires of your heart; that is something that Christ alone can do. It is by being still and humbly accepting a love you could never earn that you will find that for which you were made.
emotional chastity is about being real.
Essentially, emotional chastity – or temperance and prudence – is about being real. It’s about living in reality rather than in daydreams and focusing on what is actually happening in your life right now. Today. It’s about loving everyone – male or female, future-spouse-material or not – as a brother or sister in Christ. Reining in our emotions allows room for Christ to show us every person through His eyes, the eyes of authentic love. It is this unselfish, authentic love which truly prepares each of us for our vocation, whatever it may be, and sustains us through difficult times. By taking each moment as it comes, we give God room to mold us into the people He created us to be. When we let go of the illusion of control that daydreaming gives us, we allow God to lead us one step at a time toward the joy and love He has planned for us from the beginning.
“As to the past, let us entrust it to God’s mercy, the future to divine providence. Our task is to live holy the present moment.”
-St. Gianna Molla
- Cotter, Lisa (2013). What is emotional chastity?. Retrieved from What is Emotional Chastity?.
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. 1803.
- Ibid, 2337.
- Ibid, 1809.
- Ibid, 1806.