When examining the element of “freedom” in my marriage, it is clear that there was nothing impeding me or my husband from entering freely into a union with one another. There wasn’t anyone holding a gun to my head when I made my vows and I didn’t feel forced in to marriage for any reason. I knew with my full heart that I wanted to marry Joe, and I know that he felt the same. I remember putting on my dress that morning, anxious more from lack of sleep at the excitement of marrying my best friend, than from stress or fear. I knew that day, that I was exactly where I needed to be: saying yes to a union with the man I trusted with my whole life.
However, getting to this point of full freedom of heart wasn’t entirely easy. The road that paved the way required a lot of work and sacrifice, both in my personal life and in our relationship up until the day we made our vows. I think the only way to really express the freedom Joe and I felt at our wedding, is by honestly telling you about our path and the choices that we made that lead to that day.
I made the conscientious decision to save my virginity for marriage when I was 16 years old, signing a chastity card with the intent of living out my sexuality with God’s plan in mind. It was a decision that I reaffirmed with every passing boyfriend and with every passing year (even signing 3 more cards which I would later give to my husband Joe on our wedding day). Throughout my life, this proved to teach me two things: to keep my eye on a love that was authentic and real (not based primarily on utility), and to place my trust and love in God before anyone or anything else.
With every boy that I dated from then on, I put it in my heart to remember God’s plan for love and marriage. But this was not always easy. Probably the first and hardest thing I faced with my vow of chastity was the persecution. Countless people (both guys and girls) made fun of me for my decision, and basically dumbed down my vow to a “lack of hormones,” or an immature understanding of passion and human sexuality. “You’ll know when you fall in love,” they told me. Or they’d say, “You’re so cute,” patting me on the head mockingly. The names I was called by my boyfriends and their friends, the pressure I endured, the many cheating and uncommitted guys I had to wade through…all of these things were incredibly painful. It was eyeopening to see how many guys weren’t willing to stick around very long or commit to me when they found out I wasn’t going to be giving them that one thing. As I faced these challenges, I had to learn from a young age to place my trust in God, and to give him my heart first before handing it away to another person.
This was a challenge in itself, though. Due to impatience and imprudence, there were still many times that I threw my heart into my relationships, giving certain pieces of myself away freely. I am not proud of some of the things I’ve done in my life. I wish that I could erase some of the encounters I had, and all the times I tried to take things into my own hands rather than allowing God to lead me in life and especially in love. In my impatience, though, I nonetheless felt God very near to me, urging me to look into my heart and examine whether or not my actions were truly making me happy. By being honest with myself, I realized overtime that anytime I fell short of God’s plan for love and for my life (physically or spiritually), I never felt fulfilled or real love. On the contrary, I felt used and empty. Even with the boyfriends I knew loved me.
This was not a path I wanted to take, and I learned that in order to get to where God wanted me to go, it would require a lot of sacrifice, patience, fortitude, and ultimately, a man willing to wait for me. Moreover, I had to put my desires for love and for marriage in the hands of God, and give him the room to send me the man I was praying for.
And he did. He sent me Joe.
I could tell from the beginning that Joe was someone who wanted to get to know me for me. Right from the start, it was so refreshing to meet a guy who was invested in me and my heart, looking for nothing in return. He was patient and kind, loving and devoted—and all these things proved later to be essential qualities I needed in the man I was going to marry.
As we embarked further in our relationship, we were faced with having to decide what it was we were wanting from one another. We both knew we weren’t just looking for a “good time” or something of the like, but we were ultimately desiring something more. Something deeper. Though marriage wasn’t something we actively talked about in the first year and a half of our relationship, I think we both knew, ultimately, that’s what we wanted. Whether it was with each other or not…well that was for time to work out. However, in order to get to know each other with clear eyes and to more easily discern whether or not we truly were the right people for each other, we decided early on that we had to take on certain crosses. We agreed from the very beginning that our relationship would not be guided merely by our passions, and as such we chose to sacrifice engaging in premarital sex and living together before marriage.
I refer to these as “crosses,” because essentially, that’s what they were. Waiting to bodily express the love that was unfolding between us was incredibly difficult, and there were countless nights we would’ve preferred to spend together, rather than apart. The decision not to live together was a huge sacrifice for us, primarily because we were in a long-distance relationship. It would have been way easier for us to spend our weekends living together, than for Joe to rent an apartment where I was living. However, living together would have made it extremely hard for us to temper our desires, and we both knew that if we gave in to them we would be changing the dynamic and direction of our relationship. Ultimately, with our bodies, we would be lying to one another. This probably sounds incredibly dramatic, but that is because the call of chastity is starkly contrasted by the modern distortion of the true meaning of sex. The reality is that the meaning of sex goes much deeper than the modern interpretation of it says it does. Sex is not some act you participate in simply because it feels good, or to express just any kind of love. As human beings, we are comprised of both body and soul, so the language of the body and the language of the spirit have to be in harmony for this language to speak truth and beauty. Sex is a gift given by God and what makes it so beautiful is that it is the means by which the wedding vows become flesh. It is the physical expression of the invisible, unbreakable bond between man and wife. As Jason Evert once beautifully said, “When a husband gives his body to his bride, and a bride gives her body to her husband, their bodies speak the truth: I am entirely yours.” Thus, he says, “Sex anywhere but in marriage would be dishonest.”
I look back now at all of the relationships I had before Joe, and see how easy it would have been to give in to temptation and my fleeting desires. However, if I had, I would have missed out on the gift God gave me in Joe. I know that the small amount of regrets I have from the mistakes I made in my past would have multiplied intensely, had I given all of myself away to guys who didn’t deserve it–to guys who I had not entered into an unbreakable bond with.
As for me and Joe, as hard as it was to wait, neither one of us regrets it for one second. We know that the choices we made early on gave us a freedom in love in our marriage that we otherwise wouldn’t have had or would have had to struggle to obtain. Waiting gave us the ability to clearly answer in our engagement whether or not we were ready to take on the task of loving as Christ loves, and further, to practice the kind of love that could endure times of great trial and sacrifice in our marriage. By waiting for one another, we were learning what it means to love through the good times and the bad and to always will each other’s good. We were learning early on what it means to love freely, totally, faithfully, and fruitfully.
I want to emphasize that I am not here to tell you how to live your life, or that you are a bad person for choosing things that we actively avoided. I am speaking about these incredibly personal things now, primarily because there are so many different interpretations of what “love” and “sex” are out there today, and very few people talking about what it means to protect the sanctity of your marriage before you ever even enter into it. It is a tragedy that our culture perpetuates such an enormous lie about human sexuality, because sex does have a deep inherent purpose. Our culture’s idea that love must be “test driven” only hinders what love can be when it is given freely, without expectations or qualifications. Real and lasting love takes a lot of sacrifice, patience, and mutual self-giving, and learning to approach sex with it’s inherent purpose in mind (i.e. expressing the marital vows in the flesh) is one of the greatest gifts you can give to the one you love. Despite contrary belief, following God’s plan for sex and marriage doesn’t make for a sterile, boring, or awkward love with another being, but rather, an incredibly profound and freeing experience of love and vulnerability with your beloved.
If you have made mistakes, or are engaging in premarital relations, it is never too late to say yes to God’s plan for sex and love. Making the sacrifice to keep yourself pure (whether single, in a relationship, or engaged), is entirely worth it. While, of course, the Church calls us to avoid the more obvious impediments to entering freely into marriage, it also calls us to a deep freedom of the heart. There is a great freedom that comes in following God’s plan for love, and the gift given is lifelong romance without regret.