Questions from Teens

Real-life questions from real-life teens. Got a burning question about chastity or sexuality or anything else? Ask the REAP Team! Your responses will be answered by a REAP Team staff member. Go to our contact us page and choose 'QNA' from the drop-down menu.

How can I stop thinking about my ex?

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When moving on seems impossible, there are a few things that can help you work through the loss and start fresh. Check out my top 4 tips for getting over your ex.

Dear Heather,

My boyfriend of 6 months recently broke up with me and I'm having a very hard time letting go. I prayed that God would help me, but I can't stop thinking about him and can't stand seeing him with other girls.  We stayed friends since we started as friends.  What can I do to get over him? -

Sincerely, Heart-broken


Dear Heart-broken,

First of all, I can sympathize completely with your concerns. A few years ago, I experienced a situation in which it was difficult to let go. And, I too prayed that God would guide me in moving on. And, God was faithful in answering my prayers, but it wasn't as I expected. Below are my top 4 tips for getting over your ex.

Let's Just Be Friends?
But, before I get into that, I want to address the idea of "being friends." I think it is noble of you both to attempt to keep a friendship, however, it is also important to be realistic about your feelings. After dating for 6 months, you're probably very attached emotionally to this guy. If you want to be friends at some point, I recommend spending a good deal of time apart from each other. If you continue to talk on the phone, IM or just chat at school, it'll be nearly impossible to stop thinking about him. I know it might be difficult to stop most communication (if not all), but both of you need to establish your lives apart from one another. After a long while of re-building your confidence and spirit, who knows if you're meant to be friends again. At least you'll be at a much better place--not emotionally dependent to each other, so you can enjoy a friendship and support one another no matter who they are dating, etc.

1. Consider Your Priorities
If you're in high school, this should be a great time for you to learn so much about yourself-what you like to do, who you truly are, etc. I didn't have a serious relationship throughout high school, but I had the time of my life. I created a bunch of friendships with guys, got involved in everything that interested me, volunteered, held a job or two and just enjoyed the freedom and friendships. Is your priority as a teen to find the love of your life right now or become more fully the person God created to be? Although every movie and television show makes you believe it should be the first, consider making your priority the latter. We have too many screwed up young adults, relationships and marriages because people believe they are not "whole" without a boyfriend or girlfriend. With God's grace, you can feel completely loved, accepted and even attractive and sexy without a guy. Check out my blog I'm in Love for details on having a great love life anytime.

2.  Open Up to Something Different
Believe it or not, sitting at home, watching romantic movies is not the best "medicine" for letting go. Even praying about the guy, in particular, keeps him always in your mind. Therefore, each morning for a while after my breakup, I would simply ask God to guard my heart and help me move on, but I wouldn't spend hours or tons of prayers on it. I opened up my heart to God in a new way - asking Him to fill the hole in my heart from losing my boyfriend. I needed to trust God that He was helping me through it. When I found myself dwelling, I thanked God for the relationship I had and then thanked Him in advance for all the cool stuff He's got in store for me. This tough situation in your life might be one of your best personal growth times ever. Be open to what God wants to teach you - how He wants to fill your heart and lead you to other cool experiences.

3. Get Busy
Also, to keep your mind off him, as I mentioned before, get busy. After my big breakup, I've been trying to invite friends or family over for dinner parties. There are many people I really want to know better-here's my perfect opportunity. I've filled my evenings with going out or hanging out with a variety of people I care about deeply. I've read some adventure books I've wanted to read for years, played cards a bunch with my grandma and babysat. I helped out on a softball team and picked up some little sides jobs. Consider going to a cool youth group. I could give you some suggestions of youth groups based on where you live if you don't know of any. All of these things aid to the healing process tremendously because doing them reminds us that life is so much more than just romantic relationships.

4. Rely on the "tangible" God
There are friends and mentors in my life who constantly reveal God to me in a variety of ways. I spend as much time with them as possible. First of all, I love their friendship, but I also need them to keep me accountable. When I am tempted to call the guy or I'm lonely, these people know me well and support my struggles. They will pray with me, or chat or even take me out somewhere. I keep them updated on how I feel as well...even if I feel stupid for still liking the guy. We need to go through our battles, as much as possible, with those who love us. I also tell my parents when I am struggling, and they offer things for us to do together. So, include others in your battle...God will equip them as He works in your heart as well.  And, find God in the tangible Eucharist.  I have a friend who would go to a Eucharistic Adoration Chapel for her Friday night "date" with Jesus.  I like to go to daily Mass as much as possible to remember that the space in my heart I think a guy will fill can really only be filled by Jesus.  Lastly, even though it seems intangible, like in the "Footprints" story, ask God to hold you.  When I'm struggling, His arms is always where I find peace and rest.

In case you want some extra resources, chastity pro, Mary Beth Bonacci, writes to young adults about "dumping." It might be tough to read, but it's a good reminder that serious dating is for eventually finding a spouse and that "dumping" is unfortunately part of the package. Check out her article...
Dating is about Dumping
Also, check out our Chastity Resources on Chastity might really enjoy the books "When God Writes Your Love Story" or "Passion and Purity".

Over time and through God's healing, you'll start to desire something other than your ex and your mind will shift to all those people and things. Trust in Him and your heart will not be disappointed.

NOTE TO READER - Since this has been one of our most-read articles on our website, we recently had a roundtable discussion of this issue among REAP Team staff members, which you can listen to here or by clicking on our podcast player at the top of this page.

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If not sex, what can I do? How far?

When it comes to intimacy, the million-dollar question is "How far is too far?" Males and females are attracted to one another-it's a natural, healthy part of life to desire a relationship with members of the complementary sex. With intercourse out of the question, there are ways to grow in intimacy with another and yet remain chaste.

How Far is Too Far?

When it comes to intimacy, the million-dollar question is “How far is too far?” Males and females are attracted to one another—it’s a natural, healthy part of life to desire a relationship with members of the complementary sex. With intercourse out of the question, there are ways to grow in intimacy with another and yet remain chaste.

Some people hold that everything up to a certain point is healthy and everything beyond that point is “too far.” While there are some clear boundaries, every couple must evaluate for themselves what is holy and healthy in regard to their physical intimacy. If you hope to develop healthy physical relationships, read on.

Affection Versus Lust

Since every physical act sends a message—even a punch speaks volumes—we must consider what our actions will “say” before we act. In romantic relationships, the goal is to communicate in a loving, giving manner—to be affectionate. Affection is defined as “tender and loving feelings” or a “stirring of loving emotions,” and it stems from a desire to affect someone’s heart, mind, or soul. Affection says to another, “I care for you so much that I’ve run out of words to say and want to show you” or “I want to give you a physical experience that touches and blesses you intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.”

Affection is the outward expression of something that is occurring within the couple internally; this something is more than physical attraction. On the other hand, lust is excessive sexual desire not controlled by concern for another. Lust does not give; it takes for itself. Lust is an appetite that seeks to satisfy itself at the expense of another and is unconcerned with intellectual, emotional, or spiritual health. It is never healthy, loving, or giving, even in marriage.

Obviously, affection should be the primary goal of every healthy couple—never to use each other for physical gratification, but rather to love each other. To ensure that physical acts are affectionate, a couple must thoughtfully decide when and how to progress physically in a healthy manner.

When to Be Physical?

To know whether a relationship is ready for physical affection, one must first examine the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual bonding of the relationship, or the “friendship” elements. A healthy romantic relationship should be based on a friendship, with physical acts being the “icing on the cake.” A cake isn’t made with icing in the dough; it would never rise. You must first make the cake (relationship) with the essential ingredients of flour (great conversation), sugar (fun together), eggs (similar moral values, spiritual agreement), and brown sugar (respect, honor). When all of these work together and rise, add the icing (physical intimacy). A cake, like a romantic relationship, is incomplete without icing (at least some physical sign that this person is more than a friend). Although no time is specified for adding the icing, the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual intimacy should come first.

As a relationship deepens, the friendship elements should continue progressing at a steady rate, and the physical should slowly follow. In this way, the other intimacies support the physical. All healthy physical acts should be an outpouring of the strong personal connection of the couple. Acts of physical affection progress as the friendship and relationship grows, with the couple eventually arriving at a place where marriage makes sense physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.

Elements of Affection

The physical connection is important because it distinguishes a romantic relationship from a friendship, but it shouldn’t be the foundation or the first element of the relationship. The friendship aspects of the relationship may not grow exactly as sequenced in the graph, and that is normal. Some couples connect and grow spiritually before they do intellectually or emotionally. The sequence of growth for the friendship intimacies is not as important as the fact that they should develop before the physical.

How to Be Physical?

Appropriate physical affection at each stage of a romantic relationship will be different for each couple. Most important is that each couple should move slowly physically and focus on affectionate acts only.

Many young people have the misconception that the only options in physical intimacy are kissing, touching, and then sex. Desmond Morris compiled a list of stages of marital intimacy. We’ve adapted it somewhat to illustrate the many physical ways to show someone you care. The first six stages are almost always, on their own, signs of affection. They are:

  1. Eye to body (looking at someone in a different way than how you would look at a family member)
  2. Eye to eye (connecting with intense eye contact)
  3. Voice to voice (revealing different aspects of self by using a unique tone of voice)
  4. Hand to hand
  5. Arm around shoulder
  6. Arm to waist

The next three stages can be affectionate, but they also have the potential to become lustful. Depending on the depth of the relationship and the couple’s intentions in the act, they may or may not be healthy.

  1. Face to face (kissing, from a cheek peck to open-mouth)
  2. Hand to head (caressing the face and embracing the head during a hug of a kiss)
  3. Hand to body (nonsexual discovery of his or her body)

The remaining stages are direct sexual stimulation and should be reserved for marriage.

  1. Mouth to breast
  2. Hand to genital
  3. Mouth to genital
  4. Genital to genital

Avoid Lust and Sexual Temptation

As a relationship develops, conditions can be present in any of the stages that will lead to too much or inappropriate physical intimacy.

If one hasn’t bonded intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually with another, yet acts physically out of a desire to be physical, lust has control. Relationships fail to develop in a healthy manner when lust takes over. Lust focuses on the physical bonding at the expense of the other aspects of the relationship. Lust does not require intellectual, emotional, or spiritual bonding, so it does not need friendship to grow. For couples who focus primarily or too early on physical acts, the other three intimacies typically become stunted, take longer to develop, and are always overshadowed by the physical. A kiss or prolonged embrace becomes meaningless if the understanding of another’s heart, mind, and soul is lacking.

Breaking Point

When the physical is not supported by a growing intellectual, emotional, and spiritual connection, the focus becomes lustful. We will call this the “breaking point.” How far is “too far”? Everything after the breaking point—the switch from affection to lust—is too far, unhealthy, and therefore sinful because they are not supported by the other aspects of intimacy. How soon the breaking point is reached will differ from couple to couple. For those who have had previous sexual experiences, the breaking point can come much sooner than for others.

In addition to lust, purposeful sexual stimulation before marriage is “too far.” Oral (mouth to genital) and manual (hand to genital) stimulation, cybersex (stimulation from pictures or words on a computer), phone sex (stimulation from conversation only), and dry sex (sexual gyration and possibly partial penetration with clothes on) can cause many of the same emotional consequences as intercourse. Sexual stimulation before marriage is also unhealthy intellectually.

Logically, it is obvious that purposeful stimulation is designed to lead to intercourse. It’s deceptive to prepare someone for nothing. Even if a male’s brain agrees that a certain point is “how far” he wants to go, his body is inclined to go further. It is repressive for couples to be turning each other on just to “shut down” before intercourse. God designed sexual stimulation to be brought to completion. Training ourselves to turn off the stimulation just when it’s supposed to get good is dangerous. It decreases our ability to give freely in marriage. In regard to sexual acts, God even warns us, saying, “Do not stir up or awaken love until it is ready! (Song 8:4). Whatever leads an individual or couple to sexual stimulation should be avoided before marriage to avoid repression. (You can read more on the topic of repression in “Laying Aside a Myth,” page 74.)

Steven had experienced sex in the past, but desired to live chastely. From his previous relationships, he knew that “French” kissing aroused him and made him want to go further. When he started dating his now wife, they made the decision to not kiss in that way. French kissing was one of Steven’s breaking points.

Steven’s breaking point may be different from Heather’s or Pete’s, but it’s important for every individual, and couple, to know and respect their own personal temptations to lust.

What Can I Do? Focus on Affection!

A healthy couple will recognize their breaking point and avoid it. This knowledge surfaces either from the wisdom of others or from personal experience—individually or as a couple. If a couple moves slowly and keeps motives in check, they do not need to experience their breaking point to know where it exists. A healthy couple will show physical affection without putting each other on the brink of sin. In a loving relationship, if one senses the breaking point soon approaching, he or she will stop the other so that together they can keep the relationship chaste.

Lana and John decided to move slowly physically. During the rare instances in which they were alone and relating romantically, they chose to kiss the other’s forehead if it appeared to either one that they could be heading towards lust or stimulation. This indicated that they needed to slow down physically. With the use of this easy and loving gesture, they chose to keep the focus on affection.

Fun, healthy dating avoids bringing each other to the breaking point or leading the relationship into lust. True chastity allows us to walk away from every date with the respect that we deserve. Dating someone who doesn’t want to push you is freeing and fun!

These guidelines for healthy relationships might seem challenging; however, we must consider the perspective from which they emanate. When it comes to suggestions and rules from the Church, we often become frustrated and view them as obstacles or fences that keep us from experiencing the other side. We focus so much on “the fence” and what’s on the other side that we miss what is around us. Instead of staring at the fence, why not turn around and focus on enjoying all the beauty, fun, and peace that can be experienced within the boundaries?

Chaste couples will cherish and enjoy true physical affection. They will focus the relationship on “How can I be romantic and creative to show I care for this person within the bounds of what is healthy? instead of “How far can I push physical affection before we sin?” A healthy, chaste couple will slow down and savor the journey of discovery and the passion that builds as the relationship develops.

Brad enjoyed sex in previous relationships. However, he described how hugs and holding hands became almost meaningless in such relationships. Then, years after he committed to chastity, he met Mindy. They were good friends for months and bonded deeply, especially on a spiritual level. One night, while walking out into the cold air, Brad pulled Mindy’s arms around him. They walked that way for a short time. Brad later commented on how cool it was to experience that small moment of affection with Mindy. He realized that living the virtue of chastity gave a simple act depth and power. It was just the start of an exciting new adventure.

(Exerpt from the book, A Case for Chastity by Heather Gallagher and Peter Vlahutin, Chapter I: pages 54 - 61. Check out another perspective here.)

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