No more words. We know them all, all the words that should not be said. But you have made my world more perfect.
This post is going to be about the talk. Yes. That talk. You know the one I mean.
Wait, no, not that one. I’m talking about the talk you must give at some point early on whilst in a relationship or beginning to court a lady who, while absolutely wonderful, doesn’t happen to be Christian in any way, shape, or form. There’s a different talk entirely for dates that are Christian, but aren’t Orthodox—because you and her do come (theoretically, at least) from similar moral ideologies, where coitus after marriage is the goal.
But she doesn’t share these same morals and values. How do you talk to her about this, without a) sounding like an ass and b)without hurting her and, more importantly, c) without shaming her? This is exactly as tough as it sounds. It is a delicate balancing act.
Which is why I try to make it as simple as possible. And I try to prepare the ground beforehand, when possible, and create the opportunity for the conversation. If you come out with it out of the blue, then yes, it WILL be supremely awkward. Remember the small-talk conversation we had? Start off small. This is probably not a first date conversation, either, but one I definitely recommend by date three or four—when you have determined that this is a woman you would like to see for a while.
Granted, you shouldn’t be springing the “Oh I’m Orthodox” bit on her all of a sudden—that should probably be mentioned on the first date, but saying “I’m Orthodox, and because I’m Orthodox I won’t be sleeping with you” on dates one and two is… a little much. Here’s how I would do it:
Have a date on a fasting day, say, for example, Friday afternoon. Meet up for lunch, or for an early dinner. When she asks why you’re being vegan all of a sudden, it’s a perfect opportunity to mention (if you didn’t early on, on date one, which you SHOULD have been doing), that I’m Orthodox, and one of the things we do is abstain from eating meat and dairy. This naturally leads to a conversation opening: “Really? Why? What else do you give up? What is Orthodoxy, anyway?”
This is the perfect point in the conversation to bring it up, gently, and tastefully. She might be offended, or might be curious, as to why you abstain from sex prior to marriage. You can bring up, of course, canons, rules, and advice from spiritual fathers and Saints and Fathers of the Church, but here’s the thing: these reasons won’t connect with her. But tell her them anyway. Express what Orthodoxy is, to you—not just the basics of liturgy, Nicene creed, fasting…not just the love thy neighbor bit…but what it means to you, deep down in your bones. Maybe the faith kept you going through a dark time. Maybe the songs of Canyon Wrens remind you of church choirs. Don’t keep the faith abstract. Get down to what it means to you, as a person. By making it personal, you make it seem less far away, and more connectable.
She may not understand why you’re listening to, as she might think, the words of an old dead guy who was born a thousand years before modern culture. She does not have the cultural and spiritual background that you do—or if she does, might think of these things as ridiculous, stuff to be left by the wayside in the name of progress. She will not think of these things the same way that you do, but that in no way means that she is anything more than a person. This does not mean that she is wrong to think the way she does. It’s just different. You’re from a different world.
And there’s no need to be an ass about it. You can give all the above reasons about church tradition, and culture, and being old-fashioned…you can even throw in science and studies about sex being related to good, old-fashioned pair bonding and how that’s reflected in Orthodox theology about inter-marital sex, but I would sum it up with the following, if you feel you need to justify yourself:
“I just want to be sure that she’s the one I want to be with, and I don’t want to sell myself short. I’m a relationship perfectionist. I want it to be something that lasts into eternity, not something brief. And my experience leads me to believe that the more I rush into things, the more I make bad decisions. I’d rather take my time, and know that I was doing the right thing, rather than act first without thought and risk losing something amazing.” Patience, you see, extends even into this mode, this field, this act.
(That being said, if you do mess up and end up sleeping with someone before marriage, be careful, and go to confession, and don’t hold yourself, or equally important, herself, to blame. Go to God, talk to a priest, and learn your lesson. Do not use Confession as a get out of jail free card, either. There are always Consequences, even if they do not come necessarily as penance, especially if you wish to continue seeing this person. That being said, avoid beds, comfortable couches, and roomy cars before the talk…and after it, too, I think, would be a good idea.)
If she’s as cool as you hope, she’ll be very understanding. You will need to set boundaries and limits (and healthy ones at that—my view is that anything that has a euphemism that includes the word “sex” in it counts as sex and should be avoided, but that’s me), but as long as you abide by them, and respect them, and as long as she respects yours, then you should be fine. (On the note of boundaries…probably have this talk before the super-douper seven hour-at-a-time make-out phase. Because it’s at that point that you forget about having boundaries, and you’re not thinking about making them…or for that matter, thinking about anything else, really, so make them before that point.) If she DOESN’T respect your boundaries… then I hate to say this, but she is not the person for you. Don’t sell yourself short. If she doesn’t respect your boundaries, she will not respect you.
And if she doesn’t respect you, or your faith, or your boundaries then I would break off any incipient relationship.
(The quote, by the way, is from Sir Terry Pratchett’s work, Nation. I couldn’t seem to get the formatting right for quotes this morning, so…there you go. I also highly reccomend the latest Orthogals post that deals with the topic, aptly named “Dating the Secular.” Link is below.)
- Dating the secular (orthogals.com)