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When you cannot agree on physical boundaries...

RealEd teaches that love is selfless. If you love someone, you want what is best for them, and will make sacrifices and put yourself aside to do what’s best for them. When this is mutual in a relationship, it’s a beautiful thing!

So it might seem like a contradiction when we exhort you to honor your partner’s boundary line, even if they want to avoid physical intimacy that you’d prefer to engage in. Maybe you want to kiss her, but she wants to wait until she’s married to kiss. If love is selfless, couldn’t she sacrifice her preference, if that’s how you receive affection?

Allow me to remind you of that one exception to the selfless-sacrifice principle: one should put themselves aside for the sake of their loved one as long as it’s not to their own harm.

That might seem silly - how can kissing or hugging bring us harm?

You may be familiar with a brain hormone known as oxytocin. It’s sometimes referred to as the “bonding chemical,” or the “biological glue” in a marriage or sexual relationship. It’s believed that when oxytocin is released in the brain during sexual interaction with another person, it creates a psychological bond to your sexual partner. You can’t help but feel attached to them, even after your sexual encounter with them. Evidence suggests that repeated sexual activity can create an emotional addiction to your partner! The oxytocin may strengthen and intensify the emotions that come with this relationship – whether those emotions are good or bad. If your partner make you feel special and wanted, you might feel SUPER special and wanted. If they break your heart, that emotional pain is going be EXTRA painful – more so than if that sexual bond had never been formed.

Studies also show that the more times the oxytocin “bond” is formed and then broken, it becomes weaker each time a new bond is made with a new person – so with each new sexual partner, the psychological attachment is less “sticky” than the last. (Wow - our very bodies demonstrate God’s design for sex within marriage! He has wired our brains to enjoy one intense bond with a spouse ‘til death parts us, helping us to feel close and committed to them.)

*I’m not saying that if two people marry as virgins, it guarantees they’ll be married forever. Yet that oxytocin bond is going to be strongest because it’s the first and only time it’s been formed, which may help them in their commitment!

**I’m also not saying that people who have multiple sexual partners before marriage are automatically destined for divorce. However, it may just be more difficult for them to be committed, faithful and trustworthy in their marriage because their past has conditioned their brain to learn that “having sex = breaking up.”

Ok, but what does all this have to do with kissing and boundary lines in dating?!

If you want what’s best for your partner, that should mean you want what’s best for their future marriage – even if they don’t end up married to you. Marriage is, arguably, the most important, powerful, and incredible human relationship we will ever experience, second only to our relationship with God. If a young person aims to help set themselves up for a good marriage even before they’re ready to marry, that is a commendable goal, and demonstrates amazing commitment and love to their someday-spouse… before they even know who that person is!

Even if a dating couple never has sex, milder demonstrations of physical intimacy are not just “harmless.” Oxytocin can be released as early as holding hands or a 20-second hug. At these stages, the brain may release less oxytocin than during intercourse – only a little “glue” gets applied, and maybe  a little more with each step down that “hill” – but that still means that some psychological bonding is occurring when you kiss your boyfriend/girlfriend!

Of course, I’m not saying that if you’ve hugged someone, you have an unhealthy romance; or if you’ve kissed an ex, you’ve set yourselves up for horrible future marriages, or took all of their bonding-glue! NOT at all! These are things we even do with family and friends; and when shared with a significant other, incite little arousal compared to other touches. It’s not wrong to enjoy holding hands, hugging and kissing while dating.

What I am saying is:

if your boyfriend/girlfriend wants to avoid even those nice things at the top of the hill while dating – making out, kissing, hugging, even holding hands –

that choice may actually benefit both of you, because you are setting yourselves up to share an even stronger biological attachment to your spouse…

which will only help the feelings of passion, commitment and devotion in your marriage.

So you see how if your partner were to “love” you by “sacrificing” her standards – even a little bit, even if it seems harmless – she actually is sacrificing too much, to her harm. She would be giving up a chance to enjoy an even greater, stronger bond with her spouse… she may hope to honor her spouse one day by saying, “Not only did I save myself for you sexually, but I’ve saved as much of my oxytocin for you as I could. I will be attached to you with all of my will, all of my body and all of my mind. I have shared these things with no one else.” Would it really be worth it to lose that beautiful goal for the sake of a boyfriend/girlfriend with whom they’ll probably break up, and eventually never see again?

If you honor your partner’s boundary – even if it’s higher than what you want, even if what you’re asking is not wrong – then you both benefit. While dating:

  • You’ll get to focus on building a strong foundation of friendship, getting to know each other, enjoying each other’s personalities and the emotional intimacy you develop.
  • You get to be creative with non-physical ways to show how much you care.
  • You avoid the added emotional pain of that oxytocin bond being torn apart if you break up.

Perhaps a good guideline for dating could be: when you discuss boundaries, whoever’s boundary line is higher, theirs “wins.”

Stay awesome!

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