Drawing the Line
Some people have been wondering what I mean by "unspoken set of rules." In my last column, I mentioned that having a set of rules for yourself when dating can give you good judgement, which can help you decide whether he's the guy for you, keep you out of bad situations, and prolong the romance.
Sounds like a great idea, I was told, but how does it apply to you and me, in our everyday lives? When it comes down to actually dating, what should I do? Where do I draw the line? How far is "too far"? In other words, what exactly are the rules?
I find these questions so difficult to answer, because the rules aren't always black and white. Everybody's situation is a little different, and every person is unique. I can't tell you exactly what to do. But since dating is an important part of growing up, in our culture, and since we all have to make difficult decisions about our relationships, I'll try to give you a few ideas.
We all know that there is an art to capturing a man's heart. It's a very subtle art, but it seems to be something that all young ladies are born with. Little girls practice charm when they are playing house. They practice flirting and sulking. (Do you remember all those games of "best friend" and "second best friend?" and, heavens, "eighth best friend"?) I believe that little girls learn about relationhsips through play long before they're old enough to be in one! Even toddlers do it. A toddler who knows she's cute will put on a shameless act of batting her eyelashes and looking coy. As we grow older and become teenagers, we turn this charm toward boys. There is nothing wrong with this. Healthy young girls and boys should be interested in each other!
We run into trouble when we start doing it for the wrong reasons. It's sometimes hard to know our reasons, and we really have to look inside our own hearts to know what we're doing. It's especially hard to know because we are constantly told by magazines, shows, advertising, and our friends, that we SHOULD be leading guys on. They all tell us to dress, look, and act in a way that will attract him sexually. Getting guys to like you is seen as a kind of "conquest." We feel a thrill of pride when guys act like they want us. The trouble with leading a guy on is that, even when it feels harmless, it often leads him further than he wanted, or further than you wanted. Some of the alarming crisis situations that life throws at us begin with harmless flirtation. And this is where "drawing the line" comes in.
You see, there are degrees of intimacy. On the one hand there is eye contact-totally harmless, not at all sexual, but able to express so much. Eyes are sometimes called "the window to the soul," because they reflect what's going on inside. You can use them to capture interest, and to imply interest. On the other hand there is sex, which is the natural outcome of all foreplay. In between there are levels of intimacy from holding hands to kissing and petting (I hate the word "petting," so I usually try to think of another way to say it.... "having sex with your clothes on"? I don't know. Anway, petting is what everyone else calls it! But you know what I mean: I'm talking about serious cuddling!)
All intimate behavior is heading in one direction: to sex. That's why it's called foreplay. It's like a train, a really fast-moving train, heading for only one station. So, if you don't want to go to Toledo, don't get on the train to Toledo!
The best relationship I ever had was with my husband (also the most fruitful!). Until I met him, I'd never had more fun, felt more close, or loved more deeply. And we weren't even holding hands! We drew the line at any kind of touching that would appear romantic. Obviously, you have to touch each other sometimes. (When squeezing under the trestles of a train-bridge, for example, but that's another story.) We loved to dance and we taught each other to swing dance.
Naturally, I recommend this route! Save as much intimacy as you can for the true, lasting relationship, marriage. The strength of your relationship doesn't depend on your sexual intimacy. Instead of having sex, you can show your love by simple affection. Wrap your arms around him from behind and squeeze the life out of him. Give him that special wink that you use only for him. Cook him something...you know what they say about the way to a man's heart! Write love letters; write what's on your heart, what you think about life and about him. Have adventures together. Learn to dance. (Everyone's jealous of a couple that can really groove!) What do you like to do? Play sports? Watch movies? These make the best romantic activities.
Bonding without sex makes great relationships. It makes great memories, great stories, and great friendships. It also saves so much heartache when you find out that he's not the guy for you. Not everybody chooses to get married at fifteen! Not every relationship lasts. So much the better if you didn't give away your body.
Once you've decided where that line is, stick to it. You'll have to have it clearly defined beforehand, because once you're into the date, you'll want to bend the rules, and you'll forget... "Was it no kissing below the neck? or did I say below the waiste?" Trust me, I know this from experience! It's kind of like dieting. "I don't recall. Was it no dessert? Or no second dessert? Oh well, I'll just have a little..."
When you practice drawing a line and sticking to your dating resolutions, you will begin to experience a new freedom. You'll have a whole new sense of yourself; kind of like the feeling of accomplishment when you've followed through with a diet resolution, such as No More Desserts (That's an accomplishment for me! Sweet tooth.) or a fitness resolution. You feel so sleek and strong. In the same way, you'll experience a social freedom. Nobody will tie you down! Nobody will ruin your good name, or use you like
an object. Then, when you're ready to fall in love, when you've found the guy who's perfect for you, when you're ready for true, lasting committment, you'll be able to enter into a relationship wholeheartedly, and it will be so great!