Did you know that I wanted my first kiss to be with my husband, on our wedding day? Yes, just like one of those really uncomfortable videos that went viral back in 2008.
You can imagine my surprise, then, when I was thirteen and watching a movie in my boyfriend’s basement, and he reached over to plant one on me. I got really mad, of course.
For about five minutes.
Funny, how quickly we’re willing to push our boundaries.
Ten years later, my first kiss catches me up on his life while I finish making his latte.
And when someone asked me to talk about “pursuing sexual wholeness” in dating relationships, he was the first person I thought of.
Not necessarily because I regret kissing him—it’s just, sometimes I wonder if it would have been better to end up an internet phenomenon than to have asked him to kiss me again.
And if I can be really, truly unedited here, I want to start by saying: I think the church talks about sex too much. Especially to teenagers and college students. In fact, growing up, I wish the church would have talked to me more about not gossiping; I wish it would have talked to me more about the importance of a reputation and not ruining it for someone else; I wish I would have heard more about how dangerous it is to depend on other people to make you feel okay; I wish the church would have talked to me more about how to read the Bible correctly and how to pray fierce, God-moving prayers. I wish the church would have talked to me about protecting my heart, and how safety isn’t about how much you let a boy kiss you.
Greg has always had good boundaries between him and I. I remember, when Greg and I started finally dating, he was always so organized with our time together. He was living two hours from me, so we would meet in the middle for our dates; I remember how our third date together was me packing us a picnic and then going to a movie at the Movie Tavern in Gwinnett. As soon as the movie ended, he walked me to my car, kissed me quick, and told me he would text me later.
That may not seem strange, but for me—I was used to unbridled, play-it-by-ear, don’t-go-home-til-three-in-the-morning dates. So when Greg promptly put me in my car and sent me off right on time, I thought his next step was to tell me it wasn’t going to work out between us. In actuality, that’s how he continued to treat every date: we did what was planned, and we didn’t go a minute over.
This may come as no surprise at all, but I said, “I love you,” first, too. We were on a mission trip together. I pulled out the notes on my phone and wrote it down every time I thought it during a whole day serving next to each other, and I showed it to him on the bus ride back to our place.
He didn’t say it back. In fact, he didn’t make a single comment about it until I found him sitting on the roof of our complex with the Dominican Republic sun rising behind him the next morning; we were alone, and he had asked me to meet him. He wanted me to know how much it had meant to him that I felt that way; more than that, he wanted me to know how much it would mean when he said it back to me, even though he couldn’t yet—because the next time he wanted to say, “I love you,” to someone, it would be because he was going to spend the rest of his life with them.
He always had good boundaries, and even though they were frustrating at first, it was later that I realized how well his own boundaries were protecting me.
While I left our dates wanting more time with him, he was guarding my heart, making sure he didn’t take up too much space in my life for me to miss him if it didn’t work out.
While I showered him with “I love you,” for months without getting to hear it back, when he said it—I knew he meant it. And our relationship moved forward pretty quickly after that: we were engaged six months into dating, and married three months after he proposed.
You see, he knew that giving someone your time can mean just as much as giving someone your body.
Making promises about tomorrow can feel just like a first kiss.
Dreaming out loud about “one day,” can steal the joy from this day.
It’s no news that Greg wasn’t my first serious relationship, either. However, he was my first serious relationship where we didn’t jump ahead; we saved up our promises and dreams for each other, and that set the tone for how attached we got—and how willing we were to hold back, physically, too.
There was a boy I loved very much in college. We definitely got ahead of ourselves; we would talk about what it would look like to make it through the four years of school together and getting married and we’d very frankly tell each other that we thought the other person was, “the one.” We went all in with out the actual safety net of the real commitment. And you know what happened? I started to live in the, “one day,” and traded our boundaries for something that wasn’t real.
Let me be clear: the word “boundaries,” isn’t just to mean physical. Pursuing “wholeness” is not just referring to staying abstinent.
What I mean is: one of my last good memories in that relationship was when he was moving into a house on tenth street. With the excitement of a home, we started planning decorations and setting a drawer aside for me; I even looked up bakeries in the area that were open 24 hours so that I could surprise him with French pastries and coffee in the morning. While I was picking out wash cloths for the bathroom in my head, he was thinking about how to tell me he had fallen out of love with me.
We had crossed the boundary of our commitment level; he was my boyfriend, not my husband or even my fiancé. But I was planning and dreaming and living like we were more.
And I lost more than just him when it was over: the life I was looking forward to that wasn’t even real, weekends at his place, promises and kisses that should have been kept for the girl he’s actually going to end up with.
I wonder if it would have been easier to move on from that relationship if we had treated each other like we belonged to somebody else until we could have promised ourselves to each other.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Jenna, you don’t know my story. I’ve been with this guys for three, four, five years.” Or “Don’t worry, we live together, it’s forever.” Maybe even, “He’s saving to buy the ring, though.”
Trust me, I get it. Like, I’ve-been-in-your-shoes, get it.
The thing is, I was wrong. And as important to me as that relationship will always be, I wonder how sweet it would have been to have only been able to dream dreams about my future with Greg; I wonder how much more it would have meant if I had saved the sweetest words for him only. Not to mention how much easier it was to make excuses for pushing physical boundaries when we were constantly speaking make-believes and hoped into reality.
It’s kind of like when you are about to go on a vacation abroad; you spend months saving money, looking up flights and hotels, planning an itinerary, packing. Except that, until you’re actually there, anything could change and keep you from going. Then, you’ve spent so much time throwing yourself into preparation for something that you thought was going to happen, letting go of other responsibilities and friendships, and you’re left with a heavier disappointment of what “could have been.”
No, what you should do is a step-by-step process.
You don’t buy tickets to the Louvre before you book the flight to Paris.
It’s the same when you’re in love and you want to stay whole.
If you don’t start planning your trip through wine country in France before you find a hotel, then you won’t plan your entire trip around that one neighborhood.
And if you don’t start planning what patterned china you’re going to have in your first home before you have a ring on your finger, then you won’t think twice about getting into his bed.
If you don’t tell him he’s the love of your life before you have actually started your life together as husband and wife, then you’ll feel uncomfortable spending the weekend away with him.
If you don’t stay over at his house until the early morning hours, then you won’t get comfortable enough to play house with him.
You think it’s okay to tell him all your dreams for the two of you. But when he’s saying everything you’ve ever wanted to hear, and you’re nowhere near getting married, he’s going to take so many pieces of you that you start believing you’re completely his. More than that—you’ll start living that way, too.
And that’s how you miss wholeness.
So I won’t tell you not give him your body, because you’ll only do that as a result of the promises you make and the time you spend.
Start with the heart. That’s the thing that will break in your pursuit of being whole.