A few months into my freshmen college year with a raging case of Instant Princess Syndrome, two of the upperclassmen told me I needed to be a little more “emotionally chaste”. They were, of course, right, but what teenage girl wants to hear that? I brushed it off in annoyance as overzealous purity culture foolishness and went on crushing on the next engineer who could quote Douglas Adams or Stargate back to me.
Mercifully, within a year I met my husband and that put the kibosh on the crazy crushes (who knew nothing about either Douglas Adams or Stargate). I figured that was the end of the concept of “emotional chastity”; it’s just the way teenage girls are, after all. We crush on lots of boys until we find “the one”.
Four years on the other side of my wedding day, I’m here to tell you that emotional chastity most certainly is not purity culture foolishness, and most certainly does not end when you meet “the one”. I don’t care if you married Ryan Reynolds from the Proposal, you will almost definitely still develop crushes after you are married at some point. You’re married, you’re not dead.
It’s fascinating that Christians talk about lust as “everyman’s battle”, something they will “fight with until fifteen minutes after they are dead”, but the concept of female emotional lust is barely touched on. Its getting more common to talk about emotional affairs, sure, but if a husband can be unfaithful just by looking at a woman and lusting in his heart, then it stands to reason that a wife could be unfaithful by emotionally lusting after another man in her heart. (side note: not saying that guys and girls can’t both have this issue, just that it seems to be more of a woman problem, generally)
In Love and Responsibility, St. John Paul II talks about how we can be both sensually and sentimentally attracted to someone, and we can lust after them in both sentimental and sensual ways. Both the sensual and sentimental attractions can be involuntary and instant. There’s nothing inherently wrong with being attracted to someone. Problems arise when we dwell on and feed those attractions. What should we do when we find ourselves slipping into a disordered sentimental attraction, AKA once we begin to develop a crush?
Fr. Mike Schmitz (speaking of crushes, amirite?) had a lot to say on the topic after the whole Ashley Madison scandal. He talked about being honest with yourself, and says that once you do realize you are crushing on someone, you have the chance to make one of two choices: you can either feed that crush, or you can starve it.
Let’s start with the being honest bit: I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve heard things like, “Oh it’s harmless. I can read this trashy book and think about being married to muscular chimney sweep instead of my husband. Its just fantasy.” or “I’ll go ahead and have a long emotional conversation with this guy friend who I kinda find attractive, but its fine. I’d never cheat.” Listen: if a person, real or fake, begins to make you think about life with them instead of your spouse, that is problematic.
Again, there is no problem with just being attracted to another person, whether that is sensually or sentimentally. It is when it develops into something that takes over your imagination that we run into the problem of infidelity.
If you’re constantly imagining how wonderful life would be with this other person, you are going to become annoyed and frustrated each time your spouse doesn’t live up to your crush fantasy. You’ll find yourself thinking, “if I was married to X, he’d never forget to put gas in my car. X would always listen to me and watch my favorite shows.” And of course, that’s silly. Every single man (even Ryan Reynolds in the Proposal) has failings and will drive you nuts. They are guys. That’s what they do. They are meant to get us to heaven, not create heaven for us here on earth. Our spouses can never match up to the dream crushes in our heads, and its totally unfair of us to expect them to.
After you’ve identified that you do indeed have a crush, you have to decide whether you will feed that crush or starve it. Feeding it might mean watching moview just because they have that one hot guy in them, listening to songs that remind you of that old flame you can’t let go of, seeking out situations where you can hang out with that cute guy at work, or just spending time daydreaming about what life would be like with that other person. Obviously all the wrong choice to make if you want to stay emotionally faithful to your husband.
The correct choice is always to starve a crush. If a movie star sticks in your head for days, stop watching his films. If certain songs always make you wax nostalagic about an unrequited love, change the channel when they come on. If you can’t avoid solo situations with your attractive and witty co-worker, change jobs. And if you find yourself daydreaming about life with your crush, make a concious decision to stop and begin listing to yourself all your favorite qualities of your spouse.
Yeah, I realize that sounds like overkill but trust me, it is not. For comparison, how would you feel if you knew that your husband spent hours a day imagining having Emilia Clarke as a wife? You’d be fairly annoyed. Imagine how much more you’d be annoyed and hurt if you knew that every time you got into a tiff, he spent the next three hours wishing he’d married the girl next door instead of you.
We are called to live chastely no matter what our state in life, and as a married person, that includes being chaste in our thoughts both sensually and sentimentally. When we promise to “love and honor” our spouses until death do us part, that absolutely includes loving and honoring them mentally. “Be mindful of your thoughts, they betray you” says the great Obi-Wan Kenobi, and he’s right. All of these big and little crushes we have, probably none of them will ever be more than that. But they are a big step towards discontent and eventual infidelity.
We aren’t slaves of our imaginations. We can choose what stimulus we put into our minds, and what to dwell on once its in our minds. Choose wisesly. If anything, be it a person, a book, a tv show, a radio personality or whatever, makes you think of life without your spouse, make a decision today to limit or remove that from your life.