I relate to much of what you shared. I was also raised Catholic, though “pick-and-choose Catholic.” I thought that the Church’s teachings about chastity were antiquated and I was raised to believe that, so long as you and your partner were in love and generally respectful, there was a good enough foundation for sex. In my first sexual relationship, I was dating a fellow Catholic. While he and I shared our virginity with each other, he was the one who felt convicted to start practicing chastity and he wanted us to stop having sex. I recall having a similar reaction to that of your boyfriend: I thought that my partner not wanting to have sex with me anymore meant that I wasn’t desirable enough and that he no longer loved me. He explained to me that he was trying to do the right thing, to glorify God, and to love me better, but I just couldn’t understand it at the time. My heart and mind weren’t open to chastity.
I commend your courage and willingness to embrace chastity and practice it in your relationship with your boyfriend, to seek to love him more deeply. That’s really beautiful and really hard, especially if your partner doesn’t understand your reasoning. Perhaps you could take additional measures to verbally communicate that your love for him is just as present as it was before. Ask if he has any insecurities that he wants to share. Find other “love languages” to show your care for him. Ask him what makes him feel loved aside from sexual expressions of intimacy.
At the same time, mutual respect is essential to the integrity of any lasting relationship, and it is important that you articulate how you feel when your boundaries are crossed or belittled. I encourage you to communicate what active love means to you and how his actions (don’t) reflect genuine love, to give him the opportunity to love you in more authentic ways. The best advice I can give is to take this to prayer. God gave you the grace to develop the convictions you now have about chastity and He will guide you through these challenges.
In the end, my boyfriend and I broke up; he told me that he was discerning religious life. It wasn’t until a few years later that I had my own change of heart about chastity. He wrote me a letter telling me that, though he had decided to enter seminary, he would always love me, just in a different way. He asked me to pray for him and told me that he still wanted my friendship in his life. He showed me a new definition of love, one that isn’t about performing to earn affection, but rather about desiring and working for the good of the other.
A few years after that, I was in a relationship with a different guy and we weren’t very chaste. I began to hear God saying, “This isn’t good for him,” even when we were right in the middle of things (inconveniently!). I eventually told this guy that I wanted to start practicing chastity, but he wasn’t open to it. Though painful, it was only after that experience that I understood how my former boyfriend was trying to love me better through his own recommitment to chastity. An appreciation for chastity finally took root in my heart.
We can neither change nor fix others, and we can’t force them to see things the way we do. This applies to friendships, as well as to romantic relationships. If your friends aren’t open to trying to understand your perspective, then making your case can feel like beating a dead horse, despite sound reasoning. Even if we come into possession of a great truth and life-giving wisdom that we want to share, we can’t force someone to be receptive to it. If your friends sharing about their sexual relationships makes you uncomfortable, you have every right to communicate that and set a boundary for yourself.
I’ve also been through this with close friends. It used to bother me when I heard about my friends’ sex lives and, for a while after I decided to embrace chastity, I felt distant from some of them. Now, I’m in a place where if my sexually active friends share about that part of their lives, I don’t bother with trying to change their point of view. I feel comfortable and confident with my choice to strive for chastity. They respect where I am and I respect where they are, even if we disagree. I just try to listen to my friends and ask questions: How does it make you feel holistically? Do you feel fully alive? Do you feel like you can be yourself with your partner? I also ask if they’re expressing love as fully as they can. If not, what gets in the way of that? What makes it hard to desire the good of the other? What makes vulnerability challenging? What makes you feel unprepared for life-long commitment? While chastity is an essential virtue, it may be hard to lead with that in a conversation.
All we can expect or ask of others is to have open communication and show mutual respect for who we are, even if we don’t agree. We decide for ourselves which needs in a relationship are non-negotiable. It is important in any relationship that both people have their needs met and can be their full selves, without having to compromise truth or violate their conscience.
Finally, stay close to the Sacraments and the faith practices that give you a sense of consolation and closeness with God. They will give you strength and grace, even in difficult circumstances. Remember that you were created out of love, to receive and to be a bearer of God’s love. Take comfort in that as your primary vocation. Trust in the slow, unfolding work of God, that in all things God desires your greatest good and loves you deeply, personally, and unconditionally.
I’ll be praying for you, my sister in Christ,