Hiding Naked: Afraid to be Seen With Our Clothes On
- Ron L. Deal smartstepfamilies.com
- 2013 21 Feb
What’s the first thing many of us do after sinning? Find a way to hide, right? Adam and Eve found a way to hide; they got dressed—for the first time. Apparently, clothes helped to hide their shame. Of course, they placed a barrier in their couple relationship as well. Vulnerability and knowing came with a down-side. Trust was now tempered. Transparency was blocked. And independent-togetherness was born into the world. For Adam and Eve, putting on clothes brought about an emotional, relational, and spiritual hiding—from both God and each other. In today’s dating, hook-up, cohabitation, stay-over relationship culture, there is an opposite behavioral pattern. Taking off clothes is how one hides. Disrobing for sex allows singles to hide under a veil of nakedness.
Stacy’s dating career could be described as “casual.” She would meet a man and throw herself into getting to know him while, in her heart, simultaneously keeping her options open. The dopamine brain-rush of meeting someone new and connecting through physical touch made her feel wanted and important, but the idea of being tied down to someone made her nervous. She often found herself caught between hope and doubt, between the accelerator and the brake, between sex and the hope that he would want to leave her apartment afterward. After a while, her relationships would fizzle; she would lose interest because the relationship “just wasn’t going anywhere” or the guy would tire of waiting for her to “make up her mind” about their future.
After being tossed aside by his wife and mother of their two children, Caleb declared to friends in his divorce recovery group “never again will I be hurt like that. Never again will I fall in love.” Bitterness and fear built twenty-foot walls of self-protection. Fast-forward life a few years and, to his surprise, Caleb found himself attracted to someone. He wondered if he could love and trust again. As quickly as hope would say, “Yes, you can,” fear would shift his heart into neutral. Just imagining being vulnerable made his heart tremble. The combination of Caleb’s passion for his new girlfriend and simultaneous fear of being hurt again found expression in a stayover arrangement. A few nights a week he would stay at her apartment, occasionally she would stay at his, but both kept their separate residences, separate rent responsibility, and ultimately separate lives.
Afraid to be Seen with Our Clothes On
Stacy and Caleb are in a dilemma; they want to be in an intimate committed relationship but don’t want to take on the risks of marriage. Their solution? Strive for independent togetherness. And they aren’t alone.
Commitment is a tough sale these days. American’s prize our national and economic independence, but now that mentality has dramatically invaded our social psyche about marriage and its confusing us. We want to be with someone, but don’t want to be really with someone.
Half of US residents are single (whether never married, divorced, or widowed) and nearly one-third of all households have one occupant. And yet, we don’t necessarily like being alone. On one hand, we value and cherish marriage—it is still a highly sought after goal—and yet, we fear the vulnerability it creates. Nearly three generations of people now have suffered under a 50% divorce rate and many have watched their parents have multiple marital or cohabiting partnerships—and breakups—creating an increasing social fear and distrust of marital relationships. In this collective fear, we’ve drifted toward dating strategies that supply the benefits of marriage while protecting us from potential pain. Essentially we have normalized a variety of dating arrangements that allow us to have sex while at the same time hiding from the risks of permanent commitment. We are hiding naked.
These arrangements have varying degrees of vulnerability and commitment, but each seeks an independent togetherness.
Captive Hook. Hook-up relationships often begin and end with a sex-without-strings mentality. No self-sacrifice required. Despite this obvious pseudo-relationship arrangement, somehow hook-up relationships have been defined by American culture as legitimate relationships. They aren’t. They are no-cost, shallow, empty-calorie thrills that have no nutritional value whatsoever. More to my point here, people who engage in hook-ups rely on taking their clothes off to keep them from having to be emotionally naked. It’s a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” collusion between two people that ultimately leaves both of them hungry, malnourished, and for most part pathetically looking for the next hook-up high hoping that one day they will finally discover something nourishing.
Living Together. Somehow cohabitation—the half-way house to commitment—is now viewed as real commitment. (If so, why does the press make such a big deal of Hollywood cohabiting partners announcing that they’re finally getting married? Instinctively we know there’s something special about marriage that cohabitation doesn’t offer.) Many people intuitively know what a decade of research has confirmed—that cohabitation is light-beer marriage: it tastes great, but comes at a great cost—it is less filling. Even kids know this. Long-time cohabiting partners Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, who said they wouldn’t marry until everyone had the right to marry (referring to same-sex marriages), have decided to marry after seven years because their children pressured them to and questioned why they weren’t married. “We didn’t realize how much it means to them,” Pitt shared. “We didn’t realize how much it means to ourselves.”
Despite the popularity of cohabitation, and eagerness of pop culture to glamorize it, marriage is still the ultimate “you’ve arrived” relationship. And yet to many in our divorce fearful society, it is better to have “less filling” than more vulnerability to rejection, sadness, and heart-break. Really? I frequently tell cohabiting couples who justify their trial-marriage as a process to help them decide if a real marriage would work that trial-marriages have trial-commitments. You really don’t know how much you could love or what you would be willing to give (read risk), and therefore, how intimate your relationship could be unless both of you jump into the deep end of the commitment pool with both feet. Sitting on the side and dipping one toe into the water to test the temperature isn’t swimming!
I Stay, You Stay. A more recent trend on the rise is stayover relationships. This risk management strategy allows each person to maintain their separate residences to go home to if they choose, but typically one partner will stay over at the others a few nights a week or they may take turns. I think this is the half-way house to the half-way house of cohabitation (which, if my math is correct, makes it about one-fourth of the way to commitment!). Again, another independent togetherness arrangement meant to protect the self-interests of each person and reduce their risk.
Married Without the Blend. Another recent trend among married blended family couples is maintaining separate residences even after marriage and not even attempting to “blend” the family. As one man asked me, “Most people only think there are two options: marry and blend or stay single and break up. Can’t there be an option C where couples marry but don’t try to merge their households until the children are older?” Merging households, children, parenting styles, traditions, etc., etc., is a significant adjustment for most blended families and brings a great deal of stress, but trying to avoid togetherness is not a solution. I would much prefer you just stayed single until the kids were launched from the home and then marry, than pretend like you’re blending.
All of the above independent togetherness arrangements make risk management the primary guiding force behind their level of investment in the relationship. Noted family psychiatrist Frank Pittman once said, “Marriage, like a submarine, is only safe if you get all the way inside.” I say it this way: when I am protecting me from you there can’t be an “us.”
The Blind-fold of Sex
The dark hole inside independent togetherness is fear. Sex becomes the hiding place, an external behavior that gives the appearance of intimacy, but is really striving for self-protection. Let’s consider this observation by comparing it to marital sex. One function of marital sex is renewing the emotional bond of the couple and reminding them of their covenant to one another. From within the safety of permanence, the couple is free to engage in sexual touch that sustains and reinforces the specialness and safety of their relationship.
Outside of marriage, sex has a very different function: it creates a pseudo-bond between the couple that blurs the definition of their developing relationship and confuses physical closeness for emotional safety. Couples with little foundation to their relationship can be fooled into thinking they have more in the bank with one another than they really do. Physiologically we can explain it this way: the hormone oxytocin, sometimes called the cuddle hormone, facilitates bonding in mammals (e.g., between a mother and her newborn child). It is also released when couples are affectionate and escalates dramatically after orgasm, especially in men. In short, it makes you feel connected even when there is no substance to a relationship. Couples having sex outside of marriage are quite possibly writing checks with their lives based on a bankrupt account. In the end, they get hurt and waste a lot of time on a quick but shallow high.
But then, who cares? At least you have a little fun and don’t open yourself to soul-level rejection that way, right? Wrong.
In a blind act of self-sabotage, sexuality in dating is not viewed by today’s culture as something that contributes to vulnerability, rather, the assumption is that you can enjoy it while maintaining your separateness. You can have your cake and eat it too.
- You don’t have to reveal yourself to another
- You don’t have to accommodate your preferences while living in intimate relationship with another
- You don’t risk your accumulated wealth
- You don’t have to lose your independence or identity by getting married
- You don’t have to risk having your child(ren) to be raised by a stepparent
- And you don’t risk being hurt…again.
In short, you can hide naked without consequence.
But this line of thinking is completely faulty. Independent togetherness strategies actually foster pain when what seemed to be real turns out not to be. Sometimes dating couples figure this out and breakup (because “he just wasn’t the one”) while other couples don’t realize what has happened until they have already married and discover they really don’t know—or like—each other. Either scenario is completely avoidable.
What is needed is the courage to date well (intelligently and romantically) and make a clear decision for marriage so that each person takes responsibility for leaping into the deep end of the pool. There are, of course, no guarantees of long-term marital success. Intimacy is inherently risky. But without the courage to take risks, love will remain a distant dream.
The measure of risk and self-sacrifice one gives while dating is commiserate with the depth of the relationship and the value placed on the other person. A first date requires the risk of time, extending yourself toward someone you don’t know anything about, perhaps a few bucks, and a few layers of emotional transparency as you begin to share yourself with them over dinner. In the grand scheme of life, that’s not much. On the other hand, a dating relationship that is nearing a decision about marriage is more likely characterized by extreme emotional vulnerability and openness about one’s life dreams, faults, pains, and fears. What moves couples from the former phase to the latter typically is a process of measured risk, emotional engagement, and an ensuing deepening trust that frees each person to unlock and expose a deeper layer of their soul to the other. New layers challenge each person to confront the temptation to hide in order to self-protect; to walk through fear and entrust yourself to another takes courage, but this is where relationship security is forged, tested, and affirmed. The result is deepening trust and confidence that you are loved and that your “usness” is comprised of something real.
Tips for Dating Courageously
Here are some quick tips to help you avoid an independent togetherness dating arrangement.
1. Date with an eternal purpose in mind. Recognize that one ultimate purpose of marriage is to further disciple us into the image of Christ. This reality should change everything. For example, to date someone who doesn’t share this value is to cast an idol between you and the throne of God. Eventually, in following the person, you will find yourself like Adam and Eve “putting on clothes” and hiding from God. Pursue relationships that keep you connected to God, not withdrawing from Him in shame.
2. Get healthy. Does your relationship history testify to the presence of fear in your life? Have you settled for independent togetherness relationships in order to “play it safe”? If this article has you examining yourself, take it before the Lord and ask the Spirit to help you to get healthy. Peel away the layers of your emotions and see what Lord wants to redeem in you so you aren’t paralyzed by it any longer.
3. Take off the blind-fold. If you have been hiding naked in sexuality, it’s time to move back to sexual purity until marriage. Even if you’re in a cohabiting situation and regularly engaging in sex, it’s time to stop. The only way to recover an objective perspective about the health of your relationship—and more importantly, about your true priorities—is to remove the mirage that sex before marriage produces. This level of obedience is very difficult and at times costly (e.g., increasing couple conflict), but I’ve never known anyone who regretted it (even if the other pulls away in anger because of your obedience then their true motives have been revealed and you, ironically, are less vulnerable to disappointment).
Maintaining a desire for the best in your dating life—and in your future marriage—starts by trusting that God has your best interest in mind when it comes to his boundaries around sex. God knows what a powerful force sexuality is in our lives. After all, he designed it. By declaring sexuality before marriage a sin, he is not being a simpleton or killjoy; he is trying to protect you from a shallow relationship and personal pain. The only question is, do you trust His motives and His insight? Saving sex till after marriage protects the objectivity of your dating, ripens your commitment to each other, and then after marriage, as a symbol of marital oneness blossoms in a pleasurable celebration of love. That’s worth waiting for.
4. Single parents and those dating them should date with awareness that marriage forms a couple relationship and creates a family. In my book Dating and the Single Parent I point out that when kids predate dating, the couple’s relationship inherently creates a competing attachment to the parent and child. The choice to be with the dating partner or children generally means the other is left waiting…and wondering how their relationship with you is being influenced by your relationship with the other. In addition, children commonly feel some insecurity by mom or dad’s relationship with another person. Wise singles recognize this important dynamic and don’t assume that becoming a couple necessarily means that they can become a family. They attend to both and take time assessing how the potential stepfamily relationships are developing.
5. Choose to risk, choose to love. At the end of the day, there are no guarantees on love. We live in a fallen world and you and I are fallen, imperfect people. Because of that, being in a loving relationship sometimes hurts. Marriage, to be successful, needs to an “all in” experience. Dating, on the other hand, is a progressively “moving toward all in” experience. Each new depth requires a little more openness, a little more trust, a little more risk. To pull up short of the risk required is to revert back to hiding. If you find the relationship unsafe at the new depth, then by all means, pull back. But then again, maybe it was your lack of risk that made it unsafe.
Knowing when to risk and when not to is never easy. One thing is for sure: a love that is motivated by self-preservation never matures into selfless love and independent togetherness dating relationships never find oneness.
Ron L. Deal is president of Smart Stepfamilies™, director of blended family ministries for FamilyLife®, a popular conference speaker on marriage and family matters, and author/coauthor of a series of DVD’s and books for stepfamilies including The Smart Stepfamily, The Smart Stepdad, and his newest Dating and the Single Parent. Learn more at www.RonDeal.org and www.FamilyLife.com.
Publication date: February 21, 2013