One evening my then-boyfriend (now husband) and I were going to a wedding together. Luke and I had not been dating that long, but we knew we were serious about each other. I remember I wore this gray-blue dress. It was above the knee, but not too high, and I knew with certain movements it showed some cleavage but I didn’t think it was too much.
From the minute Luke picked me up, I remember he couldn’t take his eyes off me. He kept telling me how great I looked the whole car ride there, and smiling at me and wanting to kiss me. I was very flattered.
But it came to a head when we were alone after the wedding. We were cuddling on the couch and talking, the way we did most evenings. I remember thinking, “this dress is a little low – I wonder if he notices …”. I could tell that he was averting his eyes a bit, but I didn’t think much of it. However, I was shocked and more than a little embarrassed when an hour or so in to our time alone together he sat up straight and said, “Clare. I hope this doesn’t hurt your feelings. You look really pretty in that dress but I’m really distracted – could you put a T-shirt on?”
I was mortified! If I didn’t know him well and if he hadn’t said it in as sweet and gentle a way that he did, I probably would have burst into tears. I thought I looked great – and I did! That wasn’t the point. The point was, I looked a little bit too good. I was showing way more skin than usual and that cleavage that I decided not to worry about had more of an effect than I realized. Sitting on a couch snuggled up together, things were up close and personal and he was rightly distracted!
His request was a bold – and yes, somewhat drastic– attempt to keep his thoughts and physical feelings under control. This was something we had decided on together, that we wanted to live a chaste relationship–meaning, no pre-marital sex or heavy petting. We decided this because we wanted to really get to know each other for who we each were—mind, heart, and soul—without the physical aspect taking over, and because we both wanted to save the intimacy of sex for our future spouses.
But men are aroused quicker and more strongly from what they see. Though women are aroused by what they see too, it is not as overwhelming for them as it is for men. Those are generalizations that may not apply to everyone, but biology has affirmed a difference. And so for Luke that night, seeing past my low neckline, or seeing the skin that he did was distracting him from focusing on me as a whole person—what I thought, what I felt, who I was.
It’s a tricky thing being a woman in our culture. You are supposed to want to look “sexy,” yet not be objectified. And I think almost all of us can agree, what we’re looking for most in a relationship is to be known for who we are as people. The desire for sex is a healthy, normal thing. But sex bonds people in a unique way. Hormones get involved and lust can cloud our ability to reason, making it all the more difficult to consider if the person you’re dating is who you want to marry. Which is why it is much harder to break it off with a person you’ve been sexually active with, even if you know they aren’t a healthy person for you to be in a relationship with.
What my now-husband asked me that date night was really awkward. And like I said, I was more than a little embarrassed but the thing is, I knew that he loved me. And that he didn’t want to be sitting there the whole evening staring at my chest when we were committed to “not going there” before marriage. And that he didn’t want to treat me like an object to ogle at.
So ladies you don’t have to wear T-shirts and ankle-length skirts every day, that’s not what I’m saying. Our bodies are beautiful and it’s okay to want to look good! But keep the element of mystery going instead of “flaunting” everything you’ve got to the whole world. Wear clothes that express your person, and compliment your body, instead of exposing so much skin that you are reduced in men’s eyes to mere parts (whether they want to see you that way or not). Because you’re worth it. And a good man will want to honor you, body, heart, and soul. Not just the first one.