As you can probably imagine, many people ask us for advice about celibate relationships, how realistic that concept is, and how to make such a relationship work. Several people can be frustrated by our typical reply: we don’t think we’re very good at giving advice. However when enough people ask us the same question, we think we ought to address it to the best of our ability. We know a fair number of people who are living in celibate partnerships, have moved from celibate relationships to non-celibate relationships, or have experienced failed celibate relationships. Newcomers to our blog often ask us if we think celibate partnerships could be a viable vocational option for LGBT Christians more broadly. In responding to that question, we have to keep in mind that we’ve seen so many people hurt within celibate partnerships. That this happens (and probably quite often) doesn’t surprise us. There’s no real guidance from any Christian tradition on what this way of life might mean or look like.
In our own lives, we’ve learned that reflecting on celibacy periodically helps us discern what God would have us do together. We wanted to share some of the questions we encourage others to consider when thinking about celibate partnership as a way of living out a vocation to celibacy. Since we do not consider ourselves capable of making judgments as to whether another person should enter a celibate partnership, we hope the questions that follow might support people discerning whether entering a celibate partnership is a good decision.
1. Is loneliness my primary motivation for seeking a celibate relationship? If the answer is yes, know that being in a relationship (celibate or not) with another person isn’t a cure-all for loneliness. Everyone feels lonely sometimes–even people who are in committed relationships. But if that’s why you’re seeking a celibate relationship, more than likely you’ll find that a significant other will not fill the void.
2. Do I have a strong sense of what my sexual ethic is? If the answer is no, it’s probably wise to take more time to discern your sexual ethic within the context of your Christian tradition before entering a celibate relationship. For any relationship to be healthy, it’s necessary that both partners can talk candidly about this topic, even if there are disagreements. You’ll need to know how committed the other person is to celibacy. If you’re entering an intentionally celibate relationship with a person whose sexual ethic differs from yours, it’s especially important to have your own sorted.
3. Have I come to a sense of peace and acceptance concerning my sexual orientation? We’re going to be blunter than usual with this one: if the answer is no, then you are certainly not ready to begin a celibate relationship. If you try, it is highly likely that you will both end up feeling miserable and the relationship will fail. We have seen this happen many times to people we know and love. We know what it’s like to have trouble accepting oneself as LGBT, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to finding peace and a sense of comfort within your own skin. But if you’re not there yet, please don’t commit to a celibate relationship at this time.
4. Do I have an idea of what celibacy might mean for me? It’s vital that a person who chooses celibacy explores the meaning of this state of life. Some people choose celibacy because they feel called by God. Others choose celibacy in obedience to their Christian traditions even though they don’t feel called. People choose celibacy for the short-term, for the long-term, and indefinitely. Every celibate person is different, but willingness to ask, “What does it mean for me?” is necessary for living a sustainable way of life whether single or coupled.
5. Am I willing to receive and accept spiritual counsel within my faith community regarding my way of life? This one can be particularly tough because most humans struggle with pride, and many LGBT people experience fear after negative past experiences of seeking spiritual guidance. However, it’s necessary to ask this question because we can’t always see clearly the areas of our lives where we are failing to be Christlike. This is especially true when undertaking roads less traveled, such as living a celibate vocation in the same household as another person. It’s okay that saying yes to this one is hard, but if you aren’t willing to do it you are probably setting yourself up for failure by entering a celibate relationship.
6. Do I understand celibate partnership as a loophole within a legalistic celibacy mandate? If you read our blog regularly, you know that we prefer to discuss LGBT celibacy in terms of vocation rather than in terms of mandates. Some LGBT celibates do view celibacy within the framework of a mandate and are comfortable with that. Either way you understand celibacy, it’s not a good idea enter a celibate relationship if you understand the decision as “barely on the right side of God’s law.” This understanding of celibate partnership will likely lead to unhealthy obsessions with line-drawing.
7. Is fear of being sexually active my primary motivation for seeking a celibate relationship? If a friend told us that he/she had chosen celibacy either temporarily or permanently because of fearing sexual relationships, we would gently encourage that friend to seek counseling. If that same friend mentioned thoughts of beginning a celibate relationship in order to avoid dealing with these fears permanently, we would do everything possible to discourage that decision. Fear of sexual intimacy is often linked to fear of other types of intimacy. Entering a celibate relationship will not shelter you from ever having to experience intimacy with someone else.
8. Am I seeking an arrangement that is effectively a same-sex marriage without the sex? It’s possible that there are some celibate couples who do view themselves as celibate marriages, or marriages minus sex. We’re not here to judge those people or those relationships. But the healthiest celibate partnerships we’ve known among our friends have been those that come from very different places than desire to imitate marriage. Controversial statement here: if you do view your celibate relationship as “marriage lite,” it’s unlikely that the relationship will remain celibate. Before entering a celibate relationship, consider how you might learn from monastics and singles as well as married people as you continue to discern your vocation.
9. Do I envision being part of a celibate relationship that is inwardly focused? If the answer is yes, you’re envisioning something quite different from a vocation. Any relationship that is totally focused on itself with no concern for the broader world will likely have difficulty manifesting the Kingdom of God. We believe that this is true for celibate partnerships, other ways of living celibacy, and marriages. If you’re interested in a relationship that involves romantic dates but no greater purpose than making each other happy, you’re missing the point of vocation entirely.
10. Am I willing to take both the good and the bad when it comes to doing life with another person if we decide to live our celibate vocations together long-term? Anytime people commit to living the rest of their lives together, there will be seasons of fast and seasons of famine–spiritually, financially, physically, emotionally, in every way. This is true for marriages, monastics, and other ways of doing life in community. If you’re seeking a long-term celibate partnership, you must have a willingness to be there for the other person even during difficult times. If you can’t do that, you’re probably not ready for a celibate partnership or any lifelong vocational commitment.
11. Am I prepared for the reality that I will make mistakes? If you think life as a celibate pair will be perfect, free from all sin, and ideal in every way, think again. You’re human. You will make mistakes. You will sin against others. If you’re in a celibate (or non-celibate) partnership, you will sin against your partner, yourself, and God at some point (and no, we are not necessarily talking about sexual sin here). If you cannot accept the fact that celibate partnerships aren’t sin-free, you are not ready to enter one.
We’ve found that many people are interested in exploring celibate relationships before they stop to consider their own motivations for desiring these kinds of arrangements. In our own lives together, we’ve realized that entering a celibate partnership and keeping the focus on celibacy takes considerable intentionality. It’s not impossible, but doing so involves commitment to prayerfulness, mutual support, and (sometimes brutal) honesty. We thought through all of our own questions before we decided to explore the possibility that we, as Sarah and Lindsey, would make a good team for the long haul. And we expect that there will be seasons of life in the future when we will need to return to our previous responses for further reflection.
The comments section is open, and we would love to hear your thoughts!
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