[Two Pronged] How far should we go?

Rappler's Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr Margarita Holmes.

Jeremy has a master's degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in 3 continents, he has been training with Dr Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives

Together, they have written two books: Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality and Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons.

Dear Dr. Holmes and Mr. Baer,

I’ve been in a long-distance relationship with Ethan for almost a year now. Once the country opens, he plans to come and visit me in Manila. We have not met in person, but we FaceTime daily for an hour. 

We have many things in common: religion – we both have a personal relationship with God); relationships – we are both legally free, we both have grown children, and are open to having a serious and permanent relationship again.

My question is this: Is it necessary to talk about, or agree on how far we should go? I ask this in light of the fact that Ethan is very Christian.

After my annulment, I went out with a friend and we became very close. Things would get pretty intense, but not all the way. Still, he felt so guilty about it afterwards so he would make me feel guilty too. I don’t want to put myself in that kind of situation again.

I know Ethan is different but I just wanted to get your opinion if it’s a conversation that needs to be had before we finally get together.

If so, what would be a good way to broach it? Thanks in advance for your wisdom and guidance.

Amanda

Dear Amanda,

It seems that religious beliefs loom large in this relationship and we all know that religion can be a difficult area to navigate, especially when mixed with a potentially incendiary subject like sex.

When you say that you have religion in common but Ethan is very Christian, I interpret that to mean that religion per se is not an issue between you, but that in the area of your physical relationship together he may be more conservative than you.

What is therefore implied is that your views on the impact of religion on your sex life together may be more liberal than his – or as you might put it, whether or not you go all the way, you might be more relaxed about how far than he would.

If this is indeed the case, a discussion before you meet is definitely a good idea. Of course, people who are "very" anything tend to be somewhat inflexible and discussions which pit one human’s opinion against another’s interpretation of God’s will do not usually change anyone’s mind that much. 

However, when sex is involved, barriers can fall and those prone to guilt often seek to share the burden, as you well know. So you both have an interest in discussing the issues, establishing boundaries and by doing this discovering more about the extent of your compatibility, or any serious obstacles.

As you are not exactly virgins (!) and mature reflection is probably part of your relationship, perhaps giving Ethan advance notice of the subjects you would like to include in a conversation in the near future would give both of you time to consider how best to present your position on the issues to each other. 

The intimacy you have established already should bolster the chances of a positive exchange and enable your relationship to prosper further.

All the best,

JAF Baer

Dear Amanda,

Thank you very much for your letter.  

You asked if it was necessary to: 1. talk about OR 2. agree on how far you should go. In my opinion, the former is necessary, the latter, while absolutely welcome, is not.

What is essential in relationships is communication, and that includes sharing your desires (including more “temporal” ones like his visiting you in Manila), dreams for the future (many of which you have probably already started sharing), likes, dislikes, and, finally, values (including priorities).

This does not necessarily mean agreement about most things. Part of the fun in being in a relationship is discovering how different we are from each other, and what might account for these differences.  

Included in these factors would be our childhood experiences, our family dynamics,  the resources we feel we have, the way we relate to the present vis a vis the past and the future, our current vulnerabilities, etc.  

Part of the excitement is learning what makes your partner tick and how each of you change to accommodate the other. This change is welcome: it is not forced upon either of you and happens because of your love (or, at least deep affection) for each other.  

All this is not possible without talking about what matters most – including how far you should go when you meet.  

It would be terrific if you agreed about this instantly; most people don’t.  Lots more people say/think one thing and feel differently when they meet each other in the flesh. Others make a decision before they meet (which might happen when you bring this up with him) only to have that change as they spend more and more time together. Each of these scenarios can be beautiful as long as each of you listens to the other.

Even if you disagree about how far you want to go physically at this point in your relationship, this does not mean you will always disagree. The dance between disagreement to agreement and sometimes back again to disagreement, or even between a firm decision to a calmer, let’s-see-where-this-goes-before-deciding-anything approach (and vice versa) can be energizing, healing, and fun. Can be, but what it most definitely will be is a way to learn more about each other which is always a plus in relationships.

How to bring this subject up? The way you have all other “uncomfortable” subjects when you face time: gently, but forthrightly and with an open heart. 

Good luck!

MG Holmes

– Rappler.com

Need advice from our Two Pronged duo? Email twopronged@rappler.com with subject heading TWO PRONGED. Unfortunately, the volume of correspondence precludes a personal response.