I never thought that I would be the type to marry young. I wanted to explore the world, develop myself as an independent person and get a little more experience in the dating arena before finding ‘the one’ and settling down. When Yair and I started spending time together at nineteen, I was in a bind. I knew that he was something special and someone who I wanted to spend my life with, but part of me wished that I could put us on hold for three or four years and resume our dating in our mid-twenties. I understood that I couldn’t count on someone that incredible to wait around and definitely be there at the end of the four years. I also saw that it would be impossible for everything in life to go according to my precise timing and plan. Realizing that this was “it”, Yair and I tied the knot just two years later at twenty-one and have found ways to support each other in developing our independent selves and having the new and interesting experiences that we long for.
Only recently have I begun to internalize how lucky I am for finding Yair at an early age. One of my college roommates, Anne M., once referred to Yair as a witness to my life story, language that is both beautiful and true. It’s exciting to experience adventures with Yair as well as to share with him the emotional, religious and ideological changes that I have gone through from college to the corporate world to this period of liberation. Perhaps more than anything else, I am lucky to have avoided the stresses, anxiety and emotional drama of navigating the dating scene in my 20s and 30s. There is a huge amount of pressure within the religious Jewish community to date and marry young, but right now I have a front row seat to the dating dramas of the secular world. Our crew in LA are (for the most part) single, not-so-religious musicians, gymnasts and theater folk in their mid to late twenties. Any get together becomes an occasion to celebrate and party in the most fun and creative ways. They’re a kooky bunch whose company we greatly enjoy, and the amount of casual sex and unscripted partner swapping that goes on is simultaneously shocking (God, am I really still this sheltered?) and exciting to be around. But beneath it all, there seems to be a sadness and almost emptiness.
Several have confided in me at quiet moments that they wish they could find someone quality and have a relationship like the one that Yair and I have. One girl mentioned the ex-boyfriend whom she still loves, but who is afraid of commitment. They broke up over a year ago, but she still has sex with him at least a few times a week because she is scared that he will sleep with someone else, and she wants to be the one who he chooses when he is ready to settle down. One guy is so hopelessly in love with his ex-girlfriend that he can’t bring himself to date anybody else and is stuck in a rut of friends-with-benefits. Another girl is in a relationship with someone who has cheated on her and lied about it multiple times. She knows that he will cheat again, but can’t bring herself to leave him.
I don’t want to imagine what going through relationships like that must do to your sense of self-esteem and self-worth. While I did not intend for this to be a post on sex and religious values, I can’t help but think of hilchot negiah and the family values that many in the religious Jewish community are raised with. Following hilchot negiah basically means that you don’t touch people of the opposite sex, with the exception of your spouse and immediate family. This includes high fives, hugging, dancing, kissing and of course sex. Negiah sensitizes you to the power of touch, the natural high that you experience when touching another human being in any way and the emotional connection that it creates between two people. Negiah allows dating couples to focus on the substance of their relationship and building their emotional connection before adding the often complicating element of touch. I did not strictly adhere to hilchot negiah for my entire twenty-one years prior to getting married, but I did follow it loosely and held onto a lot of the values that it taught. At the very least, it made me aware of how important and powerful touch can really be. While I’m no prude and can appreciate how ravishing orgies/casual sex/all that must be, part of me wonders if greater society would be better off by learning from both hilchot negiah (see above) and hilchot niddah (the laws that govern when husbands and wives may be physically intimate).
What are your thoughts? Do these issues (cheating, fear of commitment, sex as a bartering chip that seems to reflect insecurity) not exist as much in the religious Jewish community, or am I just oblivious to them?
posted by ayo