Sunday, October 02, 2005

Kiss Anticipation

Nice Jewish Girl's back, and she who has "never been kissed" is anticipating and fearful of what may be an impending first liplock with her quasi-boyfriend of a month. (Hat tip to Annabel Lee for letting me know.) She's nervous, but she's doing the smart and brave thing: talking with him about it beforehand. That's right, she told him about what she calls her "non-history," and he seems to be reacting to it fairly well:
He has never dealt with a woman before who had never even been kissed. He kept asking me if I am OK with that and I told him no, I hate it, it is very hard, I have the same hormones as everyone else. But also I know that I have made my decisions and that I cannot change the past and that Hashem has reasons for making my life turn out the way it has. I have to believe it is for the best. I accept it because I have no choice. But why I am writing about it is that he keeps saying that the next time he sees me he is going to kiss me, that it is about time I had my first kiss. I am excited but confused. First of all I do not know exactly what he means, you know? He said “oh, what you mean is that you have never gotten the kind of kiss that lasts for 15 minutes.” But he did not then say “well I will have to correct that.” I think he means to kiss me on the cheek or something.That would be nice but it is not really what I am aiming for. What I want is the 15 minute kiss! I want a kiss that makes me have to come up for air!
Of course, since it's a matter of the intersection of human sexuality (and its pervasiveness in contemporary Western culture) with halakhah, there's still considerable guilt, especially before the High Holidays.
I wish I could say that the thought of doing this possibly on my very next date makes me feel guilty about breaking halacha. Especially because it is almost Rosh Hashanah and we are supposed to be atoning for our sins not planning to do new ones. But honestly I do not feel so guilty. I cannot explain why. I know I should say that no matter how old I am I should at least feel guilty about breaking halacha especially at this time of year.
I spend every year parsing the Al Het prayer, in which we enumerate a list of sins so long that we can't possibly have committed all of them (but we can't possibly emerge from reading the litany feeling completely pure and innocent). I don't think kissing itself--or brushing up against someone--is a sin ("v'iadat znut" or "giluy arayot"). But I do recognize the concept of siyag laTorah, the rabbinic practice of "placing a fence" around the rules of the Torah; in other words, forbidding certain activities not because they themselves are morally wrong, but because they lead to other actions or behaviors which halakhah condemns. (See here for a technical halakhic discussion of what Judaism has to say about pre-marital sex--hat tip to Drew for the reference.) Anecdotally, it seems (at least in New York City) that pre-marital sex is Modern Orthodoxy's dirty little secret, in that many people are having it, but no one is talking about it; many people who are unflinchingly careful when it comes to kashrut or Shabbat observance are more cavalier when it comes to physical relationships. Unsurprisingly, there also seems to be a gender imbalance: men are freer to talk about it than women are. I know, I know. The evidence is anecdotal, at best. I don't have names and sources for you to support this claim. And last time I made a comment like this, I got reamed by a few blogs, but I'm still convinced it's true. And if it is, I don't necessarily think it needs to be eradicated, and the sinners expelled to "outside the camp," as it were, but there needs to be an acknowledgment that--for whatever reason, be it an increased influence from outside culture, or the increase in people who have already been in marriages that failed, or the delay in single people finding soul mates--there's been a shift in how today's "traditional" single Jews view issues of dating and sexuality. I'm not advocating rampant casual sex for Orthodox singles, but I don't think it's acceptable for someone like NJG to reach the age of 34 without having experienced some basic human tenderness, and I don't think it's acceptable that her Jewish life and observance has created in her this package of fear, guilt and longing that consumes her, even in anticipation of one long-overdue kiss.

5 comments:

Sarah said...

From her post it looks to me like she does not feel guilty at all, but rather guilty about not feeling guilty. She says straight out that she does not feel guilty.

I'd be curious to know, if there were a way to find out, whether a higher or lower percentage of MO singles are having sex these days than in, say, the seventies and 80's. From what I hear about what used to go on in Lincoln Square, I wouldn't be surprised if the contemporary crowd on the West Side were positively Puritan in comparison. On the other hand I also wouldn't be surprised if the numbers have gone up. Who can tell?

Simcha said...

I don't know, a 15 minute kiss? I think he's talking biblically, like 900 year old men and giving birth when you're 90. For me, 10 seconds (kiss) is good, then you can do it again. If you both want to.

My friend Charlie, the rich single dermatologist from CT, goes to the beginners' service at Lincoln square and tells me there's a lot of pretty shiksas who attend it. Is this true, just curious? So far he hasn't had any luck. Anyone want to marry a doctor? He IS middle aged. Simcha

Drew_Kaplan said...

Esther,
You're welcome for the reference, and thank you for mentioning me.
One qualification, I think must be made: saying carte blanche that modern orthodox Manhattanites are fairly engaged in pre-marital sex may be true for the UWS, but for the Heights, for instance, I think it may be less (substantially less?) so. Certainly in regards to negiah, I think it is more מקפיד in this regard than the UWS, per se. However, that isn't to say that much of the negiah which goes on isn't מותר, it very well may be.
However, although I may believe in such a significant difference between the UWS and WH, Dr. Michelle Friedman has done a study (I'm not sure that it's been published yet, though) on pre-marital sex among all across the Orthodox spectrum and has found that the percentages are pretty much the same across the board (yes, Chassidic women and MO women the same, go figure). However, who knows how these - and other communities - affects these figures?

Esther Kustanowitz said...

Lincoln Square was known by the name "Wink-and-Stare," for a while. I haven't been there, so I can't speak to that.

Simcha, I haven't heard of non-Jewish women going to Lincoln Square to try to find a Jewish man. That's odd.

Drew, as someone who works in WH and lives on the UWS, I'm sure you're right about the difference between how people see this particular issue. And believe me, I'm all for qualifiers, as I said, the evidence is completely anecdotal, and this is a subject that people may not be very forthcoming about to begin with. In any case, would be very interested in learning about Michelle Friedman's work when she publishes it, so keep me posted...

Anonymous said...

I've mentioned this before to others ('Anna Broadway' for one), but I'll repeat it here for the vast audience for what it's worth.

All available evidence tells us that even in the most restrictive, observant and conservative religious communities somewhere between 1/4 and 1/3 of all births are conceived pre-martially. This is true in Europe for as far back as parish records can record, and it was still true in the face of punitive sanctions that typically included death at the time. (See:'Sex Crimes: From Renaissance to Enlightenment', and some back issues of the Journal of Family History).

So no matter the rulings, it still goes on, and has been for a very long time. To have the fortitude and integrity to hold out for so long is a minor miracle, but it also has it's attendant personal costs that may outweigh the judgement of others. She may have her heart broken, she may get 'lucky' at her first kiss with a stranger, but always it's her life and she needs to start living it more fully. That may sound a bit harsh, but about 2 decades of anticipation is enough. No where is it written that we should remain in a state of frozen or suspended animation waiting for the arrival of our intended, no matter how wonderful he or she might be when they finally get there.

So a somewhat scholarly answer without resorting to the rebbe for once. Cheers & Good Luck, 'VJ'