So, this morning I woke up to a really interesting post by the newly-married (mazal tov!) Chaviva, on a very interesting topic: being shomer negiah (link to her post). As she mentioned in her post, this is another of those topics that gets people a little squicky, but as she asked a few questions in her post and I had a few other thoughts, I decided to respond.
First, I really have to commend her on doing what she felt was right for herself and her relationship. With something like this, it is incredibly difficult and if she felt like this is what her relationship needed, then that is incredibly important. Personal happiness in a relationship and feeling honest and true to yourself in a relationship matters a whole lot. It was really interesting to read about her experience of becoming shomer negiah while in a relationship, and I think it does serve as a model for anyone interested in doing that. Of course, just as with two Jews having three opinions, there are multiple ways of approaching the ins and outs of wedded bliss.
How do couples who have “experienced each other as a married couple” before the chuppah make the wedding day reunion in the yichud room special? I’m not sure that there is any way to make the yichud room more special. After months and months of preparation, sessions with the rabbi and the the premarital counselor that the rabbi recommends to all his couples, we were finally, finally married. Those first moments alone together after the wedding were just amazing, even if the room itself was just the employee break room at the venue we used. Would it have been more special had we been shomer negiah? Maybe. But it’s not black and white – special or not special.
Also, I’m not sure that connecting modesty, being shomer negiah and taharat mishpacha (family purity – mikvah!) together all in one neatly packaged set is the way everyone thinks about it. As I have mentioned previously, I’m still working on modesty, but we are on our second round of taharat mishpacha, and we have never been shomer negiah – at certain times I may not touch my husband intimately, but the kind of hug I might give a male friend is very different from the kinds of hugs I get from my husband. On a forum I joined recently, the questions were about kashrut, shabbat and taharat mishpacha, not about being shomer negiah – which I feel like says something about it’s status in the community.
How do we do it without creating those lines of peace? R and I were together for slightly over five years (15 months dating, 15 months engaged, just over 2.5 years married) before we started our mikvah observance. We created our own boundaries. When the rules aren’t laid out for you, you have to make the boundaries yourself. Is that harder? Maybe. But we worked it out. I’m interested to see how continued observance of mikvah changes that.
There is no black and white here. It’s not “If you observe all these rules, your relationship is automatically fresh and beautiful and if you don’t, then you are automatically drowning under the weight of your partner.” If you are drowning, there is something wrong, and that may not necessarily be that it’s that you don’t observe, and sometimes, even if you observe, things will not work the way they are “supposed” to.
Every couple spends time and energy finding what works for them. In our five years plus together, R & I have learned an amazing amount of things about each other and ourselves, and given the way we love Judaism, it has infused the process all the way through. The great thing about Judaism, even as it is sometimes the hard thing, is that it has a multiplicity of opinions, even in the Orthodox/observant world. Being open to those multiple paths allows us to be as diverse and vibrant of a community as we can be, and I want that for myself and my future family as we continue to live (and love) our lives in this community.