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Jan 19, 2012

Sticks-and-Stones and Touch Frustrations

I'd like to thank Heshy Fried for the recent upsurge in attention to my blog. Since he commented on my blog post, Untouched, on his facebook and then blog, I've been enjoying by the thoughts, responses, emails and comments that have followed.

In his blog, he makes the following argument:
Shomer negiah is great if you can be a regular person about it, but when anything leads to such pain it seems like a bad idea.
Which is really interesting to me. Who can "be a regular person about it" when they're Shomer and single for five, ten or fifteen(+) years? I think that person is likely not the normal, average person.

Given the people I've known and spoken to who maintain Shmirat Negiah, it leads to frustration and difficulty in everyone. I've even posted (here and here) about the development and the circumstances that have magnified that struggle and frustration nowadays (and my perspective in dealing with it). In any case, that's the argument to let go of being Shomer Negiah, in a nutshell, and some of the feedback I've gotten has said that perhaps I'm a unique or extreme case and should specifically re-examine and re-evaluate my choice (and I really appreciate how much everyone cares and wants to help me out, it's great to see people so passionate about each others' well being!). It can be a powerful argument, because the frustration or pain can similarly feel powerful.

It reminds me of an old adage, and the way we've responded to it:
Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. 
Of course my Mother, and every other mother I've ever spoken to, adamantly objects to the phrase, touting how the exact opposite is true; our physical wounds will heal, but our emotional ones will stay with us much longer. So we've become very sensitive and aware of emotional pains as a society by recognizing the powerful influence of emotions on our psychological (and physical) health in the long-term. Awareness about bullying is at an all-time high. Such emotional pain is to be avoided and prevented if at all possible. Which is great and everything, but disappointment, upset and emotional pain is inevitable in life. Trying to prevent all of it -which essentially is the point in using distraction as the primary way to deal with a child when they cry or get upset about not getting a lollypop or whatever -espouses certain values. Namely, that emotional pain is really bad, that we can't handle it and therefore any degree of emotional hurt should be avoided at all costs

 (It's the same argument that leads to using the [Ultra] Orthodox Shidduch system, having lots of research and going through an intermediary to avoid -as much as possible -the possibility of hurting someone or being hurt and the challenges of being Shomer Negiah, etc. Especially since the pain of breaking up -and temptation to touch -is so much harder to deal with after a two year relationship versus just a few dates.)

While I think it's incredibly important to help prevent bullying, I also value teaching our children and learning ourselves about handling the disappointments and challenges in life. Developing the coping skills and tools to manage the tough times, frustrations and setbacks we experience -even the chronic ones that won't just go away -is a an integral element of becoming an adult and learning to handle life well.

Thus far, my perspective is that the feelings don't have to be avoided but managed; interestingly enough that doesn't mean we have to do or say anything special, but acknowledge them, express and show our acceptance/care. Being able to feel and tolerate strong emotions isn't a bad thing; in fact, I think it's a highly adaptive skill to have in life. My experience with being Shomer has been that kind of learning experience; or rather, that's what I'm choosing to make of it. Still, I acknowledge that being Shomer is not only tough, but an issue that won't go away (even in marriage) and will be frustratingly painful, sometimes to the point of extremity. I just don't think that the pain would always justifiy tossing away my choice for observance.

I will say, though, if it's a choice between marrying someone immediately just for the touch, affection and sex versus keeping Shomer, I'd be more likely to stop being Shomer. Religious observance is not a good proxy for healthy relationships. But I do think there's a third option, and that's my current road; struggling, working through it and learning to manage. I think there's a plus buried in there, the meaning I make of it and the choice to develop myself through it.

That option, I think, takes strength to stick to. But I also think lots of people are strong enough, and we get stronger as we learn to understand, accept and cope with those feelings. 

Who knows, maybe I'm doing mental back-flips to make light of a crummy situation that I'm choosing to stick to. Or perhaps there's something real to gain and grow through the challenge. Maybe one day I'll get fed up enough to change my mind about being Shomer. Anything is possible... But until then, if it ever happens, I'll be working through it.

1 comment:

  1. I think it comes down to mind over matter.
    Yes, being shomer can be difficult at times, but who says life is supposed to be easy.

    Either you see yourself as a religious, G-d fearing Torah observant jew, in that case you can admit that the halachos that were put into place by the Rabanim are divine-inspired and for our benefit. A building block of our heritage and mesorah as frum jews is Emunat Chachamim.

    Either you give stock to what they say..or not.
    It may be easy it may be hard, but guess what i wear sleeves that cover my elbows in the summer even though its so hot! its not comfortable but i believe in those who were closer to Gd than i am, people who are mre learned than i ever will be.