Exclusivity: Emotional and Physical

A conversation that comes up frequently between me and whoever will listen is the one about the blurry lines of shomer negiah relationships.

In a shomer relationship, there is no physical contact. The relationship is solely a verbal one. So the question arises, what differentiates an exclusive, shomer relationship with the relationship of a good friend? The typical answers given, such as “the mutual knowledge of each other’s love/like/admiration”, or “someone that will be a constant in your life” can apply equally to good friends and boyfriends. I have at least 5 guys in my life that fit that description. With a shidduch situation, the lines are less blurry, because both parties are dating with the expectation that if the relationship goes well, they will get married sooner rather than later. However, for many young-adults, marriage is not necessarily on the radar at the same time dating is.

The question can be expanded to ask, what constitutes cheating in a shomer relationship? Is talking to someone else a breach of trust? An extended conversation? Several extended conversations? Is it simply being emotionally attached to someone else?

I read an article recently about pornography, in which the author asked “Is porn adultery?”. This article, not coming from a religous perspective in the least, said that perhaps it is, since although one is not physically giving of him or herself to the porn, they are idealizing the porn, becoming emotionally attached to an idea of a person. A letter to the editor was written in response in which a man said, “if my porn is adultery than my wife’s romance novels should also be adultery, in that she becomes emotionally attached to a ficticious hero that real men could never live up to.”

Apparently, this question does not only apply to people in shomer relationships. The New York Times recently wrote about it as well. The article made it’s way to the top most-emailed article of the day when it came out. It discussed the new model for dating. Long ago, like in the 70s, people would go on a few dates, and if they liked each other, would get physical. Today, there is a much more prevalent “hook-up culture”, and the model has shifted. Today, and I have seen this happen with multiple friends, people will hook-up with someone, usually an aquaintence, and if they like each other, they will date.

The question is, again, what changes from the hook-up stage to the dating stage? I suppose it’s exclusivity, during the hook up stage it is totally OK to hook up with someone else, but during the dating stage, not so much. But really, it’s more than that. When one is “in a relationship”, there is an emotional bond that is just begining to be built during the hook-up stage. The bond is there, and it’s meant for just the other.

There are several ways to approach this. One could say that perhaps exclusivity is purely emotional, in which case porn, romance novels, and extended conversations would all be taboo. On the other hand, one could say that it’s purely physical, in which case there is no possibility for cheating in a shomer-negiah relationship. I like to think that, like in all matters, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. But now the hard question remains-where is the middle?

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