Niddah Diaries: Our Beds

In examining the search results that have landed you all to my blog, I’ve noticed that a good number of people want to know about sleeping arrangements of orthodox married people. I can’t tell you what everyone does, but I can tell you what I do.

The biblical laws of Niddah dictate, basically, that a man and a woman can’t have sex during the time that a woman has her period, and for a seven day “clean period” after that. Rabbis have extended that to include such prohibitions as not touching, not sleeping in the same bed, and not even coming close to touching by not sitting on the same cushion or not sharing food during “niddah” times.

The bed thing was a big deal for me. About a year before I got married, I bought myself a luxury full sized bed. I spent a lot of money on it, and justified spending that money because a good bed is an investment that will last at least ten years or so. What I didn’t expect was to get married and start keeping niddah to the extent that we had seperate beds. That just seemed so archaic to me. Problem was, it was important to my husband. He suggested we do as “most” (his wording) modern orthodox couples do, and have a king sized frame with two twin mattresses. We would put the king sized sheets on when we weren’t niddah, and the twin sized sheets on when we were. Plus, we would even buy this thing, which supposedly helps keep the mattresses together and gets rid of the crack between the beds when we’re not niddah.

It sounded weird to me. Married people are supposed to sleep in the same bed, end of story. Always. That’s what my parents did, that’s what I assumed I would do. Plus, this wasn’t even the sort of thing where we could try it out and see if it works and reevaluate later, because we were moving into a one bedroom apartment and wouldn’t have room to store my bed–I would have to get rid of it if we didn’t end up using it as our bed.

We went back and forth on this issue A LOT. It didn’t end until the person who was moving into my old apartment offered to buy my bed from me for 3/5 of the price I paid for it. That made me feel less like my purchase a year ago was a waste of money, and that if I wanted to buy a new bed later, I could.

We decided to buy the two twins and the king frame and the weird crack coverer. Let’s just say, the crack coverer didn’t work. I hated having two beds, during niddah but also not during niddah, since there was a very definite crack we felt like we had to sleep on only half of the bed. Additionally, every time I even remotely felt the crack I was reminded of how I gave up my bed for a practice I didn’t even want to do in the first place. It really upset me, and my husband could tell.

Eventually, we bought a three inch thick king sized memory foam mattress topper. We put it on top of the beds, and it stayed there–niddah times and not niddah times. We could no longer feel the crack in the bed, and the extra comfort that the mattress pad provided made the bed feel very similar to my old bed. I couldn’t stand the practice of having two beds while we were niddah, and so we stopped. When it comes time to buy a new bed (perhaps whenever we move into a two bedroom apartment or a new home), we’ll probably purchase one bed, no more of this two bed stuff for me.

I know that having two beds is not a big deal for most people, and a lot of people tell me they appreciate “having their space”. Others with kids who sleep in the bed tell me it’s easier to have two beds when the kid wants to crawl in. That may work for those people, but not for me. I want to sleep in the same bed as my husband all the time. I’m fine with (some of) niddah, but I want to see him breathing next to me. I don’t want to feel like I’m some unclean, forbidden object that he has to stay far, far away from. And he’s gotten on board with that, and my marriage is a lot better off because of it.

Niddah Diaries: Beginning of Marriage

Clearly several months have passed since I last posted, and clearly some big events regarding my niddah (or pseudo-niddah) practices have occurred–specifically, I got married approximately four months ago.

I doesn’t seem practical to continue writing about niddah on a month by month basis, as I only sporadically have have time to post, so I think I’ll change the format to posting about niddah whenever I have a chance, rather than feeling glued to the every single month format. I know the every month format is preferable in terms of being able to see my development with niddah, but at this point in my life, it’s just not practical.

This post is actually part 1 of 2. I think that since I last wrote about keeping niddah as a single person, and now I am married, I should write about the transition in going from single person niddah practices to married person niddah practices. In my next Niddah Diaries post, I’ll write about how my niddah practices have evolved each month since we’ve been married.

When I first got married, people kept asking me “So, nu, how’s married life??”. I didn’t really have a good answer for them. Of course it was fun to move in to a new apartment and spend lots of gift money furnishing it, and of course it was nice to NOT have to deal with the stress of wedding planning anymore, and of course it was nice to never have to worry about making shabbos plans ever again–but those things all seemed trivial. I knew what the Yentas were really all getting at was “So, nu, how is it living with a BOY?”. I didn’t really know how to answer that question. I mean, my husband and I spent a heck of a lot of time together before we were married. He’d usually come to my apartment straight from work, we’d eat dinner together, hang out, and then when it was time for him to catch the last bus of the night, I’d go to sleep and he’d leave to catch the bus. Sure, actually going to sleep next to a person is totally different than having said person tuck you in and then leave, but could I really share such a distinction with the Yentas? The real distinction in married life came with the way we practiced niddah. As a dating couple, we essentially decided to be full shomer negiah during the time which I had my period. No touching, but also none of the harchakot–we’d sit next to each other on a couch (even on the same cushion), we’d pass items back and forth to each other, we’d share food with one another, there were even a few times when  we’d intentionally use an object (see day 5 here) to touch the other person.

In the months leading up to our marriage and the weeks afterwards (Iook for another post on my thoughts about sheva brachot niddah practices, but suffice it to say we were only keeping niddah in public at that time), we spoke about niddah A LOT. I was insistent that whomever we found to teach us the laws of niddah should teach it to us as a couple, not to us individually (And look out for another post about that). We found someone, and every time I left her house, I’d express frustration with each thing she taught us. My husband seemed lessed phased by it–to him, he wanted to learn what the halacha was and keep everything, because that was the halcha. He was open to digging deep into the halcha and looking for original sources or other explanations, but at the end of the day, he wanted to keep halacha because God said to. That wasn’t my opinion. It goes back to my deeper issues with halacha, but for me, “because God said to” wasn’t enough. It has to also satisfy meet the “because it’s good for me” test, or at a minimum, “because it’s not bad for me” test.

I was, and am, able to accept that some level of Niddah is good for relationships–hence this blog. I’ve written several times before that I do think absence makes the heart grow stronger and some level of separation is important in a long term relationship. However, I thought, and still think, that one really has to evaluate each aspect of niddah practice, and determine if it works for them.

I told my husband that I didn’t think the harchakot would work for me, I didn’t think that they would accomplish the goals that I had identified as my reasons for wanting to practice niddah, and that they were more detrimental to a relationship than helpful. He reminded me that I felt the same way about keeping our version of niddah when we were dating, but in the end, appreciated the practice. We agreed that the first month, we’d try it completely and take it from there to evaluate what worked and what didn’t. We also made it very clear (this was something he feels strongly about) that the niddah laws don’t apply when one of us has an overarching emotional reason for needing niddah. Just like the laws of shomer negiah don’t apply when a member of the opposite sex is physically injured and needs assistance, the laws of niddah shouldn’t apply when one’s spouse is upset or hurt and needs physical touch.

During that first month keeping niddah, we did everything as we were supposed to. We changed the sheets on our bed (two twin size mattresses on one king size frame, we used king sized sheets during non-niddah times and twin sized sheets during niddah). We didn’t touch. We sat far away from each other on the couch.

The hardest thing for me was the sleeping. We were used to cuddling with each other to go to sleep, and it became really difficult for me to fall asleep without him cuddling me. I hated looking over and seeing him sleeping a distance of approximately two feet–but what felt like a mile–away from me.

However, despite the little inconveniences, mikvah night was INCREDIBLE! All that desire that had been built up inside of us for the past two weeks was released with a vengeance! It was so, totally, completely worth it. Even beyond that night, that energy and desire we had kept on going.

I thought I could handle niddah, and I thought it was working for me. But in subsequent months,  I realized I couldn’t take it. I also realized that the energy and passion we had on mikvah night that first time might have simply been the result of being newlyweds, and it might have been there just the same if we hadn’t done niddah. I had two and a half weeks to think about how I wanted to handle niddah next time.