On Relationships

I have been dating my boyfriend for a little over 9 months now. We are just starting to exit the honeymoon stage and are (trying to be) settling into the committed relationship stage. It’s not easy. I routinely look back to how we were when we first started dating and think, how come we’re not as cuddly or as giddy around each other as we used to be? Does he not like me as much as he used to? Why do we stay in waaay more than go out? Why does he not make an effort to impress me as much as he used to? Why do I no longer make an effort?

On the other hand, my roomate has been dating her boyfriend for about two years, on and off. They are very giddy around each other, very nauseatingly try to “sneak” carresses to each other, and talk about each other constantly. The on and off, I’ve started to realize, is important. My theory is that they never ACTUALLY move past the honeymoon phase, but, by virtue of the fact that they have actually been together for so long, effectively have entered the committed relationship phase as well.

They went out for about 6 months, started fighting, broke up, and several weeks later got back together. They have done this about four times. It seems that when the newness of the realtionship starts to wear off, they just break up and start over.

The rational part of me says my way is healthier, that we address problems, that we learn to work with each other instead of against each other. But the low-self esteem part of me that’s constantly comparing myself to others says that they’ve caught hold of something important. They have, albeit by extreme means, learned to continuously ignite the spark that started their relationship. I hope that my boyfriend and I can learn to do this too, before it goes out all together.

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The Worst Day Ever

Well, maybe not ever. But here’s a list of what happened in the last five hours:

-I planned to wake up at 7:30 to daven, shower, and study. I woke up at 9:30, and only had time to study. Now I feel unholy and dirty.

-I’m sick, but I just took off school for Yom Kippur and will be taking off more time to go home for Succot, so I really can’t justify missing any more class.

-I’m in an eternal state of “Do I really want to go to law school or not, and if not, what DO I want to do?” I sometimes picture myself as a forensic analyst, but then tell myself there is a reason I’ve been avoiding any type of science-type classes. Then I get mad at myself for not taking a more well rounded course load.

-I’ve been spending too much time with the boyfriend. I think my roomates are annoyed. It’s not their right to be annoyed (because we spend time at his house, not mine) but I don’t want to get on their bad side.

-The meeting I was supposed to go to at 12 was apparently at 10. I never got the email, the boss asked me if I forgot and is meeting personally with me later.

-I have to give my advisor reasons why I want to go to law school so she can write a reccomendation letter for me. I can’t really think of any other than, “I’ll make a lot of money” and “I want my parents to be proud of me”.

-I went to the coffee shop to get my standard feel better drink, a tall iced skinny caramel macciato, and realized that even though i had shlepped my whole purse with me, and even had to go back to one of my classes because I left it there, my credit card is still at home.

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?

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

ונפש יהונתן נקשרה בנפש דוד ויאהבהו יהונתן כנפשו
(שמואל א א׃יח)

OK, this post is not going to talk about the implications of this posuk for the Gay/Lesbian community. Maybe I will discuss this in another post. When discussing this posuk with my chavrusa, we got into a discussion about what the Torah means by “ahava”, or “love”.

I decided that an interesting project would be to look at how “ahava” is used in various places in tanach, and see if I could draw a conclusion. What I found is really interesting.

There is a concept when learning tanach that if one wants to know what a word means, they should look to the first place that the root is used, and use that context as a guide.

The first place that the root א.ה.ב is used is Bereishis 22:2 :
וַיֹּאמֶר קַח-נָא אֶת-בִּנְךָ אֶת-יְחִידְךָ אֲשֶׁר-אָהַבְתָּ, אֶת-יִצְחָק, וְלֶךְ-לְךָ, אֶל-אֶרֶץ הַמֹּרִיָּה; וְהַעֲלֵהוּ שָׁם, לְעֹלָה, עַל אַחַד הֶהָרִים, אֲשֶׁר אֹמַר אֵלֶיךָ
“And He (God) said, ‘Please take your son, your special one, THAT YOU LOVE, Yitzhak, and go for you to the land of the Mountain Moriah, and bring him up their as an oleh offering on one of the mountains which I will tell to you.”

In the begining of this posuk, God is instructing Avram to bring his son as a sacrifice. Avram is confused, because he has two sons, and doesn’t know which son God wants him to take. So God tells Avram to take his “special” son. But Avram’s a good father, both of his sons are special to him. Then, God says “the son which you love” and it is this phrase that seperates Yitzhak from Yishmael.

The Torah is making pointing out that there is a distinction between that thinking of someone as “special” and actually loving them. In today’s world, when we talk about “our special someone” we are referring to the one person we love more than anyone else. But, apparently, our view of love is not the same as the Torah’s. Love is something more than just viewing someone as really special.

Besides for familial love, there is one other context in which the Torah talks about love. That is in the mitzvah of ahavas HaShem. The mitzvah is found in sefer Devarim 10:12

וְעַתָּה, יִשְׂרָאֵל–מָה יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, שֹׁאֵל מֵעִמָּךְ: כִּי אִם-לְיִרְאָה אֶת-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לָלֶכֶת בְּכָל-דְּרָכָיו, וּלְאַהֲבָה אֹתוֹ, וְלַעֲבֹד אֶת-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, בְּכָל-לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל-נַפְשֶׁךָ

Note that here, when the Torah tells us to love God, the phrase used is וּלְאַהֲבָה אֹתוֹ.
אַהֲבָה is a noun-love, as the thing love. But then what does וּלְאַהֲבָה mean? Technically, its, “And to love(noun) Him.”

This is confusing. We see from sefer koheles that there is actually a verb-infinitive of ahava:

עֵת לֶאֱהֹב וְעֵת לִשְׂנֹא
(Koheles 3:8)

Why can’t the Torah also use the word לֶאֱהֹב? Obviously, God wants to teach us about what real love is, and what it is not. Love is not simply having much affection for something. When we say “I love chocolate brownies” we are not actually using love in the right way. There’s no doubt that Yaakov had ALOT of affection towards Yishmael. In todays terms, it would be called love. Yaakov loved Yishmael dearly. But, not according to the Torah.

So what can the Torah mean by “love”?

The answer, I believe, can be found in last weeks parsha, when the word ahava is used once again:

וַיַּעֲבֹד יַעֲקֹב בְּרָחֵל, שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים; וַיִּהְיוּ בְעֵינָיו כְּיָמִים אֲחָדִים, בְּאַהֲבָתוֹ אֹתָהּ
“And Yaakov worked for (or “with”) Rachel seven years, and they were in his eyes like a few days, in his love(noun) for her”

Yaakov’s whole focus, while in the house of Lavan, was Rachel. He worked seven whole years just to be able to marry her. Everyday when Yaakov went out to work, he knew the only reason he was doing it was for Rachel. He put up with Lavan for 14 years just to be able to marry Rachel. Yaakov’s whole life’s focus at the point was Rachel. Yaakov was “in love” with Rachel because everything he did, he did for her.

This is what I think the Torah is telling us love is. Love, true love, is when your whole life’s focus is the object of your love. Thats why Ahavas Hashem is a noun. It’s not a simple action. One can not just bring a korban and say, “OK, now I’ve fulfilled the mitzvah of ahavas Hashem” and then check it off his list. It doesn’t work like that. To love God means your whole life is dedicated to God. Everything that one does, they do for God.

This is what distinguished Avram’s relationship with Yishmael and Yitzhak. Sure, Avram adored Yishmael. He had alot of affection for him. It’s only natural-Yishmael IS his SON, afterall. But the difference is posterity. Deep down, Avram knows that eventually, Yitzhak is going to be the one to continue the family legacy. Avram, as much as he may “love” Yishmael, knows that his life’s work of spreading the idea of Torah Monotheism will be continued not by Yishmael, but by Yitzhak, the son that he loves.