A Reader Asks:
Although I did not grow up a religious Jew, I became more religiously observant over time and have been practicing shomer negiah (not touching the opposite gender until marriage) as an adult. I have been dating a man for eight months, and it’s going well, but I broke shomer negiah with him a few months ago. I feel badly, but think we have a stronger relationship because of it.
When I bring up engagement lately, however, I’ve noticed he gets tense and shuts down. Do you think introducing a physical element into the relationship has affected his motivation to get engaged?
Dating Coach Rachel Burnham Responds:
I want to dispel the myth that situations and questions like these are only an issue in the nonreligious world, because they come up even in the Orthodox community. I’m going to stay away from any religious or halachic (Jewish law) perspective here, however, and explore the impacts, positive and negative, of introducing “a physical element,” as you put it, in relationships.
First of all, physical touch is deeply gratifying for both genders, as it should be. It is a gift that was given to couples so that they can share their passion and connection in a personal, intimate, and exclusive way. It is the glue that keeps couples together.
Before getting physical, you need to ask yourself whether you want to be bonded in this way to someone you don’t fully know or be physical in a relationship that may well not last.
Second, a physical relationship can provide an outlet for physical needs while avoiding the communication and emotional involvement that is such a deeply gratifying part of being in a couple. In my opinion, by encouraging immediate physical closeness in relationships, today’s society sells women (and men) short, urging them to invest their bodies in relationships for so little in return.
I want to make it clear that I am quite pro negiah (touch). I’m merely suggesting that this powerfully magnetic component of a relationship be kept in the confines of a marriage where commitment has been established and the safety/security of a lasting relationship are in place.
Some might say that physical touch barely affects them emotionally at all — it’s no big deal, so why take give it so much weight? This makes me sad. Senses that are inadvertently dulled or deliberately numbed to the emotional connection possible through touch can lead to future difficulties in the context of marriage and intimacy.
In your case, dear reader, I’d recommend being honest with your partner about your concerns, and that you discuss scaling back the physical element of your relationship so you can both focus on making the best decision for your future together. If this means that your relationship will come to an end, perhaps you are with the wrong person and you’re only saving each other from pain and wasted time. Remember: Until you meet the person for you, dating is merely spending quality time with someone else’s future spouse.
May clarity of mind and clarity of heart lead us on the shortest distance to our longest relationship.
By Rachel Burnham