Monday, May 29, 2006

Memories of an Orthodox High School Romance

When I first saw her, I already had a girlfriend. She was so different -- small and tan, her slightly Asiatic features making her exotic among the other Jews. A ba'alat teshuva, she had a mysterious past. Word of her unusual intellect preceded her, and she quickly joined the circle previously made up of only the smartest boys. Since I had a girlfriend, I decided that I must set her up with a friend of mine.

That didn't work out.

A year later, when my girlfriend and I had broken up, I befriended her. We sat next to each other in advanced physics and played card games the oblivious teacher couldn't see. We started getting together in the evenings to do homework, and homework quickly gave way to long, interesting conversations.

I was drawn to her spirituality. Unlike the kids I grew up with, she had chosen to be frum. Where the rules and rituals were habitual for us, she found meaning and beauty. Ironically, it was she who taught me what it meant to be religious.

She wanted to be shomeret negiyah* - no small feat for a 16 year old girl in a coed school. We were falling for each other, but we were careful to never cross that line. Her spirituality notwithstanding, we found every possible way to violate the spirit of the law if not the letter**. I'd put a pillow on my chest and she'd rest her head on it while we watched a rented movie. We'd lie on the oversized couch for hours looking into each others eyes, tasting each other's breath, but never kiss, never brush aside that stray hair with our fingers. We'd drift off to sleep sometimes and I'd wake up at 2 or 3 in the morning to sneak back into my house.

Once, my parents left town and she stayed at my house, parking her car around the corner so the neighbors wouldn't see. We got into bed together, careful not to touch, and I turned off the light. We both made the kissing sound as we had gotten into the habit of doing, and somehow, in the sudden darkness, our lips met accidentally. We laughed it off and spent a sleepless night without touching again.

Then it was the summer after graduation and we'd spend evenings taking walks and continuing those deep conversations you can only have when you're young. We'd have picnics in the park and on July 4th, we watched the local fireworks from her bedroom window.

The time we spent looking into each others eyes grew longer, our lips so close I could feel her breath. After the summer, I was leaving, and my imminent departure lent a poignant intensity to those moments.

I wanted more than anything to kiss her, to touch her, to make love to her. But some feeling of responsibility managed against all odds to keep my instincts at bay all those nights as we almost-kissed but remained frozen an inch apart for hours.

This situation would have been unsustainable if not for that constant sliver of doubt in my mind. Every night I wondered if this was the night we'd touch. I knew that I couldn't violate her wishes to remain shomeret negiyah no matter how silly it seemed, but her signals were becoming more and more mixed.

One day, we went swimming together. She had a pool in her backyard and we were alone together. Seeing her in a swimsuit was almost too much. Her legs, her breasts, the wisps of hair escaping the suit between her thighs. We'd clearly gone far beyond violating the spirit of negiyah and I was starting to think we'd finally touch each other. When, in the pool, we stood inches from each other and I stopped in the water between her outstretched legs, I came so close to kissing her, but couldn't do it without a clear signal. Eventually, I went home.

The next evening, we sat on her porch in the swinging bench, talking. I was leaving in a few days and we were starting to miss each other already. It was getting late, and I'd promised my parents I'd be home by midnight, so I got in my car to go home. She came up to the driver's side to say goodnight, and I rolled down my window.

She said, "I want to kiss you so much," and I said, "Can I kiss you?"

Complicated feelings came and went behind her eyes and she said, "I can't tell you it's okay, but if you kiss me, I'll kiss you back."

Being responsible is one thing, but no conceivable God could hold me responsible for falling for that. I kissed her, after six months of waiting, after six months of imagination. She opened the door and climbed into my lap.

Five hours later, at 5:30 in the morning, her mother knocked on the car door. Being an unusually liberal and areligious woman, she was happy to see her daughter enjoying herself, but my father had woken her up with a phone call, wondering where I was. I had to go home.

We had another few days together of heaven on Earth, and then I left for yeshiva***.

* "Shomeret negiyah" means that she didn't touch boys, not even to shake hands.
** By no stretch of the imagination should this be taken to mean we didn't violate other laws -- particularly that of yichud, or not being alone together.
*** For a year after high school, I went to a yeshiva, or (single-sex) school of Jewish learning, in Israel.


dbackdad said...

I think I need to take a cold shower. :-)

DNA said...

Yeah .. high school romances are the best. So what happened? You let her go?

cruisin-mom said...

what great writing...couldn't stop reading. I enjoyed your debate with Ezzie...that's what brought me over.

Nice Jewish Guy said...

Beautiful story. It reminds me of my own romance with my first girlfriend, while I was in post HS yeshiva (and college). We also tried bravely to "be good".. and while we could not be shomer negiah, we managed to keep ourselves from rounding all the bases. It was a sort of "forbidden" romance... her parents were set against it, we were both in love, young and not ready to get married. She eventually dumped me. But if my old Chevy could talk... the stories it could tell about what went on in it while parked on dead-end streets late at night.

You never do forget your first!

asher said...

This is lust, plain and simple! This is what comes from having co-ed classes in a yeshiva h.s. when the nearest girl should be 3 counties away. The Yetzer Harah (bad inclination or evil devil) will jump at any opportunity to reach out and disturb your mind with thoughts of lust and romance. And you watched movies together...another shonda. (immoral act)


Sorry, I was getting a flashback from 7th grade.

A 16 year old girl in bathing suit would make any guy forget his religion.

Have you heard from her since?

CyberKitten said...

So many rules and taboo's.... All very strange from my PoV.

Looking forward to more installments though. I think it's very brave of you to be so 'public' about personal things like this.

Jewish Atheist said...


Sorry. :-) Those are the risks of reading Jblogs, I guess.

dna: Well, she continued getting more religious and I continued getting less. Now she's got a husband, a sheitel, and two kids, while I have a blog called "Jewish Atheist."

cruisin-mom: Thanks! :-) Hope you keep reading.

nice jewish guy: Part of the reason I wrote this is that I figured a lot of people could relate. :-)


This is lust, plain and simple!

Largely, yes.

The Yetzer Harah (bad inclination or evil devil) will jump at any opportunity to reach out and disturb your mind with thoughts of lust and romance.

Maybe the real problem is looking at the drive for lust and romance as bad or evil. :-)

A 16 year old girl in bathing suit would make any guy forget his religion.

No kidding.

Have you heard from her since?

We stayed friends for a while. I even went to her wedding.

So many rules and taboo's.... All very strange from my PoV.

Another reason to write it. It's strange from my current POV as well.

I think it's very brave of you to be so 'public' about personal things like this.

It does feel a little weird. If any of my readers knows who I am, they've learned some interesting factoids about me by now.

david said...

Great post. The greatest experiences in our lives don't always have happy endings.

dbs said...

Fantastic post.

The Jewish Freak said...

Good writing. Sometimes the personal stuff is the best.

Shimon said...

Great article. Do you recall the curve of her body and her breath on yours when you have sex with your wife?

Jewish Atheist said...


Thanks, and agreed. Another of the great experiences in my life was witnessing a death, but I doubt I'll post about that anytime soon.



Thanks. That's what makes pseudononymous blogging so strange. :-)


Thanks. First, I'm not married. But to answer the spirit of your question, no, I don't think about previous women when I'm with someone. Each woman is unique and, assuming I'm attracted to her, sexy in her own way. When I'm eating a steak, I'm not mentally comparing it with chocolate, I'm just savoring the taste. However, having experienced really good food (to continue the metaphor) makes me realize how good it can be, and keeps me from settling for something not as satisfying. If it's a bad steak and I've had much better, I'm not as interested.

Oy. Now I need a disclaimer. I am in no way meaning to imply that women are like pieces of meat. :-) Physicality is but one aspect of their personhood.

Jack's Shack said...

Good post.

Stacey said...

So glad you finally touched her! I held my breath the entire post, hoping you'd say you'd gotten together.

Maybe the real problem is looking at the drive for lust and romance as bad or evil.


Lakewood Venter said...

WOW! Powerful post!!!

Sadie Lou said...

This was so cool to read something with a much more personal slant on it. You write very well and I'm totally impressed.
Finally, a post I could really relate to from you.

simchi said...

I have absolutely been that girl.

Ben Avuyah said...

You must have some serious willpower. I think most shomer negiah stories head south at some point or another.

BTW, great writing !

UberPropagandist said...

I need to add to the chorus. Great writing. I think it exemplifies the tragedy of religious love. I remember having a strong connection with a female friend while in a ultra-hassidic school (Ger) where females weren't even mentioned. (ie "my father's making a kiddush" or "my father found a son-in-law".)Needless to say that motivated me to head "south" religiously. Eventually becoming the heretic I am today.

Wandering Coyote said...

Wonderful post, JA, poignant and honest. It sent shivers down my spine, and made me feel a little sad, too. Thanks for sharing.

Shimon said...

I think that the modern day (a misnomer) frum young people are really missing out on real life emotions . In certain circles the young man doesn't even have to ask the girl out. It's all pre-arranged. I fondly remember my heartbreaks. A girl refusing to go out with me. A girl dumping me for another. The way my young heart would pound againt my chest as I dialed a phone number (remember dialing?) The elation of my first touch of beaver, I will stop here

Lyss said...

Bringing back memories of High school for me. Though I wasn't frum, I had many friends at yeshiva who went through these issues. And being the token non-frum preson, they came to me about those problems. Sometiems I think they asked my opinion to get 'permission' to kiss and touch. I always respected their wishes to uphold religion over pleasure, however tough it might've been.