love. week sixteen.
city. new york city
As part of my attempt to create a sense of a community while living in the Lower East Side, I joined a Facebook group called Buy Nothing which offers members “a way to give and receive, share, lend, and express gratitude through a worldwide network of micro-local gift economies in which the true wealth is the web of connections formed between people who are real-life neighbors.”
Since I didn’t have anything material to offer, I instead posted an offer to open up my daily morning meditation sessions to the community, and turn it into a group session. And so, this past Monday, I welcomed neighborly strangers into my home to meditate together.
To be honest, I was rather ambivalent about the whole thing. I ordinarily dislike group settings, so to then have to play host to a completely anonymous group of people, particularly when it involves an activity that is very important to me, just kind of made me feel anxious about the whole thing.
Thank god, due to covid, most people were not comfortable meeting in person, so as of now it’s just a group of three, well within my comfort zone :)
And, it’s only been one week, but it was really cool to become friends with a couple neighbors, while simultaneously creating a group environment for growth and happiness. I’m excited to see how it develops! Having an inspiring and healthy community is something I was lucky to have (almost by accident) in Luxembourg, and it’s one of the things I miss most now that I’m back to NY. For a while I tried to find something similar here, but wasn’t really able to. So I’m proud of myself for taking the initiative and trying to recreate it on my own. Well, not entirely on my own :) I have my neighbors to help me with that.
Especially in comparison with the sorts of anxieties, conflicts, and desires that emerged while I was focusing on romantic love (with its intense highs and brutal lows), the time and energy that I’ve been investing in neighborly/friendly love has been a true and simple source of joy.
Speaking of romantic love (dum, dum, dum, dummmm), I’ve been mulling over a new approach, which is actually an ancient approach.
In Orthodox Judaism, men and women who are not married to each other (or immediately related) are not allowed to touch in an affectionate way. This is called being Shomer Negiah [literally: watching/protecting your touch]. Consequently, every year, a hundred thousand or so Jewish couples get married without ever having touched. And, while this rule is built on assumptions that are equal parts ridiculous and cruel, the concept itself, of only sharing romantic affection within the context of a committed relationship just keeps cropping up for me.
Just this morning, I was talking to a friend about his relationship and he told me that, throughout its ups and downs, he sometimes catches himself being especially kind to his partner when he's feeling horny. Understandably, this caused him to worry about his motives and the true nature of his relationship.
This opened up a deeper discussion about the connection between love and sex. I told him about how sometimes, in my early dating days, I would sleep with a girl that I had been convinced I had feelings for, only to discover the next morning that, surprise surprise, having ‘had’ her, I no longer found her interesting. This would leave me in the doubly horrible position of (1) having my hopes and feelings instantly disappear and (2) trying to explain this to an understandably upset partner. Fortunately, with time, I learned to recognize when my ‘feelings’ were simply sublimated sexual desires, and then avoid most of these scenarios entirely. At least, that’s what I tell myself.
Conversely, there have been girls that once I slept with them, I felt even more passionate about them and wished to spend all of the next day(s) together. The more we opened up to each other, the closer we felt. Intimacy. And isn’t intimacy the holy grail for which all lovers ultimately seek?
And then there’s everything in between. A delicate interplay of friendship and desire that continues to surprise me at every turn.
In this way, I think, sex can work as a motivation to grow closer to someone, but it cannot replace the deeper and more important connections that may lead to an enduring friendship and adoration. Okay, duh. But hear me out.
I suggested to my friend that his wanting to be kind to his partner because he’s sexually attracted to her is not only not a bad thing, but I think many married couples probably long for those days when they desired each other physically. Rather, maybe he could use his attraction as a tool (among many others) with which to further develop, maintain, and reinvent his relationship.
Anywayssss, getting back to Shomer Negiah, I think that it can be a real danger but also a real benefit. If my attraction to a particular girl is simply on a sexual level, then my lack of sexual satisfaction will keep me (falsely) believing that I actually do like this girl, only to have my dreams dashed as soon as we’ve slept together. However, if we do (in fact) share a special connection, and a true friendship does have potential to blossom, then our lack of sexual satisfaction can further fuel our desire and passion for each other, hopefully creating something that can endure and even grow even after our sexual desire has cooled.
As usual, I try to put my money where my mouth is. So, I’ve committed to being Shomer Negiah with the next girl that I go out with. Actually, I already met a girl earlier this week and we’ll be going out again tonight. So I should have some interesting results before long haha I really don’t know whether it’ll be good, bad, or neutral, but I’m willing to give it a shot. (To be honest, I’ll probably cave as soon as she leans in for a kiss. I know myself too well to think I have the kind of self-control needed for this shit lol)
Finally, going back to my community work, I’m planning to volunteer with the Yang Campaign as well as offer free tutoring to low-income students. So, over the next few weeks, I should have some more observations on that front as well.
Update - February 14
My attempt to be Shomer lasted a total of one day 🤦 it was almost like I lost the fight before I even showed up. Well I suppose there are worst things in life. Maybe I'll try it again. Or maybe I won't. I don't know. If I do try again, though, I'll have to prepare myself better by coming up with Shomer-adjacent rules like not drinking with girls... at night... at their home... alone. But that just sounds like a miserable rule.
Also, I officially joined Andrew Yang's campaign to become the next mayor of NYC! Excited to get more involved with that. I'll be volunteering with two good friends, so should be a party. (A democratic party. Har har.)
Finally, I also just signed up as a volunteer tutor with my friend's charity: learnittogether.org.