The first time I saw him, he was crossing the road in front of my car at the traffic lights, smiling to himself. Something in his confident gait caught my attention, and it took me a moment to process that what looked like a hipster — all colorful shirt and groomed beard — was actually a Hasid. The tzitzit gave it away.
I was struck by the abstract idea of him, a potentially eligible Jewish bachelor that I hadn’t met yet. See, I’d been coming around to the depressing conclusion that there was no one within my local Jewish community of datable merit, so the fact he — and therefore, possibly others — existed thrilled me. There was hope!
As it was, I met him in a very non-abstract way that same night. I was at synagogue for a talk and turned around a corridor corner when I literally ran into him.
“I saw you crossing the road earlier today!” I blurted out. “You looked happy.”
“I was.” His smile crinkled the corner of his eyes. “I just found this shirt at the second-hand store and was really pleased with myself.”
We chatted for a few minutes. He was beautiful, a witty conversationalist. What fortune was this? I stuck out my hand as introduction, but he shook his head.
“Sorry.” Ah. Shomer negiah, the traditional refraining of physical touch with someone from the opposite sex. In my head, any half-formed ideas of our lives together evaporated. There was no way I could have something with someone whom I couldn’t touch. We took our seats, and he explained that he was from out of town, here as the new intern rabbi (is that a thing?). A bit of flirting, and we parted ways until a few days later at the young adult Shabbat dinner the synagogue was hosting.
In my peripherals I saw him across the room, casting glances at me throughout the evening. So, after downing some Kiddush wine, I sauntered over to his table. He seemed pleased. We chatted books; as a self-confessed bibliophile, this turned me on something shocking. He told me about his strange travels overseas and we leaned over the table towards each other. The candlelight, the wine, his eyes, the books. Maybe the shomer was workable? We made plans to see each other again soon.
A few days later I fell ill, and messaged to cancel the plans we’d made. He insisted on bringing over chicken soup. It was our first “date.” He told me he wasn’t shomer after all — he just kept up appearances for his job and community. Turns out he was actually quite promiscuous. We sat on the couch and read, my cat curled in his lap. My heart was beating. Was this it? Was this the start?
Within a week there was kissing and late-night messaging and poetry. Oh, the poetry. He was the first person I shared my poetry with, the first person I wrote it for. We attended open mics and he breathed the Song of Songs in my ear. And through it all he said: I don’t date. We’re just friends. A Chabbad thing, he told me, though he despised the Chabad community. Dating was what you did when you wanted to get married, where you went out for three weeks and didn’t touch and then you become husband and wife. This was friendship. Despite such a fundamental difference in our understanding of the relationship, and a brief, half-hearted attempt at being platonic, we continued.
I think what drew me to him was the promise of spirituality. I was searching for something (hence the synagogue attendance), and there he was: deeply into Judaism, speaking of how he felt the “singularity” of humanity. Apparently no more so than when he was sleeping with someone, when the boundaries of self and other faded. He told me he wanted to experience that with many people freely. How could I deny him that? I wanted monogamy, but perhaps this was what enlightenment looked like. He wasn’t a slut; he was deeply spiritual. I was close-minded, needy, encumbered.
He got to know my family and friends, and we went away for a weekend together. It felt so real. But between him refusing to validate our relationship and his wandering penis, I became more and more anxious. Meeting other women became stressful; was he sleeping with her? Would he if he met her? He knew it upset me and, to his credit, tried to be discrete, but he would still make comments, or come over with books borrowed from a lover. I wondered why I wasn’t enough for him and did all I could to please him, spending even more time together, if only to suppress the thought that he was with someone else.
At synagogue he would pretend not to know me. It would upset someone, he said, and I didn’t probe. At one point, after a talk he’d given, I realized that he was involved in some way with a woman there. I wanted no part in a competition for his attention, so — feeling as though I was tearing my soul apart — I ended it the next day. He protested, saying he didn’t want to be with her, but I wasn’t hearing it. Two weeks later, having stupidly agreed to start a learning group together, I found myself making out with him on the floor of the synagogue office. Back to it, then.
The end eventually came when I befriended another woman at the synagogue. As usual, the fear that he would sleep with her — or was he already — niggled at me, but I tried to write it off as my own paranoia. Then, a few weeks later, after he’d spent the last four nights at my place, I saw him leaving the temple with her. I was done. I was furious with him, not just for his betrayal, but for making me feel like this towards other women. I broke it off with him for the last time.
I later found out that before we met, my new friend from synagogue had gone to him for advice about prayer, and he’d turned the discussion around into one exonerating sex before marriage. I started seeing him for what he was — a spiritual fuckboy — and the destruction he left in his wake.
A few days after I broke it off, he went travelling on what was supposed to be a brief trip, but became an extended stay. He told me he’d seen the error of his ways, and wanted to stay away and better himself, but I found out from someone else that he’d been reported to the synagogue.
I left for overseas myself, a few months later. We crossed paths once. I was wearing a shirt I’d recently bought from a second-hand store, and he was carrying a bag of books. He told me that, after it all, he’d realized he could only see himself in a relationship with someone from Chabad.
What a fucking schmuck.