Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Frum, Confused and Engaged

Yesterday my Facebook read: "three weeks ago he *tried* to have cyber sex with me. today he's engaged to a woman." Just to clarify this individual, nor his fiance, are on Facebook, so there is no way for anyone to know who I'm talking about or for them to know there's a conversation going on about them. They are also not on onlysimchas, so no need to go searching.

Over the past few years of friendship with this person, just an acquaintance who I spoke to online sometimes or when I saw him around, turned into sexual conversation where he would ask me what type of things were considered "normal" (sexually) by secular social standards, by Modern Orthodox standards and by Orthodox standards. He had told me some of his struggles not sure what gender or sex he was attracted to, or how to live his life. He had attraction to women, men, and had sexual experiences with both. Often, the conversation would get too sexual and he would try to lead me into cyber-sex, which was not something I would do, he would get angry at me and I wouldn't hear from him for a few weeks until he felt lonely again. He asked me introduce him to my friends via the internet or phone, but I refused, not being comfortable with him approaching my friends, especially when he was so unclear of who he was himself. I recommended therapy, but he felt it was too taboo in his community, and I recommended speaking to a Rabbi or other leader and he said he wouldn't feel comfortable. This went on for about 8-9 months.

Our most recent conversation again began with him begging me to introduce him to a friend he could talk to about sexual things or just to help him with his loneliness, and eventually he tried to lead the conversation to places I was uncomfortable with, so it stopped and he again stopped talking to me for a few weeks. So yesterday he texts me with an apology for his behavior but I assure him I won't be setting him up to talk with any of my friends, and he responds he found an outlet for his loneliness, and frankly, his horniness, and that he was engaged. My concerns are for his wife- that he will be with her for the wrong reasons, that the community pressure has gotten to him. There is so much pressure in Orthodox and Modern Orthodox communities to get married at 22/23/24, that too many just rush into it. I also worry that he will get tired of her and cheat on her and worst case, bring home a virus of some sort because he will be fulfilling certain desires outside of his marriage. I hope this is not the case. I hope this is not what happens. Because I do not know where he is sexually or emotionally, I can't "break up" the relationship or anything. I have tried and tried to help him through his issues and tried to get him to see a more professional person, but he refuses. His life is now his, and I really do wish him and his wife luck in their future together.

A concern and area of struggle for me in all this, is knowing that I tried and failed, knowing that I really wanted to help him and speak with him and attempt to help him understand himself. I had no idea he was dating someone and I also have no idea how long he was dating her for. All I know is that he was hitting on me, attracted to men and women and not sure where his emotions lied. And it just doesn't feel good knowing that he's just getting married, as if that will make everything better.


  1. It makes sense that on one hand, people would encourage you to say something to his fiancee. Why shouldn't you? You know that he's confused, you know that he's attempted to have cyber sex with you multiple times, and you know that a future of unhappiness is a possibility for them. However, I think that the road you are taking is the right way to go. Firstly, you've done everything you can do to try and help him. The first step to getting help is admitting you need it, and it doesn't sound as if he's at that place right now. Who knows if he ever will be? Secondly, getting involved could lead to a mess. You don't know her and you don't know their relationship, and it could become complicated to get in the middle of it. There are so many different destructive paths that could lead down to.

    I think the most you can do is make it clear that you are there for him if he ever needs help, and it sounds as if you've already done that, consistently.

  2. I think this is a case of hatzalas nefashos. The Torah says "lo taamod al dam reyecha". I know she's not literally dying and his sexual status is questionable, but don't you have a responsibility to "save her life" by telling her something's up even if you're not totally sure?

  3. The thing is, she has a right to know. Sounds like you're the only one who's aware of all of this, other than him. I understand why you wouldn't want to tell her...but could you tell her rabbi? Tell your rabbi?

    She's going to end up divorced with a couple of kids pretty soon, in a circle that radically disapproves of divorce. Basically, there's a good chance that she's ruining her life by marrying him. And maybe you can stop it before it happens. Or at least let her know what she's signing up for.

  4. From Slate.com Dear Prudence, Emily Yoffe

    Q. Gay Ex-BF Getting Married to Religious Girl Who Doesn't Know!: Yesterday I found out through a mutual friend that my (gay) ex-boyfriend is engaged. Eighteen months into our heterosexual relationship, I caught him red-handed, browsing gay classifieds when I came home early one day. He confessed everything, telling me how he'd been confused since adolescence, felt religious/family/social pressures to be straight, that he had strategically thrown himself into athletics for the "macho" mask it would provide him, etc. His fiancee knows absolutely none of this. She's a nice girl, works for a charity, writes a blog about her religious faith, etc., but it's precisely because of her religiousness (shared with his parents) that he would never tell her. He continues to have promiscuous gay sex, unbeknownst to her. Is it right to let this girl marry someone just because he can't bring himself to tell her the truth? Just to be clear about me, I am not the bitter/jealous/angry/stalker ex-girlfriend. Do I write to him and encourage him to tell her, or to re-think what he's doing? Is there any option that does not automatically paint me as a psycho ex-girlfriend trying to ruin their happiness?

    A: Let's say you were the happy young woman engaged to the man of your dreams. Would you want his ex to come along and ruin everything by telling you that he is a closeted gay man who is secretly having promiscuous sex? I sure would! It's always easier in cases like this to just let adults make their own decisions and find out (or not) what's really going on. But your ex has the potential to endanger this young woman's life if he's having unprotected sex. And someone who is so conflicted about his sexuality and sneaking around on the side is the kind of person who tends to engage in the riskiest behaviors. I'm wondering, however, since you don't know this woman, whether the best course might be to have your mutual friend make an approach. She could tell the woman that she knows important information about her fiance, and perhaps she could suggest the three of you get together. Sure, the fiancee will likely tell your ex that something is up. But if he then blurts out that she shouldn't believe anyone who tells her he's gay, that's going to be awfully suspicious.

    Last week, in my column I counseled a 75-year-old married, bi-sexual man who was having a gay affair and was not having sex with his wife to continue his secret life because that seemed like the kindest thing to do. But a young woman embarking on married life, hoping to start a family with her husband, needs to at least know he's already living a double life.

  5. I know that the right way to respond is to ask you thought provoking questions that will lead you to the right answer... but in truth, I am reading this, and I am begging you to please tell her, or find a safe way to tell her that keeps you anonymous. Choosing to give your life to someone else is a big deal, and thats what's she is doing - choosing to give her life to this guy. "L'fnay Eevair lo tee-tain michsol" My heart is breaking for this girl. If I found out my 'husband' is gay, one of the first questions I'd ask is, "why didnt any tell me this??" We are seeing her make a life-long commitment blindly, and you have the ability to illuminate the reality for her. I know its not something you want to do, i know its uncomfortable, but accidentally you stumbled onto something fragile, delicate, real, and potentially explosive. Sexuality matters.... we need to treat it respectfully and modestly, but it is important. Not being touched, or not being wanted by your husband is an emotionally damaging experience. I am sure this is a young girl, at the beginning of her young life, it would tremendously painful to watch her live through this unneccesarily. secrets are secrets only for so long, I think its only a matter of time before she finds out... (maybe days, maybe decades) I am making a plea (albiet, I am sorry to do ask you this) to please find a way and help her before she in a dire position.

  6. Ely,
    This past Spring I found myself in a very similar situation. An individual I knew and with whom I had discussed his various relations and crushes on men got engaged. I felt compelled to act and e-mailed the individual to press him to be honest with his betrothed. I emphasized the fact that, if he refused to inform her, I would because it would be unfair of me to withhold this information. He responded that he informed her of his past actions and attractions. I will never know if he told me the truth, but that is all you can really do. That, and pray for the best.

  7. Ely,

    A few points:

    1) To echo Benjy's point, there is a chance that the girl knows about his past and his struggles. She may be too naive to understand its long-term ramifications in their marriage, but she may in fact be aware. I know of several situations where the guy told women after the 3rd date that he struggled with homosexual thoughts. He is now married. I don't know how their doing; but the girl he married was obviously okay with it to continue dating him.

    I agree with Benjy that some type of outreach to him would be appropriate, given the degree that he confided in you.

    2) You choose to have a very public persona as an Orthodox gay man. You avail yourself to counsel others who are struggling with sexuality issues. Indeed, you have tremendous power to help others and be a resource to them in figuring out the consequences of the decisions they make. And I respect you a lot for that; I am sure many have benefited from having discussions with you that have made them feel safe and understood.

    However, "with great power comes great responsibility", and you need to keep that mind in how you act in these situations. When you hear of a girl who may be entering into a marriage that is fake based on what you know of the guy, you can't plead that it's "not your place". We're talking about sexuality here. If he's not into her now, he probably never will be. She'll think there's something wrong with her and that she's not attractive enough. Imagine that girl is your sister, cousin, or best friend....what a trauma that would be.

    When you maintain a public persona, you make yourself prone to these type of dilemmas.

    3) For someone who has talked a lot about peoples' tendency to talk Lashon Hara, I find it interesting how this recent post is saturated with it.

    Just because there newly engaged couple isn't on OnlySimchas or Facebook doesn't make it okay to write about them. You think we don't hear about engagements in any other way?

    And why the time-stamp; why did you you have to say that they JUST got engaged? I think you brought up an interesting conundrum that comes up often, as to whether it's 'our place' to reveal personal information vis-a-vis a shidduch. However, you inclusion of the time-frame made this post into gossip.

    It's but a week before Rosh Hashana and we are in a time of introspection. Reflect a little.

  8. @Bothered and all the other criticizers out there. There is no way for anyone to know who I am talking about. Tons of Orthodox couples get engaged every day. No one knows what community theyre from, where they live and how I know them. There is no risk of outing anyone. And for the record, the blog was not written minutes after the engagement happened. I actually don't know when it exactly happened, just sometime in the recent past.
    I wrote this post to discuss an issue that was bothering me, to discuss how I tried so hard to help someone and feel like I failed, and now I'm struggling if I should take another step or not. I am in a public forum, but I will be an individual and make my own decisions.
    Don't tell me to reflect a little. It's rude. Reflect on yourself.

  9. Ely,

    There is no Lashon HaRah here. You're fine.

    It's neither your responsibility nor your place to tell anybody about anybody else explicitly. That would be Lashon HaRah, and could have its own devastating effect. I agree that "lo taamod al dam reyecha" raises an interesting potential moral conundrum, but no one is in immediate danger of death here. I would say that this is a situation in which we have to let things take their course, and detach with love. You are powerless over this situation, and it must be left in the hands of God and those who are actors in the relationship.

    It was the right thing to try to counsel this person through his struggles, and it was the right thing to reject his advances, and to refuse to unleash him on your friends. You have done all the right things, and I think that it is time now to let it go, and focus on taking your own inventory.

    Reflect, of course. But only because you should be doing that anyway. You are a good soul and HKB"H is well aware of that. :)



  10. Hi, I know I am posting as anon, which is something you dont rly like... But nonetheless...Please dont read this as me being aggressive and judgemental, perhaps i am naive and brainwashed... I respect you both as a person, and a Jew, and you are a shining example of Modern Orthodoxy.. I have always found your blog insightful and eye opening.
    As a frum straight male, I have a few questions, not related to this post and not necessarily even relating to you.
    What you do behind closed doors is your issue not mine,IS NOT A JEWISH CONCEPT.. Everyone as Jews has a mutual responsibility to make sure that our brethren are keeping "straight" to the Torah.
    Whether that dictates if you should warn this poor woman, is I am sure very tough, and perhaps maybe you should seek council with a Rav.
    A Related point... I do not know what you do behind closed doors/ if you do anything behind closed doors/ nor do I want to know... Once the knowledge of someone who performs gay sex becomes public, this person will/ should be shunned by the Jewish community. By the mere fact that many MO communities will accept ppl that have announced being in gay relations (and explicitly or implicitly that they acted on it), just shows how close the MO borders Conservatism...
    One more q... Regardless if you act on it... I am sure you agree that not acting on homosexuality is the word of Gd. With this assumption, and the proven scientific fact that platonic relationship are fiction, Why should a Gay get into a relationship with another Gay, being quite aware that something mite happen... I understand that there are certain psychological/ emotional needs, and having a partner can quench certain desires/needs.. But why should it be at Gds expense? A frum person should make extra gedarim when the nisayon is bigger.. Why does Gd take the back seat? We dont say that if one has a real strong desire to worship idols he should buy an idol (and not necessarily worship it)??
    I dont want you to c"v think that i am being hostile or aggressive or judgmental.. I am being curious, and I am sure these are issues that if properly discussed would shed alot of light in the frum straight circles.

    With the greatest respect,
    -Friend Always

  11. Friend Always,
    I respect your questions an opinions. To answer briefly- I stand by the fact that it is no one's business what happens behind closed doors. If a Jew chooses to share his sinning habits with the public, they have the obligation to shun or to judge or to admonish. But when someone specifically does not admit to anything openly, it is not the community's responsibility, nor anyone;s responsibility to speculate.
    Secondly, MO is developing. call it conservatism, call it Modern, call it whatever, but it is evolving to be more open and accepted and I don't think you can deny that, and I don't deny it.
    Thirdly, I take issue with you calling a homosexual person a Gay- there is a lot more to a homosexual than being gay, as I'm sure you wouldn't want someone referring to you as "Jew". But either way, until you are in the shoes of a struggling homosexual, trying to balance between God and your emotions, and trying to understand if there is such a thing as a platonic relationship, you can't understand the strife we go through, and why choose to enter into a relationship or not. Please read so many of my other posts that address issues like this. Thanks.

  12. Hi Ely,
    Thanks for your response. I am sorry if I insulted you in any way shape or form, especially bc I consider you a good friend...
    Isn't it a bit contradictory though,to believe that things done in public should be shunned and brought to ppl's attention, while you believe that MO is evolving to be more open and accepted. I am not denying that at all.
    But then something is wrong.. Either MO shouldnt be as accepting in every situation, or it is wrong that Jews have an obligation to "rebuke" a friend?

    Is there a way to reconcile the 2 seemingly contradictory points?

    All the Best,

  13. FA-
    Personally, I do not believe anyone should be rebuked in any community for doing anything- religious or otherwise. That is my personal opinion and yes, goes against something that Judaism believes in. So is there a way to reconcile? Maybe not- So I choose a side and I'm sure I'll get rebuked for not subscribing to this Jewish value, but I stand by that decision.

  14. Hey Ely,
    Firstly I want to say hi :) ... and that I definitely enjoy your blogs. I think its a really interesting predicament. I have known of several relationships that have ended in divorce due to the man knowing he was homosexual, or at least curious, but still marrying- and often times be given rabbinic counsel to marry. A lot of damage can potentially be done to both parties.... i think, like someone said earlier, the best you can do is perhaps write him a letter about what is bothering you in regards to the situation, His defenses will prob be super up, but i think that if it is genuine and heartfelt something will slip in... remember though that people are human and flawed and def not as strong as you are. Thats not to say that you arent struggling with your own stuff...you are just more real.
    much love always,

  15. I must say that I was a bit upset as I read the comments on these posts. Ely, I respect you a lot and think, to echo Bothered, that you are doing a great service for the Jewish community. Your blog has really helped create both a support system for homosexual people as well as a basic knowledge and recognition of the difficult struggle that gay people face.

    One of the more prominent themes in your blogs has always been respecting people and being non-judgmental. Sadly, I feel as though you were a bit harsh in your reaction to Bothered, who had many kind things to say about you. The minute he/she said that they were unhappy that you exposed a time-frame you started posting on facebook and the blog about how you are being attacked by "haters". What exactly makes Bothered a hater? Because they expressed a completely valid opinion?

    I happen to agree with Bothered on this point. I felt uncomfortable as I read this blog post thinking of how many people were going to try and guess who this guy is. Fine, they may not be on onlysimchas or facebook, but why was the date of this occurrence so important? I think you could have owned up to it and apologized for giving too much information. No-one was questioning the topic. I think it is a critical discussion to have and people really seem to be interested in it.

    I hope you aren't upset with me. I don't think I, or Bothered, deserve to be labeled "haters" simply because we take issue with one thing you did, when really we respect you as a person, and we respect the message you are trying to send to the Jewish community.


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