Talking to Guys / Talking to Girls
BY RABBI SHMUEL GLUCK
One of the most common discussions I have with teenagers centers around the question of “What is wrong with talking to boys/girls?” Mostly these are discussions I have with girls about boys, although there are many boys interested in understanding this subject.
This issue would best be discussed in three sections. They are:
- Halachically is it wrong to speak to the opposite gender?
- Is it worth it to speak to them?
- Will it have a long term effect on my marriage?
The first reason, the Halachic one, often motivates a person to change but falls short of doing the job because of a lack of control. The nature of people is that intellect often loses to emotion. What a person wants to do too often overrides what the person knows they should do.
The second reason often helps a little more but teens need to be convinced of the merits of not speaking to the opposite gender. Teenagers think that I “just don’t understand” when I tell teenagers that those five years older than them regret talking to the opposite gender. Sometimes I do succeed in bringing enough valid points to get them to reconsider their attitudes.
It is the third reason that often instills a fear inside teenagers that often has the greatest chance of shaking people up. In the end, we all want to live happily ever after. With so many stories out there we are afraid that we might not.
Even then the question is internal honesty, commitment, self-control, and the learning of new skills. All of that is up to the person themselves.
Part 1: Halachically is it wrong to speak to the opposite gender?
To discuss this question from a halachic perspective we must first agree on the concept of Torah Shel bal peh and the Chachomim’s right to decide what the Torah intended for us. If you question either Torah M’isinai, the oral law, or the Chachomim’s right to interpret the Torah then we need to step back and discuss that first. For now, allow me to assume that we agree to these points.
I will quote as accurately as I can what Reb Moshe Feinstein wrote regarding this subject. A parent asked Reb Moshe Feinstein regarding a platonic relationship between a 14-year-old boy and girl. Certainly, if the relationship is not intended to stay platonic then all that Reb Moshe wrote applies tenfold.
Before I do that I would like to offer some very basic information, things that you most probably know but don’t think about.
Every girl is considered a Niddah and therefore if they would sleep with a boy (I am not suggesting that you are even considering this) it would be punishable with korus. Korus means that the neshama, unlike a normal sin where a person gets punished and then goes to Olam Haba, disintegrates. There are other wrong things involved with guys and girls that one does not get korus but it is still a lo saseh, a negative commandment. Then there is a third level an issur derabonon, a rabbinical aveiroh.
Okay, so sleeping is korus. What about touching? The Rambam says that touching with the intention of pleasure (this is different than being pushed in a packed train during rush hour. (Rush hour is discussed by Reb Moshe in his seforim) is an issur d’orasah. Not korus but restricted the same. This is one of the few aveiros where the Torah itself creates a guard to prevent the real problem of sleeping together.
The Gemorah says that looking with the intention of pleasure is also prohibited because it is clearly the preliminary step for other things.
What about looking at guys? This means not touching but just enjoying their company. The Gemorah says that looking with the intention of pleasure is also prohibited because it is clearly the preliminary step for other things. Everyone tells me that they talk but would never touch. Weeks later, sometimes months later, they touch but not seriously.
Lately, I find myself, although these are not the first times, dealing with two girls that have gone all the way. They are in shock that it happened, are not happy, but here is the problem, they do not feel they have control of themselves anymore. What makes it particularly sad is that just months before, they were giving me the same, “I am just talking and I would never do anything besides that” story.
I recently spoke to a girl who has never touched a boy let alone sleep with a boy. An incident happened when she was in Seminary and is already going on Shidduchim, and in the heat of the moment, gave in. She is appalled and had to deal with many issues such as self-worth, guilt, and a bunch of other uncomfortable issues.
At this point, I am often interrupted and told that that hardly happens. “Most of the time nothing takes place.” An extension of this response is that “I know myself. Those kids were different”. This is a valid question. To answer this we must first decide on what is considered an acceptable risk.
Please consider the following. I could see myself investing $10, risking the possibility of losing it, to potentially profit $100. When discussing money, and after assessing my chances of success, I see a 1/10 ratio as an acceptable risk.
What about catching a cold? Maybe 1/10 would not be good enough for me to risk it but I can see myself doing something that will give me a 1/100 chance of catching a cold.
What about a person, rachmono litzlon doing something that exposes them to a risk of cancer? Is 1/1000 acceptable? How about 1/10,000? As we can see the term acceptable risk is dependent on two things: The percentages and the seriousness of what has to be suffered in the event of the loss.
Let’s put this in the context of girls talking to boys. I would venture to say that having a one in 10,000 chance of sleeping with a boy is an unacceptable risk, particularly for the girl who sees the relationship on a more emotional level than the boy does.
Although I wouldn’t consider 1/10,000 acceptable, my experience shows that for those that talk for half a year or more the chances are extremely more, probably closer to 1/100 than 1/10,000.
Although I wouldn’t consider 1/10,000 acceptable, my experience shows that for those that talk for half a year or more the chances are extremely more, probably closer to 1/100 than 1/10,000. Yes, shocking but I would boldly say that 1/00 of boys/ girls who talk to each other on an intense level for at least six months will become intensely more involved than talking.
I am still shocked by how often I am challenged with comments like “I have standards. What?! Are the Chachomim so perverted that all they think about is sleeping together??”
I am equally shocked by the number of calls I get from good girls, not the bad ones, some Yeshivish others not, and from complete strangers who sound like they just came out of Seminary asking me: Will my Kesubah be posul if it says besulah?” or “Do I have to tell my Choson?”
Besides the issuer of korus itself being with guys/girls brings with it its own set of problems. Some of these are only if they sleep together, other problems come from having a serious relationship. They are:
- Guilt. The guilt is crushing. Beforehand teenagers think they will be able to deal with the guilt. When it happens, it is totally crushing.
- Rejection is something that often takes place. Whether the guy was just trying to score or they just broke up after a while, the rejection makes one look back and says, “Why did I do it. I thought he/she was going to be together with me forever. Otherwise, I never would have got into this whole thing?
- General confusion. After such a traumatic experience girls and guys usually (No it is not a coincidence) begin or accelerate their questioning of Judaism and Torah. Seemingly unrelated they have a need to be unsure about Yiddishkeit so that they can purge themselves from the guilt that they would otherwise have. This result is a general weakening of mitzvoh performance. It always a shame when a person has a single weakness and it taints everything form davening to Shabbos. In some extreme cases, the person who was always on the fringe of denying everything uses this one issue as a springboard for denial. The denial, being motivated by actions and not real questions is almost always a denial with a rage.
- The belief that he/she does not belong in the system anymore, This too results in the teenager questioning everything, denying, and often using this as an excuse, “Since I anyway don’t belong” to fully “Go off”. More often, although it will not cause a person to go off the derech the belief that he/she doesn’t belong creates a weakening in every part of Mitzvoh performance.
- When a teenager realizes what they did they often give up on themselves. What happens depends on the person. Some feel that they are being hypercritical when they daven. Others feel once they did that they can do anything. Chilul Shabbos, becoming friendly with non-Jews or just publicly changing their image are all common reactions.
- Being rejected by peers, family and school system
- Possible pregnancy (Yes, this does happen)
- Possible disease (Yes, this also happens)
Another point which girls never believe is that guys are not as sincere as the girl is.
Another point which girls never believe is that guys are not as sincere as the girl is. I am dealing with a difficult case right now. The girl has been seeing a boy without the parent’s knowledge for months. Finally, they decide to tell their parents. (Well she is 17 and should be able to make their own decisions) wanting them to let them become engaged. The parents are not excited for various reasons but that is not my point.
Recently her siblings caught him with another girl. The first girl now has two options. She could believe her parents. But then she has to admit to too many things. She would have to admit that he is not the perfect person. She would have to admit that he doesn’t really “Love her”. She would have to admit that her parents are right.
Her other option is to go into denial. That is certainly simpler but there will always be that gnawing feeling that she is not being honest with herself. If she does marry him can she really trust him? Either way, it is going to be hard.
Guys are different than girls. Their approach to talking to the opposite gender is no exception. Guys, to a large degree, look at girls as living pornography, girls look at guys as a relationship. Guys look to score, girls look for a person to look up to. Guys look at girls as a trophy, girls look to share with friends how happy they are. Although oversimplified, there is a lot of truth to what I have just said.
Too often what began as a close friendship continues to a self-serving and degrading one.
Certainly, I know many cases where the attitudes are reversed. The problem is that boys will always act like they care. Saying to oneself, “I know him and he is not like that” is just not enough to assure against making a big mistake. Sadly too many naïve girls lost their relationship as soon as the boy accomplished what he wanted. Too often what began as a close friendship continues to a self-serving and degrading one. Several girls have told me, “I know he just wants to sleep together, but I need the attention.”
Sorry for getting off track. Finally here is the Reb Moshe.
Reb Moshe Feinstein, in his sefer Igros Moshe, discusses whether a boy is allowed to have a girlfriend. The discussion was based on their relationship being nothing more than that of two friends. In America, we call it a platonic relationship and this exact word is used by Reb Moshe. Reb Moshe’s Teshuva is in (bear with the Hebrew part) the forth chelek of Even Ezer, chapter sixty. I had to skip some parts as it is quite long. I did not skip any part that would lead the halacha in a different direction. It is very dry and factual. Sorry, but that is what the sefer is about.
Reb Moshe writes:
“Regarding a young boy that is not in the age to consider marriage, who became friends with a girl who is also not in the age of marrying by saying that since they are careful about yichud (Being alone in a closed room) that there is no issue; although they know it is not proper they are not interested in anything but in basic halacha and will only listen to my (Reb Moshe’s) view:
The Rambam is of the view that hugging and kissing is a Torah prohibition. …….. The Rambam explains that the Torah restriction to embrace and kiss is based on a guard to ensure that they do not have relations together. The Medrash in Avos D’rab Noson adds hugging, kissing, and talking. Reb Moshe continues that since the problem is that it will lead to their having relations together speaking in a friendly manner is included in the Torah’s restriction.
Therefore even if they are careful not to touch or to be in a room together they are still transgressing the issur of talking with the intent of having pleasure. Even the Ramban’s view that it is not a Torah restriction but a Rabbinical one it is still severe to the point that Bais Din would punish a person with lashes for it. And even if she is not a married woman she is still a nidah which places her in the category of korus for one who has relations with her. The posuk adds a regular negative commandment that one may not go near a nidah. (The term “near” means to look for pleasure. therefore even the Ramban who says it is only a rabbinical restriction; the nidah factor makes it more sever.)”
What about chat rooms, blogs, e-mails, and good old telephone. What about when the boy/girl is thousands of miles away? What can be wrong then?
One must also know that the issur of Yichud is more severe when it is with someone they know than with someone who they don’t. (He brings a Gemoroh to support this) This introduces another interesting point. What about talking where it is impossible to touch or hug? What about chat rooms, blogs, e-mails, and the good old telephone. What about when the boy/girl is thousands of miles away? What can be wrong then?
This question needs to be addressed from two directions. Again we have to look at this fro ma halchachic angle. Talking for pleasure is still not permitted even if there is no chance for touch.
Then there is the practical aspect. If a girl talks to a boy she becomes interested in boys. She gets “Bitten”. The same is, of course, true about the boy. Let us say that these two can never meet. But the interest is growing, the fantasizing is becoming more urgent and the nature of people is to say, “This relationship is great but it is not enough”. Can you even imagine a person saying, after months of an online relationship, “All my needs are being fulfilled”? Why would I want to meet a boy?”
Even if someone would be strong enough not to allow themselves to think like this an opportunity will subtly rise. Since it will be consistent with what the person deep down wants he/she will fall. If not the first time, then the second time. Once again it takes an honest person to avoid saying, “I would never do that.”
Is it worth it to speak to them?
Let’s say that we are not that motivated by right and wrong. Or, let us say, that intellectually we are motivated by right and wrong but that the need to hang out is too strong. The next step is to consider whether the pleasure of speaking to boys/girls outweighs the disadvantages that it creates.
When girls speak to boys and visa-versa, they do so because they believe it will offer them something that will make their lives better. There are several different reasons told to me. Before I discuss them I would like to introduce one thought.
Before a person acts on something they, either consciously or unconsciously, consider the following. Will this action being contemplated offer me more advantage than disadvantage? When making a purchase this thought is in the forefront. Is this item worth the $50 I am paying for it?
The same is true when considering cleaning up one’s room. Cleaning the room will cost, for argument’s sake, three hours. In return it might give the person a satisfied and accomplished feeling, make their parents (or spouses) happy with them, and might make the person feel good to be in a room that is in order. Next comes an assessment.
Underlying every decision there is a consideration that attaches a point system to every pleasure and to every inconvenience. After adding up both sides the person decides whether to do the considered action or not.
How much is it worth having our parents happy with us? How much is it worth for me to know where my socks are? Underlying every decision there is a consideration that attaches a point system to every pleasure and to every inconvenience. After adding up both sides the person decides whether to do the considered action or not.
Because this process is almost universal and because most of us share the bulk of our likes, dislikes, and morals, most people’s decisions, even if they personally would have done differently, make sense to the person observing. Although people do give different point values to different things most people are all in the same range.
When a person does something that is seemingly irrational it can be for one of two reasons. Either the person is being unrealistic and dishonest to themselves. They will, for example, make-believe that if they wake up an hour later they can still make the bus. Had they been honest with themselves they would agree that the extra hour’s sleep is not worth the inconvenience. They are simply “Paying too much” for the pleasure of sleeping late. But because of their strong desire to sleep an extra hour, they hide the reality that they deep down are aware of, and that that there is no way that they can, after sleeping an extra hour, take the bus.
There is a second possible reason. There are some people whose point system is so drastically different the most people that it appears like that person makes no sense, doesn’t think, or is just crazy. In truth, none of that is true. There is one, possibly two aspects of their point system that is so different than the rest of us can’t understand the person.
For instance, a person might have such a strong need to be wanted that they will risk terrible things to achieve it. Their action, although when weighed objectively is illogical, it does make sense from that perspective.
The same is true when speaking of different groups, people of different backgrounds or different ages. What a teenager considers worthwhile, such as sleeping an extra hour (10 points) is worth less to a parent (4 points) while a neat room to a teenager is worth less (6 points) than it is to their parents (10 points)
I understand that explaining the point system as I just did does overly simplify what actually takes place. It does though give us an insight into the mind of people. Within the thought process, different points are given for topics like: Self-respect, the relationship factor with the other person involved, pride and revenge, to name a few.
With that introduction let us list off the advantages of talking to boys/girls and the disadvantages. What I hope to convey is that the positive will not only be outweighed, on a very practical level by the disadvantages but that there are many factors not considered by teenagers. Having spoken to many teenagers I will describe their thoughts one year later, five years later and then again when there are many children in the family.
So the first reason I would suggest to boys talking to girls and visa-versa is that it is simply too complicated. Earlier I mentioned some of the potential problems. Each one has different expectations and too often one of them never materialize.
Having a boy/girlfriend requires living a clandestine life, constantly covering tracks, disappointing friends, possibly being asked to leave school, fights with parents, and the guilt. Ahhh, the guilt there is always the guilt.
Please remember that. The pleasure is often short-lived the complications are not. Having a boy/girlfriend requires living a clandestine life, constantly covering tracks, disappointing friends, possibly being asked to leave school, fights with parents, and the guilt. Ahhh, the guilt there is always the guilt. This short list is not a potential problem. These are problems that happen in each case. Ultimately the disadvantages of the friendship exceed the satisfaction that it brings.
I once heard a comment from a teenage boy, one that would have been cute if not for its repercussions. Since the first time, I have heard this comment repeated countless times. Speaking to teenagers I offer to have them speak to (I will even offer them some people to talk to) someone 2,4,6 years older who has gone through the same issues that they are going through at that time. I try to reinforce the reality that those that talk to boys and girls come to regret it later. It brings angst, insecurities, guilt and the pleasure is only short-lived. Their response is “He/she did it to regret it. Let me have a chance to regret it too”. No logic can dispel that illogical approach. What they are really saying is “I don’t care about what will happen. I want to do it.”
On a side note, a 16-year-old boy once told me that he had a girlfriend coming to his apartment for the weekend. When I looked at him in disbelief (Mostly that he was willing to admit it openly) he looked at me and said, “What’s wrong? She is Shomer Shabbos?”
I mention this point because I hear too often from boys how “Since I talk to her my grades are better” or “Because I speak to him I don’t get into as many fights with my parents”. Other examples of growth might be that she is eating better or he is staying in school because of her. And it may even be true. Nonetheless, it doesn’t legitimatize the relationship for two reasons.
The first is, like I just mentioned, that the pleasure is short term. After a few weeks, the friendship spawns complications making it harder to attend school or get along with the parents even more than before. Once again speak to some friends who are 2, 4, or 6 years ahead of you. Almost all will attest to the truth of this statement.
The second reason is a hashkofic one. A person may not do something which is wrong to attain an admirable goal. In Yiddishkeit the end hardly ever justifies the means. When it does it can only be done with the approval of Daas Torah.
Then there are the flirters. Those are the teenagers who never make friends but they like looking at them, talking about them and being updated on them. Yes, safer in many ways but equally destructive.
Then there are the flirters. Those are the teenagers who never make friends but they like looking at them, talking about them and being updated on them. Yes, safer in many ways but equally destructive.
Like an observer to a game, one can only admire the players. At some point looking from the sidelines must stop. At some point, one must leave or join the game. Joining, like I have mentioned brings its set of problems. Leaving, although very admirable, will create its own complications. Once interested, the desire to continue never goes away. It will always require self-discipline and attentiveness to better behavior which will be hard to sustain. Even more difficult is the fantasizing that becomes inherent in a person who has stepped back.
Those Bais Yakov girls and Yeshiva bochurim that stay clean often have a happier marriage. Why? There are several reasons. Allow me to mention two of them. The first is that those girls that hang out with guys and visa versa, of course, do not have the same respect for the opposite gender as those that only met girls when they went out on shidduchim.
A shidduch, with all its awkwardness, offers a formal way to meet a boy. The discussion, even if it is light, is based on the search for mutual respect. It is based on sharing of goals. It is done with the intent of being lifelong partners. Sure in their mind they might think of other things but they also focus on loftier things. Girls that hang out, see guys as being nice. But they hang with them and not much thought is given to loftier goals. Even when later going out, the total respect cannot be brought into the marriage as much as it otherwise could have been. They have too many experiences with guys who are not “fine” that they have a hard time adjusting their attitudes.
The second point is more important. I went out with 8 girls but only a few times. When I married my wife she was, to me, the only woman in the world. If I get angry, as it happens in all marriages, (Hopefully not often) things settle down. But consider this, please. What about if a married woman or man said a stupid joke and his/her spouse got angry from it? What would happen if they were able to think that their previous girlfriend thought that, that that comment was cute? What would happen when a person’s wife would be in her ninth month and they fantasized about their old girlfriends who, in their mind will always be 17 and pretty?
Marrying “The Only One” does not allow you to make false comparisons.
Can you see how believing that your husband is the only man in the world limits how upset and how long you can be upset at them? Marrying “The Only One” does not allow you to make false comparisons. This point I have heard dozens of times from many of my young friends. This reason alone makes it worthwhile to stop talking to guys.
Did you ever wonder why in the Yeshiva world there is a divorce rate of much less than 10% while the secular world is dramatically more than 50%. Yeshiva guys, everyone says, don’t know how to treat a girl. Why then are their marriages constantly lasting? Whatever the answer is, there is something in the lifestyle of the frum families that supports happier and more successful marriages. Consider that strongly.
After reading this, consider if these points are valid. I am sure, from your personal, and peers’ experiences you can add some other points as well. Decide if you are ready to change your approach. If not then keep these points in mind, If not today maybe tomorrow.
Whether the person was talking to, talking about or just fantasizing, there is a void created. What can be done to keep this commitment going?
If these points are compelling then we have to figure out how to act on this decision to change. Once a decision is made the biggest problem becomes sustaining that decision. Whether the person was talking to, talking about or just fantasizing, there is a void created. What can be done to keep this commitment going? Here are a few ideas:
- The first step is to consider on a personal level: What makes you want to talk to boys/girls. Certainly, there are some practical and maybe some intangible reasons why you are speaking to boys/girls. A person cannot stop doing something before they realize why they are doing it.
- The time factor. A girl at 14 will have a harder time adapting to her new lifestyle than a 19-year-old. At 19 it is hopefully a matter of months not years. At 14 real changes will be needed.
- The next step is to consider the possibility of changing friends. In the least, add friends to your existing group of friends. One of the biggest mistakes addicts make is thinking that they can come out of rehab and keep their old friends. It just does not work. The same is true in this discussion. If you want to change your focus then you have to leave the group that will continue to make boys/girls high on their list of interests.
- Create alternative interests. Undertake hobbies such as mentoring, chesed, music, or anything else that involves your time and attention. On a practical level, the mind is always thinking and the body needs to do things. If it is not going to be busy it will revert back to what it has always been doing.
- Be practical. Changing a lifestyle is not only a moral battle. It is a battle of engrained nature and learned behavior. Not unlike any undertaking, it takes practice, skills, and trial and error. Of course, there will be better and worse days.
- Last is to create a support group. Who will you call, e-mail, or talk to? Many of us like doing things the hard way, through sheer strength. Instead remember the old saying: “Work smarter not harder.” Find those people whom you can turn to when you feel challenged.
In closure, allow me to end by saying that: Why do we do anything? Certainly, why do we do things that we don’t want to do, things that are really hard for us? Because as humans we feel a need to do the right thing, to accomplish and to feel that we are making the most of our life. Of the most important areas of this quest are: marriage, children, personal happiness, and personal growth. All of these areas can and will gain from a commitment not to speak to boys/girls until the right time.
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