I had my second meeting today with the charity that helps people with mental health issues into work (I was referred via the NHS).  We spent most of the time talking about the type of help I would like, but I am still vague on what help they are actually offering.  The only thing the case worker (? I’m not sure what her title is) has recommended so far is a course on motivation for work and other skills which I think could be helpful, but it is only run on Friday afternoons and now we are in the winter, Shabbat (the Sabbath) starts very early (because sunset is so early), around 4pm and it will get even earlier as we head into December.  I would need to be home around an hour before that, to shower and do various chores and get to shul (synagogue) on time.  The course runs from noon to 2.30pm and it will take me around an hour to get home afterwards, so this is tricky.  Last time she mentioned it, I went into autistic “black and white thinking” mode and said I couldn’t go; this time I asked for the details of the person who runs it to see if maybe I could go for the first hour or so or find some other compromise.

She did give me some work to do with changes to my CV (fairly cosmetic, changing layout and fonts) and encouraged me to increase my usage of LinkedIn and Twitter.  I’m never really sure how to use LinkedIn and largely avoid it, although I do have an account with my job details that I try keep up to date.  LinkedIn just makes me inferior to people with a Real Career and panicked that I don’t know where my life is going or what to do about it, let alone how to build a career for myself.  As for Twitter… it’s a whole new world of insanity.  I did have an account briefly to try to get involved in online Doctor Who fandom, but Twitter is just so aggressive and political that I can’t cope with it at all and even when it’s not aggressive, the sheer volume of information (much of it trivial, if also sometimes funny) is overwhelming.  I try not to be glued to my phone all day; I’m less successful at not being glued to my laptop, but I don’t want to make it worse.  What I might do is unfollow all the Doctor Who fan accounts, even the ones I know in real life, and just follow a bunch of formal institutional accounts for libraries and universities that hopefully won’t be overwhelming or aggressive/political.  The problem is that I think that networking would eventually involve following personal accounts of librarians and maybe academics and they won’t necessarily stick just to libraries.  For one thing, academics and public sector workers can be very political; for another, Brexit and public sector spending are genuinely important issues for academic libraries, my chosen sector.  To quote Star Wars, “I have a bad feeling about this…”

I had a conversation about careers with my parents, which ended with them saying I have to do some kind of voluntary work now to get motivation back.  I don’t really feel capable of doing anything, so low is my confidence in my abilities and basic functionality, but I’ve agreed to get in touch (via my parents’ friend, who has a contact) with the local Jewish primary school to see if I can volunteer as a teaching assistant, although I’m worried that (a) that I’m not as good with children as my parents think, (b) that I won’t be able to cope with a classroom environment from an autistic point of view and (c) that right now I can’t cope with any work from a depression point of view.

I’m also going to force myself to prioritise my novel writing.  I was going to postpone that while I focused on other chores and job hunting after a month or more disrupted by Yom Tov (Jewish festivals) and holiday, but I feel I need to be doing something ASAP, and preferably something that might make me feel confident in my abilities.  It’s only really writing that does that.  Unfortunately, I also want to prioritise exercise and job hunting (and now volunteering), and I’ve signed up for shiurim (Jewish religious classes) starting tomorrow so I clearly have a problem with conflicting priorities, given my lack of energy and motivation, as well as time (given that I sleep for ten or more hours a day).  At the moment just functioning on a day-to-day level is hard.

***

I’m feeling depressed about being single again.  I actually understand why Orthodox Judaism puts such an emphasis on marriage and only allows sex (and, in Haredi (ultra-Orthodox circles) friendships between genders) in a marital setting.  It sounds bizarre to a secular Westerner, but while Judaism sees sexual satisfaction as important, it values it much less than the secular West (at least judging by the media).  It sees family and community values as far more important than sexuality or individualism, and as someone increasingly concerned about where Western hyper-individualism is leading us (particularly in terms of social cohesion, support for those on the fringes of society and in terms of our impact on the environment), I can value that.  But there isn’t really a back-up plan if you can’t find your mate, whether through bad luck, illness or not fitting the acceptable heterosexual pattern.

Because the model of the heterosexual family is so embedded in Orthodox Jewish social life, there isn’t really any acknowledgement of the loneliness and sexual frustration that can be experienced by people outside that model (single, divorced, widowed, gay, asexual).  The expectation is that anyone without a spouse is looking for one, unless perhaps widowed in old age.  Someone at shiur is divorced, and he has to put up with occasional comments that he should remarry, even though he seems to have no interest in doing so.  To be honest, if I didn’t keep myself to myself so much I would probably get the same.  There isn’t really another option on the menu other than marriage; even celibacy is not seen as a positive thing (unlike Catholicism).

I’m not sure where I’m really going with this.  Orthodoxy isn’t going to change for a handful of people who don’t fit in.  Most frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) Jews do manage to find someone, usually far before their peers in the wider Western society are even thinking of marriage.  I don’t know if anyone has done any research on how happy those marriages are.  Certainly divorce is rising in the frum world and there is a growing awareness of issues like domestic violence.  I know that people who are married are not necessarily happy or even safe (one of the themes of the novel I’m writing).  Still, I wish there was another model for the good life that I could use, or some kind of legitimate outlet or even acknowledgement of my sexuality.

I guess my sexuality frightens me in a way.  That it’s a part of myself that I don’t understand and can’t legitimately probe or investigate, but which is constantly tripping me up in little ways, like when I feel attracted to women on TV or whatever (as per Jewish law I shouldn’t really be looking at women like that).  When I was in group therapy we did an exercise on values and were given a list of sixty-odd values and told to pick our five core values.  One of the values was something like “exploring my sexuality”.  This freaked me out a bit.  I couldn’t work out how someone could put that as their core value up with things like honesty, kindness, justice, family, friendship and so on.  I mean, I really like Doctor Who.  I really like Doctor Who.  I have invested a significant amount of time and money in it over the last twenty-eight years, not least writing my unpublished book.  But I would not put “watching Doctor Who” as a core value and it seems weird to me that someone would put exploring their sexuality as a core value like that.  In my head, my image of what such a person would be like and how they would behave is not pretty and doubtless I would get “called out” on it if I shared it publicly in our hyper-sensitive age (so I won’t).  But I guess some of the fear (I use the word advisedly) generated by that item on the list is really repressed envy of someone more in touch with their needs than I am, and probably meeting them more than I am too, even if I think those needs are trivial and a distraction from worthier things and may be buying short-term gain with long-term regret.

***

Other than that today wasn’t that good.  I did some chores on the way home from my meeting and I somehow found the energy and concentration for forty minutes of Torah study.  But I haven’t done much else.  I tried to work on my novel for an hour, but it went slowly and after half an hour I think my mind switched off and I started getting distracted and fiddling around with Twitter without doing any of the things I said I would be doing with it.  Bearing in mind what I wrote about about sexuality, I think I was avoiding writing a scene where one of my characters (at university having previously led a sheltered life in religious schools and yeshiva (rabbinical seminary)) gets woken up by the person in the room upstairs having noisy sex.  It felt awkward to write, not least because it took me back to my Oxford days when this happened to me on more than one occasion (not woken up, but hearing it when I couldn’t sleep), the embarrassment, annoyance and guilt-inducing jealousy.  Still, I am 444 words further forward, which at least has a pleasing symmetry to it, even if I would have liked to have hit 500.

7 thoughts on “Sex and the Single Jew

  1. I feel sorry for you that you have to do volunteer work. For seriousness! I’ve worked with kids, and it’s as bad as you’re thinking: the chaotic classroom, the forced socialization, the chatter; it’s all difficult. I had a job in college where I was working every Friday (field-trip day) with the day camp over summer break. It stressed me out so much that I wound up getting a random sinus infection that kept me home for about three Fridays. I feel bad in retrospect that I expected it of myself to even make the effort. I’m just not an extrovert.

    Sexuality is indeed scary! That’s for sure. Mine is mind-boggling. I definitely don’t like the “hookup” culture. Whenever I read a YA book and the characters are “hooking up” behind the gym, I know I just bought yet another bad YA book. It’s like, if you write something more wholesome, you won’t get published. I actually did have a sex scene (or two) in my latest book, Behold Her Majestic Fog. The way Ashley Leia described it in her review (as the character getting a little “something-something”) cracked me up. It’s a YA book, yes; but the characters having sex are adults, not the teenagers. I could never write a book with casual teen sex–it just feels wrong to me. I know that’s not exactly what you were talking about, but those are my thoughts!!

    Here’s hoping that someday you and I both find great lovers!! Woo hoo!

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    1. I don’t mind doing voluntary work per se. I think it’s better to try out an environment before committing to it with a paid job. I just really don’t know if this is the right one for me. I guess, if nothing else, it will stop my parents saying I should try it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. One of the late night comedy shows I watch did a segment recently suggesting one of the reason alt-right types are so angry is that some of them are anti-masturbation. Apparently porn is a Jewish conspiracy to get Aryan types so busy masturbating that they’re not procreating.

    Anyway, as bizarre as the whole porn thing is, I think it does a disservice when people are told they can’t masturbate. It’s one thing if people are asexual, but otherwise it seems almost inevitable that people would end up with major issues around their sexuality. I suppose in the frum world it’s less of an issue since people typically marry young, but for those that don’t it seems rather unfair.

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    1. It has to be said that Judaism does tie sex to procreation, not as closely as Catholicism, but still to a strong extent. Most authorities allow contraception in certain circumstances and some will allow marital sex acts that can’t lead to conception, but the idea of frequently doing something that will never lead to conception outside of marriage is absolutely not allowed.

      I think the number of people who don’t marry young, but stay in the community, is negligible enough for them not to be worth worrying about, sadly. Plus, the Orthodox community really doesn’t like talking about sex at all, preferring to brush everything under the carpet rather than confront it even if there are consequences. There’s currently a huge hoo-ha in this country among the Haredi community about sex education in schools. The government want to make it compulsory, and to ensure homosexuality and transexuality are covered on some level. The Haredi community is completely opposed to this even though, as a letter-writer noted in The Jewish Chronicle last week, there have been a number of high-profile cases of child abuse in the community and this seems to be facilitated by keeping children in ignorance of their bodies.

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  3. Not sure this will post as for some reason the system would not accept my last two comments on your blog … let’s see if it accepts this one.
    Re: work — think it is still worth you trying for library jobs and wondering if the employment support could focus on your interview techniques and check over your CV etc as you are probably not selling yourself properly. I think if you can find a bearable job it will help in many ways: it will keep you occupied giving a structure to your day which will help your mood; having an income – even a small one from a part time job will help your self esteem and confidence. Maybe target your applications more so you are not applying for jobs which are way outside your comfort zone.
    Re sex — there are many single people out there who would rather not be single and who for religious and other reasons remain celibate. Sublimating sexual needs by engaging in other meaningful activities whether it be your writing, religion, running — and hopefully finding a part time day job — can help. And remember, it’s often when you are not looking for something so hard that it finds you. You are still young — your friendship with E sounds like it has potential. Try not to despair and continue to work on finding suitable employment. I am sure there is something out there that will suit you.

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    1. I’m struggling to find library jobs that are at all suitable and am wondering if the sector doesn’t have as many part-time/flexible jobs as I thought. My CV has been looked over by lots of people, including yesterday, but I’m hoping to get some interview practice soon, either at this place or another charity. You are right that a job would probably help me, but I worry whether I can find a suitable one. Part-time seems to be a key stumbling block.

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