A 27-year-old woman living in Greater Boston shares her experiences navigating life in the gray areas of Jewish identity and sexual orientation. She wishes to remain anonymous.

created at: 2013-06-04My single biggest struggle with dating has been the fact that I live my life in the gray area. I exist outside of established categories in so many ways that finding a compatible partner sometimes feels impossible. The two biggest sticking points are my Jewish identity and my sexual orientation.

I grew up in a Modern Orthodox community, where I loved the rituals and patterns of life but felt marginalized as a woman. These days, I feel most at home in liberal/pluralistic Jewish communities, and most of my Jewish life is in these communities. And yet I still feel a deep connection to Orthodox practice that I don’t think will ever go away. I still keep kosher and fully observe Shabbat, and I consider myself observant. I’m a liberal Jew in my head and an Orthodox Jew in my heart.

My dual Jewish identity makes finding a partner difficult. I want someone who is observant and also feminist, egalitarian and accepting of my Jewish pluralism. But it seems like everyone I meet is either too frum (observant) or not frum enough. So many times I’ve met promising people and had to disqualify them as potential partners because we weren’t on the same Jewish wavelength.

Then there’s my sexual orientation. I identify as demisexual. To me, this signifies that my default state is asexual (not sexually attracted to anyone), but when I’m really romantically attracted to someone, I can also become sexually attracted to them (and only to them). I often describe my experience as “asexual with exceptions”: I’m asexual at baseline but can become sexual within the context of a romantic relationship.

Because I need to develop an emotional connection with someone before I can feel sexually attracted to them, it takes a long time before I’m able to be physically intimate with a new person. My last partner and I had been dating for a month before I was ready to kiss him. I’m worried about people I date thinking that I’m not interested because I don’t show an inclination to do anything physical with them at first, except maybe hug.

Trying to explain this to potential partners is complicated. My primary strategy is to try to talk about physical intimacy early on, but it’s hard to find the language to have that conversation. I want my date to know that it will probably take a while for me to be comfortable with sexual intimacy, but I don’t want to give the impression that I’ll never want to have sex with them. I might! But not for months, at least. However, once I’m sexually attracted to someone, I’m essentially indistinguishable from a sexual person as far as my partner is concerned.

I’ve found that it’s actually best not to introduce the word “demisexual” right away. Because the concept is unfamiliar, it can give the impression that my approach to sexuality is fundamentally different. Instead, I say that I need to take physical things slowly. I say I need to get to know someone before I can feel comfortable with physical intimacy. I basically describe my experience of demisexuality, but without using the actual word. And if they’re not up for working with that, then we politely part ways.

Dating is still difficult because some people don’t want to put up with my ridiculously slow sexual pace, and some people can’t reconcile my commitment to both Jewish observance and liberal community. I definitely have far fewer awkward moments now that I’ve figured out how to talk about my sexuality. The Jewish piece of my dating life feels much less resolved right now; every time I meet someone new, I need to figure out whether they will be compatible with me in that respect or not. But despite the challenges of living in the gray area, I wouldn’t change any of it, even if I could. This is who I am, contradictions and all.

For more information on asexuality and demisexuality, visit the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network at asexuality.org. You should also feel free to email me with questions or post in the comments below.

The Debrief welcomes your stories about navigating your own Judaism and sexuality while dating, relating, having sex, etc. And don’t forget about our hot summer date contest—enter now!

*Photo of tefillin (Jewish prayer items) with the asexual flag courtesy of the author

The Debrief appears every Wednesday on JewishBoston.com. Read past columns, or contact Mimi at mimia@jewishboston.com.