Interview: Hephzibah Anderson
Hephzibah Anderson on how abstaining from sex for a year proved to be a valuable experience
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Hephzibah Anderson: chaste from London to New York
‘I’d had enough sex without love, maybe it was time to look for love without sex?” These words come near the beginning of Hephzibah Anderson’s first book, Chastened: No More Sex in the City, as Anderson makes a vow: a year of chastity, in order to rediscover romance and, she hopes, to find love. And if he is Jew-ish, so much the better.
Twelve months see her moving between London and New York; changing the way she thinks, dresses and interacts with the men in her life. Along the way, she reflects upon her hopes and fears and describes her romantic adventures with candid humour.
And although that wasn’t her motivation, abstinence obviously has religious connotations. “Yes it’s funny, there’s been massive interest in the book from Ireland,” she reveals. And one frum man does get a fleeting mention: “I did explain briefly in the book that the nice Jewish accountant, the guy I maybe should have married, he was actually very religious so any kind of physical contact was incredibly charged because it was slightly off limits for him.
“That relationship occupied at least two years of my life. Ultimately, though, I didn’t really want it to work because I would have had to change so much about who I was. The moment that I realised it wasn’t going to work was when I was sent on my one-time glamorous assignment for the Daily Mail, to hand-deliver this manuscript to Mr Nice on a Friday evening.
“I had to call him from the airport, when I was meant to be spending Shabbat with him, and say Shabbat Shalom and that I was just about to get on a plane. I just could see the divergence of our lives.”
But those years were significant because they had provided a fulfilment not dissimilar to that which she was seeking in this past year of chastity. “During that intense, romantically charged friendship, I suppose you’d call it, I wasn’t really looking around and I didn’t feel like anything was missing. It was a period I kept on thinking back to during this year. And I do think, when it comes to religion, that Judaism has by far the healthiest view on sex — the right balance of preserving the mystery and the sanctity.”
The question everyone wants to know: is she dating anyone now? “I’m not, but I can’t overemphasise the extent to which changing the way I behave has altered everything. I’m really glad I did it. And I’m still looking.”
So, north London, take action. There is a newly chaste 31-year-old journalist with a GSOH and a lovely new book, who would be perfect for your grandsons. Write to the JC — she promises she won’t put them in the sequel.
‘Chastened’ is published by Chatto & Windus. Francesca Segal is a freelance writer