I'm twenty-nine and have never gotten close to having sex. Oh, man, is that embarrassing to admit. I'm not religious. I've never been molested nor had other reasons to avoid sex. It just never happened. I've started to think I might as well just stay this way so I'll never have to tell anyone. I can't picture myself admitting to somebody that I made it to thirty something about half a degree less untouched than most nuns. Yikes.
I've got one friend left in the same situation and we hang on to each other for dear life. We've been friends for over twenty years and I don't know how we would have made it through our frighteningly ugly-duckling adolescences without each other. But we joke entirely too much about being the Wacky Spinster Aunts and Cat Ladies when we get a bit older.
I did have a boyfriend briefly in college who was pretty hot under the collar but we were both bumbling idiots in every other aspect of the relationship and it didn't last long enough for sex to seem like a reasonable idea. Other than that I have hardly dated at all. I go through this cycle where people avoid me, so I become bitter and resentful, so people avoid me, so I become bitter and resentful, and so on. I'm really tired of making myself miserable being jealous.
I have several male friends who really like me as a person, but I feel like I don't count as a potential dating partner. We always seem to go straight to Friend Mode. I'm not interested in most of these guys anyway and I'm glad they feel like they can talk to me, but I swear the majority of them have no idea I'm female. Feeling like men like me for so many of the right reasons and still don't consider me interesting doesn't inspire confidence.
I have had this lack of confidence since the sixth grade, when I was bullied pretty badly. I wasn't beaten up but I was given nicknames like "Gorilla Woman." Kids used to pass me fake love notes in class, hoping I'd take the bait and give them ammunition for the next round of teasing. Boys used to put their friends down by claiming I had a crush on them. I can't believe how hard it is to forget that kind of thing. I still have dreams about it.
Since then it seems if someone shows the slightest glimmer of interest, he's either desperate and hitting on everything with two X chromosomes, or of a completely different generation age-wise--either 16 or 60--and probably intoxicated. I've been conditioned to KNOW I will be rejected. My defense is a passive freeze-them-out-before-they-have-the-chance-to-reject-me strategy.
Despite all this, I'm tired of being alone. What can I do?
Signed, Snow White
Dear Snow White,
It sounds like you have a good level of insight into your situation. You understand some of what has caused your anxiety and you are able to label your defense strategy. I wonder, though, if you appreciate fully the degree of trauma you have experienced over this issue. The rejection and teasing have helped form your self-image, and I can tell it's not a pretty picture. Ideally you would like to put up an "open for business" sign with respect to guys and dating. Your fears are too strong and too deeply embedded, though, to allow you to do that. Despite your wishes, you feel powerless to change.
I can offer a few rational arguments as to why the things you fear may not be quite as scary as you believe. For instance, the teasing and bullying happened when you were an adolescent. That means your tormentors were also twelve years old at the time, with all the immaturity that entails. The thirty-something guys who would interest you now have grown beyond that type of childish behavior. You are highly unlikely to ever again experience that degree of mean-spiritedness over this type of issue.
Second, I firmly believe that everyone, and I mean EVERYONE (which most definitely includes you) is attractive to someone else out there. Shy people tend to underestimate by a long ways the qualities they have and what they have to offer a potential partner. The world has far too many people who are lonely and alone. If you would prefer not to be so, there are definitely many guys out there whose lives would be enriched tremendously by having you involved. You have plenty of personality and energy and intelligence and caring and on and on.
Unfortunately I suspect rational arguments like these will fall short of meeting your needs, because fears are often irrational beasties. They love to hide in the back corners of our minds and come wriggling out insistently at the most inopportune moments. I can imagine you reading the previous two paragraphs and nodding your head agreeably, saying something like, "Yes, I agree with all that, BUT..."
But you're still traumatized.
Trauma can affect more than just your thought patterns. You can also develop internal physical reactions. Does anything change inside your body when you think about giving a guy the opportunity to reject you? I wouldn't be surprised if you feel butterflies, get a dry mouth or experience an overall feeling of physical unease. The combination of emotional and physical symptoms can be difficult to resolve simply by trying to screw up your courage or talk yourself out of it.
I recommend you consider seeking the help of a professional counselor or psychologist, someone who is qualified to deal with the type of long-term trauma you describe. I believe this would give you the best chance of working through these types of fears. Once you do, you might be amazed the difference that will make in your outlook on others, as well as how they perceive you. People are incredibly perceptive. They know if you are projecting an "open" or "closed" sign in terms of being social and inviting of new friendships.
You are still in your twenties, a young woman with plenty of time to develop a serious relationship if that is your wish. Open the door and you never know who will walk in. Once that happens, I suspect the sex issue will resolve itself naturally in due course.
All the best,
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