Sunday, August 20, 2006

Dismaying Story #37: Closed for the (Dating) Season

Dear Andrew,

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,

Do you wish for more in your relationship? I would welcome your email or any comment you wish to enter using the link below.


  1. I went through something like that when I was growing up, so much so that if any guy showed any interstin me I never could believe in it & felt like'snow white' who wrtoe to you. i decided then that i would rather people appreciated me for my mind- especially males & i told myself that so often attractive women get short shrift for their minds. anyway, since i come from a different culture i got married as my parents arranged it. Even after that I used to get upset if people said my daughter looked like me becuae to me that meant ugly!

  2. Good Morning Snow White;

    I too was teased as a youngster and was alienated because I was different. Fortunately for me I met some good people as I grew older that taught me that my uniqueness is good and special in it's own way. Even though I met them I struggled with extreme lack of confidence until my mid twenties. One thing I learned is that we all have the power to change things. In as hard as it is you cannot let your fear prevent you from what you want. I'm not going to tell you that you're not going to get hurt because we all experience pain in our lives. For better or worse, I think that is one of the things that helps us grow. The trick is to get back up when you've fallen and keep going. Please beleive me because this advice is from personal experience. I think you will find your partner and I think your relationship will be that much richer because of your experience.
    Like Andrew said we all have a partner.

  3. This is so fascinating! I've read several of your posts this morning and havet o say I'll be adding you to my blogroll. I'll definitely be back. Thanks for visiting my blog over the weekend, and I can't wait to read more of yours. I may even have a question to ask...

  4. Man, that one really broke my heart. First, about being a 29-year old virgin and ashamed of it - this resonated with me big time. It took me years to admit to others (and this is a topic that I still usually avoid to bring up with anyone) that I was still a virgin (a "technical" one, I would say) when I was married at age 23. Then, for reasons that I will not get into here, my marriage was sexless for at least 18 years. I was totally ashamed of this, and never ever discussed this with anyone (only much later on, when the marriage finally disolve did I see a therapist, with whom I addressed this issue and why I had let this go on for so long.)

    Snow White, I totally agree with Andrew that you probably need to tease out this issue with a professional therapist. You need to obliterate the trauma caused by the teasing and taunting that you suffered as a teen. There has to be a sensitive guy somewhere who may run into you and want to know you better. Give the guy a chance. Any budding relationship entails a certain risk of rejection but you can't shut yourself out to the world for fear of being rejected. As for the sex, it will happen naturally if you remain open to the possibility. You can be cautious, but you do not have to be fearful.

    Not sure this helped, but I gave it my own humble shot.

  5. Great advice Doc Andrew. My situation was different, yet simular. I divorced from a marriage of 12 years at age 30.

    As much as I didn't want to date, the guys started swarming over. I was able to swat down a good majority of them. It is tough at that age, trying to date without the sex coming into play. But it was doable and I'm glad I held out.

    I did date a lot, but each guy taught me a little about myself. That being, what I wanted in a life partner and what I DIDN'T want in a life partner.

    Sex is just the icing on the cake, but in many relationships it will take the back burner at times during a marriage. There has got to be something else.

    A partner who you love to spend time with and they you, one you can call your best friend and surely one that you can respect. Would be the top 3 credentials. My advice to Snow White would be to go have some fun!

    Prince Charming will come along and chances are in the most unexpected of places and circumstances. Wait for the magic. It does exist. -M

  6. You know.. I put up the closed sign when I was about 27 and guess what ... the guys started coming out of the woodwork...

    And then I met my husband... He started out as a friend and then we became more... Wow... He is still my best friend.

  7. You are still young and there are many wonderful guys out there. and someone special just for you.Dont get frustrated and stop looking so much and it will happen.Its like a couple wanting to have a baby, sometimes the more they try,the worse it gets and eventually for some people once they adopt and stop worrying they are able to concieve.

  8. Great advice
    Snow White you should consider your virginity an asset. Not many people can say they are a virgin at 29. I wish I had waited longer. A good guy is out there-- one who is patient and sensitive. He will find you. And don't worry about the friend sterotype-- the best relationships start out as friends and blossom into more.

  9. Rotten adolescences happen to many of us (I speak from experience!) and it's also up to us to grow beyond them. It is ironic that just at the time we are supposed to be working on our dating skills, we often find ourselves at our lowest point of attractiveness. The best is yet to come. You didn't want to peak in high school, did you?

    At this point you are pre-empting any possible attraction before it gets to the rejection stage. In a hundred different ways you are signaling that all you want to be is a friend. That might be why the nice guys aren't going any further... and who wants the other kind, anyway?

    Since you do have social skills and obviously have many great qualities, you need to work on two things: how attractive you perceive yourself to be, and how whacked out that perception probably is. Since you haven't gotten over being teased as a child, you probably haven't really seen yourself clearly since then. You need to let the resentment go, and work on the self-esteem. After all, by still taking the bullies seriously, you are still giving them power over you.

    Is that what you want to do? Prove that the jerks were right? So don't be down about your lack of success so far. You haven't tried yet, have you?

  10. Hi Everyone,
    Thanks so much for all the supportive comments. Those are truly some wonderful points. I especially like Werebear's recognition that Snow White is still giving the power to the bullies even after all these years. That is so true. We all could learn a lesson from that one, I think.

  11. It's posts like this one that make me glad that you are the doctor and not me. Sometimes life is so full of hurt.

  12. Snow White,
    I am not the majority, but I have to say I was a virgin until I was married and I was very proud of it. If you wanted, this could be quite a positive thing. Sex is very intimate and despite what society is very special and what an amazing precious gift to be able to share your first experience of sex with your spouse some day.

    I understand you might not have this viewpoint, but this is just something to consider.

  13. I got teased a lot too back in elementary. I took it though as a challenge, it won't bring me down, and so now, it made me a stronger person. I believed in myself and here I am. The new me! ;)

  14. Anonymous12:06 PM

    I'm in the same boat as Kristina P... I'm a 28-year-old virgin and proud of it. (Though I have to say that, depending on the company I'm in, I don't exactly advertise that, because there are a lot of people out there who don't understand or are just rude.) I didn't date for a long time (about 7 years), and when I started to date again last summer, I was really nervous about getting to a 3rd date, since I'd never really kissed anyone before. I'd had boyfriends in high school and college, but they were short-term relationships and we never got further than hand-holding mostly. I was nervous because I was sure that any guy I dated would assume I had all this experience that I didn't have.

    Eventually, I rather awkwardly blurted it out to the guy I was dating, and he was more than wonderful about it, and was everything I could have asked for - patient, understanding... you get the drift. I'm so glad, too, because we just celebrated the one year anniversary of our first date (today!). And we're still both virgins, and will be until we get married. There really is nothing to be ashamed of, despite what society (television, music videos, whatever) might tell us. Your virginity is a precious gift, and some guy will feel honored that you chose to share that with him, when the right time comes. Hang in there!

  15. I never put up the closed sign, but it was obviously up with spotlights shining on it. Everything was on my terms regardless of the pain I felt before, during and after. Childhood words and attitudes don't go away - no matter how strong you are in other areas of your life.

  16. I never put up the closed sign, but it was obviously up with spotlights shining on it. Everything was on my terms regardless of the pain I felt before, during and after. Childhood words and attitudes don't go away - no matter how strong you are in other areas of your life.

  17. One of the things I've learned in the past few years has to do with the Law of Attraction or "what you think about expands". I was always poised to EXPECT rejection because of some programming that my mom carried around and passed on to me. And sure enough, it always played out the way I expected it to.

    In hindsight, I see that I was bringing that energy into each relationship and what I thought about expanded. (OY! DID IT!!)

    I used to think affirmations were goofy crap, all Stuart Smalley and stuff. Now, I understand how you use them to bring that healthy energy to you. Focus on what you want rather than what you don't want because surely you will get whatever it is you put your attention on - good or bad.

    My heart goes out to you, Snow. But hang in there, show yourself some love, keep the positive energy swirling about you and things will work out.