Trumpeting sexual freedom also has the power to wound deeply.
Sometimes you have to face hard truths by stating the painful facts baldly. I am 33, I have never been kissed, and the only guy who ever wanted to hold hands with me was killing time while he tried to find someone hot enough to date. I know this because that’s what he told my housemate when he hit on her.
To the best of my knowledge, no one who has seen me in person has ever been attracted to me. I’m not catcalled or harassed. The only relationships I’ve had have been online. The only boyfriend who met me offline would not do more than give me a hug. I have met potential partners from the Internet, only to watch the interest in their eyes die when they see me.
I often feel like the only woman on the face of the planet who no one is attracted to. And I am ashamed — in part because this is something no one ever talks about.I often feel like the only woman on the face of the planet who no one is attracted to. Click To Tweet
We turn virginity into a punchline — a sign of misplaced religious conviction, physical grotesqueness, or social ineptitude. We try to escape the reality that sex is a choice that some are never offered, and ignore the fact that trumpeting sexual freedom also has the power to wound deeply. The sexually inexperienced (especially those with no choice in the matter) feel a strong urge to hide this fact, in order to let people assume a common level of sexual history. It’s a lot easier than trying to explain the truth, and it hurts less, too.
I’ve sat through countless conversations with groups of women, praying that the conversation wouldn’t turn to sex, cringing inwardly when it inevitably did, and trying to laugh with the others until the topic changed and I could relax again, my secret safe. For now.
When I was growing up, the conversation was always about how to say “no,” how to not be pressured into sex, how to turn down a date honestly and fairly. My educators, ministers, and youth group leaders never told me what to do when I wasn’t pressured, when I wasn’t asked out on dates. Teenage me was practically quivering with excitement over my first chance to say “no,” because even “no” contained the possibility that I could choose to say “yes.” But the question never came.
I thought that, perhaps, things would get better in college. Surely, the smart guys would at least be attracted to my intellect. Instead, while I made friends with lots of great guys who I’m still close with, I was never once asked on a date. No one ever tried to cop a feel at an event or in the movie theater. There was never the hint of a hookup. Perhaps, if my upbringing hadn’t been so conservative, or if I’d had a few dates in high school, I would have had the courage to ask someone out for myself instead of waiting, but that was unthinkable to me.
I was so confused. This wasn’t how the movies went. This wasn’t how the novels ended. Most of my friends got married right out of college, and those that didn’t at least had dates. I sat down to take inventory: Why wasn’t anyone interested? Was it my appearance? I’ve always been on the large side of curvy, but I knew plenty of girls my size and larger who had found happy relationships. Was it my face? I’ve never been pretty, but again, I knew women who were objectively less “pretty” than me who had found love. Was it my personality? I’m shy and reserved (unless you bring up Star Wars or Dune, then good luck getting me to shut up), but I’m comfortable talking to friends. I was part of several active social groups, and enjoyed spending time with friends. I couldn’t find a persuasive reason why no one was interested in me. And in the decade or so since college, as the disinterest has persisted, I still haven’t.I was so confused. This wasn’t how the movies went. This wasn’t how the novels ended. Click To Tweet
Over the past few years, I’ve made a certain amount of peace with being single. It took some time, especially since I could find very little to help me. The books I found on being single were almost exclusively geared toward “being single until you get married because of course you will.” The singles activities at my church were rare, and everyone in them was a good 40 years older than me. I eventually realized that I could not rely on a guide to help me; I had to find out what the single life meant for me. I had to build a life of my own, instead of waiting to find my “other half.”
It’s not my preferred choice, but I’m not going to fling myself at someone out of desperation. This sense of acceptance comes and goes. There are days when I’m tempted to run outside and proposition the first man I can find. But most days, I just accept that this is my reality right now, and change will not happen quickly or easily. Regardless, the frustration lingers: I would have liked it to be a real choice, not a matter of mere acceptance.
I’ve tried talking about my story a few times. I’ve pushed back when people assume that certain levels of romantic history are universal; when people make offhand remarks that assume that, given my age, I’ve had several intimate relationships, I correct them. I try to remind people that “virgin” is not an insult, and that sex isn’t the guarantor of adulthood. The rare times I’ve brought up this pain, I’ve been told that I simply didn’t notice guys who were interested, or that I just needed to “be myself” and admirers would miraculously appear.
That’s what hurts the worst: the absolute refusal of others to believe me when I talk about my experience. The insistence that I don’t know my own life. The appropriation of my narrative to turn it into a more palatable story for the comfort of others. I’ve tried to understand why my story makes others uncomfortable. It’s possible that it’s because it introduces an element of uncertainty into all relationships: What if a lot of it comes down to luck? If there’s no real reason behind my lack of relationships, maybe it’s just a coincidence, an accident of chance. And that means they found their partners due to chance as well, and their lives might have been like mine if a few things had gone differently. And so they rationalize and explain my story; if it’s due to something I’m not doing, then they are safe in their relationships. They didn’t make my mistakes.
Female friends try to assure me that I am attractive, but have no explanation for why men don’t seem to agree. They don’t understand why I rebuff their compliments, assuming that I’m only operating from a foundation of low self-esteem, when in actuality I’m just trying to keep my grip on reality. If it were true that I were attractive, then at some point, someone would have acted on said attraction. No one has, and my narrative accounts for the truth better than their perspective does.That’s what hurts the worst: the absolute refusal of others to believe me when I talk about my experience. Click To Tweet
And yet, my friends seem to think my rejection of their narrative is a personal rebuff; I spend my energy protecting their feelings from the truth of mine. I laugh away the pain that runs deep so they won’t feel sorry for me. I go to their bridal showers, their weddings, and I’m genuinely happy for them. I enjoy dinners at their houses, trying not to be jealous of the cookware that they received when they married. No one throws showers for single women; all my cookware comes from the thrift store or the cheap aisle at the grocery store.
I wish I could talk more about others who have shared this experience. But the truth is, I don’t know of any others within my personal circles. I have many single friends, but all of them have had their share of admirers. According to CDC research conducted a few years ago, 2% of women age 25–44 (and 3% of men in the same age range) have never had vaginal sex. Surely some of these millions of virgins include those like me, who want physical intimacy but have never been offered it.
But we hide our stories, afraid of being judged, laughed at, or worse, pitied. We miss out on the support of others with similar stories.
The question I find myself facing now is whether or not to keep trying. As L.M. Montgomery wrote in The Blue Castle, “Yes, I’m ‘still young’ — but that’s so different from young.” The reality is that if no one has wanted more than a hug from me by now, that’s not likely to change as I age. I don’t want to be single forever. I would very much like to be kissed at least once. Do I keep trying to find someone, or do I accept my situation for what it is, and direct my energies elsewhere? Will other people let me accept being unwillingly single, or will they keep pushing me to believe that I am somehow secretly attractive, in the face of all experiential evidence that suggests otherwise?
I may never stop wanting my story to change, but I will keep fighting to tell it my way. I intend to cling to the truth, even when it’s a painful one. I hope others with more normative experiences will start to understand, and find ways to include women like me in discussions about sex and love, without resorting to alienating comments about what “all women” experience.
We’re all women, we all have our stories, and we all want the chance to tell them with dignity and truth.