(Or, how do I reconcile the tension that comes with wanting to date but not having an internal template for how the whole rigmarole of dating works?) My life is pretty good right now, and a huge part of why it’s that way is my amazing friendships. But sometimes I feel like taking steps towards something more meaningful and a little more permanent in my life. Where do I start? I feel a little weird about the whole sex and dating thing for chicken-and-the-egg-y reasons, and weird emotional issues too, and reading on the Internet and hearing from friends about the myriad ways people are able to be judgey, or to screw each other over, or generally look out for #1 in their relationships is really getting me down too. As a result, I’m kind of despairing a little about being able to find a mutually respectful and healthy environment with someone neat where I can explore the sexual side of myself and we of ourselves, all the while remaining true to myself and what I value.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always felt a little weird about sex and all that goes along with it. I can remember being little, maybe around ten or so, and watching movies where the characters have sex (Hollywood-style) and I’d feel so uncomfortable from the emotional intensity – not that “eww, cooties, gross!” kind of feeling that kids get, at all -- that I’d have to cover my eyes or something. It got a little better as I went through puberty, but never really went away completely, and manifested itself in other ways as I got older and had more varied experiences. (However, despite this kind of aversion to physical intimacy I’ve experienced in one form or another, I don’t think I’ve had too much trouble opening up and being emotionally intimate and otherwise with my friends and family, and I think that’s an important distinction to be aware of here.)
So I was a bit of a late bloomer during junior high and high school, but I still got my fair share of attention. College, though, was when I kind of figured everything out: how to dress, how to groom myself, how to comport myself – it all just came together, and I started to get a lot of attention and it just snowballed from there. At the same time, I began to more acutely feel the sorts of pressures pretty much everyone has to deal with, with hitting milestones: first kiss, first sex, first serious relationship, and so on, none of which I’d hit by that point. So when I had an opportunity to go on a date not long after I figured stuff out, I took it. Nothing came of it, for reasons that I didn’t figure out until much later after stuff fizzled out; she was hoping I’d be more assertive – that I’d come with my batteries included, I guess. Since then, I’d say that I’ve been asked out by, or otherwise had the opportunity to date, at least fifteen or twenty perfectly nice people, and I’ve turned them all down.
I can’t quite put my finger on why things’ve turned out as they did, but it’s never really felt right to me. That, and I don’t think I’ve really yet grown comfortable with receiving attention in any context. When I get hit on, for example, it’s kind of nice at first – the ego boost’s nice, that’s for sure – but at the same time I feel kind of a strange mixture of obligation, of feeling obligated to reciprocate, somehow, and a bit of anxiety, of course – who knows where this could lead? It’s worse when the other person’s someone I see at least semi-regularly, because then I think, wow, they actually seem kind of nice!, we have some chemistry!, oh well, why not? I do have to admit that I’d like to get to know them better. But that’s another kind of pressure unto itself: it’s really tough for me, right now, to take any one single person and just go date them – like other people seem to do, and so carefreely – with that prospect compounded by the chance of them being my everything first. That just seems like so much right now – or rather it’s actually always been that way, and so I’ve always just flirted a little, then shut down, or just given them the cold shoulder outright when, deep down, I really didn’t want to. Again, just too much of that same ol’ emotion, I guess; like I said, the whole thing’s never really felt right to me, although I don’t want to sit around waiting for it to feel right.
With that said, I think I can get a little deeper into how I think and feel about the idea of sex and physicality itself. I don’t think I would enjoy it that much just yet, at least not until I come to accept some things -- it feels like that it’s not so much about two people coming as they are, what they bring to the table and what defines them as the unique humans they are, but more about how well they fit into how society and the media and the messages they send say people should feel and act: here, embrace and enforce these norms and gender roles! You’re a guy, so you should expect women to be like this; if you’re a woman, expect guys to be like this! And so on. I find that impression on my part difficult to reconcile with the other things we tell ourselves about what it means to have sex and otherwise be physical: it’s a way for two people to be intimate and express affection, it’s a way to bring people closer together -- as if those were the ends in themselves that we’re after. As it is now, it – having sex, dating, relationships, &c. -- all feels to me more like just a means to some other end, be it validation, or some form of social signaling, or wanting and achieving and striving, or playing some sort of weird power game, or whatever it is that’s really going on under the hood. It all strikes me as a little dishonest, and I don’t know, Sartre-bad-faith-ish?
So, yeah: the more I think about all this, the more I realize I’m really not alone in this and that nobody really has any idea how to go about all this stuff, and how desperately we cling to these notions and things outside ourselves that try to tell us how we should play the whole dating game and how we should try to be as attractive to the greatest number of people of our preferred gender as possible, all the while we never sit down and take account of what really matters to us in the people we’d like to keep close. I’m not sure why I’m bothered by this as much as I seem to be, but I can’t help but hate to think that at this stage in my life -- where I’m starting to become more self-aware, and where I’m learning to find my inner voice and to be truer to myself and what I want -- that I would have to fit in, and in doing so, regress and sell myself out, in a way, just so I can attempt to contort myself into the version of myself that I think other people are expecting me to be.
Coming back down to Earth a bit, I guess what I’m trying to get at here is that if I’m dating someone, I’d want us both to be able to come as we are, and to be able to speak frankly about our expectations and what we both want as two adults. But – and you’ll have to forgive me if it turns out I’m getting a skewed view here, because I’m pretty sure I am – it seems like 99.9% of the dating status quo among urban 20-somethings like myself consists of somehow stumbling awkwardly into a hookup or some other amorphous FWB-type thing and the weird “uh… yeah, so do we have something?” limbo that results. I mean, I don’t really have anything against that kinda arrangement, but I don’t think it’s for me; I think communication and being able to set boundaries is really important. Going back to what I’ve said there in that last paragraph, I feel like I shouldn’t have to put up with that kind of uncertainty and weirdness, and slog through it just so I can figure out this stuff. Who knows – I could go out there and I might not have to after all, but having that... other way? just hanging there in the air feels like it’s making it tougher for me to set reasonable expectations and boundaries.
So, yeah, I don’t really know where to go from here. Could I hop on OKCupid or whatever? Sure. Ask out that two-way-flirty acquaintance of mine? Of course! It seems super easy when I think about it that way – just do this and that, and then I’ll finally be able to overcome some of these issues. But even putting myself out there at this point really does feel like a weird kind of chicken-and-the-egg problem – oh yeah, I’ll ask out X, and hop on OKCupid and message Y and Z, all the while I’m missing a template in my head for how this stuff ought to work once I’m in the thick of it. Like, this is the part where you expect me to go in for a kiss otherwise you’ll drop me like a hot potato for not being assertive enough, f. ex., and okay, so this is of course the part where we’re supposed to start getting it on, and so forth– that kinda script that everyone else seems to already have learnt by osmosis, with an emphasis on script. In a perfect world, the person I’m dating and I would be totally 100% fine with me having my training wheels still on, and we would be able to talk about and navigate that just fine too, but, gosh, with the amount of virgin shaming going on out there nowadays, I just don’t know.
I just want to be able to date and get to know people and feel safe and comfortable gradually opening myself up to them while having some kind of mutually beneficial relationship: it could just be plain fun, or an interesting learning experience, or, if our stars’re aligned right, maybe something more permanent. So where do I start? For what it’s worth, I’m a pretty normal mid-20s dude living in SF, and I can’t think of anything specific in my past or unresolved childhood issues that could have brought all this on, and yes, I’m working on therapy. Thanks for making it all the way down here!