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So, uh, how does this sex stuff work, anyway?
December 20, 2013 8:21 AM   Subscribe

(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.

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!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think what you have to do is just be who you are. Unambiguously. Tell people who you are, your hopes and dreams and fears and, if you get to a place where you feel comfortable about telling them about how inexperienced you are, then you should.

Honestly, I'd just tell anyone early on if I were you. It's a great way to separate the wheat from the chaff. Those who are scared off weren't ever going to be the caring partner you are hoping for.
posted by inturnaround at 8:40 AM on December 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


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.

There is no template, there is no script. Part of the excitement and exhilaration of dating/sexing is that it's all improv. Additionally, it's OK to screw a couple things up. No one is going to dump you for not going in for a kiss at just the right moment, and if they do? They are not the kind of person who is right for you.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:41 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


All this analysis is not bringing you closer to the truth, it is separating you from the moment. No one that you don't pay is going to want to hear about all of this. Just do whatever's fun — you'll fall into one relationship or another…
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 8:47 AM on December 20, 2013 [10 favorites]


Anonymous, you are overthinking this. I know that's a pretty common mefi trope, so I don't use it lightly. You are really, really overthinking this. You seem to be well aware of that, though, which is good. Bring up your tendency to overthink things like this with your therapist.

As for the dating thing: all of the social conventions, all of the assumptions you're working off of, all of the gender role questions, all of your concerns about scripts to follow, all of your focus on how other people date...who the fuck cares? I mean that with all sincerity: who. the fuck. cares.

This is your life, so you get to choose to live it however you want. You get to date however you want. There's really only one rule: have respect for the person you're dating. Then there are no rules.

My life became SO much easier when I decided that I was going to do my own thing and be happy with it, and not let myself be influenced by what other people do or think I should do.

I just deleted a whole big part here that went into more specifics that I think on a reread is actually kind of irrelevant, but my point is this: YOU get to decide how you have relationships, no one else. Eventually (and it will get better the farther you get from the college scene) you will find people to date who click with you. Until then, just get out there and start trying, and if you decide that something's not working, just try something else.

Don't let what other people may or may not be doing hold you back. How other people live their lives is irrelevant. Think of it like an experiment to find out how you tick. It's not about figuring out how dating works or how relationships work or how sex and hook ups work, it's about figuring out how YOU work, and how YOU date.

Now go have some fun!
posted by phunniemee at 8:49 AM on December 20, 2013 [13 favorites]


...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...

You're not wrong, but that last part isn't inherent. Every relationship in my peer group that didn't begin as a Series Of Dates started like this. But instead of going into limbo, one person just straight up did the thing you're looking for, which is sit down and explicitly discuss what the hell is going on, where it is going (if anywhere) and what your expectations are. But that is hard, and many people just don't do or aren't receptive to it and that's where that limbo starts.

And there is absolutely no template or script or anything. Just a whole lot of trying to read one another's language (verbal and body) and some potentially embarrassing bumbling around while remaining respectful. And everyone fucks up. Go on enough dates and you'll kiss someone who was neither expecting to be kissed nor wanted to be because you completely misread the situation. I certainly have. How does it feel? Shitty. But you stay cool and hope the other person does and apologize if you have to. And the next time with a different person it'll be returned in kind. And it's like that for everything. Some things will work, some things won't, some things really won't and as long as you are staying cool and being respectful, you're already doing better than most people.
posted by griphus at 8:51 AM on December 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah, not that I am any expert on all of this, but I think you are way overthinking things. I think probably all this sex and relationshipy stuff is just like any relationship that you have with anyone: you never know whether that person you meet at a party will be your best friend for the next fifty years or just some rando that you met once and forgot about. I think you just try things and see where they go and communicate your views or concerns when it seems necessary. If the other person can't accept that or it doesn't mesh with your views, well then it wasn't meant to be. I would just try to get out there, ask some people out and have some fun. You may get burned or meet all the wrong people, but that's just life and in the end you can just chalk it up to some weird combination of chance and the world throwing you opportunities to learn more about yourself and your relationship to the world.
posted by thesnowyslaps at 8:56 AM on December 20, 2013


You are really overthinking this, and I bet it's because of a combination of inexperience and I don’t think I’ve really yet grown comfortable with receiving attention in any context.

On traditional answer is "Therapy!" Another is "Just go out and do it" (with "it" being the thing that is wracking your nerves). You could try both.
posted by rtha at 8:59 AM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


You sound like an overly thoughtful version of me. I was scared of ruining what were great friendships and general relationships by botching any attempt at dating, so I didn't. But I flirted with someone I only vaguely knew, and she took it from there, more or less. She had a similar notion of relationships that you do, that everything leads to sex, but because I was still unsure about how far I wanted to go, there was no pressure for either of us, which was new for her. She enjoyed sex, and prior relationships didn't push that, but in her prior experiences, that was just part of the chain of events, like you mentioned.

At first, I put a lot of stock in her being my first for so many things, but after that headiness passed, we approached some sort of normal, where we just had a nice relationship. We talked about our concepts of what our relationship was and how far we wanted to go, and we were both happy with that. I think she found my naivety cute or charming or something of the sort, and wasn't put off by it.

At some point, one way or another, you'll experience your firsts. And your seconds, and so forth. The firsts will always be your firsts, and they might be great, or they might, like your first date, be kind of awkward. Continue, try again, if the go poorly or if they go well. Be open and forthright about who you are and what your experiences are, even where you see the date going. Because you won't be ending that description of events with "then our clothes will be tossed aside," you're removing some of that awkward pressure that can be present in first dates.

There is no "dating osmosis" - you learn from experiences (yours and others), and by talking (to your dates and other people).
posted by filthy light thief at 9:14 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


"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."

Yeah, not really. Most folks I know still do the, "Would you like to go on a date?" The stumbling hookup is kinda a college-age thing that most people get over because it's often pretty unfulfilling and awkward compared to just communicating about what you want.
posted by klangklangston at 9:47 AM on December 20, 2013


Nobody knows how to do this. You look for someone to figure it out with. You figure it out together.

Basically, you just have to keep trying stuff. People will judge you no matter what you do, so just go out there and try stuff until something with someone works for a while. It's like riding a bicycle. Nobody can explain to you how to do it, and you are almost guaranteed to tumble a few times, especially while you're learning. You just have to do it until you can do it.
posted by windykites at 10:00 AM on December 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think you need a Dating Sherpa.

You need a close friend who has been there, done that, loves you just the way you are, and is willing and able to provide you support while you climb this particular mountain. You need someone who is going to sit at a nearby table at a cafe while you blunder through a trainwreck of a first date - and who will take you home afterward and watch "Love, Actually" with you and point out all the unreasonable things in it which are probably contributing to your anxiety about the whole affair. You need someone who will keep you accountable like a gym buddy does. Someone who will invite you to go to a party with them specifically in order to give you the assignment to learn one attractive person's name and/or get a phone number. You need someone who will work on all the little steps of the process with you, and then who will talk you off the ledge when you call them, frantic, fairly certain that you've fallen in love with someone who may very well be a war criminal and/or human trafficker. (Spoiler alert: the person you fall in love with is almost certainly not a war criminal and/or human trafficker.)

The dating thing that you have built up in your head as this arcane magick is, in fact, exactly the same as you are doing with your close friends. It's about getting to know people. It is about learning who they are and having compassion for them and being there for them. It's also about being attracted to them and letting yourself be vulnerable with them, and trusting that they're going to be kind in return.
posted by jph at 10:29 AM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Two things ended up helping me with some very similar anxiety and dating hurdles (although I didn't seek help until I was in my 30's, so go you). 1) Therapy, specifically non-CBT talk therapy where we explored a lot of the issues you mention here with attention and obligation and self-worth and ALL that good stuff. And, 2) Alcohol. I didn't know what I was doing, and I was anxious as Heck about the trajectory of the date, but I could at least get out of my own head for long enough to maybe flirt Back a little.

PS - You won't know right away whether you're a good match for your date. If you're like me (and, to be fair, Most people), you will overanalyze Everything about a date, and try to never pursue anything past one date because not having tried means you won't have failed (or offended or hurt anyone else). Forget that noise. Just go on the dates, meet a new person, see if you can't have some fun talking with them, maybe forge a connection. Repeat until you want to do more than talk.
posted by ldthomps at 10:59 AM on December 20, 2013


You are assuming that everyone has the same expectations and that expectation is "sex, ASAP". But it's not true. Lots of people expect different things all along the spectrum between holding hands and sex, and even if sex is their ultimate goal, lots of people like to plan for a lot of time between all the steps before they plan to get to the end. (And I'm not intending to say to say that there is a definite list of steps in order that you have to follow - it can vary, and you don't have to overthink it)

If one or both of you expresses your expectations, it's a lot easier for the other one to either comply with your expectations or negotiate for what they want or decide to stop dating.
One of the key phrases is "take it slow". Such as: I'd rather take it slow and see how things go.

You might say that if the other person invites you to spend the night, for example. When the other person hears something like that, they know they can either get comfortable with lower-level things like cuddling, kisses, etc while you get to know each other better, or they can say "I was looking for a hot one night stand and it doesn't look like you're the right guy, see ya." E
posted by CathyG at 11:15 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes, definitely over-thinking this. You know, being off-center, having difficult emotions, being in states of vulnerability or wondering who this other person is and what do they want, that's all part of the adventure. You can dive into that and accept that this is going to be part of the ride and full on let that happen, or you can avoid the whole scenario and not date at all. As for feelings of obligation, well those folks are sharing themselves with you, they are gifting relationship to you as difficult and tenuous as that may seem. By returning their attention, by allowing relationship and intimacy to grow you would do the same. Like any new skill, at first it seems unfamiliar and you may flounder, perhaps metaphorically drown in confusion, angst or all that emotional stuff. Over time, you learn to navigate using skills like being ethical, loving and caring among others.
Why not just dive in and wing it? That's how most people figure things out.
posted by diode at 12:44 PM on December 20, 2013


It is okay to want to be emotionally close to someone before sex. It is okay to make a bunch of emotionally-trusted friends and then fall for one of them, rather than doing the conventional thing of dating semi-strangers. It is okay to have a relationship that is not as seen on TV.

It's not even all that unusual. The media idea that there's some sort of standard methodology or script IS A BIG FAT LIE.

For the friends I'm close enough to that we talk about these things -- a range of people in the late-20s to early-40s range -- there's a whole gamut of when and how and why they had sex, from "almost as soon as we met" to "not until we were married", and a big range of different ideas about exclusivity and emotional depth and what the sex means and how it relates to the rest of their lives. Whatever TV and magazines might suggest, you really can't know where someone stands until you've talked to them about their expectations and boundaries.

Personally, I basically never did the standard dating thing, only got involved with people I knew well as friends, and approached physical intimacy slowly. It worked out just fine for me and I am now married to someone amazing even though our relationship utterly failed to follow any sort of standard template.

It's okay.
posted by shattersock at 12:55 PM on December 20, 2013


This:
...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.

is exactly what this

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.

looks like when it happens in real life. Nobody has that widget installed to know what they're doing in life and love. I know this all seems very uncertain, but a very wise friend of mine told me that when you put your heart out there, it might get hurt-- that's the risk of being close to other people. I think you'll be OK taking that risk, because like you said once you came up for air from Sartre etc, you seem to get that we're all people taking each other as we are. Good luck, ok? I think you're going to do fine.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 1:29 PM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


> 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.

As they say, if you don't like what you're getting, change what you're doing.

You've got to walk before you can run. You're not going to learn to walk unless you're willing to fall down and get hurt some. If you want love and intimacy, get out the door and blunder your way through it like the rest of us. You can't analyze and introspect yourself into a relationship.
posted by mattu at 3:18 PM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ummmm, for someone like me, please stay the way you are.

I'm someone who is not comfortable receiving attention, and I was also a late bloomer who figured a great deal of things out in university. I agree that as it appears now, the world of sex/dating/relationships feels like more of a means to some other end, for most people. While I've come to finally be more comfortable with being the recipient of flirtation, even that is more to make sure other people's egos don't get bruised than it is for my benefit. At present I have taken a total break from the world of dating -- even online dating -- because I find the fleeting callous dishonesty that appears to be the essence of modern courtship exhausting. Why waste time pretending to compliment me when instead we could both save a lot of time and emotional energy if you just asked for what you want? -- especially when I'm perfectly capable of perceiving how much you actually mean it.

I'm sure that may make me sound snobby or full of myself to some, but really... I have always been like this. I don't like a lot of attention and I don't like anything that appears to interfere with my internal commitment to honesty that I've always maintained for myself, even as a young child. The smoke and confusion of flirtation interfering with that commitment always feels like more than I can tolerate.

A few years ago was I came the closest as I have ever come to possibly dating someone who had this similar attitude towards emotional intimacy. I found him to be powerfully intuitive for a woman like me. The "courtship" (which would be considered non-existent by most peoples' "normal" standards) was the most effective I had ever experienced -- right down to ALMOST never giving me more attention than I was comfortable with. I never had to say a word if I was uncomfortable; he would already be reacting to it and accommodating me. My biggest regret is that I did not have more confidence in my own ability as a mate-seeking person to handle it better than I did. I thought I was doing things wrong because I wasn't being more "normal" about it, when instead, I really should have buckled down on what my gut was telling me and heeded that instead.

I do totally acknowledge that my approach would absolutely not work for many other people, including many of my closest friends. There simply is no single magic formula that works for everybody -- not when everybody wants their own different individual outcomes.

I can’t think of anything specific in my past or unresolved childhood issues that could have brought all this on...

FWIW, I think you sound like a dude who is very in touch with his instincts about what's best for his emotional well-being, and I think that's a feature -- not a glitch. I think when you do come across someone for whom this approach works, you will experience it as very rewarding. Just don't be discouraged by others who think that mass consumerism-type results are the only evidence worth considering for a successful strategy. Stay committed to the qualities that best work for you in your potential dating encounters, and I think you'll find that to yield the best return for you in the long-run. Good luck!
posted by human ecologist at 3:38 PM on December 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


No one that you don't pay is going to want to hear about all of this.


Oh, sweet fellow human, the person who loves you is certainly going to want to hear about all of this. Their wanting to hear about it will be a major indicator that It's On. Please, please, please do not stifle your Angstful True Self.
posted by The Noble Goofy Elk at 6:28 PM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Does your urban area have workshops on enthusiastic consent, where you could get some practice starting the sort of conversations you want to have (specifically, outside of the context of having or trying to start or trying to avoid starting a romantic relationship)? Because, yeah, it doesn't seem to be quite so common a skill, outside of certain very specific circles at least. But that doesn't mean that you can't start the sort of conversations you want to have before getting (emotionally or physically) intimate yourself!

Some links with a few examples and ideas:
posted by eviemath at 8:05 PM on December 20, 2013


I think you're partially struggling with perfectionism here and it's driving anxiety of the type that the book Things Might Go Terribly, Horribly Wrong describes so well. It might be worth checking that out as you try to become more brave about taking the emotional risks that you want to take.

I also think that a lot of what you're touching on in your question is related to rape culture, sexism, patriarchy, etc. I think you're bumping up against many of the things that feminism tries to shine a light on. Because you're right, these things are not healthy for men either.

While I agree with you in your reaction to pick-up artist culture, I do want to challenge the vibe I'm getting from your question that sex can only be about a deep emotional connection in order to be a respectful thing. Sex can mean a million different things, especially when it becomes a regular thing. It's not always cosmic. Sometimes you make love, sometimes you fuck. It can be affectionate, urgent, emotional. Sometimes it's flat and doesn't quite work. Sometimes it's fireworks! Most of the time it's not that remarkable. It's kind of like eating a good meal. If you've been starving, it's amazing. If you eat a great meal every night, it's not life-changing every single night. That would be exhausting.

To be honest, I would have to say that my first time was good but it is not on my list of Top Ten Cosmic Emotional Connection Sex Experiences. We know each other much better now (10 years later), so the sex has improved. That day, I was thinking "Am I doing this? Wow, I'm really doing this!" I was in my head for a lot of it, because it was such a new experience. Then for a few days afterwards I kept realising that I wasn't a virgin anymore but I hadn't changed. I mean, what were we expecting? His penis would touch my vagina and our souls would lock somehow and all our emotional vulnerabilities would be exposed and we would really truly know each other? Fucking is pretty great but it doesn't give you mind-reading abilities and it doesn't shortcut the work you need to put into the relationship through good old-fashioned talking. I mention this mostly because I get the sense that you are building first-time sex up into this Impossibly Beautiful Task, and it's just not that. It's okay for it to be just okay, and they will still need to talk to you to learn more about you.

I think it's also important to remember that it's okay if you start a relationship and take a risk on it and it feels awkward. It's like taking a job or starting at university — you don't know at first and you're not comfortable at first. But that's not a reason not to try. A relationship that doesn't last forever isn't going to break you.

Going back up to the start of my answer, if you check out Things Might Go Terribly Horribly Wrong, they will tell you to figure out your goals and values that your anxiety is blocking you from, and then figure out whether experiencing that anxiety would be worth it in pursuit of those goals. You say that you want to learn how to date and figure out how to let your guard down, so maybe you can identify some baby steps towards this:
posted by sadmadglad at 9:17 PM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Nthing that there isn't a script. More precisely, there isn't a script that leads to guaranteed success. Lots of people do have scripts in their heads, mostly ones that that they got from the media, but as often as not these scripts fail dismally, because the complex nature of relationships between human beings in their glorious variety is not something that can be distilled into an algorithm. You're going to do exactly what everyone else does: improvise, bumble, respond, learn. But it's not going to happen in front of your computer screen.

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

Who says the same person has to be your first everything? Who says a kiss will inevitably lead to sex will inevitably lead to a relationship? It's much more likely that your first kiss will be with one girl, you'll lose your virginity with another, have your first real relationship with yet another, and marry someone else entirely. Your entire life isn't hanging on who you have your first kiss with. In fact, I'd suggest you kiss someone as soon as possible just to realize there is no cosmic significance to it. Do you have a platonic female friend who you could ask to kiss you, just as a favor, to take that weight off your mind?
posted by zeri at 11:35 PM on December 20, 2013


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