Want to date, but too much else to deal with
April 30, 2010 12:39 PM   Subscribe

Never been in a relationship, craving intimacy badly, but have other issues I'm dealing with. What should I do?

My apologies in advance for the length and disorganization, my posts are usually a bit more thought out. I'm a 29-year old male who is apparently a very, very late bloomer and rather tired of missing out. Various crises in my life have left me craving intimacy even more, yet having a harder time actually experiencing it.

Quick history: I have dated a handful of times in my life, but NEVER anything past 1-2 dates. I missed out on dating in college due to a rather serious depressive episode + other socializing issues (let's just say college was a rather dark, lonely period in my life), but I feel I've grown/matured a lot in the years since.

As a result, I've been on a handful of dates in the past couple of years, but most were sort of one-time not-exactly-dating scenarios. Not surprisingly, I am a virgin - what's more, I've never made out with a girl, nor have I ever experienced any sort of physical intimacy beyond the occasional hug. I suspect my past introversion and shyness is the primary culprit and am trying my best to get over it.

So what's the problem? The biggest is that I've been feeling this weird sort of urgency to experience intimacy or take part in some sort of intimate relationship lately (intimate could but does not have to mean sexual). I think the reasons are a bit complex, but stem in part from a series of crises I have experienced in the past year (laid off, financial hardship, sudden death of a close family member) that forced me to re-evaluate my life a bit and realize I'm sick of the continual solitude and lack of warmth/compassion in my day-to-day life.

I know with all the fires I've been forced to fight lately, dating should be the last thing on my mind. But it could be years before my life is as stable as it used to be, if ever. What should I do? And how can I handle the loneliness in the interim?

FWIW, I've been planning on getting therapy for several months now, but had to move multiple times in the past year in an attempt to find work and therefore kept putting it off. I might be moving again next month for a somewhat longer-term job - if so, one of my top priorities after settling in is to find a competent therapist. For now, I guess I'm just trying to find coping strategies so I can keep my head on straight.

Thanks in advance for your advice, it's sincerely appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
First, don't wait, see a therapist now. Not because there is anything wrong with you, but just so that you can start talking about and thinking about some of these issues with someone who can help you place them in the context of your life now, before you get into a relationship.

That said, it's a beautiful and wonderful thing that you're feeling like you want to experience intimacy and grow in this way. Go for it and have fun!

I think it's important that you keep the following in mind while you start this journey. The first person you have a relationship with will be the object of your affections, years of stored up affections waiting to get out - they will be the first person you have sex with and a romantic bond with. It's likely that you'll fall deeply and madly in love and become very attached. But it's so important you keep in mind that the relationship might not last, and that you'll have many, many other relationships as you learn about the kind of partner you want and learn about who you are. That's healthy and it's how you learn. You're going to be doing now what many people do when they're teenagers. In a lot of ways, it's like someone who comes out as glbt later in life and has an adolescence all over again.

So remember, now is the time to explore, to date many people, to learn about people and yourself - not the time to settle down or get heavily invested in the first person you connect with, at least not in terms of counting on a future with that person. Not to say you shouldn't let yourself fall in love, but just keep all of that in mind, and keep it day by day - one step at a time.
posted by jardinier at 12:56 PM on April 30, 2010 [5 favorites]

This is rather heartbreaking and I'm sorry you're lacking in intimacy in your life. I know you say you *might* be moving next month but don't live in a potential future. Start looking for a therapist today. Even if you end up moving I really think the act of doing something for yourself and making an effort to change your life could be helpful to you. Each day matters - start helping yourself today.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 12:58 PM on April 30, 2010

As everyone else said, therapy - as soon as possible.

If you can find a group that does something that pertains to an interest you have (bowling league, film club, brewing association, community service) join it and make some acquaintances. It is much easier to meet a woman in these kind of situations (or get introduced by someone you meet) than meet someone at a bar. Good luck!
posted by notnathan at 1:06 PM on April 30, 2010

First of all, I hope you don't mind if I edit one sentence:
I've been feeling this weird completely natural sort of urgency to experience intimacy or take part in some sort of intimate relationship lately
In other words, of course you have an urge for intimacy. We are animals, after all. It's nothing to apologize for.

You seem to be making excuses for not being in a relationship or having any kind of intimacy. You don't need to make everything in your life perfect first; few people who are in relationships have totally untroubled lives. While the conventional advice is to get everything about your life in order before entering a relationship, I'm going to go against that and say you should prioritize having any kind of intimacy (which, as you said, doesn't necessarily mean sex -- it could be just kissing or whatever) as soon as reasonably possible. Get your first experiences with these things out of the way, or else you'll just feel more and more burdened by these feelings, and you'll feel more and more embarrassed about being such a late bloomer when the time does come around.

There have been a lot of previous AskMe questions about similar issues -- example ... example ... I'm sure there's helpful advice there.
posted by Jaltcoh at 1:10 PM on April 30, 2010 [4 favorites]

I think the urge for intimacy is 100% normal and there is nothing weird about it, and if you want to start looking for a relationship now, you should start now.

There was a thread a few days ago where this was mentioned, but I think it's silly for people to act like you have to be totally together to need or want intimacy. If so, maybe 1% of this world would ever date. You have the right to want intimacy even if you're a total basket case. Therapy is great for all sorts of reasons, but I don't think you have to ban yourself from even trying to date until after you're done with it.
posted by Ashley801 at 1:19 PM on April 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

are you a church goer? a lot of churches have singles activities (hell, the mormons want to marry people off so much there's a dedicated singles congregation).

volunteer or pick up a hobby that involves others - join the sierra club, feed the homeless, join a hiking group, whatever - just put yourself out there in a fun, relaxing way. one of the nice things is that this suggestion is so common that you might just find a 29 year old female who is there for much the same reasons. but even if you don't find a gal to date, you'll get better at talking to them. plus, it'll probably help some of the depression and loneliness.

as for my next suggestion - it might be completely inappropriate for you so feel free to disregard it - but if you aren't emotionally attached to the idea of virginity and the loss of it - and if you feel like a biological desire to have sex is pushing you towards needing a girlfriend, might i suggest a prostitute? for some people, getting over the hump of "omg, first time, what if i'm bad??" does wonders for relaxing them to find a partner. for some people, it doesn't do that. only you can say which you are...
posted by nadawi at 1:53 PM on April 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

Anon, I've been where you are (only I was even older); MeMail me if you want.
posted by Vervain at 2:19 PM on April 30, 2010

Therapy would be useful-- but a very important part of that usefulness would just come from getting in the habit of talking to other people within a framework of intimacy.

Honestly, it would probably be helpful to hunt down whatever's left of a rave scene in your area, just you can Talk About Feelings.

Now matter how absurd and artificial it all might seem, once you get in the practice of talking about your feelings, this will likely have the effect of loosening you up around women... which will allow them to connect with you more easily.

And after you've loosened up with women, read and apply some of the voluminous quantity of pick-up material available on the web. Crazy as it might appear on the page, once you get comfortable with it, the stuff really does work...

And here's one further simple suggestion, that you can start to apply right now:

Next time you find yourself attracted to a woman...

1) Think of yourself as a happy seven year-old.
2) Go talk to her about *simple* happy upbeat shiny seven-year old things... and remember that the happier and shinier a seven year-old you are, the more she will feel that it is a wonderful thing that you have the courage to come over and share your shininess with her.

A simple, upbeat initial connection creates the groundwork for deeper, more complex intimacy.
posted by darth_tedious at 2:23 PM on April 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ok, you might be moving again next month. Which means, if you find a therapist now, you might leave them in a month, but that doesn't mean that you can't get a few meaningful sessions in with them (warning: some places may have long waiting lists, some don't, just fyi). If you find a therapist now, and you move, you might be able to get a recommendation from the current therapist for one in your new city. Even if you don't find a therapist where you are, I think it's still important to go through the process of looking for one.

You can have non-sexual intimate relationships with friends, so I think it's a good idea to develop friendships with any existing friends (even if they are far-flung... send some emails, chats, skype), and make new ones. Even if you may be moving, you can still keep in touch with them over the internets. You seem nervous about having romantic relationships, and friendships are a way to have relationships that have a lot less pressure. Then you can talk to your friends about your relationship experiences, get their advice, get set up by them... see what I mean? Or not. Sometimes it's fun to get together a throw a frisbee around, (or banter over the net) and talk about other stuff.

Other ways to cope: exercise, get involved in your community (another way to meet people), do something artistic to express yourself. Writing is an awesome type of therapy (for me, anyway, and for a lot of people).

When I first read your post, my immediate reaction was, just do it. As in, just go out there and find people to date (maybe via online). Maybe you'll have a bunch of those 1-2 date experiences again, but as long as you're learning from them, I don't think that's a waste of time. Just see it as a way to get to know people, to get practice in dating rather than being "OMG kissing OMG are we going to have sex are you my soulmate" sort of thing. And maybe read some "dating manuals" - I liked this one. Keep us posted! (If you want. :)

On preview: DO NOT do that creepy and misogynist "PUA" (pickup artist) stuff. Please!
posted by foxjacket at 2:25 PM on April 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Good for you for making this a priority and trying to figure out what to do about it.

Check out the Rosen method, which is essentially massage crossed with therapy. If there's nobody that does it in your town, even regular massage, being touched by someone, might help you get through. It could be one of those $1/minute places in the mall or Whole Foods, even.

Someone was just telling me that Sex & Love Addicts Anonymous has special meetings for people whose issues express themselves through an intense fear or avoidance of sex and love, and that it can be really good for relationship intimacy issues. YMMV. Best of all, it's free. Even if you don't click with your whole group, you'll have to find a sponsor (like a mentor), so you'll be forming one close relationship.

The therapy suggestions are also great. You sound desperate, so I think you might find that having a professional to share this burden with you provides significant relief. I've also heard that group therapy is good for social anxiety-types of things. Unlike the other suggestions above, where I've heard personal testimony about how they helped someone, I have no idea if this is true, but it kinda makes sense (or does it?) and might be another option to consider.

Finally, what about just doing internet or speed dating? You won't find immediate intimacy, but it will give you practice in meeting people and making conversation.

I totally understand the desire to wait until you're somewhere permanent, but I'd just start for real right now. It's going to take a lot of trial and error to find something that really works, and starting that trial and error now will have benefits. E.g., if you found an amazing therapist, you could continue via phone sessions, and different therapists have different insights to offer, so switching after a few months will give you access to two approaches. E.g., if you ruled out Sex & Love Addicts Anonymous but discovered something called Loners Anonymous (I made that up), you'd know what to look for when you got to the new place. Kaiser Permanente has two-month classes on some issues, so you could complete a class before you had to move. Let us know how it goes!
posted by salvia at 2:41 PM on April 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

By "you sound desperate" I mean "... for relief." People use "desperate" as a put-down in dating situations, but I meant it like "you really sound like you really want solutions now," and when I've been in that situation, talking to a therapist provided intense relief.
posted by salvia at 2:44 PM on April 30, 2010

How to handle lonliness in the interim: find yourself a community/social group/social activities. One of the ways to do this is find somewhere to volunteer at the same place regularly, because then you have both a common interest and familiar faces. It takes time, but then, so do the foundations for romantic relationships.
posted by aniola at 2:54 PM on April 30, 2010

I was in your shoes, but not quite so long. I had never been on a date up until almost the end of my college years, and then it seemed like luck (she was outgoing, bypassing my shyness). I pined for intimacy for years, and it was the worst when I was alone. Being around lively people, friends who weren't pining, was helpful.

Find people to spend time with, make friends in your area, even if it's casual and short-term until you move again. Keep busy, try to think of other things than the fact that you're without a girlfriend, and enjoy yourself. You might find a date along the way, and it's a lot easier if you're in a positive frame of mind. If nothing else, you could feel better.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:38 PM on April 30, 2010

I think that what your experiencing is actually fairly normal for someone in your shoes. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with being a guy in his late 20's who has never experienced a relationship or had sex. In reality, you're still pretty young. And while you might be a bit behind the curve, it's never too late to start taking action. I think you should dive head first and start dating. Internet dating is a great way to meet people, so is joining clubs and meeting people with the same interests. One thing you will come to realize is that you have nothing to lose. The more you experience things....dating...making out...having sex....the more you'll become comfortable with them and realize it's not as scary as you thought. You'll start to relax and be yourself. I hope you find that special someone. But more importantly I hope you experience love. You may get your heart broken, but I truly believe it's better to have loved then not. Life is short. Go out and live it!
posted by ljs30 at 5:10 PM on April 30, 2010

An acquaintance of mine wrote a book about this in Germany. I also know that there are several chatting boards where people exchange about this. They call themselves "absolute beginners". I checked the German wikipedia and then changed to English and found this:

I am sure there are self-improvement groups and chatting boards in English.

I tell you this but it is not my cup of tea. But maybe you want to look into the PUA (pick up artist) stuff to get more ideas? I can strongly recommend this!
posted by yoyo_nyc at 6:59 PM on April 30, 2010

before you do any reading on PUA stuff - please read this thread to see how women feel about guys who do this.
posted by nadawi at 7:05 PM on April 30, 2010

My email is in the profile. Feel free to send me a message if you'd like to hear some honest responses to a number of things in your post. Suffice it to say, its all about perspective.
posted by xm at 8:19 PM on April 30, 2010

Take a deep breath. Are you highly motivated? Okay, this will require some effort.

Some of us have suggested hobby groups or church socials to meet new dates. These are the best ideas. You should do this.

Also, you must try very hard not to come across as too desperate, so one possible solution is to try to attend more than one hobby group/church social at the same time. This will make some demands upon your time and energy, but will help a great deal in not making you appear to be too overly focused.

Actually, forcing yourself to get out and socialize is a good start.
posted by ovvl at 8:22 PM on April 30, 2010

This web site would be a great place to start. It offers lots of social/dating advice for late bloomers. But if you feel that loneliness is your biggest problem, then checking out Awareness will probably help you most of all. If you go out feeling that you need to find a girl to fulfill you and make you happy, you're not likely to get far. Girls can smell desperation, as they say, and it's not very appealing. So try to get your life back in order as much as you can first and foremost. Just try to overcome these problems one at a time, and don't worry too far into the future. How things will be a few months or years from now will be difficult to predict and impossible to act on. Focus on what small steps you can take right now to improve your situation. Small actions over time add up to big results.
posted by Ryogen at 10:42 PM on April 30, 2010

Also, you must try very hard not to come across as too desperate

Yes. I didn't want to be the first to bring this up, but you'll probably have to solve the social desperation before you'll make much ground on the dating front. Women want men who aren't casting around desperately for "a girlfriend", but who want THEM in particular.
posted by availablelight at 9:49 AM on May 1, 2010

you'll probably have to solve the social desperation before you'll make much ground on the dating front.

By the time you fully accomplished this, you'd just be even more desperate to get into the dating scene.
posted by Jaltcoh at 10:02 AM on May 1, 2010

See if there are any cuddle parties where you are

Cuddles!!! Yay!!! and a lot of the people there are open to dating, and open-minded and chill people who are not afraid of people who want intimacy and cuddles. And will not make fun of you or think you're weird for wanting that.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:20 PM on May 2, 2010

Also, you know, don't worry about being too desperate or whatever as much as, just be positive, happy, optimistic, I know it's hard but try your best. You will make someone's life better by dating them. Just keep that in mind! And do what you can.

For what it's worth college sucked for me and was a black hole of loneliness, which, boo. Now that I am relatively settled I am so happy and have a lot of love and friendship in my life. There is a stereotype of college being this great friend time but it doesn't do it for some of us. And that's okay.

Good luck!
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:23 PM on May 2, 2010

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