How to explain lack of relationship experience to a new love interest?
January 1, 2011 8:51 PM   Subscribe

How to explain lack of relationship experience to a new love interest?

30-year-old male who, due to many factors, has been pretty far behind the curve when it comes to relationships and sex. Did casual dating a few times when I was in high school/college (as in we go out 1-2 times just for fun, never get physical at all) but didn't date in any form for most of my 20s due to personal issues (mostly due to massive shyness/social-anxiety problems). I've managed to turn things around a bit these past two years - I moved to a large East Coast city, got a job I love, started going to therapy, and eased myself into the local dating pool. I haven't yet pulled off the move from initial dating to an actual ongoing relationship, but have come very close twice (both times distance/logistics got in the way) so I think it's only a matter of time before it happens.

To further complicate matters, I have had sex, but only once. It was a textbook one-night stand that happened a few months ago - I literally had never met the girl before that night, we were both drinking, things suddenly got a bit physical, and well, you can imagine the rest. The one-night aspect was pretty much her idea - she seemed to have no interest in giving out her number or ever seeing me again. I'm not exactly proud of it, but I'm not really ashamed either - I was totally unattached and really had no reason not to go along with it. Still, it's definitely not the sort of person I normally am - if she hadn't approached me, I doubt it would have happened.

So I've recently met someone new, and while I'm not trying to get my hopes up too high, we seem to be successfully navigating the early stages and I think there's some promise for an actual relationship. The thing is, we have yet to talk about past relationships or ex's, but I suspect it'll be happening soon and I'm kind of sweating how I should handle it. So what's the best way? I'd obviously like to omit the recent hookup...I have yet to tell anyone about that period, and would like to keep it that way for a while.

So do I just allude to being "inexperienced" and leave it at that? Maybe say that I had "limited" sexual experiences when I was younger? What if she wants to know why I'm inexperienced? I know many women believe lack of relationship experience (esp. past a certain age) = committment-phobe or other serious defect (this isn't pure conjecture BTW, I've had a couple of female friends specifically tell me this). I don't think this is the case with me, it's just lack of dating/socializing skills kept me from having the "normal" opportunities for a relationship when I was younger. Still, I'm not sure how to handle discussions about this, particularly during the early stages of dating.

Open to suggestions or ideas, particularly from fellow late-bloomers who might have had to deal with similar issues...
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

I would just be completely honest. Tell her you've never been in a relationship. Alluding to inexperience will just make her wonder more, and probably make you more anxious because you'll be wondering how she interpreted it. And I wouldn't ever mention hookups to people you are dating. I'd also stop thinking about it as a "period." You had one one night stand. While it may have been a big deal to you, others don't really need to know about it. And, in my opinion, it certainly doesn't reflect what kind of a person you are.
posted by smokingmonkey at 9:09 PM on January 1, 2011

You weren't ready then. You're ready now. That's all she needs to know, really. It's not like most people sit around thinking, gee, wish my partner slept with more people.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:16 PM on January 1, 2011 [9 favorites]

You're putting her on a pedestal. You don't need to justify your inexperience to her. As for explaining it, just tell the truth without apology or unnecessary detail.
posted by mpls2 at 9:29 PM on January 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree with mpls2. I can only speak for myself, but if a man I had just started dating said "I really like you. I want to continue, but you should know I have no experience with ongoing relationships. I'm totally open to talking about the whys with you, so if you think you'd like to keep seeing me, and you have questions, let's talk about it," I would be a) totally open to that and b) flattered that someone who had had trouble with entering into relationships trusted and liked me enough to want to give it a try.

And if she's weirded out by it, she's a no-go anyhow.
posted by tzikeh at 9:34 PM on January 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

Would you be ok just saying something like "I never really met the right person"? There's a time and place for confession; sometimes dumping all the details (like you did in this question) is the right thing to do, and other times it isn't. I mean, are you sure you want to hear all the gory details of her past relationships, including one night stands and insecurities and everything, all in one fell swoop?

So my thought would be to start casual and very general (eg "haven't dated much" and "never met the right person") and add details if and when she is wanting to hear them.
posted by Forktine at 9:49 PM on January 1, 2011

I agree with mpls2 on the explanation issue. When you feel compelled to reveal a possibly embarrassing personal detail, do so without apology or trepidation. Everyone has issues or baggage of some sort, and anyone worth dating will know and accept that. Things generally go better if you are honest, concise, and forgo any self-flagellation.

You're already doing/have done a lot of self-examination and course correction of your path in life. That is the hard part. You can definitely handle this next step.
posted by jenmakes at 9:49 PM on January 1, 2011

Be honest, be yourself.
posted by bleeb at 10:01 PM on January 1, 2011

Be vague in the beginning and fill in details as needed as you go. A relationship is not a deposition. You can be honest without answering questions she probably isn't going to ask. Just tell her you dated some in the past, but nothing ever developed into a serious relationship. That's it, seriously. I've dated people for several years and we never had the "relationship talk." Sure he knew about some of my exes and I knew about some of his, but it was more a matter of they came up in conversation. There are some people who expect a full sexual resume of the person they are dating, but those people seem to be rarer as you get older. By your late 20s everyone knows everyone has a past and most people don't really want to dwell on the details.

The sexual inexperience you may need to be to tell her a bit more, but I would probably keep it at you aren't a virgin, but you aren't a big fan of casual sex and since you've never been in a serious relationship you aren't that experienced, but you take direction well or something else to keep it upbeat and light.
posted by whoaali at 12:42 AM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

First of all, congratulations that you're entering this phase!

Now, don't scare her off by talking about this too early on. Anecdotally I've always discovered that when men talk about the importance of a relationship in the first two-three months, or show too much insecurity, the ladyfriend tends to back away a bit. I imagine you want to express how you're really happy to finally be in this position, and to let her know your history in case you do anything awkward, but don't confide too much just yet on this point.

If everything else goes well, a few months down the track you can really open up about this and have a laugh about it with her.

- From a shy person who continually blundered at this point until he finally kept quiet. Been with my current girl for six years, engaged to be married. :)
posted by keej at 3:37 AM on January 2, 2011

Be honest and direct, not wishy-washy or coy. Tell her what you told us. But this doesn't have to happen immediately.
posted by John Cohen at 4:38 AM on January 2, 2011

I'd limit it to a talking point at first and expand as needed. Things that might be relevant are

- do not have much relationship experiences [don't have to say none]
- am not a virgin [don't need to talk about one night stand, but please do not pretend you've never had sex]
- I like you and am excited to explore what we have [or whatever]

Personally I don't see single 30 year old as commitmentphobe, I think it's still really in the range of "late bloomer, didn't find the right person" especially if you've been doing something else with your life [school, travel, family things]. The big deal is to tell what you tell in some sort of "this is normal for me" way and then move past it. Most people won't see it as a weird red flag or any kind of big deal. If you guys start telling more personal stories, you can explain how you've been working on things, pleased with the results and looking forward to getting to know her.
posted by jessamyn at 6:49 AM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

To be 100% honest: if you told me "I haven't had much relationship experience" and left it at that, I would probably wonder. If you didn't act like a commitment-phobe that probably wouldn't be my first thought, but I would still wonder.

On the other hand, if you said, "I haven't had much relationship experience, though I've wanted to, because I was really shy when I was younger," then I would totally understand. And in fact, I think I would probably find that really charming.
posted by Ashley801 at 6:54 AM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hello! I just entered into a relationship with a guy who had a similar-but-not-identical background as you, and is younger than you. The new relationship is going really well. So: don't feel too too bad about this!

Caveat: I had a slightly similar background, but with more one-time fooling around stories and a single relationship. I am also younger than you (and younger than my boyfriend).

Basically, when the time was right, we started talking about our pasts. He discussed his struggles with similar issues as you, and simple explained that he wasn't in a place to have a relationship before. I thought that that was just fine--because he was being honest, but he also wasn't wearing a huge chip on his shoulder about it. A "huge chip on the shoulder" sort of reaction would be (a) hurriedly/frantically giving the entire past before anyone asked (b) making it too long and detailed, too soon, or (c) being way too evasive about it.

And we proceeded to be a disgustingly cute new couple for the rest of the night.

(This was on the third date or so, but our dates had been both very long and enormously successful, so I wouldn't necessarily suggest dropping this in on the third date for most people or for most relationships!)

My suggestion: if she asks when you last had sex, be honest, say a few months ago with a one night stand. (nothing to be ashamed about, but you should be honest, as often that question pops up in the "how concerned should I be about STDs" sort of context). If she asks about your exes or your "experience," say you weren't in a place to date for a long time, so you didn't.... because you you were awfully shy when you were younger, so you just didn't get into relationships.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 10:34 AM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Only bring it up if asked.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:15 AM on January 2, 2011

One more thing if/when asked tell the simple truth--it took me a while to get into dating. If asked for details, give them without acting like there is anything wrong with you, because there isn't anything wrong with you.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:20 AM on January 2, 2011

I'd couch it more as a matter of discretion and choice -- "I've dated some, never really clicked with anyone, perhaps because I was more focused on school and career ...." You really don't need to go into detail early on.

An explanation that depicts you as a wallflower who was single because of your shyness really doesn't do you justice. Yes, in some sense it may be true, but I would suggest putting a more in-control spin on it, an "I had other priorities" line.
posted by jayder at 9:21 PM on January 2, 2011

I'd concur with what the other posters have said earlier. If she doesn't bring it up, don't bring it up yourself. Especially early on in the relationship, there's no need to complicate matters. I'd go with the focus on other priorities (school, career, family) as the reason you didn't have a relationship, but if you have the talk later during the relationship phase, I think talk about the shyness is okay. In fact, I find it cute and charming. So it'll probably depends on the woman in how she'll interpret it. You'll probably know if she'll take it well or not as you get to know her better. But if you have this talk while the relationship is still in a very early stage, then skip on the shyness aspect might be a safer option to pursue.

My bf is also shy and is a late bloomer and when he told me about his shyness, I thought it was refreshingly honest and it helps to bring us closer as a couple. But then I'm also a later bloomer, later than him (he started dating after college, I only started dating in graduate school). So you are not alone in this.

Don't be nervous. The key to remember is that the right person for you will not judge you based on your past history.

Best of luck!
posted by wcmf at 12:06 PM on January 3, 2011

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