The life I have not lived
July 4, 2012 5:49 PM   Subscribe

Will I ever be in a ‘normal’ relationship?

I am technically not a virgin, but have very, very limited sexual experience. I had a few (disastrous) relationships in high school, and basically I have not had a relationship since. I really need to figure out what is holding me back from having a long term relationship—or even a not so long one! How do I get past this giant hurdle?

Back story: Since puberty I have struggled with my weight. Combine that with being socially and physically awkward, a major helping of social anxiety disorder, and a struggle with depression. This has resulted in very few connections with members of the opposite sex. I casually dated one guy as a junior in high school, then made the really stupid decision to get involved in a sexual relationship with my best friend’s boyfriend. I bounced back and forth between the casual dater and my best friend’s boyfriend for the rest of high school. A series of stupid choices resulted in me losing my best friend as well as most of the friends in our circle. I spiraled into a deep depression from which I took a LONG time to recover. My resulting shame and self-hatred basically led me to simultaneously punish and comfort myself with excessive overeating.

Eventually by the time I was out of college I weighed close to 300 lbs. (I am 5’ 1”.) There were no men knocking down my door to date me. In the prime of my life, I had effectively built a wall that blocked any chance of having a relationship. (Please don’t take this as a blanket statement about overweight people. I am only talking about myself. I know that being overweight doesn’t necessarily equate to a lack of sexin’.)

Through the years, I tried various diets and had minor successes, but nothing long term. I also tried online dating off and on and heard only crickets. I focused on my career and making a life on my own. I was miserable and lonely, but I coped as best I could. Two and a half years ago, I had bariatric surgery and was able to lose a significant amount of weight. I am not at goal weight, but I am very close. I eat right and I exercise. I finally feel like I have a shot at a future. At the age of 43, I took a job across the county to start my life over and meet new people. A fresh start with a fresh outlook. Except…

I am still this person with body issues, low self-esteem and little to no sexual history. I am once again doing the online dating thing, but I get the questions about past relationships and I have nothing to offer. This has become a huge obstacle for me. Even co-workers and casual friends ask, “Are you married? Have you ever been married? Why not?”

I don’t know how to respond. Anything I say sounds, frankly, pathetic and weak. On the last date I went on, when I told him I had never been married, he said, “Have you ever come close to getting married?” And I said no. Awkward silence. What do I say that is both truthful and not off-putting? I am not going to tell people, unless I feel very secure around them, that I struggled with long term depression and morbid obesity. That may be the truth, but 1) it is no one’s business and 2) it isn’t going to make me look even remotely attractive to a prospective partner. I am also not willing to make up an imaginary past relationship. I don’t want any future relationship I have to be based in part on a lie.

Since moving to this new city a year and a half ago, I’ve had several first and some second dates, but nothing has progressed beyond that. And while it hasn’t been the only reason, the fact that I don’t have a long term relationship in my past is definitely one of the reasons for that. Yes, I am in counseling, but whenever I’ve broached this topic with my therapist I’ve never been really satisfied with her response. She doesn’t seem to understand how society can view a person (especially a woman) who is 44 and has never even had a proper boyfriend. I think my therapist is helping me in other areas, such as with my depression and social anxiety, but in this particular area she falls short. So I come to you, Metafilter, to ask for advice. Help!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (40 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried just telling people, when they ask about previous relationships, that you are shy but you are making an effort now to be more outgoing? Most people like to talk about themselves so you could tell them the shy bit and then ask them a question about their past relationship to get them talking. Don’t just let their question stop the conversation in its tracks.
posted by TeknoKid at 6:02 PM on July 4, 2012 [7 favorites]

Coworkers and acquaintances: “Are you married? Have you ever been married? Why not?”

You were focused on your career. Anyone who persists in asking after that is rude.

Dates: “Have you ever come close to getting married?” And I said no. Awkward silence.

You need to fill that awkward silence. "No, I've been really focused on my career and improving myself ... I'm making a fresh start and I'm enjoying meeting new people."
posted by desjardins at 6:02 PM on July 4, 2012 [17 favorites]

I think you can do this.
And in all due respect, I don't think your past lack of a relationship should be a big factor.
If someone is probing your past relationships, they're either a) a bit odd or b) more interested int you than you know.
Either way, a little mystery won't hurt. There are plenty of reasons not to discuss past loves.
Good luck.
posted by LonnieK at 6:26 PM on July 4, 2012

TeknoKid and desjardins have good ideas for responses for you in situations where some intimacy is warranted. I wanted to say though, coming from similar experience levels, that people you only know casually or in professional settings (like co-workers) have no right to know anything that makes you uncomfortable. Asking a co-worker a question like "why haven't you ever been married?" seems rude to me. In a situation like that you'd be 100% justified in politely saying "I'd rather not discuss my personal life" and leaving it at that.
posted by houndsoflove at 6:32 PM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Will I ever be in a ‘normal’ relationship?

That was easy. Next!

Ok, not trying to be flippant, but yes, yes you will. Because you haven't dated much, perhaps you don't realise that dating will take a while, and depending on things like self esteem, can be sapping and damaging (or fun and unpredictable), and it'll take you a while to get better at it.

Plenty of people have no experience at dating, for all sorts of reasons (usually having been in a long relationship), so you're not alone.

Self-esteem is probably your big problem. For example, “Have you ever come close to getting married?” And I said no. Awkward silence. - it sounds like you just assume that the awkward silence is because you gave a weird answer, that the problem is you, but what you did was give an answer that because they weren't expecting, they didn't immediately have a follow up - and you didn't follow up or move off in another direction either, hence, silence. It didn't need to be the big awkward thing it was, it was just a dropped ball in the conversation, not an inevitable impression that you will leave on people - that's the self-esteem worrying.

During these years, you did things, you learned things, you have things to bring to the table, and to the conversation, and things to offer, and dating is simply a new context for you, so it'll be a bit awkward initially, and you'll need a few new skills, which you will develop the more you do it. But hey -

It doesn't matter if a date goes badly. You honed your skills, had an interesting conversation, and there will be another date another time.

You haven't failed at a date until you're standing with your hands over your head with a police helicopter above shining a spotlight on you and ordering you to the ground. And even then, that might be an epic win of a date! :)
posted by -harlequin- at 6:35 PM on July 4, 2012 [15 favorites]

I am once again doing the online dating thing, but I get the questions about past relationships and I have nothing to offer. This has become a huge obstacle for me. Even co-workers and casual friends ask, “Are you married? Have you ever been married? Why not?”

Asking you why you haven't been married is pretty rude. It's also not so unusual for a woman your age to never have married. More and more women (and men) are staying single and are just as happy or happier than married people.

I think you have to work on coming to terms with the fact that even though it is normal to not have married, some close-minded people will think it's odd and that's not your problem. There's nothing to be ashamed of here, and a good potential partner won't stop dating you if you tell him you were just not focused on dating in the past, but you have now realized that you'd like to share your life with someone.
posted by Sal and Richard at 6:35 PM on July 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

A couple of acceptable responses to slightly impertinent relationship questions that also gently admonish the asker for prying are:

"Oh, it just never happened."
"Oh, I just never met the right person."

As others above have said, it is also perfectly acceptable to say that you had other priorities, such as your career. If you want to get creative, combine a couple of these stock responses, affirm that you're happy to be in a different place with that now, and then deflect.

e.g.: "Oh, it just never happened. I've been really focused on my career until now, so I never really had a chance to meet the right person. I'm really happy that those days are behind me and I can get out and meet more people now! In fact, that's part of why I moved to $city! Say, have you lived in a lot of different places? When did you move to $city?"

Something like that should do the trick nicely.
posted by Scientist at 6:38 PM on July 4, 2012 [5 favorites]

OK, the depression is a red flag that you probably shouldn't share on a first date, but I don't see why telling somebody about your weight problems in the past would be an issue. I used to be fat and had a hunch (due to being on life support for a prolonged time) and I've told first dates about this before. I never felt judged for it - quite the contrary, generally they respect me for having had the willpower to overcome my body issues.

Generally, sharing a vulnerability (as long as it is not an overwhelming one) doesn't make people look down on you - rather, they empathize and share a similar story about themselves. This leads to emotional rapport.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 6:42 PM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

You're going out on second dates with people you like. You're very close to having the kind of relationship you're looking for.

The story you have to tell is unique in that it's uniquely yours, but it's not particularly unusual or frightening. It's likely not as intimidating to a date as finding out that you're on the rebound after a 20 year marriage would be. The way you tell it, it's a story of victory over adversity.

Everybody's got skeletons in their closet, things they're ashamed of that it's hard to bring into the light of day. This will prove to be true of the next guy you date. The day two people become aware of the strangeness of each other's lives and accept it is the day a long term relationship begins.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 6:48 PM on July 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

My childless sister, in her late 30s, has never been married and it's not on the cards soon. She has had quite a few boyfriends, but that never helps with the incessant "Why aren't you married? / When are you getting married?" badgering she suffers at the hands of some idiots. What I mean to illustrate, with the above anecdata, is that you are not alone in the woman over 30 "why aren't you married" situation. This seems to be something that happens amongst a specific subset of people when encountering unmarried women above a certain age. You do not have to share any information or insight with people asking these things in they way they are asking them. (It might be different, say, if it's someone you're getting to know, boyfriend prospect, close friend etc.)

Flippant, brusque but fairly witty responses could work:
- "I am married. To the Eiffel Tower. Didn't you see that documentary about me?" (deadpan)
- "Because [random person of vague celebrity/someway related to something you're interested in] was taken"
- "I'm an international woman of mystery. You'll never know."
I am sure there are better suggestions in a similar vein.

If you want to get snippy but empowered about it:
- "Why are YOU married?"
- "How do you know I'm not married?"
- "Why are you concerned with my marital status? Not enough work to do today?!"

nthing also possible brief explanatory statements about work/career your focus etc.

Also: I, a married woman, never once came "close" to getting married in previous relationships - until I got married to my current man, if you know what I mean. Not getting "close" to it before does not mean never getting married.

As for sharing past obesity and depression issues.
The thing is, one a first date, or even on a few dates until you're in a certain trust zone, you don't need to share this if you don't want to. Not sharing it is not the same as lying, as long as you share these details when you do get into that trust zone. You ARE the real you that you are presenting on such dates without sharing these details. Everyone elides or omits certain things from their past or current history until they feel comfortable with the other person. But you do need to mention them eventually, as they have clearly shaped who you are today.

Re: still "feeling" fat - I think this takes a long time and a lot of work to improve. Seven years ago, I dropped 2 dress sizes due to illness. I wasn't happy with my size at the larger size, and rationally am happy with my body now. Yet, I suspect I will always harbour the same "feeling fat" issues as being bigger was my world for a long time. Therapy work on self esteem, loving who you were and who you are now can help.
posted by thetarium at 7:00 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

"We were surprised to find that currently thin women were viewed differently depending on their weight history," said Dr Janet Latner, study lead at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa, US. "Those who had been obese in the past were perceived as less attractive than those who had always been thin, despite having identical height and weight."
Yep, that's why I don't mention it on a first date. I guess I've learned to consider it just part of my medical history, which people can learn gradually. I also don't put my past on the table on first dates and consider it rather rude if someone who I don't know well pries into it.
posted by melissam at 7:01 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Will you ever be in a relationship? No one can know that. Can you be? Absolutely; nothing you've said rules it out at all. (Though it could make it harder. But a lot of people have something that makes it harder.)

Any answer like "I've dated some, but mostly I've been focused on my career" is just fine and all people need to know. I also see nothing wrong with an optional addition of "I was very overweight, which doesn't help when you're trying to meet people, but I've lost X pounds and now I'm much more social." people love weight loss stories, and they also tend to assume more past experience than less - if someone your age told me they'd never had a relationship, just dated, I'd imagine all sorts of quasi-boyfriends and interesting flings.

As for why you've never been married or come close (which is so rude to ask) this to me is a statement about how weird our society is. It seems we've gone from one extreme, when divorce or a failed engagement was a huge stigma, to the opposite, where if you never married or almost married the wrong guy, and/or had kids with him along the way, you're damaged goods. This is fucked. You can happily spin this into "Nope, thankfully I've never had to go through anything like a marriage breaking up. I've seen a lot if people get hurt that way but luckily I've avoided it. I would like to get married if I happen to meet the right guy though!"
posted by DestinationUnknown at 7:04 PM on July 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

Clarification: mentioning your weight loss is fine to friends and coworkers; I wouldn't mention it in a first/second date.

And another thing. IME the most vocal of the OMG you're not married?! people, will often eventually start expressing their jealousy over your calm, free, single life if you seem happy with it yourself.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 7:09 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Re: "Have you ever been married? Have you ever come close to being married?" why not just say no and then ask the guy about himself? And then find a way to extricate yourself from the date politely since someone who asks you that is not someone you'll want to date. (And is not doing that great in the marriage department himself, is he?)

I agree that saying you've been focusing on your career, or that you haven't found the right person yet are good answers. I wouldn't talk about weight issues or depression on a first date.
posted by mlle valentine at 7:11 PM on July 4, 2012

I believe most men will be less likely to want to date you if they know you have a history of obesity. It's not fair, but what will likely go through a (typical) man's mind is "she's gonna gain weight again and then I won't be attracted to her anymore".

With that said, maybe you should get it out of the way on the first date (if it fits naturally into the conversation). You might get rejected more/sooner, but you won't spend as much time dating men who aren't accepting of you.

As for depression being a "red flag" (god I hate that term): again, you are who you are, and maybe it's better to just be that person, and mention it if it comes up. I know rejection is no fun, but you want to get the dates with the people who aren't right for you out of the way, so you can get closer to finding the one who *is*.
posted by parrot_person at 7:19 PM on July 4, 2012

You really need to meet or talk to a woman who is your age or older, hasn't been in a lot of relationships, and doesn't care.

I have this aunt, who never married and is now in her 60's, and on top of that never moved out of her parental home. But that is how she wanted it and she doesn't come of in ANY way as a dysfunctional person. Men have always been after her and she has never been interested in them at all. She has had a stable career since her 20s. She saves her money and goes abroad for long vacations every year with friends. Speaking of friends, she has tons of them and a big social life. She plays sports. She got a graduate degree. She's an impeccable dresser. She looks spectacular.

I once asked my dad if she had ever dated anyone. He said, "of course, I saw her out on a date once." I asked when it was? He said it was back in the '70's.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that if she wanted to be married within the next year she could be, and her lack of a relationship history would not be a problem in the least. Nobody would even dare to say anything judgmental to her about it because on top of everything I've mentioned, she's an *extremely* confident, self-possessed person who doesn't take anyone's shit.

You really need to meet or talk to someone like that and pretend that you are them. When you find yourself in situations where you feel self conscious about your history just ask yourself, "how would "Debra" react to this right now?" If you find a kind of role model like that I think you can make this self-consciousness mostly disappear.
posted by cairdeas at 7:33 PM on July 4, 2012 [12 favorites]

Do you realize that your story is inspirational? It demonstrates considerable bravery to struggle past decades of isolation and fight for a better life like you are doing. Other people have commented when it's appropriate to share personal history with potential mates, but eventually such information needs to be shared. When you do, I suggest change the narrative in your head and tell the man some variant of: for a long time you had struggled with issues that made dating difficult, but you've worked hard to better yourself and are now in a good place to share a life with someone. It's healthy, it's honest and (good) people will dig that. Best of luck:)
posted by Pantalaimon at 7:38 PM on July 4, 2012 [7 favorites]

In the prime of my life...

Stop thinking about it like this. The prime of your life will be the time when you're able to live freely and enjoy yourself (and others) like you all deserve to be enjoyed. I know people who started everything over at 50. Your best may well be yet to come.
posted by hermitosis at 7:48 PM on July 4, 2012 [12 favorites]

Yes, you can have a "normal" relationship, but easier said then done. It sounds like you are your own worst enemy in this situation, and I can empathize a lot with what you are saying. I'm not suggesting you dump your therapist immediately, but if your therapist can't address this issue effectively with you, it might be time to find a different therapist. That aside, when you are asked why you haven't been married or haven't come close, just say that you haven't met the right person yet. That's a perfectly normal, non-red flag response. Over time, as intimacy grows, you will naturally talk about your issues (and trust me whoever your partner ends up being will have his/her baggage, too) & past relationships, but in the beginning, you should be truthful, but only disclose as much as necessary and feels right. Plenty of people don't find a long-term partner until later in life for a wide variety of reasons. If you're open, it will eventually fall into place, it will just take time. Good luck!
posted by katemcd at 7:58 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

"Oh, it just never happened."
"Oh, I just never met the right person."

I like these types of responses, but I really want to emphasize something about them: they point outwards. In your post, it sounds like you're thinking of your marriage history as caused by some sort of issue related to you--as if, in answering the question, you have to delve into your insecurities and medical history, as if the question is only there because of some flaw on your part.

But it isn't. It's about the world around you. It's about the circumstances you've found yourself in, the people you've been surrounded by, and so on. Try to think of the question as similar to, "Why have you never found a $100 bill on the ground?" or "Why haven't you ever visited Greece?" The answer to both of those: a mixture of luck and circumstances.

Remember, you're not deficient. Totally wonderful people can go their whole lives without finding a $100 bill, totally wonderful people can focus on their work so much that they never end up going to Greece, and totally wonderful people can go 40 years without having found the right person. You can tell a story about depression and weight (and it's an important and valuable story for you to understand and express under other sorts of circumstances!), but that doesn't mean that is the only correct story to tell. Equally correct, and better for these sorts of circumstances, is the very simple one: "*shrug* It just never happened! But it will one of these days."
posted by meese at 9:21 PM on July 4, 2012 [9 favorites]

Maybe you could take a bigger view, and tell them that you've been working for a long time on an important personal project, and now it's nearly complete, and you're expanding your horizons.

All of which is true, and could be explored over time as you get to know someone better (if you're interested, that is.)

An unmarried, professional female friend of mine always answers the "Why aren't you married?" question with, "I've never felt incomplete."
posted by halfbuckaroo at 9:47 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don’t know how to respond. Anything I say sounds, frankly, pathetic and weak.

I suspect you're not giving yourself enough credit because of how you feel about your past. If you say it with the right delivery, it won't sound weak! When someone I don't know well asks me that sort of thing, I say with a smile, "Nope! Haven't gotten around to it. Been having too much fun. [change topic]" You don't owe them more "truth" than that.

Also, if your current therapist can't help you with this, maybe someone else can help? You've come so far and the self-esteem piece seems too important to let fall by the wayside.
posted by *s at 9:59 PM on July 4, 2012

Do you realize that your story is inspirational? It demonstrates considerable bravery to struggle past decades of isolation and fight for a better life like you are doing. Other people have commented when it's appropriate to share personal history with potential mates, but eventually such information needs to be shared. When you do, I suggest change the narrative in your head and tell the man some variant of: for a long time you had struggled with issues that made dating difficult, but you've worked hard to better yourself and are now in a good place to share a life with someone. It's healthy, it's honest and (good) people will dig that. Best of luck:)

Pantalaimon beat me to it. I was coming in to say, what you need is a better story about yourself. If your internal story of your life is "I was a pathetic loser and now I"m better," well, it's time to update that with a more complete and self-compassionate version. You were a person who overcame great mental and physical odds to get to a good place in your life. I have no doubt in that time you have conquered fears, done things you are proud of, learned important truths about yourself, and deepened your knowledge of the world. Bring those things into your story and when you talk to dates or whoever, tell them that story, or part of it.

What are you passionate about? What is meaningful to you? What do you want to do (besides be in a relationship) before you die? These are the parts of you that you need to focus on. We treat romantic relationships for women as an accomplishment in this society, but there's no rule that you or anyone has to make that your priority, because our society is completely fucked up in what it tells women.

Ironically enough, your chances of finding a satisfying partner go up the more fulfilled you are in the rest of your life. But then, even if that doesn't work out for you, you have already focused on things that make your life a good one, so doing that is win-win.
posted by emjaybee at 9:59 PM on July 4, 2012 [5 favorites]

People might be expressing surprise you've never married because they think you're awesome! "how come you haven't been snapped up?" is a compliment if you make it one. Give yourself and them some credit here. Most people are just trying to be friends or get to know you in their own weird way.

Also women ask questions like this as part of bonding, they expect you to give an answer like "never met the one. Yet!" or "yep, probably should have but I'm a slow starter" or "too busy working!" and then they tell you about their dating travails or make a joke about how they miss the single life (or an earnest comment).

What I'm saying is that you need to learn to put a positive spin on everything for a while. Fake it till you make it in the self confidence department. And give people the benefit of the doubt, if they say something a bit hurtful its very, very likely they didnt mean to.
posted by fshgrl at 10:33 PM on July 4, 2012

My shrink told me that she didn't have a relationship last for more than a few months until she met her husband. She got married at age 51. So yes, there's the occasional special snowflake like yourself that makes it happen.

Anyone who asks why you never got married needs a kick in the crotch, I think. That's so freaking rude. "Uh, nobody came along that I wanted to marry. Duh!"
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:56 PM on July 4, 2012

Dates: I don't have much dating experience. Why not? It's a long and complicated story. I'd rather not go into it now. I'll tell it to you after I get to know you better.

Work: Why, are you interested? ;-) Just never met the right guy.
posted by xammerboy at 11:08 PM on July 4, 2012

I've never dated through the internet, but I imagine the dates are similar to job interviews at first. When you're answering questions in a job interview, you have to spin your answers toward the positive. I have a friend that started a business that failed, and for a year he went on interviews and covered it up. My advice to him was to highlight that he started a business and say it was the best experience of his life. If he could go back again, he would do it all over, even though it wasn't profitable in the end. He got a job very soon after.

During the year of the .com bomb I was out of work. When I interviewed (finally), I said that the year had been an amazing opportunity to do everything I couldn't spend time doing before: traveling, biking, hiking, etc. Interviewers loved this story, because secretly they all wanted to do exactly that. One interviewer told me outright that he was jealous of my experiences. In reality, it was one of the worst years of my life.

Ever been married?
"Up until very recently I wasn't even interested in having a serious relationship. I saw too many people get married and then lose all their time and vitality carting their kids around. I didn't want that to happen to me. I loved my single life. Without it, I wouldn't have become so successful at my job. I wouldn't have traveled. I wouldn't have had time for my writing. I would never have time to myself. I felt that there were things I needed to do in life. You only live once.

But things change. I'm older now. Now, when I do something, I think about how great it would be to share that experience with someone who really knows me. Hence, I'm dating, and I'm excited, as well as rather new to all this."

That's the girl I want to date. Confident. Positive.... Most married people sometimes fantasize that they never became married, focused on their dream project instead, and became successful. In many of their minds they traded marriage for their own ambitions. Having been single for so long can be a great answer / story to tell. Your only goal at this point is to get a "job offer". Share the extended and complicated story later.

When I advise people that are interviewing, I suggest they write down and even speak aloud their answers to the standard questions that are asked. I suggest you do this for dating as well, taking into account that the purpose of the first date is just to get a second date, and that you put a positive spin on everything.

MeMail me if you feel I could be of help. Good luck with your new life! I love what you have done. Starting over is so hard. You must be an exceptional person.
posted by xammerboy at 12:20 AM on July 5, 2012 [7 favorites]

I agree you need a better story. It sounds like you've lived a life that's probably made you a very interesting person with a lot to share with a partner. You might even consider working with a therapist who's good at this sort of recasting (the therapist I saw for a year was excellent at this, but unfortunately, I'm not sure if it's a particular mode or school of thought).

I think you should also read this, which helped me out a lot when I read it last year during a time when I was feeling very discouraged about my nearly perpetual single state. The writer talks about feeling like there was something wrong with her for being single for 8 years. Other men had "balked" when she told them. But in this essay, her new boyfriend asks her, and when she answers, just shrugs and says “Lucky for me. All those other guys were idiots.” And they've been together for 6 years.

The point of this is that the guy who's right for you won't see it as a deal-breaker, or something that's wrong with you. But I think it will help if you can find a way to tell your story that shows that it's just one part of who you are.
posted by the essence of class and fanciness at 1:15 AM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

“Have you ever come close to getting married?”

"I've just not been very interested in settling down - but things change, you know"

"I've spent my life being really passionate about my career - but I've decided I want to share my interests with someone else"

Stuff along those lines - not necessarily verbatim because I am slightly tipsy while I write this, but you get the general drift.

Think of it this way - everyone, absolutely everyone, comes to everything they do in life with some kind of baggage or crap they're currently dealing with.

You're not going to go into a job interview and say, "look, when I was 20, I really sucked at this job" - you're going to focus on all the awesome things you've done since and how fantastic you are.

Dating's much the same. The past is the past - it's not the present and it's not the future. You're awesome - own it.
posted by heyjude at 3:12 AM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ditto to "you need a better story."

Beyond that, also consider what is actually being asked by the other person.

A guy can't ask "would you ever consider getting married?" or "are you looking to get married?" on a first date. That would be crazy. So instead, he might ask "have you ever been married?" because women will hopefully answer the un-asked question (directly or indirectly) with their response.

If a woman replies in an angry or non-linear/bizarre way, then the guy has all the information he needs. Other potential disqualifiers would be extreme bitterness about the past or making it clear you still hold a candle for an old flame. Again, it is a simple question but it can provide so much information about whether the person in front of you is ready for a new relationship.

So I'd suggest you work up an answer that addresses the question being asked but also touches on all the things not being asked.
posted by 99percentfake at 3:17 AM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think the problem is that you feel like you're a walking abyss of shame and your cover will be blown the moment somebody sneezes.

You know, there is forgiveness for every sin, at least in my metaphysical worldview. You sinned when you were in high school. You repented. You don't have to pay for it for the rest of your life. You were fat. Lots of people are still fat. Everybody has ways of comforting themselves, some of these ways are more healthy than others, and some of these ways have more visible consequences than others. Fat people can wind up getting shamed by people who have more than enough issues of their own to be ashamed of.

I have known a lot of unrepentantly gross, revolting, evil people with no morals, often ugly on the outside too, who for reasons passing understanding are never single. You sound like a decent person with good moral standards who is probably plenty good-looking. If those freaks I mentioned can get partners I don't see why you can't; I think the problem is that they're completely shameless and you're not.

You're just as human as anyone. No more and no less. If the people who are questioning you were to have every thought they've thunk in the past week exposed and published on the Internet, a lot of them would never show their faces in public again. People can only see what you allow them to see.
posted by tel3path at 3:53 AM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have no doubt you can crack this, you've taken steps to crack a bigger problem which affected your long-term health, this issue is no biggie.
BUT en route I would look into joining a long-term post-op bariatric support group because lots of people there have faced this exact issue.

If you were in the UK I would be recommending the simply awesome (DOI: I volunteer sometimes for this charity website) where there are long-term post-op successeful people. I hope there is some kind of similar organisation in your neck of the woods. Sharing this exact problem with people who've faced it and understand where you're coming from is really helpful and I know of several long-term relationships that ensued from support groups meet-ups.

(Just FYI 2-3 years out is where Bypass patients have their main uptick/plateaux issues and bandsters start struggling with various head-issues so joining a group will help in every sense)
posted by Wilder at 4:00 AM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I know women who have a higher BMI than you used to who are blissfully happily married. I know women with showgirl figures who have never had a relationship. I know three or four women who married for the first time when they were five to ten years older than you. People have lots of different stories, and though some people you'll encounter are going to be nosy assholes, most people who ask questions like "Why have you never married?" are just ineptly trying to make conversation, not to expose your complicated past challenges and shame you.

And as others have said, questions like "Have you ever been close to being married?" on a date are generally meant to suss out your feelings about relationships. Some people are going to answer that question with a thoughtful, balanced response that indicates self-knowledge and a positive attitude; others are going to launch into angry rants that betray some serious issues about their capacity for trust and openness.

So. Your answer might be "I haven't met the right person yet," or "I've been really focused on my career, and it's only recently that I've been trying to make dating and relationships more of a priority," or whatever feels true that is also a fairly easy sound bite that doesn't disclose more than you want to disclose at that stage.

It's not being fake or dishonest to consciously shape the narratives about your past that you share with new acquaintances, particularly when there are complicated bits of that past that you might not want to get into until you know someone better.

Congratulations on taking charge of your health in ways that worked for you! I wish you all the joy in the world.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:29 AM on July 5, 2012

A few things that might be going on:

First, I'd like to nth the idea that expressing surprise that you haven't been married is at least halfway a compliment. Because meeting you might be exactly like finding that hundred dollar bill on a well traveled roadway. "It's a hundred dollars! Why hasn't it been snapped up yet?" And yes, because people are inherently suspicious, when they see something that hasn't been snapped up for a while, they're going to ask, "Why not? Is there something wrong with it that I can't see? Is this a red flag?"

So what you need to do is find a narrative where it's not a red flag. I agree that you shouldn't tell about past problems on the first date for many, many reasons. But there are still ways to answer without laying aside the stunning, successful creature that you now are. "Nobody's ever managed to catch me yet" could be one, or even "When I was younger I wasn't looking to get married." That implies that there's good reasons, but you were still pursued - while also stating that things are maybe different now.

You absolutely can have a normal relationship. Congratulations - and good luck!
posted by corb at 6:27 AM on July 5, 2012

Agree that the problem is your shame. As for this point of view, expressed here and in other posts:

"Also, if your current therapist can't help you with this, maybe someone else can help?"

No. Don't blame your therapist for not helping you with this. Instead, think about why you are disappointed with her answer. What is her response? What's wrong with it? Now think about the answer you would want from her (and answer includes attitude, tone of voice, etc.) And tell her all about this..

It's hard. As hard as having those difficult discussions with your dates. But, when people say "therapy is work," this is what they're talking about. Not just the work of remembering painful things that happened. Telling the therapist how you feel about her and her responses to you, right in the room, that's very hard work, but it can be really rewarding, in that her disappointing responses may actually be a mirror of your own disappointment with yourself and other people who have been important in your life. And it's those relationships that set the stage for all the behavior you now feel bad about -- for your whole history that you wish had been different.

So that's what you're working on in therapy, sorting that out. People here (and elsewhere) are often very quick to want to toss out the therapist at the first mention that things in the therapy aren't going in the most pleasant way, or in the way that seems (superficially) to be the most "helpful." But, on the contrary, it is exactly at the point where the therapy seems unhelpful or disappointing that the most helpful work can begin.

The disappointing part is like a "lesion" that you have discovered, and that lesion is an opportunity. You want to open it up more and investigate what it's about. The disappointment in the therapist (about the most important problem you have -- your shame and what to do about it; how to present yourself to the world; will other people accept you? will you be "found out"?) is a mirror of your disappointment in other people in general: here you've fixed yourself and what do they do? they want to ignore that and look at the horrible parts you've worked so hard to fix!

What story should you tell about your past to others? You're really asking, "who was I?" "who am I now?"

So -- when you ask your therapist that question ("what should I do about who I was?") -- what does she say? maybe her answer is disappointing because there is no good answer, really. You were who you were.

You're asking us: "what story should I tell about myself?" The real answer is: There is no story. It's not a story. It's you. You were who you were, you are who you are. You are your past.

In a social situation, of course, you're not going to say everything, and most of the above posters are helping you, as MeFi people are good at, with the practicalities, with a nice dose of moralism thrown in ("what right does anybody have to ask that?" etc.)

It's not about rights. That's just a defense. (although it's perfectly true - it's a superfical layer.) This is not really about dating etiquette. It's about: I went to another place but I'm still me, with my same history. If I say who I am, will anyone ever love me? Not having had a long relationship, there's nothing "wrong" with that, but there is if you think of it as code for, "I thought of myself as unlovable, and I'm not really sure if that's still the case."

Yes it's difficult that people want to know your relationship history. You (like everyone else in the world) are going on dates with the aim of being "cured" of your loneliness, but instead you're being penalized for a pre-existing condition. You need the Affordable Care Act for daters, but there isn't one! So you have to go beyond the medical model of relationship-forging, even if your dates are not -- you have to just say some version of "Um, I'm human, completely intact, and not full of pathogens." That's what all those helpful ideas for dialogue other posters are offering you are saying (and they're right, of course, BUT they don't work until you believe it yourself).
posted by DMelanogaster at 7:01 AM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

correction: I said up there "You are your past." Yes, and your present, too. I just meant that changing does not expunge what went before. You suffered and there is value in that, too.
posted by DMelanogaster at 7:05 AM on July 5, 2012

I agree with DMelanogaster and tel3path: this question reads primarily about shame, not the pragmatics of dating or deflecting questions about it. Naturally those are things-to-know-and-do, but you're a competent adult and can take risks and learn techniques in general. The how and why of dating is mostly about learning to diplomatically cut losses when something isn't working out, and enjoy the process even amid disappointment or ambiguity.

The residual habit of self-hatred lingering here is palpable though:

I am still this person with body issues, low self-esteem and little to no sexual history

You are a human who has lived 43 years that cannot be summarized in a sentence like that. Don't do yourself that dishonor. You imagine everyone else has glided through the life you struggled through, and moreover that the struggles all arise from your own inherent flaws.

Neither of these is true. Everyone has struggles. Everyone makes major mistakes that take them years to get out of, years to even realize they made. Everyone accumulates a list of scars, sensitive spots, insecurities, and memories of past-pain they wish they could shed, but cannot. I'm not saying this to minimize what you've been through, but to remind you to consider yourself categorically equal to all those people you wish you'd been like. They are all full of pain and regret too. They're like you. Differently, but in important ways, quite the same.

I finally feel like I have a shot at a future

You have described a behavior and thought process many of us know, which is looking for solutions "out there", away from yourself, somewhere else, in some future, in some other life. You are not bad for thinking this way, but it will not be the way you find peace. It is a cliché to say, but aside from "removing yourself from situations that are actively antagonizing you", the only peace to be found is with yourself and your present circumstances.

You always "have a shot" at each day that occurs. You need to use them for minor increments along the path you intend to follow, and enjoy the walking of that path, because the steps you take each day are all that you can be sure of anyways. Running away from the unforgettable aspects of your past is not a winnable game. Making peace with them is.
posted by ead at 8:45 AM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Have you ever been married? Why not?

I bet a lot of these people think they're giving you a type of compliment by asking this. This kind of thing is often a rhetorical question. It's rare that someone means, "Why have you chosen to buck traditional life paths?" or even rarer, "What are the reasons you have been a failure in finding a life partner?" Much more often, the real subtext is "Why hasn't an awesome person like you been snapped up yet?! The world has clearly gone mad."

They don't realize how sensitive a subject it might be. Unless you're interested in schooling them, a good response to "Why aren't you married yet?" is "Aw, you're so sweet."
posted by the jam at 9:16 AM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I had a few early experiences with men, not a lot of intercourse, and then didn't date for years, then was with a woman for a number of years. When I started dating men again, I felt like a total newbie (and physically, too, btw). When you're with a great person, it's like the clock has suddenly started ticking, like you're really in the moment and you were in slow motion before.

That best-friend's-boyfriend stealing teenager is so far in the past! It was a lifetime ago! You were literally children! You were all just trying out how dating would even work back then. Stop looking at your past for clues to how the present and future work (it feels safer that way but really just keeps you living in the past)-- be curious instead, and when a great guy offers to see the present you and brushes aside information about the past you, take him up on it!

Also -- when you get together with someone, you're both newbies to each other. Neither of you knows how the sex is going to work and you should just both be excited to find out, rather than anticipating what exactly is going to or should happen. Lots of men like to be surprised and are just glad to be there. That's part of what makes sex so fun.
posted by vitabellosi at 9:26 AM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

I occasionally ask the "Have you ever been married?" question of people. I know it's gauche, but I do it for a few reasons, which you may find helpful to know:

1. I'm interested in why the person has chosen a somewhat non-traditional life path and how they've managed that, given likely challenges they've faced as a result
2. I am interested in having a more intimate connection with them (usually a more intimate friendship) and am giving them a chance to open up by being somewhat gauche/blunt, implicitly suggesting that they can ask me similar things
3. I wonder if they would like to be set up with a particular person

What I never mean when I ask this is "What is wrong with you that you haven't been married?!" as echoed above. It is much more of a compliment. If I felt there was something "wrong" that you hadn't been married, or that you were very uncomfortable with it, I would not ask it. If anything I am expressing confidence in your life story and choices by asking. This means you are probably coming off as a fairly self-assured person, which is great in the dating context!

These men may be asking you that for the same reason ("What a fascinating woman who didn't spend her twenties pining after an engagement ring!"). Sure it's a small red flag in dating but not an insurmountable one unless you give people reason to think otherwise. Turn the question back at them or deflect it with humor.
posted by luckdragon at 7:08 PM on July 5, 2012

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