Can I learn to cope with possibly permanent lack of a sex and love life?
October 28, 2013 7:27 AM   Subscribe

I'm a straight guy, late thirties. I have little sexual experience and have never been in a romantic relationship, for reasons of social anxiety and body image which I won't get into here. It's coming to seem possible that this will never change, and that thought is extremely painful to me. How can I learn to live with it?

Great sex with a woman I passionately love has been the single thing I've wanted most intensely and most constantly in my life. I've never had it. I've had hardly any sex at all, none of it what anyone could call great and none of it with someone I loved. This is painful and disappointing in itself, but in addition I have the feeling that it might be too late, I've missed the boat and the opportunity isn't coming back. This is for several reasons. First, my libido is a shadow of what it was at 20 or 25, so that even if I were to find a romantic partner, the sex wouldn't be anything like what it could have been then. Second, I don't think I can fall in love anymore the way I did when I was younger (always unrequitedly, alas), so that the experience of having sex with someone you're head over heels in love with may be one I'll never have. And lastly (I'm embarrassed to say this but it's true), I'm just not that physically attracted to most women my age or older, so that as I age it seems my chances of sex with a woman whose body I find irresistible are receding.

The above came out more about sex than I intended, but the love aspect of it bothers me just as much. Even putting sex aside, the experience of being intensely in love, the way you can when you're young and don't have to think about the future, is one I've never had and very possibly never will, and I feel like I've missed out on one of the best parts of life.

I'm not asking for advice on how to find a partner - that's a separate question. What I'm asking here is this: given that (a) my past is out of my control, and (b) there's at least a possibility that the future will look the same, what do I do with the pain that these thoughts cause me to feel? How can I stop grieving for this dream that never came true, and how can I learn not to mind so much that it's possible it never will?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (35 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

Are you in therapy? Because you don't have to live with the situation as it is. If you want it to change, it CAN change.

I will tell you that yes, your libido does take a dive as you age, but sex gets better and better. You become more comfortable with yourself and you trust your partner more and more.

So you're making a huge bunch of assumptions that just aren't true.

You may want to look into a sex surrogate to help you with experience and to understand what you like in bed.

Once you get this all sorted out, you can go out with confidence and live your life

You have to want the change, and you have to work at it, but you can have love and sex in your life, if you want it enough.

Your question is "How can I be okay with being lonely for the rest of my life." No one with a heart is going to read that and be able to tell you, because loneliness is so sad, and no one should HAVE to live with it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:33 AM on October 28, 2013 [12 favorites]

Sorry you're feeling low. Have you talked to a therapist? If you are experiencing this as a loss, and need to grieve it, talking to someone about exactly what you feel you've lost and the impact that has had on you might help. What does love and passionate sex mean to you? Intimacy? Connection? Acceptance? Being viscerally alive? Are these things you feel you lack even leaving aside meeting the right person? Maybe you could explore the different aspects of what you're missing, work out why they are important to you, and even think of other ways of addressing those needs?

However as a separate note, remember we are brought up in a society which acts like 30s is already late in terms of meeting a partner you wholly connect with. If it helps, I have a friend who was in his 50s when he met a woman he is absolutely crazy in love with, and she him. There's no schedule. And if you adore someone you will love THEM, and the body they come in will be largely irrelevant, and that works both ways. Take care of yourself.
posted by billiebee at 7:35 AM on October 28, 2013 [6 favorites]

You are balancing a rather precarious amount of future happiness and self-esteem on some assumptions you are making with nothing to back them up but your own fears. A human libido does not exist in a vacuum; yes it fades over time, but what you're considering a permanent deflation is very much closer to muscle atrophy. The other thing is that if the love you felt has always been unrequited then the sort of love you're looking for hasn't even occurred in your life; you're missing context. Again, the absence of another person in your romantic and sex life has you working on introspective assumptions. You've decided that A is A, Z is Z and that's how things will be for you and it absolutely does not have to be this way.

The way to cure your grief is to pull the veil from your eyes. Whether you do that by therapy, or talking to people in relationships who have gone through experiences that you wish to or whatever means you use to get outside of your own head. Talk to people and listen when they tell you things like "sex in one's early 20s tends to be more awkward and emotionally confusing than anything else" and "that sort of intense, burning passion for someone comes with more pitfalls than you can imagine" and "physical attraction is really quite fluid when you actually get to know a person." Try your best to not decide things are what you think they are, just because your brain tells you so.
posted by griphus at 7:42 AM on October 28, 2013 [31 favorites]

the experience of being intensely in love, the way you can when you're young and don't have to think about the future, is one I've never had and very possibly never will, and I feel like I've missed out on one of the best parts of life.

Hmmm. It might help you to realize that people are so different, and everyone's experience is so individual, that some people have what you are describing and some people don't, and that's totally ok.

I personally have never been unable to think about the future, but even when I was young and in college I was not intensely in love with my then-boyfriend. Now that I am approaching 30 I am wildly in love with my current boyfriend . . . but it doesn't mean that I don't worry and don't question, and it sure doesn't mean I don't think about the future and live in the moment. I don't work that way.

Reading back through the human relations questions here on AskMe is a good way to see how everyone's experience with love, sex, and intimacy are completely different and there is no one right way to fall in love and have a relationship.

If you do this and you still find it hard to accept that you didn't get this one specific type of relationship in your past, a therapist can help you tons.
posted by chainsofreedom at 7:48 AM on October 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Great sex is not a function of libido and someone with a crazy amazing body. Sex changes as you age and your partners age, but it doesn't necessarily get worse. Rather the opposite for many people.

I'd cut way, way down on your media exposure to 14-25 year old women on TV, in magazines, in movies, in porn. Hopefully you can recalibrate your standards to something more realistic. Being proactive always helps me with feelings of grief and loss...

Good luck!
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:51 AM on October 28, 2013 [24 favorites]

for reasons of social anxiety and body image which I won't get into here.

You do realize that this is your real problem, right? You seem to think as if the social anxiety and body image issues are immovable laws of nature that you have no choice but to work around, so you briefly toss off "oh, I have some crippling and entirely unaddressed mental issues. Tell me how to live my life around these issues while never directly addressing them, please!"

Well, it doesn't have to be that way. The entire premise of your question is based on a faulty assumption: that you can never get better.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:56 AM on October 28, 2013 [28 favorites]

I've had times in my life where I felt anguish that things weren't the way they were "supposed" to be. Generally speaking I don't think this anguish was very productive, in that it took a lot of joy out of my life without in itself creating opportunities to experience happiness.

I have a fairly skeptical take on "dreams." In short, when something is not quite right, our body keeps us motivated to fix things by creating the experience of pain. So if I feel very lonely, it's basically a signal to go do something to make myself feel better and feel less lonely. This system is pretty crude and may even be designed so that I never feel happy (so that if I fix one thing, something else pops up that I feel I need to chase) and maybe even encourages drug use and abuse. However, I don't think you need to overthink this.

You seem to be so deprived of intimate contact that I wouldn't even trust your thoughts about the feeling of "being intensely in love." Love is an illusion, people fall in and out of love all the time, it's something that happens to people, it's not something that people can really seek out. So pay more attention to your immediate feelings and spend less time worrying about the overarching narrative of your life, about if you're missing out on time-specific experiences and doomed to "grieve about dreams that never came true." Your experiences are your experiences. If you feel like you're living in a sensory deprivation tank, take steps to broaden your experiences, to step outside your own head and become more connected to other people. But you shouldn't worry about trying to follow a script. I mean, young love is ridiculous, it's ignorant teenagers full of certainty about things they know nothing about. You can't be trusted to say how your life "should" be because you haven't had enough experiences. Just focus on the short run for now.
posted by leopard at 7:57 AM on October 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Therapy. Therapy therapy therapy.

Far as anybody knows, you only get one ride on this crazy rollercoaster. It's entirely understandable and normal to want to share that ride with somebody you love. That seems to be a thing that you want, and I understand and support that desire. If you want to have a romantic partner, and it seems like you do, you should not spend a ton of energy making it okay for you to live your life without a romantic partner or finding ways to numb yourself to your sadness. That is counterproductive to your stated goals. Don't spend your energy getting a thing you don't want.

As far as the sex not being as good as it might have been in your twenties? So what? I saw an amazing sunset last night as I was driving home. That might be the most beautiful sunset I will ever see. I might go my whole life without ever seeing another sunset quite as lovely as that one. But that doesn't mean anything. It certainly doesn't mean I won't enjoy the next sunset I see.

And maybe you won't ever get that feeling of falling head-over-heels in love with someone. You know what? That's okay too. Some people and some couples never have that. For them it is more of a dawning realization and a growing of affection over time. That's okay. Their love is just as real as anybody's. Some people have arranged marriages that are as strong and emotional and passionate as Western courtship relationships. There's no script for this stuff.

It might also be the case that your body, your emotional systems, know that you need to have the rest of your stuff taken care of before you are strong enough to handle being head-over-heels in love. You might need to be in a relationship that is built on trust and friendship -- a context in which you feel safe and in control of yourself -- before you can start to feel out-of-control crazy-about-this-woman love. I don't know. But I do know that your fears about being alone are all in your head. Therapy can help you take them out and talk to them and understand them.

Be kind to yourself. You're okay. But these thoughts and fears are not serving you -- they are not protecting you from real threats but are keeping you from things that will make you happy. This is what therapy is for.
posted by gauche at 7:58 AM on October 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Also, young heedless love is actually kinda dumb and boring compared to being genuinely close to someone who knows who they are, has their head together, can take care of themselves, has a rich and varied past...

I don't know, I think that you might never find love or the kind of sex you want, but at the same time a lot of your assumptions seem really flawed and it's hard to imagine that they're reflective of reality. So perhaps the way to deal with your grief is to consider that it's not a situation where the amount of grieving makes sense because you haven't actually lost what you think you've lost.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:59 AM on October 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

for reasons of social anxiety and body image

Why not elect to deal with the source of the problem, rather than putting just as much painful energy into dealing with the result of the problem?

Social anxiety is treatable, and speaking as a woman who has had many happy partners, I've never ever not once chosen a partner based on body type. And those body types have varied from very overweight to soft and spindly to near-GQ-ideal. So IMHO this roadblock is about your fears, and not about the varied realities of your potential partners, and you should seek treatment to get over that hurdle.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:00 AM on October 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

Second, I don't think I can fall in love anymore the way I did when I was younger (always unrequitedly, alas), so that the experience of having sex with someone you're head over heels in love with may be one I'll never have.

Unrequited love isn't love, it's infatuation. It may be that your ability to cultivate all-consuming crushes diminishes with age, experience, and wisdom. But there is absolutely no reason to believe that your ability to fall in love does.
posted by 256 at 8:01 AM on October 28, 2013 [21 favorites]

It may be that your ability to cultivate all-consuming crushes diminishes with age, experience, and wisdom.

This is a really good point and (speaking only for myself, not 256) I have to say that this aspect of life is not so much a diminished ability to feel joy as much as it is a sign of emotional maturity. Little secret crushes here and there are totally okay and can even be fun if you don't take them too seriously. There's is nothing healthy or pleasant about burning yourself out pining for someone who cannot or will not return the affection.
posted by griphus at 8:09 AM on October 28, 2013 [8 favorites]

Something to think about: Being alone does not have to mean being lonely. Possibly the loneliest a person can be is when they are in a relationship that doesn't work.
posted by Houstonian at 8:14 AM on October 28, 2013 [9 favorites]

the experience of being intensely in love, the way you can when you're young and don't have to think about the future, is one I've never had and very possibly never will, and I feel like I've missed out on one of the best parts of life.

Eh. Debatable. For an awful lot of people the experience of being in love this way is great for like 3 months and then ends HORRIBLY, with tears and hatred and cheating and recriminations and sometimes a pregnancy or a permanent disease. If you scroll through Ask MeFi's relationship or dating tags you will see hundreds of posts from people whose first loves/early loves have totally, utterly wrecked them.

Somehow I don't think THAT is the loss you're grieving.

But it's the reality, and you can't see it because you're caught up in your own head still. The glowy perfect fantasy you're grieving is just that, a fantasy. That a) all your loves have been unrequited and b) you can only be attracted to perfect youthful bodies are the proof of that.

And I am not judging: a LOT of people have this issue, especially when they are romantically unsuccessful early on. It's a defense mechanism and a coping mechanism for dealing with crippling feelings of rejection. I've been there too; I had to grieve the loss of "being in love in my 20s," the loss of "having a relationship in college." Getting out of it is slow and painful, but worthwhile. What helped was connecting with the friends who had the same experiences as me and realizing that they didn't seem like hopeless, lonely failures. So neither was I.

Therapy will help you grieve for your past experiences and construct a vision of romantic attachment that is grounded in the real world.

And yeah, the other day I realized it's been like 6 or 7 years since I had an all-consuming crush, and my chief emotion upon realizing this was overwhelming relief. My god, my life is so much better now that I don't think sex and love and fireworks and butterflies are the only things that ever matter ever.
posted by like_a_friend at 8:24 AM on October 28, 2013 [8 favorites]

As someone who didn't fall in love with the "love of her life" until 40 (though had met a semi regular string of you'll do type guys while waiting) the good news is that loving someone who loves you back is infinitely better than any crazy hormone fueled unrequited stuff that get's peddled as being in love by movies and books. You get crazy, you pine, you yearn and your libido goes from meh to OMG why are we both wearing so many clothes right now.

The best part about being older and being "in love" you appreciate how rare it is, how amazing it is that this person loves you back and you love them that this is a gift to be treasured not squandered, something I wish my 20-29 year old self had realized. You also realise that love and relationships are something you work at, and that all the shiney does fade, no one can stay at that high "in love" stage for forever and what comes after that is well worth it. So please do not write yourself off.

There is one comment of yours that you might want to think about though, your question reads a lot like I can't find someone hot to fall in love with me. Make sure you aren't confusing lust and love. There is nothing wrong with lust it's great fun and if that's what you are really after then you approach it differently. There is a difference however, between I really want to date a hawt girl that makes me want to have sex a lot and orgasms will feel like a connection and, I want a someone that gets me and cares for me and makes me feel like the sexiest man alive when she looks at me that way and that makes me want to make rip her clothes off and make love to her because we have a connection.
posted by wwax at 8:57 AM on October 28, 2013 [13 favorites]

You realize that this is all your anxiety brain trying to tell you Nothing Can Ever Change, right? One of the best things I got out of therapy was realizing that my brain was Lying to me when it said I was too fat, anxious, old, and inexperienced to ever find love. That seems to be what your brain is telling you (with bonus "and plus, it probably wouldn't be that great anyway", which I SO get it, but it's SO wrong).

Middle-aged love and sex are Awesome. I am so much happier than I ever was back when my anxiety tried to protect me from living and therefore risking and maybe getting hurt or finding love is meh. You may never find great love and sex, but what your brain is doing now is preventing you from ever even trying.

Please try. It is beyond worth the hard work to become happier and healthier.
posted by ldthomps at 9:00 AM on October 28, 2013 [11 favorites]

the experience of being intensely in love, the way you can when you're young and don't have to think about the future, is one I've never had and very possibly never will, and I feel like I've missed out on one of the best parts of life.

Eh. Debatable. For an awful lot of people the experience of being in love this way is great for like 3 months and then ends HORRIBLY...

young heedless love is actually kinda dumb and boring compared to being genuinely close to someone who knows who they are, has their head together, can take care of themselves, has a rich and varied past...

These answers are so true. You still have the opportunity to fall deeply in love and have a satisfying sex life.
posted by salvia at 9:06 AM on October 28, 2013

I'm just not that physically attracted to most women my age or older, so that as I age it seems my chances of sex with a woman whose body I find irresistible are receding

For what it's worth, you will likely find the range of women that you are attracted to broadening as you grow older. I'm not going to lie to you - for straight up hotness, there is no substitute for youth - but you may also find that as your sex drive becomes less of a driving force that it just doesn't matter as much as you think it does. It's hard to tell if you're at that age or not, though.
posted by rr at 9:13 AM on October 28, 2013

But it's the reality, and you can't see it because you're caught up in your own head still. The glowy perfect fantasy you're grieving is just that, a fantasy. That a) all your loves have been unrequited and b) you can only be attracted to perfect youthful bodies are the proof of that.

This. You're living too much inside your own head, and have convinced yourself of this reality.

Also, give up drinking for a while. A) it's a depressant, and B) it causes weight gain. If you don't feel better about yourself after a month, then I'm wrong. But I don't think I am.
posted by Koko at 9:18 AM on October 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

I have the feeling that it might be too late, I've missed the boat and the opportunity isn't coming back.

I met my SO when he was 46 (I was 31). He had never really had a relationship, was a virgin, and had assumed it would never happen for him. But it did. Sex with him is different than it was with my exes (who were significantly younger), he takes more time (a day or two) after we've last had sex to be ready to have sex again (ie. before he can come). Which is to be expected with an older man. BUT the sex we have is as passionate (if not more) than with my previous boyfriends because we have such a strong connection.

Just saying, it's not impossible that you could find someone and have a deep and fulfilling relationship. It might be different than one you may have had when you were younger, but it can be still be completely awesome and worth waiting for.
posted by heavenstobetsy at 9:23 AM on October 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

The answer is the same as it always is in similar "I know I will be painfully alone forever; how do I learn to like it?" AskMe questions: You travel, develop friendships and hobbies that make you happy, adopt pets, and basically become your own hero, someone you'd love to date. But this advice only truly works if you have chosen bachelorhood, not had it forced upon you. Besides therapy, I urge you to give online dating a shot. It works for me (41, a lady, plenty of anxiety and self-image problems in my past, currently in a hot and lusty long-term relationship with a 42-y-o).

As a P.S., I have been contacted by much younger hotties for dates and I've never been interested, because I want an actual relationship and that includes having roughly the same amount of life experience as I do. (Plus, some of these men are young enough to be the sons of my friends/coworkers -- ew!) I think once you start dating online, reading profiles and exchanging emails, you might feel the same. But maybe not; there are plenty of men with much younger wives out there in the world.
posted by chowflap at 9:32 AM on October 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

I recently realized that I have lost faith in my ability to find a partner in pretty much the exact same way I lost my faith in religion.

In both cases the losing was due to a lot of real life experience that conflicted with what I'd otherwise been sold in movies, general culture, etc about romance and fate and all that. I think it is appropriate to realize that you are not going to get to live out a rom-com style storyline and to grieve that loss sincerely.

But then you have to decide what you want that is realistic and meaningful. You might not be able to have sex with people that are out of your league attractive, but could you pursue love with someone in your league? Would you rather focus your energy on something else, like community or service or hobbies or whatever?

One thing you thought was meaningful has turned out to not have much traction in your life. What will take its place? I think there is hope for you to meet people you can care about and become intimate with if you decide you can adjust your expectations.
posted by skrozidile at 9:38 AM on October 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Griphus, 256 and wwax have given you great answers. Honestly, the best thing you can do to get to your goal of true, deep love is to get working on making a life that you love. Work on your health (physical & mental), find hobbies and activities that you enjoy doing- basically get going on making your life great. Once that happens, you'll attract the kind of people to your life that will lead to deep emotional relationships.

I know it sounds like such a cliché, but that's totally how it works. I met my best and truest love in my mid 30's and while we are now old, fat and flabby our romantic life is the best I've ever had. He knows me and I know him. I hope you find that- please don't give up.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 10:18 AM on October 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

"it seems my chances of sex with a woman whose body I find irresistible are receding"

This is an issue. Why are you only looking for someone irresistible? Get to know the person first and you wont care. Did I care if my girlfriend (now wife) was a super model/swim suit model or whatever? No. Is she perfect for me? Yes.

It shouldn't matter if she has red/blond/black/grey or whatever color hair. So what if she has a few extra pounds/kg on her, most of us do anyway. Cup size? who cares. Freckles or not, doesn't matter. etc.

If you "hook up" or even fall in love, it is not because she was irresistible, it was because of what is on the inside. If on the outside she is irresistible, a babe, hot, good looking, ok looking, or whatever, then that is fine too. But to miss out on a chance for a relationship because her body didn't fit into an "irresistible" label is misguided.

There are other things in your question to be concerned about, but the "irresistible" comment was overlooked by others. Like with other replies, I will say that counseling would be a good thing.
posted by Leenie at 10:33 AM on October 28, 2013 [8 favorites]

I'm going to go ahead and say you've never really been in love. I went through a ton of crushes in my teens/early 20's. I understand the idealization and hopes and expectations and agony and stress and the whole big mess. Now, being in real love with a real person (flaws and all) who loves me back (flaws and all), it is nothing like I imagined. It is so, so much better. We have way better sex at 4+ years than we did at 1.

Couple of things: You attract people with roughly the same amount of issues/damage you have. So, the healthier you are, the better your dates will be.

Relationships, good ones, are incredibly healing. Mine made me a better person in a ton of ways.

Physical issues with sex can usually be cured with meds, hormones, or even diet and exercise. Also, self confidence, and emotional well being.

Dating is kinda a numbers game. Go on lots and lots of dates. Many will suck, and suck bad. Some will be ok. Some will be great. You only need to have one fantastic date that leads to long term relationships to 'win'.

Be nice to yourself, and gentle on yourself. There is someone out there for you. But, love yourself. That is the single best thing you can do, always, until you find her.
posted by Jacen at 11:33 AM on October 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


A lot of these answers focus on different, and important, aspects of your question,and there's some great advice and a lot of truth in the above responses.

But none of that changes the fact that being young and in love and in lust and insane with someone, and revelling in your love and lust and foolishness together, is something that you were counting on, and that life didn't deliver for you. And it's not fair, and it's not your fault.

I am so sorry for your loss. That's what it is, it's a loss. It's the death of a possibility, and it's ok to be upset about it. Mourn it. Cry for it. That's totally fine.

It's likely that you will find someone to love, and that your love will be more mature and tempered with the sensibility and awareness of loss that teenagers don't really have in the same way. It will probably be richer and healthier and more tender than crazy youthful flings. It will be two adults helping eachother through, not two youths striking their youth against one another. As so many people above you are trying to convince you, it will in a lot of ways be better than what you missed. But it won't be the same, and it's ok to be sad about that.

A huge part of aging is learning to cope with and accept loss, including the loss of hopes and dreams to reality. It's not exactly the same as settling for less, but it can mean settling for different than we expected, and that's really hard. Everyone has their own way of coping with it. Some people turn bitter and awful. Some people get obsessed with accumulating money or power. Some people drink, or hide in tv, or make their work their identity. Some people cling to the old ways and distrust anything new. Some folks chase after new stuff and reject the old. Some people create drama in their lives, or immerse themselves in other peoples' drama. Some people have families, religions, politics, sports- distractions and palliatives to ease the pain, in many cases, that things aren't how they were supposed to be. That's ok. There's no right way to move forward from the things life takes from you. I can't tell you how you'll move forward, just that you will somehow, and that you shouldn't hold it against yourself. This is what happens to people. Hopefully you'll find a way to move forward that helps you to be healthy and kind and strong and happy. That's what I wish for you, anyhow, this time and every time that life takes something away from you.

posted by windykites at 11:50 AM on October 28, 2013 [11 favorites]

And lastly (I'm embarrassed to say this but it's true), I'm just not that physically attracted to most women my age or older, so that as I age it seems my chances of sex with a woman whose body I find irresistible are receding.

So, I'll agree that youth is generally an attractive quality, and thus the majority of younger adults look attractive. However, I also think that those who grow older and get "less attractive" are just those people who aren't "your type," or who you don't have chemistry with, or who you don't feel a deep attraction to.

But those people who you genuinely find hot? You tend to still find them hot as they grow older. I mean, geez, she's starting to show her age (about your age, I'd reckon), but it's not like everyone thinks Angelina Jolie is a hideously old biddy, nowadays.

Looking at photos of my partner in his mid-20s makes me think, RAWR, who is this sexy-boyish guy? Looking at him now, I think RAWR, who is this sexy, smoldering man? I suspect when he's older I'll wonder how I managed to land such a sexy silver fox...

You remind me strongly of a friend (maybe you are him?!), and he would voice the same concerns about only being attracted to young, hot thangs. Honestly, I think this concern, in both your cases, can be attributed to lack of experience. Because of this lack of experience, you can only envision love and attraction based on what you've picked up in the media, from friends' conversations, and from whatever limited encounters you've had in your youth.

I have little sexual experience and have never been in a romantic relationship, for reasons of social anxiety and body image which I won't get into here.

I thinks it's good that you can recognize the cause of your situation. My friend still cannot, and often blames external causes.

I don't know why you think this situation is hopeless and permanent, though. Anxiety is something that can be tackled - I mean, hell...some young people are so shy they are practically mute, but go on to do public speaking for a living. People change and tackle fears all the time, sometimes alone, sometimes with a therapist.

There's nothing wrong with being single. There's nothing wrong with having limited experience. There's nothing wrong with finding love late in life.

Don't you think the anxiety might be psyching you out, here?
posted by sock puppet of mystery! at 1:30 PM on October 28, 2013 [9 favorites]

You're feeling alone and old and doomed? Sounds like you're grappling with your mortality. And if you zoom way way out, then yeah, everybody is born alone and dies alone. Even worse, the life in between is pretty pathetic, too.

But why are you thinking so big? You can't look at life from the POV of a god way up in the heavens passing judgement on us mere mortals, you're right here in the dirt with just as tiny and limited a perspective as all the rest of us. You're going to have to be OK with that. And in a sense, I think you are, but you're straining to broaden your perspective, to reach out, and it's not working.

So: part of being OK with it means accepting the life that you have and the people you have in that life and that nothing and nobody is some platonic ideal, they're just real and complicated. The good things AND the bad things are all true at once -- your body is hideous and fuckable, you're alone and trapped with all the rest of us, your future is relentlessly constrained and an enigma. You're never going to get it "right" or meet the "right" person and neither are any of us, because reality is a lot deeper and dirtier and more contradictory than a script.

You aren't going to live in a rom com or any other story. You're not an Our Hero character and you're never going to meet a Dream Girl character, either. All the bad things you're scared of are real and true. But you're going to have to open your mind and stop making judgments about that. You're going to just have to accept it and take some pleasure in the ride.

Opening up your mind and accepting your mortality and how tiny and screwed up life is, that's tough and always has been. People have tried all kinds of tricks to make it easier -- for example, that's why acid was made and why lots of people drop it. Maybe try reading about people who have tried to deal with this same problem, tried to broaden their perspectives, come up with some mind-blowing theories about life? The first book in that canon is usually On the Road. For me, because I care about political theory, it was reading Gramsci. It could be pretty much anything, and maybe "what piece of art or theory or experience blew your mind?" could be your question next week, if this is actually helpful to you. In the meantime, maybe try thinking about the assumptions you make about how things "should" be, and play with the idea that all those "shoulds" are wrong and/or fake. Maybe they are and maybe they aren't and maybe that's the wrong question to ask about them, but at least start questioning them. Top of the list of assumptions to question could be why you should love someone. Or why someone should love you. Or the point of love. Really think about it -- start from scratch.

Anyway, you're coming to disillusionment about the artificial, simplistic "life narrative" and "love story" slightly later in life than most, but that's OK. You'll be OK. You're just one of us.
posted by rue72 at 2:00 PM on October 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have a lot of regret about things in my past too, mostly financial and career and academic stuff rather than dating/personal stuff, but I think some of the experience is the same. It's hard because, for example, I really did throw away a few great academic opportunities through self-sabatoge, etc., and there's genuinely something to regret. But, at the same time, whenever I'm feeling really down about all the money I've spent on things I don't need or about quitting grad school or about the opportunities that I've wasted in my job, it's mostly just because I'm not happy in the present - I'm avoiding doing my work, or I'm stressed about trying to figure out whether I should go back to grad school, or I'm currently spending money I don't have, or whatever else. When I'm busy and working hard and being financially responsible in the present, the mistakes in the past don't bother me so much. Basically I think that a lot of what manifests itself as regret about the past is mostly just anxiety or sadness about the present. I think that might be happening with you a little too, and that if you were doing things to make yourself happier in the present (going to therapy to help with the issues you mentioned, doing things to meet and connect with actual women rather than just thinking about them in terms of abstract types and physical features), you might find it easier to let go of the regret about the past.

A couple of other things:

(1) Putting aside the question of whether or not the intense infatuation type of love is even a good thing or a bad thing or both, I don't really think there's an age limit on it. It seems to me to be more a function of a relationship being new and also maybe of the emotional makeup of the people involved, rather than age. And regardless of age, that feeling will eventually settle into something different (but not always lesser or less romantic) if you stay with that person. If it was always unrequited when you were younger, then you obviously never got to that stage. I don't think that you can compare unrequited love to the love you feel when you're actually dating someone; if you're just pining for someone, your feelings will either end or they will go on in this suspended unreturned state, but they won't ever mature.

(2) Some of your thinking about attraction and dating seems really rigid and not based in reality. For one thing, it's not a requirement that you only date women your age or older. You can date younger women too. The troublesome part is if you are thinking about women that you're interested in as general types rather than as individuals and/or valuing them mostly because they are younger and/or beautiful/hot or whatever. It's kind of dehumanizing and objectifying and can make it harder to form a real connection. I was on the other end of this kind of thing once and it was really off-putting. He wasn't older than me and I'm very average looking so it wasn't him wanting to date someone really hot and/or younger, it was more that I fit some specific ideal he had in terms of looks, body type, and even personal style/fashion sense, but the result was kind of the same. He acted like he was so into me before he even really knew me at all; it made me very uncomfortable and just killed the whole thing. But as long as you're treating people well and getting to know who they really are and not exploiting any differences in life experience, there's not anything wrong with including younger women in your dating pool too.

I also think you should question your assumptions about what women your age and older look like (because, again, people are individuals not just instances of a demographic type, and I've seen/know a fair number of women in their 30s/40s with conventionally beautiful faces and "perfect" bodies, it's not that uncommon). Much more importantly though I think you should question your assumption that you need perfection or near-perfection to be super-attracted to someone. Reality is much more interesting than that. People get huge crushes on improbable and/or far from perfect looking people all the time.

So I just realized that I wrote this long response and didn't actually answer your question at all. Your question was basically 'how can I feel better about giving up on finding love?' And, like someone else said, that's hard question to answer, because there is no reason why you should give up on it. Some people are perfectly happy being single and that's great. But you're not. So you shouldn't give up on it, it's not an impossible thing to hope for; it's a very realistic thing to hope for. You should get help for the anxiety and body image issues that you mentioned, and you should start dating. You didn't mention what you've done to try to date and meet women. You have all these assumptions and fears that I think could be countered by experience, by dating and making real connections with people, with an open mind about who you might be attracted to.
posted by treese at 3:19 PM on October 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

posted by mlis at 6:36 PM on October 28, 2013

yes, you can. i am a 58 y.o. bachelor. due to bad things in my childhood and one really bad thing in my adolescence, i have a low sex drive and have been characterized by a series of women as friendable, but essentially unrelationshippable.

when i am pressed, i occasionally deliver my stock line, that a devil imp cast its shadow over my conception bed. a low sex drive can be compensated for by high curiosity, comedy and justice drives.

you should also be aware that sex opportunities sneak up on you. you could be only 24 hours away from mind-blowing sex, and have no advance idea of it.
posted by bruce at 8:22 PM on October 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

The world is a treacherous place for those of us that experience limerence. You're in love with a fantasy as a placeholder for your old one-sided crushes. Unrequited love means never having to risk waking up. I know all too well. The unrequited fantasy you've built is a very safe castle to dream within indeed.

I don't know which is harder on the dreamer, the dream that borders on reality or those ones who fantasize to marry unicorn riding Amazonian leprechaun mermaids and who know that their fetishes are truly impossible.

There's an old parable that is shared in different forms by a few cultures, but here's my take on it. When you communicate a wish out to the Universe, your small mind can only conceive of small things. The Universe doesn't answer your small wish. It sends you the thing that your small mind was too tiny to dream. The bigger thing.

You wish for a sexual relationship and consuming love with a young, faceless paragon. No exchange. No personality. No flaws. Ah. The flaws are where the beauty lies. Wabi sabi. The imperfections are where the relationship happens, where we find new facets of ourselves and of our partners. 

I wish for you something far greater than a fantasy girl: A real woman. But first, and more importantly, finding yourself.

How do you live with unmet dreams? Ask any other human: We're all in that boat in one way or another. There are a lot of meditation and mindfulness practices centered around letting go. That could be one place to start.
posted by Skwirl at 11:14 PM on October 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

My uncle is in his 80's and a straight bachelor who never had as much as a girlfriend since college, as far as I or my mother know. He's a totally normal fellow who has had plenty of friends female and male and does regular things. He gets through life by loving himself and loving his family.

His home is an, ahem, homage to the things he finds finest in life. The chair he sits in every day is the most comfortable chair he could find, and exactly the one he wants. The liquor he drinks in the evening is the exact kind he wants to drink, and he has exactly the amount he wants; the shoes he wears are the finest shoes and fit him impeccably. The cars he drives are chosen with care and responsibility. Without someone else in his life taking up his care and attention, he has focused it on himself (and rightly so).

He's also exceedingly generous with his extended family, with time and money, and is in constantly-rotating contact with nieces, nephews, cousins, sister, and even some once-removed family members. He is active in email and on the phone. He buys me lunch whenever I call him up.

AFAIK, he's alone because of a love lost early in his life. (It is not a story he shares.) Being single for so long is really lonely, but with an active imagination and a willingness to find joy in other things life can still be fulfilling without a lover to share it with.

That's what I keep telling myself, at least.
posted by carsonb at 11:21 AM on October 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

Your question was basically 'how can I feel better about giving up on finding love?' And, like someone else said, that's hard question to answer, because there is no reason why you should give up on it. Some people are perfectly happy being single and that's great. But you're not. So you shouldn't give up on it, it's not an impossible thing to hope for; it's a very realistic thing to hope for.

As someone in a similar-ish boat (i.e. I honestly think it's never going to happen for me again, but for other reasons than yours), I think the tack you have to take is "prepare for the worst, hope for the best." Yeah, one day lightning could strike and you could meet someone--it happens for some people. And some people never do. What you need to do is focus on enjoying your life alone to the best of your ability, to make yourself as happy as you can without being able to fulfill your #1 desire. Fulfill your desires #2 and 3. If you want to travel with someone or buy a house or crap like that, just do it on your own or perhaps with a friend. Make the most of your job or hobbies or both. Distraction is your best friend so that you don't dwell on this so much.

And I can say from my own experience that....eventually the urge will die off. It will. I have honestly stopped giving a shit, for the most part, about what I am missing. I'm used to things as they are. It may take a lot of years, but eventually you will be okay.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:39 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have been thinking about this question a lot the past couple of days, and here I am trying to peck out a belated response on this silly tablet keyboard. It sticks with me because I know someone in a similarish spot, and because I was single for a good while. I felt the pinch of being a solitaire in a paired world.

Sure, you can have a good life as a single. Cultivate your friend and family connections. Get a cute pet (or two). Devote yourself to a hobby or interest that has a social component. These things can be very satisfying, give you a social purpose. Take heart in knowing that relationships do take a toll in energy and resources, so others with attachments may not be able to accomplish what you can do to further a goal or cause.

Society at large makes much of having a boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse, but so much of that emphasis is commercial in origin. Romance is employed to sell chocolate and condoms and movie tickets and diamonds and white gowns and vacations and all manner of things. Not that having an SO isn't worthwhile, but there is a hard, shiny manufactured coating on top of the kernel of truth and that is what we are sold. Being young and beautiful and infatuated is a valuable commodity. Something we should envy in others and strive to possess ourselves. Who doesn't want to be seen as valuable and enviable?

While you are working on your hobbies and living your life as you please while answering to nobody else, I would think in detail about what having a love life means to you. You talk a lot about sex, frankly, and there are places where buying sex from an a person who fits your definition of attractive is a legal option. So if sex is the goal, it is quite achievable. But from the way your post is written, the focus on sex sounds like a red herring to me. You want the love element more than the sex. But you don't mention a desire to get married or have kids. It strikes me that you don't really know what you want from love and the state of being in love. You have a vague idea of what goes on, but lack the experience to really discern what your deep self is hungry for. It's tough to figure out when you are feeling starved. Deep down, do you just want someone attractive to admire you and think you are special, and show physical love (sex) as a demonstration and proof of that feeling? Is that what you feel you are missing out on? Well, that's not love. Mutual ego stroking, maybe. "I have proof I am worthwhile because this person I consider beautiful admires me, and so I give her/him attention in return." I think a lot of people get swept up in this mutual positive feedback loop thinking it is love, when really they are just enamored with the boost to their own self image. I don't mean to seem critical - it's just when I did experience real love I realized how divorced from the ego it is. Real love has very little to do with what you get (sex of acceptable hotness, etc), but what you can give. It also has little to do with external judgements of worthiness, on their part or yours, but comes from knowing and embracing yourself. It is humbling. It requires no proof be given. It always acts in the name of what is good and true - for yourself and for your beloved. I did not understand it until I got clobbered by it. Buddhist meditations on loving kindness are a good place to start. Poetry of Hafiz and Rumi are also good. If you don't have a person to fall in love with, that is where I would start to get the feel of real love being practiced.

Accepting one's current (disappointing) place in life is a common trouble because so many of us make mistakes of inexperience as we fumble-bumble on our way through life. I used to dwell on and pine for the person I thought I should be if things had been different. But my current self is the product of the decisions I have made - just like the shape of a river is carved by the course it took. The more experience I get, the clearer my decisions become as I choose what is important to me. I am creating my character as the consequences of each choice ripple outward. So, I cannot be some other "better" alternate universe version of myself without betraying who I am, and who I am is only disappointing if I use other people's rulers to measure myself. I choose to play the long game, now.

Do some deep thinking about who you are and what is most important to you, and make your life choices accordingly. It is possible that you will remain single, but you can certainly have a vibrant, satisfying life that is true to who you are. I think that is what most people crave in a good life, anyway.

(I would also go see Don Jon, which came out recently. It's about a guy dating a girl he considers a knockout, but his relationship with sex gets in the way of real happiness and the connection he wants to have with a partner.)
posted by griselda at 6:16 AM on October 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

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