How can I make the best of a self-imposed period of celibacy.
December 20, 2006 9:16 AM   Subscribe

I think a period of celibacy is in order. How can I make the best of it?

Another train wreck of a relationship has ended and i'd like to use this as an opportunity to adjust my insecurities and figure out as much as possible how to find a healthy, life-affirming relationship.

I am self-employed so while therapy might be helpful at this time, it would be limited and quite honestly, my previous forays into that area weren't very fruitful. I could always immediately tell what the problem was but never could come up with the right solution.

A bit more about me: I am 36, childlesss, never married (but hoping to be at some point), educated ...but the kind of woman who masks her insecurities with false bravado and often ends up with men who are so emotionally wounded as to be almost childlike. They are wowed by my intelligence and seeming ability to be an adult while they struggle in these areas. (The most recent one was dazzled by my honesty...which floored me.)

I would like this time period to last from three- to six-monts and possibly be a period of introspection and contemplation...though I'll be working every day.

Can someone recommend books/programs or other activities that might make this period about a bit more than just not having sex?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I kind of did this at the end of my last relationship. I would say that the major thing that helped was saying, at the beginning, "I'm not even going to think about dating for six months." It wasn't that I wasn't going to date for six months, but also that I wasn't allowed to worry about it, think about it, or in any way "get ready" to do it (online ad writing or whatever). Only after six months was I even allowed to contemplate whether I wanted to pursue a relationship, or whether I needed another set period of time to stay out of dating.

It helped me in that it kept that period from turning into an endless "Should I start now? Am I ready now?" debate and let me shift my focus onto things that needed focus just then.
posted by occhiblu at 9:26 AM on December 20, 2006

"How can I make the best of it?"

Start reading lots of random books? Find some new personal hobbies?

Us men go through long periods of celibacy whether we like it or not sometimes. ;) Books, video games, and doing a lot of alone-time hobbies works wonders.

Exercise more. Go for walks with the iPod. Going 3-6 months without a relationship is actually really easy.
posted by drstein at 9:46 AM on December 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

I don't think a bunch of random strangers on the internet can tell you what's going to work best for you in this situation. Think of yourself as a friend you really miss spending time with, and make up for lost time - ask your friend/self what she really wants to do. It could be travel, it could be reading, taking a class, skydiving, whatever....

A vibrator could help, too.
posted by matildaben at 9:53 AM on December 20, 2006

Why do you choose who you choose? Do you think this is random? If you 'always wind up with men who X", why?

Celibacy will buy you nothing compared to introspection. Therapy is not necessary, but honesty with yourself is.

Have you considered how and why YOUR relationships start, evolve, end? How about relationships, in general?

Can you post analyze how your relationships are common? What characteristics unify them? Did they all start the same? Did they all look kind of alike? Did they have the same dynamics and problems and did they end for similar reasons? If so, how does that affect how you will qualify the next applicant for the job?

Studying to avoid train wreck #n is probably a good way to spend your 3-6 months. Sex has nothing to do with it.

Good luck.
posted by FauxScot at 9:58 AM on December 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

3-6 months? hahahaha! I'm sorry I'm not being snarky but I remember thinking that was a long time to go without dating or sex. I ended up doing pretty much exactly what you're talking about for over a YEAR. I mean I went on a few friend-dates with guys I wasn't interested in romantically but I finally realised that I wasn't interested in the sex part all that much, I was simply worried about not being lonely, and THAT is the textbook example of 'for all the wrong reasons'.

Honestly, I feel for ya. I could have written pretty much all of your post last August after the last of a series of rebound/trainwreck/dysfunctional relationships ended. I finally (finally!) at age 37 had a revelation that I needed to quit finding broken boys to fix (well actually they seem to find me...) and focus on my own issues.

The only thing I'd caution you on is letting a period of introspection (which is healthy) stagnate into loneliness and/or depression (eh, not so much).

So, I'm not going to go back into all the detail of what worked for me because, well, it's way too long. But if you feel like reading it all, go ahead and click that link up there, because I'm done typing now :)
posted by lonefrontranger at 10:23 AM on December 20, 2006

While you are at it, consider whittling down your friends list. Try to keep only the people you admire more than they admire you.

While it is admirable to be friends, and lovers, with those who have less $%*# together than you do, ultimately it's not healthy.

I suggest you make some lists. Who you want to be, what you are looking for in a partner, what the basis was of past relationships, what you will try and do differently next time.

If you want your life to change you have to change yourself. Who is the different you that will emerge? What parts of you are going to close the book on?
posted by ewkpates at 10:24 AM on December 20, 2006 [3 favorites]

From my experience, the right kind of therapy or structured introspection might be very helpful. I have much the same sort of history as you, with a whole string of men with issues (in my case, everything from latent pedophilia to borderline personality disorder to fear of committment).

With some introspection, I realized that this was not just "who was attracted to me", but "who I NOTICED was attracted to me". Which meant that I was somehow choosing these men.

I went to a new therapist for a short-term set of sessions, and the premise we worked on was this: Because of issues I had with my parents growing up (my mother tended to reject me and tell me she didn't love me when she was angry), I chose ambivalent guys I thought I had to "win over" in an attempt to negate the pain from childhood. However, the guys I chose replicated the pain from childhood (because I chose guys who were similar to my mother in some way). And my desperation to find someone was a dissatisfaction with singlehood that had become magnified to desperation by the pain from childhood.

Although we used Jean Jenson's Reclaiming your Life as a reference point, we did not do any regression therapy per se; it was enough to know that, when I felt panicky about being single "for the rest of my life", I was letting my scared inner child take over. And when I could acknowledge that, feel the fear, and tell myself that I was there for me and could take care of me, the fear would go away.

At the same time, I sorted through my notions about relationships and attraction with my therapist, to "normalize them". I remember her saying once, "You have a right to a guy who's absolutely bonkers about you". This was a new concept to me, because I figured that my weight (somewhat overweight) and age (40ish) would preclude that.

Strangely enough, at the time I was in therapy, I had a pen pal on the Internet who I thought wasn't at all interested in me. After the therapy (about six sessions), I slowly discovered that I might have been missing some signals from him.

We've been going out for over a year and are getting married in March. We're bonkers about each other. I would have never noticed him in my other frame of mind.

Of course, your mileage may vary. But this was my experience with rerouting my "love map" through introspection and therapy.
posted by lleachie at 10:26 AM on December 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

Another train wreck of a relationship has ended and i'd like to use this as an opportunity to adjust my insecurities and figure out as much as possible how to find a healthy, life-affirming relationship.

I did this. In my late twenties, after a string of girlfriends that treated me badly, I dated a truly nice person -- and treated her like garbage. I realized then that the problem likely wasn't the relationships, but the kind of person I was.

So, I said to heck with it. I stopped trying to get dates, or anything else interpersonal for that matter, and focused on being a better person. This transcended sexual relationships, though; I didn't see it as a period of celibacy. Instead, I thought of it as a chance to take a time-out, and make sure the kind of person I was matched the kind of person I wanted to be.

My first (and biggest) step was to address a big flaw that I perceived in my personality: I was prone to making promises and never following through. I spend the next few months making sure that I fulfilled every promise that I could remember making, even two that were over eight years old (and involved people I hadn't seen in years.)

There was more to it than that, but I started liking the person I was more than I ever had before, and I learned that I have control over my life than I'd realized. As it happened, the promise-fulfillment extended to a casual promise for a very small thing to someone I barely knew at all -- and the fulfillment of that promise led to the wonderful wife and two terrific children (not to mention dogs) that I have in my life today.

Plus, at the end of the day, I know I deserve these people in my life, because I'm a good person myself.

So just remember: make the focus about YOU, not your relationships or sex or anything specific like that, and don't be afraid to allow someone into your life (or sex to happen) even if you're not "done" with this project -- because technically, you should never be done.
posted by davejay at 10:31 AM on December 20, 2006 [35 favorites]

er, that I have MORE control. New flaw to address: I need to start hitting preview.
posted by davejay at 10:33 AM on December 20, 2006

davejay: This transcended sexual relationships, though; I didn't see it as a period of celibacy. Instead, I thought of it as a chance to take a time-out...

exactly. thank you sir, for elegantly expressing in one sentence what I didn't manage to get across in four paragraphs.

This isn't exactly about sex or no-sex. It's more about figuring out how you, anonymous, react and relate to relationships. If it requires therapy, certainly lleachie's answer above illustrates how therapy can shed light into these issues. For me it was more a question of getting past all the excess static (self-imposed mainly) in my social / relationships life and focussing mainly on being a wiser, kinder person.
posted by lonefrontranger at 10:53 AM on December 20, 2006

Studying to avoid train wreck #n is probably a good way to spend your 3-6 months.


I stopped trying to get dates, or anything else interpersonal for that matter, and focused on being a better person.

Worked for me. Took a lot longer than one year, though. I thought, hell, maybe this will go on forever. Then suddenly it didn't and I stumbled upon someone who was bonkers about me, really me. I never thought that would happen.

Maybe 3-6 months is enough. What do I know. But do pay attention to the quality of your experience, and lock in to the quality of the past experience, so you don't get sucked right back into it or something similar.
posted by Listener at 11:01 AM on December 20, 2006

Listen to metal. I'm fucking serious.
posted by koeselitz at 11:13 AM on December 20, 2006

Listen to metal. I'm fucking serious.
posted by koeselitz at 2:13 PM EST on December 20

And following davejay's excellent suggestion of taking the timeout to re-assess yourself, I would recommend Tool's album Lateralus. And maybe Manowar's Triumph of Steel.

After having been through a few scenarios like anon's I would have to agree that taking time to focus on yourself, your interests, and your goals outside of romantic entanglements is invigorating. And it gives you an excellent perspective. After six months of not being in the thick of it, you can more readily see what about potential partners attracts or repulses you.

Maybe listening to some Finntroll if you feel like mad cavorting would also be recommended.
posted by bastionofsanity at 11:52 AM on December 20, 2006

My own experience is that you can be unfortunately very attracted to traits in other people that are not good for you or the relationship (as you have noted in your own life). I think the key to getting around this is to start making yourself more comfortable around people who are good for you, but don't "feel" that way now. You may be equating "I am most comfortable and enjoy 'this' dynamic with men" with "if it feels comfortable it must be good or right".

I think it will likely take some therapy to get used to feeling anxious and out of sorts with the healthier dynamics, but you should start giving it a try. I know that I would stop myself if I ever felt a strong connection with someone and think about what I was really feeling. It wasn't a connection so much as a dynamic that was dysfunctional and I knew well. Because I knew it so well, it was very comfortable for me - thus it must be good, right?

After breaking out of that mould, I had some anxious experiences for a while, but it resulted in the most healthy and loving relationship I couldn't even imagine before. So focus on what make it is that makes you feel so attracted to people in the past and avoid that. Then experiment with people with a healthier (or just different for now) dynamic and see what actually works. May take several years and lots of interactions, but well worth it.
posted by qwip at 1:17 PM on December 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

I may have misunderstood, but since you centered you post around celibacy, it sounds like your relationships get sexual really fast. There's nothing wrong with that, except that for those of us who aren't out for casual hookups, sex equals dating. And once you're dating, you're already in a relationship.

The successful relationships in my life all started as platonic friendships. Many people frown upon this, because they think they'll miss the spark of immediate sexual attraction. Whatever. All I can say is that this ten-year marriage I'm in has been great, and we were friends for a year before we started dating.

So why not work on doing things you like and making friends while you're doing so. And then see where it goes from there. If you can't stand someone as a friend, there's no possibility for a happy, long-term relationship -- no matter how good the sex is.
posted by grumblebee at 2:39 PM on December 20, 2006

During this time off, nail down exactly what it is about all these guys has been so jacked up. Then when you do hit the dating scene again, purposefully date someone you wouldn't normally classify as your "type." You'll probably figure out that what you thought was your type before sucked. :)
posted by CwgrlUp at 3:22 PM on December 20, 2006

a friend of mine went through a similar phase in her life and she started working out like the world was coming to an end -- problem was, we used to go to the gym together and even if back then I was in really good shape it became increasingly harder to keep up. several weeks later I was training with a celibate Robocop clone and almost getting a heart attack in the process. working out is a good idea, do it carefully though, it gets addictive
posted by matteo at 3:40 PM on December 20, 2006

If your living situation and daily schedule allow for it, get a dog or a cat (from a shelter/pound). You will most likely receive a whole slathering of affection that has nothing to do with sex. I haven't had kids yet, but my dogs have taught me more about myself than any periods of self-introspection.
posted by iurodivii at 6:41 PM on December 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

grumblebee that is indeed an awesome idea, to which I'd merely add the thought:

depending on one's age and certain other factors, there seems to be a population of men out there who refuse to go out with a girl beyond a certain number of times if she doesn't 'put out'.

of course then the argument can be made that they're self-selecting - I mean who'd wanna go out with an asshole like that anyhow? To which many rather decent thirty- and forty-something men would respond (cos I've asked them): we are running out of time / we learnt our lessons with the x-wifey / we don't want to waste months in a relationship with some nice girl only to have it stagnate in bad sex.... and so on and so on. Sex, unfortunately, seems to be a qualifying factor and a

I'm not making any judgements here. This is neither good, bad, or indifferent. I'm well aware my perceptions might be skewed, and aren't exactly accurate, fair, or even true of decent guys. This element, however, did represent a significant proportion of guys I dated in the past five years.

Also, for whatever reason, I found that guys who meet through dating sites and via the internet seem to expect more, and faster "Putting Out" on the part of their paramours. All kidding aside, this perception is what made me swear off dating sites, but it could just be that I'm still just a big creep-magnet, same as I was when I was 20.

It was after going through all of this that I decided I needed to take a step back and just clear my head of the dating thing for awhile.
posted by lonefrontranger at 6:42 PM on December 20, 2006

bleh, my editing skills suck. last sentence third paragraph should be "...a qualifying factor and a dealbreaker."
posted by lonefrontranger at 6:50 PM on December 20, 2006

Late to the discussion, but I found that one of the most important things I learned after a round of celibacy/introspection and then getting into a new relationship was that sex, at its very best and most healthy, is an expression of joy and closeness -- not as a way to seek joy and closeness themselves.
posted by scody at 12:54 PM on December 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

gah! last sentence somehow got cut off.

And if you're looking for a book to prompt a new way of looking at relationships (and the primary role of being basically happy with yourself within them), I always recommend How to Be an Adult in Relationships. Please overlook the cheesy "how-to" title; it's really a pretty amazing, insightful, challenging view of how to take care of our own emotional needs from the inside out in order to find genuine intimacy with someone else.
posted by scody at 1:02 PM on December 21, 2006

The current Psychology Today issue mentions a woman who did exactly what you want to do, and tells how she did it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:36 PM on December 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

Read Getting the Love You Want.
posted by beatrice at 12:47 AM on December 22, 2006

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