Hey folks, Doc here. This week, we’re doing something a little different. Instead of the usual dating advice, we’re having two guests stopping by to share their experiences and advice. One of the things I’m always saying is that one of the most important things when it comes to relationships is simply taking the time to understand people instead of just buying into these pre-packaged ideas about who they are and what their lives must be like. Today, we have Hope Nicholson – producer, author, archivist, publisher and all around geek – generously sharing some of her experiences with a subject that I know many of my readers can relate to: the anxiety, confusion, stress and frustration that comes with coming to sex and dating later in life.
Take it away, Hope!
When I was a kid I loved choose your own adventure books, but I’d keep my finger in the pages before choosing the next step. Invariably, I’d end up with each finger stuck at a different path marker, so I could make sure that I picked the ending I wanted before I put the book down.
When I read regular books, I would flip to the back and read the last three pages to make sure that I’d want to get to the end before beginning the book.
I also cheated at every video game I ever played, just so I could get to the final end-scene (which made playing Chrono Trigger with a dozen different endings, very frustrating!).
I don’t do any of that anymore, but I still felt that way about love for the longest time. In life though, you can’t look up the solutions to your problems. In regards to dating, I felt alone. Torn between the desire to date (“It looks like so much fun on TV!”) and undefined fear and anxiety about it. If you asked me at 24, why I hadn’t dated yet, I would have bolted out of the room. I had no idea why. There was no way to flip to the back of the book to find out. There was no walkthrough, no Game Genie, and the frustration of not knowing why I didn’t date gave me intense anxiety so I pushed it far out of my mind.
I suspected that the only way I would know these answers would be after I felt comfortable in dating. And it didn’t help me one bit at the time knowing that in retrospect I would have the answers! When I hung out with women, the talk would often turn to dating and I would scramble to relate the very few experiences I had to their own actual love lives and conflicts. I had a brief boyfriend at 17 where we mostly watched Family Guy and I let him lick my mouth while I tried not to show I was grossed out1, a few unwelcome but unresisted physical advances by male friends that I had panic attacks over at 19 and 21, and a few chaste, unfulfilling dates here and there. That was pretty much it.
I ended up hanging out with gay men, and women who didn’t date either (surprisingly, many of them chose gay men as their companions too). I avoided heterosexual men altogether for years. It left me feeling like a fraud. I didn’t like any of the very few and far between romantic or sexual experiences I had, and I didn’t know what to do.
Was I queer? I had a lot of crushes on men both real and fictional, but I never felt any similar type of obsession for women, so that seemed unlikely.
Was it body issues? I’m a plump girl for sure, but I’m pretty happy with the way I look. So I didn’t think that was a reason, or at least not most of it.
Was I asexual? I read so much slash fan-fiction, my laptop was likely to burn out, so that seemed unlikely.
So… I desired men. Yet, the thought of them being in the same room as me made my skin crawl. The thought of sitting across the room from a stranger no matter how attractive or likable made my stomach sink. What the hell? That’s not what Sweet Valley High told me romance would be like.
Where was the man I would swoon over, who would occupy my every waking thoughts? Where’s the brooding-but-sensitive Romeo who would reciprocate my feelings and bring me tokens of his affection (flowers, or really comic books are just fine too, thank-you-very-much)?
At 24, without the distraction of school and working three part-time jobs keeping my brain occupied, I started to force myself to deal with it. I made myself go on dates with strangers, talk about comic books and video-games, and wish desperately that the whole thing was over with. Then I’d go home and beat myself up for not being attracted to them, because I should be.
I told a few close friends who accepted my virginity as an unusual quirk, but could give me no advice.
Finally, after moving out on my own, I decided that there was no way I could figure this out and at 24, it was getting pretty clear that waiting around wasn’t working. So I went to a therapist. Who didn’t help.
I kept forcing myself to date. At one point, a remarkable thing happened: I had a date I liked! Who I was attracted to! Who I wanted to kiss my face! Who promised to call…
…and never contacted me again.
That stopped me dating for another year.
I tried another therapist. This one was a better fit, but there was still no solution. These visits were useful though. They helped me verbalize my vague fears and anxieties into actual words. Things are always scarier when they’re giant formless clouds above your head.
One of my greatest fears was that if I found a date I really liked, I would have to tell them I was a virgin. I imagined them treating me with pity, or feeling fetishistic about being the first one in. Both were awful scenarios. Both eventually happened.
So I talked. I talked to everyone. I started telling friends. I started telling strangers. Eventually I even started telling dates. The more I talked, the more comfortable I felt. The more I saw that people weren’t reacting with shock, the more I felt like it wasn’t that overwhelming. My anxiety became smaller, more manageable. I became then, more confident. It became an oddball story instead of a deeply seated fear. “Hello I’m Hope, I’m a 25 year old virgin. No, I like boys, and no I was never assaulted. No, I don’t want to hire a prostitute to take care of it.”
I became confident and open, and we all know that confidence, in men and women, regardless of sexuality, is a compelling quality!
I talked to more and more people, most of whom seemed to think my directness was strange but fun. Eventually, I kissed a boy, a friend of a friend, and it was like electric sparks!
Was I right to be scared of this initially?
But I jumped in and tried again. Every time it hurt very badly. But it became less unusual. I stopped fearing that after every breakup, I would never find a boy I liked again. It would have been nice if I could have learned that without, y’know, being smashed up that many times or to deal with scoundrels, but that’s what happened.
I found ways to increase the odds of finding that attraction. Men I already knew, who shared the same friends, confident but quiet, practical but creative, all were much more likely to spark attraction than any other type. Once I stopped going out with randos just because they were nice and looked fine, I started enjoying the process more.
I eventually found someone who didn’t care one way or another if I was a virgin; he liked me in all the ways I wanted to be liked. In retrospect, I know that for me to feel at ease in dating, I need to also feel respected as a friend, which is what he gave me. I need to feel that I’m not needed, that they are a complete human being with or without me. When I had my experience with him, it didn’t feel scary at all, because he was close to me.
I continue to be very open about my late past. And about my own attraction when I feel it, because I’m still surprised when it happens!
And yes, as I suspected before as a virgin, it is a lot easier to talk about it after you no longer are.
The amazing thing I discovered is that I’m not alone. When I talk about being a late bloomer in a group, there’s always at least one person who’ll tell me “I was/am one too.”
I’ve been told this by dates who tell me that I’m the second woman they’ve ever been with. I hear this from dates who tell me that a woman has never told them they’re good-looking before or that they didn’t know how to approach women they desired. I’ve been told this by women who fear their boyfriends will pressure them into sex, and they don’t know if they want it or not. I hear this from women who dated dozens of men for years with great anxiety before finding someone who felt right. I hear this from women who fall in love with their partner many months into dating. I hear this from women who finally feel a connection to someone of the same sex after years of feeling nothing towards anyone.
There’s no cheat-sheet. My reasons and my path to feeling comfortable with dating wasn’t their path and it might not be yours either.
I’ve met so many virgins, male and female, who are in their late twenties. Or those who aren’t but regretted their first experience and stayed away from sex and dating afterwards. Ones who’ve went years and years without having sex. More than I ever expected. They were relieved to hear my story; like me, they thought they were the only ones. They thought they’d have to have sex with someone they wanted to like but didn’t feel comfortable with. They didn’t know if they ever would like someone ‘that way’. And I was relieved to hear I wasn’t alone, that I wasn’t weird, that all of this is really normal variation, with no one set answer/reason to fit all of us. You might be queer, or asexual, or have to resolve past painful experiences. Or it might be that old adage of ‘not having found the right fit’. Or for whatever social or biological reason, you are finally ready to date and be intimate at a much later age than society tells you is average.
It’s awful that healing sometimes can happen only retroactively. I think if I had talked to any of these fellow virgins and late bloomers back when I was struggling so much, the pressure I felt to ‘figure it out’ would have eased substantially.
You’re not alone. I’m hoping that by telling my story, and telling you how I found out I wasn’t the only one, it will help some of you feel less anxious and more confident about yourselves.
And really, regardless of whether you have sex or not, that’s the most important thing.
Hope Nicholson is a Toronto-based, Winnipeg raised comic book publisher of Bedside Press. She has previously championed the awareness of 1940s Canadian comic book history with her projects “Nelvana of the Northern Lights” & “Brok Windsor”. Recently, she was the editor of the aboriginal comic book anthology “Moonshot”. She is also a film producer and researcher, previously a producer on the film “Lost Heroes” and currently a researcher for the film “Africville”. In 2015 she was named one of Flare Magazine’s Top 30 Under 30 Female Entrepreneurs in Canada.
Hope Nicholson is also the creator of The Secret Loves of Geek Girls, a Kickstarter-funded collection of comic strips and prose stories about the true dating lives of geek girls, featuring the talents of Margaret Atwood, Roberta Gregory, Gisèle Lagacé, Kate Leth, Sam Maggs, JM Frey, Danielle Corsetto, Cara Ellison, Trina Robbins, Mariko Tamaki/Fiona Smyth and many, many more. The Kickstarter is running until July 24, 2015, so donate today!