Hello, Doc. Your audience base went worldwide. Congrats !
Now, I’ve been severely repressed by family and religion for years. Forced to see people having fun and enjoying life while I was always locked in a room studying and praying. As a result, I never learned how to read social cues, or how to talk to people outside of a professional setting.
I’m a 22 year old virgin. It’s an awful thing in on itself. Problem is, in my country the average age to get rid of your virginity is 12. Being denied any casual social contacts and venues to obtain relationships and sex wrecked me, and the knife was just driven further in college, where my ineptitude and constant pressure for academic accomplishments I ingrained into myself ruined any chance I had at having sex or friendships.
I now have a ton of issues, crippling loneliness, self harming and constant seizures where I bust out laughing and crying at the same time whenever I see happy couples enjoying each other’s company. Can’t watch music clips or any kind of videos of music festivals. The vision of people being happy, partying, enjoying their youth is too much to handle.
At times I catch myself thinking if I would be ok with being used like those 14 year olds who get in trouble for having sex with their teachers. I’d be perfectly ok with being someone’s sex toy. Better to be a toy than a dirty sopping wet rag in a dark corner.
I wish I could’ve been young. Had fun. Go to at least one orgy in college, get drunk and do something stupid, smoke a blunt or a bong. Have sex in a dorm and leave a sock in the knob. Get rid of this festering wound of virginity at the proper age.
I wish I flipped the bird at my parents and at my religion. I wish I never listened to them. If I didn’t, I’d be a human right now. I’d have lived, instead of just existing locked in a room, studying.
What do I do?
Too Little Too Late
Y’know, TLTL, I get a lot of letters from people who feel the way that you do. They feel like they missed some window where they needed to do… something. It ranges from “have my first sexual experience” to just “go on a date”. And what’s amazing is how wide that window seems to be; I hear from just as many literal 40 year old virgins as I do from 17 year olds who think that they’re just too old to start dating now.
And here’s the thing: they’re all wrong. Just as you’re wrong about this. In fact, not to put too fine a point on it but… you’re kinda wrong on a lot of things.
As an example, you mention that the average age of someone’s first sexual experience in your country is 12. And first of all: I’m gonna need to see some citations, because that’s not actually the case. Studies show that globally, the average age of one’s first sexual experience tends to be 17, with younger countries bottoming out at around 15.5 years old. Similarly, according to the Guttmacher Institute, not only is sexual activity at ages 12 or younger incredibly rare, but more than half of the girls who lost their virginity at 12 or younger did not do so voluntarily. So I suspect that “the average age is 12” is either folks talking shit to sound cool or you’re dealing with a horrific epidemic of rape in your country.
Second of all, however: 12 year olds aren’t ready to have sex. They don’t have the emotional or intellectual maturity to handle sex or sexual relationships and — again, going back to the Durex study — the younger people are, the far less likely they are to use contraception or practice safe sex. We have a word for folks who had sex at 12, especially those who had sex with older partners: raped. Chris Brown — who famously bragged about having lost his virginity at 8 — wasn’t just that manly or seductive; he was sexually assaulted. The people who brag about having had sex at that 12 — and aren’t, y’know, lying — are almost always trying to rationalize what had been done to them. Never mind discussions about legal age of consent; most 12 year olds aren’t capable of consenting to sex because they don’t have the experience, capacity or maturity to know what the fuck they’re doing, even if they’re legitimately horny as hell.
As an experiment: try talking to a 12 year old about damn near anything… then come back and tell me honestly that they’re capable of consenting to sex or that they’re in any way capable of handling the emotional complexities of sexual relationships or the responsibilities of sex, ranging from pregnancy to sexually transmitted infections, to even understanding the ramifications of having sex with someone… particularly someone who has power over you.
But that same [CITATION NEEDED] is necessary for the idea that you were missing out on orgies in college. Despite the hand-wringing that goes around about “hook up culture” (when they aren’t also wringing hands about the “sex recession” millenials and Zoomers are undergoing), college isn’t just wall to wall fuck parties that would make Caligula blush with envy. What you’re thinking of is 90% wishful thinking and braggadocio, and 5% rounding up to make things sound far cooler, and 5% just straight lying. There’s actually a lot less sex going on in colleges than people think. It’s not zero, no… but it’s also not 4 years of The Best of Porn Hub either. Most of the time, it’s garden variety serial monogamy and occasional casual hook-ups.
But here’s the thing: even if all of that were true — it’s not, but even if it were — none of that means anything. You’re not a freak for being a virgin at 22, my dude. You’re a little on the right of that particular bell-curve, but frankly you’re barely past the margin of error. It’s uncommon, but not rare, unusual or even particularly noteworthy. I know folks who lost their virginity in their 30s… and far from being seen as objects of pity, they’re in happy, successful and fulfilling relationships. There are many, many women — women I know personally, women who read and comment on this column, women who participate in the NerdLove Academy Facebook group and others — who have slept with male virgins your age and older. The people who most look down on older virgins are almost always other men; the bullshit spread about older virgins is spread mostly by guys who have bought into toxic forms of masculinity and who are invested in perpetrating those very same beliefs.
Just as importantly though: you keep acting like it’s “too late” and you missed your window, and that’s simply not true. You didn’t do crazy shit in college… but college isn’t the only time you can have adventures. There’s literally nothing stopping you from smoking a blunt or using a bong (which, honestly, is highly overrated) now. There’s no reason that you can’t travel, go on adventures, meet incredible people, have parties or have wild and crazy sex right now. You’re 22 years old, my dude; you’re in a place where you have relatively few responsibilities, plenty of opportunities and — critically — the metabolism of youth. Trust me when I tell you: the only major advantage of youth vs. experience is the way your body can recover from things like minimal sleep and shitty food.
Here is another truth: the sex people have in their teens ain’t great. Nor, for that matter, are the relationships they have. Nobody knows what they’re doing, nobody has any measure of self-control or endurance and enthusiasm and energy don’t make up the difference. No matter what folks tell you, everyone’s fumbling around trying to figure things out; it gets romanticized because we’re told, over and over again, that this is supposed to be the most amazing time in your life. Pop culture sells that message constantly, not because there’s any great truth to it, but because 13 to 25 year olds are the most demographically desirable for the entertainment industry.
The relationships you have in high-school and college are very rarely the ones that will lead to marriage and family. Not because of your age but your inexperience. With age comes maturity and experience. The things that were overwhelming and of dire importance when you were 15 are absurd to you at 20; the things that seemed so incredibly important at 20 are laughable at 30. The fact of the matter is that the best years of your life can be at any time, and it becomes even easier to have them when you have not just experience under your belt but greater resources and knowledge. To paraphrase the sage, your 30s are basically your 20s but with more experience and better credit.
Here is a final truth: the fact that you didn’t do all the wild and crazy things you think you were “supposed” to have done at an earlier age doesn’t mark you out as a loser or that you missed your chance. All it means is that you weren’t ready yet. You weren’t in a place where you were capable of doing those things. You made the best decisions you could have at that time with the information you had and as the person you were. But now? Now you’re in a place to change all of that. You’re in a place to try things for the sake of trying them, to make the conscious decision to get out of your comfort zone and — importantly — at a point in time where you have greater resources, greater access to information and greater experience. You’re actually better positioned now to have crazy adventures than you ever have been before.
And so you have a choice. You can either choose to be bitter and resentful about what you didn’t do… or you can choose to forgive yourself for making the best choices you could have at the time, put the past behind you and let go of that anger and resentment. Once you free up your emotional bandwidth you’ll have the freedom and the opportunity to go do amazing things, collect great stories and pursue all sorts of new experiences. But you can’t do that as long as you’re focused on what has already happened.
You’re at a flexion point. You can wallow in impotent anger about a past you can’t change… or you can let that all go and build an incredible present and amazing future.
But you have to make the choice to do so. It’s up to you.
Hi Dr. NerdLove,
I recently discovered your site as the result of it being mentioned on PhilosophyTube. It’s really fantastic, but also a bit overwhelming.
I’m 38. I was in my first serious relationship for three years, from 2016-2019. It was crazy toxic. Much like in the PhilosophyTube video on “Men, Abuse, Trauma,” towards the end of the relationship I had pretty much just stopped functioning. Nothing I did for her ever seemed to be enough — she was never satisfied with me as I am, or the relationship, or our life together simply as it was; she always wanted better from me, more from me. Whether it was how I dressed, me putting aside my own work to spend time reading books on how to be a better boyfriend, putting aside my friendships to spend more time with her, putting aside my hobbies or interests to read up on her chronic illnesses… it felt to me like she was just endlessly demanding more and more of my time, and of my mental/emotional energy. If we had quality time or cuddling, I don’t think she ever once in the entire relationship said “okay, that was nice. thank you. Now let’s [get some work done / get some dinner / go do X].” Her saying “let’s cuddle for just 20 mins” would inevitably turn into four to six hours. It often felt like any kind of pushback I gave, any kind of standing up for myself, resulted in her getting upset with me and insisting that I still had never done enough, had never been enough, that all that I’d done for her was only the minimum, that the bar was so low…
So I finally gave up. Not as a power move, not as a way of playing mind games, but as a way to protect myself. To stop myself from giving more when I felt my emotional tank was so empty already. To try to get the space I needed to hopefully destress, relax, re-energize myself, so that I might no longer feel at the end of my rope, so I could re-charge on patience, on my ability to give emotionally. Even just on a practical level, separating myself from those endless demands on my time so that I could get some work done, and having gotten more work done, then feel like I had more time to give.
In any case, the relationship ended in disaster. And now it’s almost two years later, and while I’m doing a lot better mentally, emotionally, on my own, having rebuilt my own confidence and happiness and so forth, the idea of getting back into a relationship just brings all that stress right back to the surface. Reading through some of your posts, e.g. “5 Ways to Become Someone Women Want to Date,” makes me feel like the barriers are just insurmountable.
I’m not looking to be a player or to be the kind of guy who picks up girls in bars. I’m not interested in just any girl, and I’m not interested in sex. I’m not interested in dating around, in the sense of playing the dating game or playing “the field” or anything like that. I want a partner who I can live a happy, relaxed life with. To share hobbies and interests, to share friends, to share maybe a cat and way too many indoor plants. I want someone to go to museums and concerts and theatre with, to try out new restaurants with, to go traveling with.
In your piece on “5 Ways to Become Someone Women Want to Date,” you talk about being the person /you/ want to date. And I’d like to think that at least in some respects I am attractive, appealing, a good person. I’m not a slob – I’m still figuring it out but I like to think I have a pretty good sense of style, a pretty good wardrobe. Prior to this relationship, I thought I was a rather patient guy, kind, caring… in the first half of our relationship, she often said I was not like her other boyfriends, that I’d shown so much more patience and kindness than they ever did. And I think I’m rather feminist, too; I know and understand a lot of the issues that a lot of guys are either ignorant about or actively resistant to acknowledging. So, in at least some ways, I would like to think that I’m already “the person I would want to date.”
But, reading through some of the other points, like “Take Control” and “Provide Security,” I just feel so exhausted, and this year and a half since leaving my girlfriend hasn’t made me feel any less exhausted. After years of her pressuring me to transform myself, to put aside my work, my friendships, my everything to devote myself to becoming a better boyfriend — cooking, cleaning, attending to her needs in bed, attending to her needs otherwise, learning how to be romantic, learning how to provide better emotional support, learning how to attend to her panic attacks and other severe emotional needs, etc etc etc — and her never being satisfied, to just wake up and say “things are good. I’m happy. I’m so glad I have you.” To never ever say that anything I did was good enough. To never say that my mistakes or flaws are okay, that we’re only human and it’s okay… After all of that, reading these things about how I still need to put in work, still need to learn to “take control” in just the right ways, how to be responsible and reliable in just the right ways, how to provide emotional support in just the right ways, just thinking about all of that, I can feel an anxiety attack coming on. I don’t ever want to have that kind of relationship again, where I’m fighting to be seen as valued, as appreciated; where just being myself is never enough; where I’m constantly trying to compare myself to some ideal of how to be a better boyfriend rather than just being compatible, and good, rather than just being happy, and loved and cared for, for who I am. …
Sorry this was so rambling. How can I get over this burn out? How can I start to feel less drained, less exhausted, and more ready and able to put in the work that needs to be done to become a better potential partner? Thank you.
Running on Empty
I’m sorry about your previous relationship, RoE. You were in a very toxic relationship with someone who, quite frankly, treated you like shit. I’m not surprised that you’re burnt out. You spent several years being ground down by someone who demanded more and more from you than you ever had to give — emotionally, intellectually or physically. That’s going to leave anyone drained, even under the best of circumstances. But the thing you have to realize is that while you’re out of this relationship — and thank God for that — the damage that has been done is still there. Not because you’re weak or too fragile, but because you spent three years in a toxic relationship and that shit takes time to heal.
And honestly, it doesn’t sound like you’ve had much time to heal. Healing isn’t just a matter of time passing; it’s a matter of going in, disinfecting the wounds and stitching them shut. It’s about rehabilitating the injury so that you can gain your strength back, instead of being hobbled by it. It sounds like you haven’t done a lot of that work of healing just yet, and frankly that should be your chief priority. Right now isn’t about trying to get back to dating, it’s about recovery. It’s about prioritizing yourself and your healing from everything you went through with your ex, so that you’re ready to start doing any sort of work to be a catch.
And one of the tells here is the way you phrased things: “being a better boyfriend.” Your problem wasn’t that you weren’t a good enough boyfriend, your problem was that you were a reasonable person in an unreasonable situation. You were dating someone who was actively harming you, who wounded you to your soul and left you feeling like this was somehow your fault.
And it wasn’t. This wasn’t your fault. This was all about her. And the fact that this also coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m not surprised your batteries are low right now.
The fact that you’re exhausted isn’t a surprise, nor is it a sign of weakness. It’s a sign that you went through one incredibly taxing situation and before you had a chance to start the recovery process, you got dropped into one that was even more taxing, in new and different ways. And that’s ok. You’re allowed to be tired, you’re allowed to not have the energy or the drive to do much more than just getting through this. That’s perfectly fine; that’s all anyone can reasonably ask of you right now.
So right now, your job isn’t to worry about becoming someone women want to date, your job is to heal. Take dating — or even the idea of getting ready for dating off the table. That’s not something to concern yourself with right now. The thing you should be concerning yourself with is healing and getting better. Husband your energy and spend it on yourself. Find the things that speak to your soul and make you feel glad to be alive. Indulge in the things you’re passionate about or the things you’ve wanted to try but haven’t had a chance just yet. Surround yourself with people who love you and care for you and affirm you — the people who have your back. Let yourself feel loved, so you can remember that you’re deserving of love.
And if your ex’s words or actions are weighing on you, then talk to someone. Maybe you need to talk to a trusted friend and just share. Maybe you need to find a counselor to help unpack your understandable and complicated feeling about your relationship. This is part of disinfecting those wounds, debriding the injury to get rid of infected tissue and removing any debris left behind. And while it can sting, that’s the sting that precedes the healing.
Give yourself time. You don’t need to be getting out there right now; you don’t need to be trying to get ready to get back out there. Like an athlete who sustained an injury on the field, getting back out there too soon does you no good. It just makes it more likely that you’re going to get hurt. So give yourself time to recharge and recover. Give yourself the gift of healing and rehabilitation. There is no timeline here, there is no deadline. There will be time enough for love and relationships when you’ve been able to heal.
Treat yourself with kindness, RoE. You deserve it.
All will be well.