(My first scheduled post, I hope it posts OK. Apologies if it hasn’t.)
I’ve noticed that, without really intending it, I’ve mentioned more than a few times here that I’m in my mid-thirties and a virgin. It’s been on my mind a lot recently. I think it comes out here because, outside of therapy, I don’t have anywhere to voice these thoughts. I have never really been able to talk to my parents about sex and relationships. I don’t really have friends that I feel comfortable talking to much about them either, certainly not to send them stuff like this out of the blue. Actually, that’s not quite true, I talk to my non-biological sisters a bit about it, but then I feel embarrassed afterwards and wonder if I said too much and even then I don’t do it often. Obviously I can’t talk about it at work, although sometimes I feel conscious that all my colleagues have at least one child, so they have all had sex at least once (let’s limit ourselves to the observable facts here, Watson. And discount IVF for the moment).
I feel bad about mentioning it. I feel I should be, somehow, above such things. As a frum (religious) Jew, I’m supposed to think that sex is really good and important, but only in marriage and even in the context of marriage, one shouldn’t talk about it. (It can be quite comical watching rabbis struggling with euphemisms when they have to talk about sex in sermons and drashas, although I still prefer such bowdlerisations to the stark vulgarity of postmodern slang.) So within the frum community people are supposed to be having a lot of (marital) sex, but no one ever mentions it, even as the number of children ever multiplies. And no one ever stops to talk about what the people who aren’t married should be doing (or shouldn’t be doing).
Beyond that… well, I’m probably somewhat autistic, so I’m not good at understanding and expressing interpersonal and emotional stuff at all. So I can’t really understand what love and sex means to other people and I struggle to say what it means to me (hence this rambling post, as I try to understand what I think and express it somehow to you). And I have mentioned that a lot of the fiction that resonated with me growing up implicitly celebrated celibacy: Tintin, Sherlock Holmes, the original Doctor Who (before Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffatt decided that the Doctor was a babe-magnet and that the original series was flawed for not featuring enough romance (I am actually worried about what incoming show-runner Chris Chibnall will do to the programme, given his track record, but that’s a subject for another time and another blog, when I’m ready to face the flame war). Star Trek is an odd one, as Kirk was obviously a womaniser, but I was much more interested in Spock and later Data, both asexual (mostly). I liked James Bond, but fast-forwarded through the sex until I got to about eighteen and realised I loathed everything about the character.
I doubt that this fiction messed me up emotionally. More likely I looked (unconsciously) for heroes who also didn’t know what to say to girls and weren’t really interested anyway. There was a reasonably big gap for me between hitting puberty physically and being emotionally interested in girls, about two or three years where I could have been dating but had no real interest in doing so. That golden age eventually ended and I discovered that girls simply didn’t like me (actually I spent several years pining after them, but being too shy to ask them out, or really to talk to them at all), so asexual fiction became an escape from my intuition that I would be alone forever.
(I will add parenthetically that when Doctor Who came back in 2005 with a libido, those of us who felt uncomfortable with this were often branded online as emotionally-retarded freaks who couldn’t get girlfriends. The fact that I already saw myself as an emotionally-retarded freak who had never had a girlfriend did not make me feel less ashamed or stigmatised.)
These days I think the fact that I can’t stop thinking about, and feeling vaguely ashamed of, being a thirty-something single virgin has less to do with sex, however. To some extent, it’s about love, about wanting to love and be loved, to be accepted, and instead feeling ignored and forgotten by those around me. But I think it’s largely about fear of missing out. Feeling that being a single virgin makes me inadequate, proof that I’m a freak and emotionally disturbed and that no sensible woman would ever go near me. Fear that I’m missing out on a world of adult pleasures both in terms of sex and love and the less-romantic things that follow on from that (home-building, child-rearing, being part of a community that tends to see single people as exceptions in need of help in conforming by being partnered up).
But also that sex comes to stand for various other pleasures and experiences that I have never had and probably never will have, because the depression, the social anxiety and the Asperger’s/autism get in the way. This is a list of stuff that I’ve never done and in some cases would never want to do (usually because of the Asperger’s) but which many people in the Western world have done at least once and are considered highly enjoyable and/or meaningful (in no particular order):
- drunk alcohol (excluding kiddish wine, one or two sips of my parents’ drinks when I was a child and a shot of whisky I downed by mistake in kiddish once having mistaken it for grape juice);
- gone to a rock concert;
- really enjoyed a party, without having to go outside to escape at times (as an adult);
- had a friend who is close enough, emotionally and geographically, that we can just pop round to each others’ houses for a chat or tea;
- had a ‘peak experience’ (in Maslow’s terms);
- had an intense religious experience (not the borderline-psychotic experiences I had at university, where for a second or two I believed I was mashiach (the messiah);
- gone travelling by myself or with a friend/partner (not family);
- been able to meditate properly (I’ve tried. I’ve managed a bit when the depression isn’t bad);
- flirted with someone (I’m only vaguely aware of what flirting is. My therapist said I flirted with my ex a bit and I once ended up saying something that sounded more flirtatious than I intended to a girl I had a crush on at Oxford, so maybe that should be flirted successfully with someone);
- had someone flirt with me (my ex tried a few times, I think, but she came across too strong and explicit and used to scare me. This was probably part of the reason she thought I was frigid);
- been kissed properly and enjoyed it (not what happened that felt more like abuse);
- exercised properly (I run a little bit, but can only run for a minute or two without dropping back into a walk, which worries me enough to make me wonder if I have undiagnosed physical health problems. I haven’t done any real exercise since starting to work longer hours, though);
- talk meaningfully to a stranger;
- had a pet other than goldfish. I mean a pet I can pet, like a cat or a rabbit;
- been loved romantically, properly;
- brought up children;
- been happy for a reasonably prolonged period rather than just vaguely content and not depressed (although I would settle for content and not depressed right now);
- really felt part of a community.
Some of these things are trivial; others are major parts of the human condition. Some I suppose I may have experienced a bit (I did qualify several of them), but others, like sex, are totally unknown to me. I feel like I’m missing out a big part of life and my virginity is emblematic of that.
I don’t know what to do about this. By this stage I feel that I don’t know how to become a mentally-healthy person and never will know. Which in turn means that no one could ever love me and I probably wouldn’t be capable of truly loving someone else. My parents were encouraging me to go to another shadchan (matchmaker) after the one who didn’t get back to me recently, but I don’t feel much inclined to do so. My Mum said, what if there is a woman out there who is perfect for me wondering if she will meet someone, but I doubt it and if she is there I doubt I could meet her anyway. It seems easier just to give up and resign myself to being single forever.
I guess I better stop there, as writing this post has brought up a lot of difficult feelings that I had suppressed and did not understand for a long time and I actually feel very depressed, despairing, agitated and anxious (I think – alexithymia again) just thinking about these things.