Dear Wendy: “I’m Afraid I’m Doomed To Be A Virgin Forever”

I’m in my early twenties and still a virgin, sort of by choice, but also because I was never asked out when I was younger. This past weekend, I reconnected with an old male friend who admitted to having liked me in the past, but the timing between us was off. We started talking about sex, and I turned him down, telling him I didn’t think I was ready, and I wasn’t in love with him. He was a great guy about it. But now, I think I’m regretting saying no. I’m starting to panic thinking that I just turned down my only chance, as it’s not like I’m beating away men with a stick. I have recently lost a lot of weight, so maybe things will change, but I still don’t seem to have guys running up to talk to me. Also, it’s the fact that I’m in my early twenties, and I’m feeling like I let time run away from me and I can’t stop it. The last thing I want is to become the female version of the 40-Year-Old Virgin. Do I call him and get it over with, as it were? Am I seriously doomed as I think I am because of my age? And how do I stop worrying so much? — Twenty-Something Virgin

Listen, you’re not going to turn into a female version of the 40-year-old virgin if you don’t want to. You know how I know that? Because you’re a woman, and women, frankly, can pretty much get laid whenever they want. Seriously. You don’t believe me? Go to a local bar, walk up to just about any average-looking guy — the really hot ones might take a little more work — chat him up a bit and then ask if he wants to go home with you. Nine times out of ten, the answer will be “yes.” I don’t recommend you take this route, though, especially if you want some sort of emotional connection with someone before you sleep with him, but I want you to know you are not, not, not — a hundred times not — doomed to a life of celibacy. Sex is and likely always will be available to you if and when you want it.

But, what you want is to have sex with someone you care about (and vice versa). So, how do you find that? Well, you start with forming a relationship, which, admittedly, isn’t as easy as walking up to some random guy in a bar (sometimes it is, though!). But you already have a guy who says he was into you in the past. Maybe he’s someone you could form a relationship with. You turned him down for sex, but what about going to a movie or dinner together? Is that on the table? And if it’s not — if he was really only interested in you for sex — find someone else you might enjoy going out with. The world is full of eligible men and just because you aren’t “beating them away with a stick” doesn’t mean they aren’t or wouldn’t be interested in you. What you need to work on is your anxiety and confidence issues and for that, you may benefit from talking to a professional. If you’ve lost a lot of weight recently and are having some trouble adjusting to the “new you,” a therapist can help you with that transition so you can begin to see yourself as the beautiful woman you hope a potential mate will see you as.

My ex and I first started dating right before I was diagnosed with cancer. It was horrible to have to deliver that kind of news to a guy I was casually dating, especially since I was in the super-obsessed want-to-fall-in-love stage with him. He stuck with me through treatment, but admitted that it didn’t feel like we were really in a relationship part of the way through. I felt like I was holding him back from having the kind of fun, carefree existence twenty-somethings should have, but loved being with him and was too afraid of being alone to actually cut ties. We continued to date a few months after my treatment was over, but he complained that I wasn’t the same, spontaneous and fun person I was when we first started dating, so we ended things.

My self-esteem plummeted. I was still struggling to find a “new normal” and accept the changes in my appearance and overall health, when he suggested we try the friends with benefits thing. I knew it was a bad idea, but gave in. It felt nice to have someone “want” me, and I was so stinkin’ lonely at the time, that I relished any attention — even this kind of destructive attention. After a few months, I realized how one-sided things were. I still had major feelings for him and hated myself for letting him use me when he wanted (but never when I did). He was reaching out to me less and less, and I heard that he was pursing a mutual friend, so I stopped giving in when he actually did call. When he complained, saying that he cared for me and was “confused” about how he felt, I told him how I felt and that I didn’t want the “benefits” part of our friendship to continue. He said that he was okay with it, but every now and then, he’d still try to get me to fool around or sleep with him.

I struggled, but finally moved on emotionally from him. Now, I’m working really hard to put my life back together; the emotional impact of the past year really just set in, and I’ve finally admitted how depressed and anxious I’ve been feeling and am getting professional help. The problem is, my ex is still harping on me to be his close friend because his feelings for me are unresolved (coincidentally, things recently fell through with the other girl). He assures me that he just wants to “be there to help me” and doesn’t want to throw away our friendship. He’s been through a lot with me, so I feel bad cutting him out completely, but I have no romantic feelings for him anymore. How do I handle this? When I try to tell him that I can’t invest any more emotions in him — that I need to focus on myself right now — he says he doesn’t care and still wants to hang out. Am I being cold, or is he really a user? — Cold? and Confused

First of all, give yourself some much-deserved credit for getting through your cancer treatment and now doing the emotional work to heal your mind and soul and, as you say, put your life back together. You are brave and strong. I’m sure you’re a forever changed person now and it’s hard to imagine where you might be had you not gotten cancer, but try for a minute if you can. Imagine every part about your situation with this guy exactly the same way, except the cancer part. Perfectly healthy people have relationships all the time like the one you’ve described. They date, they break up, they get hurt, they struggle with moving on, and sometimes they even play around in limbo-land for awhile dancing across this “are we, are we not?” divide. Eventually, if they’re smart and want to take care of their emotional health, they know they have to step outside the gray fog of that divide because it’s not going to lift on its own.

The only difference for you is that you were sick during part of your relationship and since your boyfriend hung around, there’s a part of you that thinks you owe him something. But you don’t. You don’t owe him the gray fog. He was a grown man when you two dated, capable of making his own decisions and he decided to stick by your side during your treatment on his own accord. It wasn’t altruistic. He wasn’t doing it “for you.” He was doing it because he liked and cared for you a lot and wasn’t ready to walk away from the relationship. He wanted to see where it might go. He stayed because he would have always wondered what would have happened if he didn’t.

So, you had someone there by your side during a terrible ordeal, and he doesn’t have to live with the regret of prematurely walking away from a great relationship. In the process, I’m sure you both learned a lot about yourselves and what you want and need in a partner. I’d say it’s all a pretty fair trade-off. You aren’t indebted to him. You don’t owe him anything. And it’s not cold to tell him there’s no longer room for him in your life. Step out of that gray area and take care of your emotional well-being. You may not owe your ex anything, but you do owe that to yourself.

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