DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m a 34 year old male. I’ve never kissed, sex, relationship, etc… I don’t mind discussing this with people I know. I feel like because I’m too open about my situation people think I’m looking for self pity. I don’t really, I just want them to know about my situation so it’s not awkward when it comes up later in time. I’m not embarrassed, but I know that some people look at as a red flag… especially women. So my question is : Is my openness about my situation really a redflag/dealbreaker? I’m not good with secrets. I also think I use it as an excuse when I get the vibe they don’t understand me.
Too Much Information?
DEAR TOO MUCH INFORMATION: The question you’re asking isn’t necessarily the question you think you’re asking, TMI.
I’ve talked a lot about the bulls
t shame that men get about virginity and sexual inexperience and how that ties into toxic definitions of masculinity and how experience or inexperience isn’t something to be ashamed of. That being said: much like people who misuse the term sex-positive means (or misunderstand what it means), there’s a difference between not being ashamed and inappropriate sharing.
See, one of the things that we look for in friends and partners is emotional and social intelligence: whether they understand social rules, know when it’s appropriate to discuss things and when it isn’t and – critically – what information people don’t necessarily need to know. People who don’t conform to the expected social rules make us uncomfortable; sometimes it’s simply a matter of informing us of things that we don’t want to know, other times it’s a question of “if they don’t get this rule, what other, more important rules do they not get?” So when you’re sharing incredibly personal things about yourself – such as being an older virgin – the question isn’t always about what you’re sharing but when.
If you’re just blurting this information out during the “getting to know you” phase of a date or interacting with your co-workers… well, that’s generally not the right time. You’re telling people far more about yourself than they want to know, never mind need to, and usually at a time when it’s not socially appropriate. If you’re talking about sex or past relationships, that’s one thing. If you’re just dropping this truth-bomb in the middle of a conversation, a “Just FYI, I’ve never had someone else touch my penis. So about those Spurs…”, well that’s just going to be weird.
There’s also the question of how much of this you’re sharing. Not everyone needs to get the full disclosure about your sexual history (or lack thereof). You’re not giving a deposition, you’re having a conversation. You can just leave it as “yeah, I haven’t dated much” or “I’ve never had a serious girlfriend/boyfriend”; most of the time that’s all anyone wants to know. If they want to know more, they’ll ask and then you can go into more detail. When and if someone should know more – such as when you’re about to get busy – then you can tell them more. But even then, a simple “just so you know, I’ve never done this before,” tends to work better than a sudden and unexpected download about the hows and whys of your sexual history.
And as always: how you talk about it is important. People will follow your lead when you talk about yourself. If you’re revealing that you’re inexperienced like it’s a giant flaw, then people will respond like it’s a giant personal flaw. If you roll it out like it’s no big deal, it’s just part of who you are, then they’ll treat it like it’s no big deal. And if they do get weird about it… well that tells you a lot about them, doesn’t it? If someone sees your experience or lack thereof as a deal-breaker, then that’s their problem and they’ve just self-selected as someone you wouldn’t want to date anyway.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’d love it if you could shed some light on my situation, you always make sense and I appreciate how much you take lots of angles and even a meta-perspective into account usually. I’m a young woman in my mid twenties. I have a fulfilling life: lots of hobbies and interests, a good career, I’m always on the lookout to travel, I have moved to different cities because of studies/jobs a lot while maintaining close relationships with my family and friends, I love to learn and think about new stuff all the time. I’m a bit of a free spirit and I identify as polyamourous. (I can cite some passages from “the ethical slut” and other literature on the subject by heart and have internalized and lived by its values). I’ve had an open relationship in the past, where I had one “boyfriend” and 1-2 “mini-relationships”. My boyfriend had the occasional “extra-curricular activity”. It worked for us that way, things ended a year ago for reasons that had nothing to do with being open/poly.
Now “the problem”: a few months ago I met a guy who is a few years younger and we hit it off right away: we love talking about the same topics, we both love to travel, we have heaps of fun together, we just vibe very well. One drunk night we landed it bed together and, you can guess it, had sex. A week later, I discovered that I took his virginity that night, without knowing it at the time of the act. We talked about how I felt bad because it wouldn’t have happened like that if I had known that beforehand. He said he had no regrets and didn’t want to say anything because he thought it wouldn’t have happened otherwise. (He has a point there, but I still feel taken advantage of and like I took advantage of him at the same time as well). We then had the “what are we talk”. It was clear to him from the get-go that I am poly and that we could build a loving friendship but without being exclusive. He understood, asked the right questions, we talked about “the rules”. Everything is still going fantastic in the 2 months we’ve been together now. We still vibe well, enjoy our time together (even though we live 100 miles apart), talk about feelings/issues, he buys me gifts, we do fun trips, he introduced me to his friends and family (I didn’t introduce him to family because that’s not something I do). Even though I am his first girlfriend, he just gets everything right about communication etc., which just proves again what a great human being he is.
And that is my “problem”: it is going so well, that I am confused. He makes me want all those mundane, typical societal things I’ve looked down on for so long: suddenly I’d like to settle in something typical and exclusive and couple-y – even though that is in direct conflict with everything I have believed in and stood for in the past and have defended with reason and fire against nay-sayers about open relationships.
– Should I go against my nature and try being exclusive? How do I even bring that up, after it took a lot of conversation to explain polygamy to him in the first place? Is he even going to want monogamy, perhaps he likes me that much because of my poly-nature?
– Will it affect our relationship for the worse? maybe it goes so well because we only see each other sporadically (because of the distance)?
– Sometimes I feel like I am using him because I am older and more experienced in the sexual and relationship department – any thoughts on that? Is being poly with someone like that even fair? Can he really make a good estimation on the topic if he never had a girlfriend before?
Please help – suddenly everything I was so sure of isn’t that sure anymore. My thoughts need some structure.
Thanks in advance!
DEAR CHEERFULLY CONFUSED: I think you’re making things more complicated than they need to be, CC.
Here’s the wonderful thing about people: they’re complicated and complex. We lay down these rules and labels, many of which are absolutely arbitrary, and then freak out when we realize that they’re not perfectly universal. We grow and change and find people who push us out of our comfort zones and into worlds that we never thought would apply to us and then we get scared because suddenly everything is different. The problem is when we tense up and try to force things into ill-fitting labels and rules instead of just going with the flow and seeing where things take us.
Right now you’ve got a boyfriend who’s making you think all kinds of thoughts that are contrary to how you’ve defined yourself. You’ve always been poly and now you’re thinking about being exclusive… ok, and? You’re allowed to try different relationship formats as long as your partner or partners are down with it. Maybe you’re in a more monogamous period of your life. Maybe this particular relationship with this particular guy is just an exception to your general rules. Or maybe this is just a temporary thing and it will pass as your relationship grows and matures. The key is to not freak out about it. This doesn’t mean that you were wrong to be poly or that there’s something more “correct” about monogamy… it just means this is where you are right now. If you’re down with giving exclusivity a shot, then hell, go for it. You and your partner or partners have the right to set the rules of your relationship as you see fit.
(That being said, experimenting with exclusivity for the first time in a long-distance relationship makes an already difficult relationship even more difficult, so be prepared.)
It’s admirable that you’re concerned about using him or leveraging his inexperience against him, and that’s a sign that you’re a good, ethical and caring lover. Users and abusers don’t concern themselves with such questions. You should keep in mind that no relationship is going to be perfectly balanced and egalitarian. There’s always going to be one partner who has more experience than the other. Nobody is going to have the exact same history or experiences as their lovers; that’s just how the world is. The key is not using that differential as a weapon, and believe me, the less-experienced partner is just as capable of wielding that whip as the more experienced one. Don’t assume that just because he hasn’t seen or done as much as you have that he’s incapable of making decisions for himself. He’s a big boy and he’s perfectly qualified to decide what sort of relationship he wants to try.
The way that you make things work – as is true in every relationship – is communication, communication, communication. As I’m always telling people, the answers to most relationship difficulties is to use your words. Every relationship is an ongoing conversation, after all.
Case in point: the poly vs. monogamy question You’ve talked about being poly before and what it means, so now talk about monogamy. Explain how you’re feeling and ask how he feels about it. If you’re both into the idea, then have a discussion about how you both see it working and what the rules should be. Perhaps you would want to treat this as a timed trial – see how monogamy works for a couple months and then revisit the question. Perhaps you’d want to try a semi-monogamous commitment; some activities such as penetrative sex are off the table but other things are permitted.
Just don’t spend the emotional and mental bandwidth looking for reasons why things are about to go wrong. The worst thing you can do in a happy relationship is waste it waiting for the other shoe to drop. When you’re borrowing trouble from the future, you make it impossible to enjoy the now.
Keep those lines of communication open with your guy and don’t sweat the labels. Your relationship can be whatever you two decide it is.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)