DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I am in my early 20’s and I don’t know what to do. My love/sex life is already so complicated for me. I have no idea what to do and no matter where I go there just seems to be a dead end and I really want it to work.
So, brace yourself…
I “fell in love” (or lust, or something happened) with a friends boyfriend a couple of years ago, I was a virgin back then and had NO experience with in any way at all. After they broke up, I started dating him (I asked her first, she was okay with it). And lost my virginity. Quickly I realized that the relationship wasn’t what I thought it would be, but I didn’t had the guts to really break up with him, so we were on-off for a long time (lots of feelings got hurt and stuff, but that’s another story). During that time I had sex with another guy. Not because I was attracted to him, but because I wanted to see what else was out there. That was a huge mistake. My body said no the entire time, but I did it anyway. Even twice.
Since then I have had some one-night-stands, that turned into guys that wouldn’t leave me alone, so I just continued to have sex with them. Because I have no idea if I want to have sex with someone or not. If I am interested in someone, I don’t think of having sex with them, I just like the feelings I get when I think of them (and they are always off limits anyway. Teachers, friends boyfriends, people who do not like me that way, and yes, I have at least learned to ask the last ones now and not just assuming it). During the act of sex, my body is fine. But afterwards I hate myself deeply. Every. Single. Time. Even if I am a hundred precent sure before I do it. Sex is not what I thought it would be. I don’t see why people think it is amazing. And I never have. I don’t even know why I had sex with my boyfriend back then. I think I just felt a pressure to do it (not from him, from myself). I never have orgasms or masturbate (which is why I can’t tell guys how to please me. I don’t even know how myself. And I feel nothing when I try to masturbate. I get bored and frustrated).
I know I have a problem with saying no to people. I am really scared of disappointing them. I also know that I have next to no experience, but no idea how to get it, when I always like the wrong people (who I can’t sleep with without losing my best friends or job, assuming that they would be interested in the first place) and can’t sleep the available people (even myself) without hating myself.
I don’t know what I want or how to figure that out, I think I need some though love and some perspective, because clearly something is wrong here. And I don’t want to get hurt anymore.
~ A frustrated femme
DEAR A FRUSTRATED FEMME: The old joke is that the definition of “insanity” is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. You’re doing the same thing over and over again AFF and you’re getting the same results. That’s why the first thing that you’re going to do is stop dating for a while. You’ve got some serious unpacking to do here before dating or hooking up would be a good idea, and you need to do it without constantly reinforcing the narrative that you’re broken. So it’s time to give yourself a break from a cycle that’s making you miserable and take time to recover and heal.
The first and most obvious issue going on here is about your inability to orgasm. Now there could be any number of causes here and — seeing as Dr. NerdLove is emphatically NOT a real doctor — I am not the one to diagnose them. It could be anything from medications you’re taking — when I was on Zoloft, I couldn’t have an orgasm to save my life — to depression to problems with the nerves themselves. The first thing you should do is go to your OBGYN and have yourself checked out; if you’re completely unable to orgasm, there may be a physical cause, and it’s worth ruling that out before moving on.
But sex is a tricky beast. Sometimes it’s not physical, or not strictly physical.
We tend to think about sex as primarily being about our junk, as though our genitalia were a separate beast with it’s own wants and desires, and it’s not. As much as desire and lust may be about what’s going on in between our legs, it’s equally affected by what’s going on between our ears. We tend to focus on the way that the tingly feeling that screams “READY TO BANG” starts and ends in our pants; we don’t pay as much attention to everything else that combines to affect our libido — our moods, how we feel about ourselves or even how our jobs are going — until things suddenly stop working. Ask any guy who’s been incredibly stressed at work; suddenly even Christina Hendricks covered in baby oil and carrying a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 18 is just going to leave him trying to shoot pool with a rope.
Women are just as prone to the libido-killing effects of external (or internal) stresses; the worse you feel about yourself, the less likely you are going to feel like getting busy.
And you have decidedly not been feeling good about yourself.
Your first relationship was a long slow emotionally toxic death-spiral punctuated by a massive guilt-inducing infidelity that you didn’t even get to enjoy. That alone can do a number on a person’s self-esteem. The fact that you’re predominantly attracted to men who are off-limits is pretty telling as well – you’re deliberately setting yourself up for failure by falling for these guys, and the guys you’re choosing to sleep with are almost always guys you probably shouldn’t be sleeping with. Mix that with the way that sex makes you react — curling up in a ball of self-hate — and the way you don’t feel like you have a right to say “no” to people and… well, there comes a point where one wonders if this has become a point of self-harm for you. In many ways, it seems like you’re punishing yourself for being unworthy or undeserving of actual love and affection. But that’s me playing arm-chair psychologist and — again – Dr. NerdLove is decidedly not a real doctor.
This is why I recommend that in addition to talking to a physician, you also talk to a therapist — preferably in conjunction with one another. I think you’ve got emotional issues that need to be sussed out on top of any physical issues you may be having and not only is it killing your sex-life, but it’s burrowing it’s way through your self-esteem and self-worth. If having sex is consistently making you absolutely hate yourself (you don’t mention whether it’s also physically painful for you, which is very relevant), then there’s something going on beyond having sex with dudes who’re lousy lays.
I realize it’s a self-help cliche, but there is truth to the line about how you can’t love others if you don’t love yourself. And right now, it sounds like you don’t even like yourself. I think you’re carrying a lot of pain around right now, AFF, even if you aren’t fully aware of it. You need to work through that pain and whatever’s causing it. Take some time away from dating and get some help in letting it go. Doctor’s orders. Love, sex and relationships will all be waiting for you when you’re feeling better.
Good luck. And check back in so we know how you’re doing.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: How does one become better at bantering with people in general, but especially women? After having a conversation with women I almost always come up with something fun or clever to say after my conversation with them is over. It is very difficult for me to be fun and flirtatious on the spot.
Thanks for your time.
DEAR MUMBLES: You get better at banter the same way you get to Carnegie Hall: you go south on Park Ave and hang a right on 57th, it’s four blocks down on the left, can’t miss it.
Er… that is, you get better at bantering and flirting by practice. And you practice by talking with people.
You’re experiencing a lot of what’s known as “L’esprit de l’escalier” – literally “staircase wit” – where you’re only able to think of the BEST thing to say long after the opportunity to say it is over. This is because you’re being too hung up on being clever instead of focusing on being in the moment. You’re able to come up with something incredible afterwards because you’re not pressuring yourself to be funny. You’ve only got so much mental bandwidth, and when you’re trying hard to be funny, you’re usually not actually connecting with the other person – which is the whole point of banter. If you’re focused on being funny, you’re going to come off like you’re practicing a bit, not actually having a conversation with somebody. I ran into this a lot in my early days.
This is why I like to recommend that people study improvisation; one of the first things that you learn is not to try to be funny but to react to the scene. Trying to be clever takes you out of the moment. Relaxing and going with the flow lets the real you shine through instead of “Clever You”.
Some people are gifted quipsters. Some are not. I like to flatter myself that I can be funny1 on occasion; one of my best friends is a comedy god who can make people roll on the floor without half trying. Trying to be him would only hinder my ability to connect with people; I’m not being myself, I’m being a bad impression of somebody else.
Now you can work on your banter by studying other funny people. Over on my site, one of the ways I recommend people learn how to banter is by watching old-school screwball comedies like the Marx Brothers films or movies like Bringing Up Baby, The Thin Man or Some Like It Hot; you can get a better feel for the rhythm and pace of some quick banter and let that carry you through. But it really only works if it comes naturally, instead of being forced. So don’t try to force it. Let the conversation flow and let the banter come on its own.
And hey, just because you came up with something after the fact doesn’t mean you can’t use it later. Jot those lines down; sometimes it can help to have some stock ideas that you can adapt to specific situation ready at hand when you start to sputter out.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)