A vestal interest

Dr. Daley on Sex and Relationships

A vestal interest

photo / Laura Marie Wha? Who? Me? 

Dear Dr. Daley: I’m a guy in my mid-20s, and I’m still technically a virgin. I’m not saving myself for marriage, but I’m looking for something meaningful that hasn’t come along yet. I’ve had chances to have sex, but it never seemed right. It keeps getting more and more frustrating to hear people much younger than I am talk about their sex lives, but I feel like I’m too old at this point to just do it for fuck’s sake, so to speak. I don’t want to hit 30 and still be like this. Should I just take the next opportunity I get?

Lesson learned: I shouldn’t try to write first thing in the morning. My blood-caffeine level is still low, so I’m confused. Do you want to get laid, or do you want a relationship? You say you want “it” to be meaningful, but you also feel your erectile clock ticking. What do you anticipate happening if you end up a 30-year-old virgin? Will something turn into a pumpkin? (Because I never know when I need to explain a literary allusion, I’ll just say the pumpkin thing comes from Cinderella, another virgin who was very eager to give “it” to exactly the Right Person.)

One of the reasons I became a psychologist is that I’m nosey. So I must ask: Why have you not had a “meaningful relationship” yet? And what, exactly, does “meaningful” mean? Now, I am the first to admit that many women in their twenties are absolutely impossible, confusing, game-playing, gimme-girls with $1,200 Prada vaginal symbols who refuse to admit their own sexuality and so they go around in 10 square inches of cloth, six-inch heels, and glitter gel all over their breasts because it’s a cute outfit and is in no way an advertisement for free sex? But that’s another nag altogether. It’s your confusion I’m chasing after here.

Call me old-fashioned, but I think a meaningful relationship is one in which two people care deeply about one another and fashion some sort of explicit agreement about how they want to treat one another. Then, each one lives up to the commitment. It is also nice when the two people like each other, have fun together, support one another through the blah-blah-blah of life, and make each other laugh. They have some shared values, a few common goals, and they don’t go out of their way to hurt each other. But you get to decide what is meaningful to you.

I’m also a little confused about what your technical virginity means to you. You say you’re not saving yourself for marriage, which makes me think there’s a vaguely religio-ethical topspin to your indecision. Did you have an idealized goal for your virginity that seems to be fading as the years go by? Did you think HPV or genital herpes might be tedious to live with? Or 18 years of turning over a third of your take-home pay to the mother of your child, even though the mother of your child happens to be someone you wouldn’t piss on if she were on fire? Moral, pragmatic – whatever the nature of your decision to remain a virgin may be, I suggest you spend some time thinking about what it means to you now. (Preferably after masturbating, because horniness makes for some strange decisions – as we all know.)

If you are genuinely seeking a meaningful relationship, you can find one. Think about the characteristics of a person who is, in your opinion, capable of a meaningful relationship, then go hang around wherever a person like that is likely to be. Talk to your friends who are living in meaningful relationships; the data suggest that most people in meaningful relationships met through mutual friends. Try not to see every woman you meet as a potential bedmate. Most women can sense that, and not every woman likes it, although there are plenty of women who will gladly help you out with shedding that pesky technical virginity. (I’m assuming you don’t look or act like a complete toad, although there are women who like that sort of thing, too. Someone for everyone! It’s a great world when I’ve finally gotten to my third cup of coffee.)

The fact is, you can’t be searching for both a meaningful relationship and the opportunity to get laid. Of course, once you are in a meaningful relationship, you can have all sorts of sexual things, ranging from cosmic-intensity intimate sex to wham-bam-thank-you-sir-plain-old-getting-laid. But you, dear reader, must decide which you want right now and then let go of the other side of the fairy tale.

Cheater’s lament

photo / Suzanne Chapman Looks like the makings of a kickin’ going-away party 

Dear Dr. Daley: I cheated on someone and confessed to it. I’m having a really hard time getting over the guilt of doing this. I’ve always been “the victim” in a breakup situation before, and being on the other side is completely different – and much worse. I feel like I’ve screwed up my clean record for life. Is there any good way to get over feeling like the bad guy?

Have I ever told you how I spent 13 years in a Catholic school? It explains so much about me, like why every time the telephone rings I’m sure I am in trouble. And why I spent so much of my adolescence doing things I will not now commit to print (or whatever this medium is). I know all about how great confession is in theory and a certain amount about how great theories are in real life. Have I ever told you I spent 14 years married to a philosopher? Theories! Guilt! Have you ever come to the right place!

Once, when I was little, I asked my dentist how come teeth had to hurt sometimes. He said it was a good thing – it was a signal that something was wrong. Your guilt is also a good thing: It reminds you that you did something stupid and hurtful to someone you claimed to care about. So now what? Do you want to get over the guilt so you can feel better, or do you want to examine the destruction and see what you can do to repair it? Be honest, because your answer will determine whether you need to read any further.

When infidelity occurs in a relationship, there are several possibilities: (1) The cheater is a jerk who does what s/he feels like doing; (2) The cheater is a perfectly nice person (okay, well, not perfectly nice) who is in no place to make a commitment to one relationship; (3) There was something wrong with the relationship that made it possible for a third party to become a factor. Why’d ya do it, Dear Reader?

Now. If you want to repair your relationship, set aside your guilt because it has become a rather boring self-indulgence. Instead, start conversing with your sweetie about what went wrong, what the two of you failed to repair early on, and what you plan on doing now to prove yourself trustworthy. This is not like saying, “I cheated on you because you would never go down on me.” This is like taking responsibility for all the things you could have done better.

Trust, as I say to my students, should be based on one thing and one thing only: Empirical Data. Trust what you observe. So your sweetie must trust his or her observations of your actions. If you want to recover from being a lying, cheating slut, live every day of your life as if you are not a lying, cheating slut. Period. If you make a promise, stick to it. If you make a commitment, live up to it. Don’t do anything you would have to stop doing if your sweetheart walked into the room. Don’t say things you wouldn’t want him/her to hear. Be on time, be honest, don’t blame anyone or anything else for your decisions, and don’t expect to be trusted immediately.

None of us “screw up our clean records for life.” We are human and screw up all sorts of stuff every day. If screwing up your clean record is really the main thing that bothers you about your infidelity, you are not competent to be in a relationship and your infidelity was all for the best – even if your sweetie doesn’t have the wherewithal to show you the door. What should bother you is having harmed someone who did not deserve to be harmed.

We move a little past guilt when we do a better job of things. Find out what went wrong with your relationship, or what it is about you that is not ready yet for true commitment, and do what you can each day to live up to your image of your Best Self. Even in second grade, they told us confession meant nothing unless we were truly resolved to do better.

PS. From the other side of the infidelity experience, ask me about people who are in relationships and who never forgive anything. Sound familiar? Then your question is, “What do I need to do in order for us to move on from this?” If the answer is, “I don’t know,” call a professional because you are in a world of shit. It takes two people to mend a relationship, although either party can make one a living hell. If no true forgiveness is possible, you need to cut your losses and move on – having learned something important, I’m sure.

PPS. Is honesty always the best policy?

About the author Dr. Nancy Daley is a licensed psychologist and adjunct assistant professor who teaches Human Sexuality at The University of Texas at Austin. If you would like to submit questions for her to answer in this column, please send them to drdaley at thatotherpaper dot com.

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