Sunday, November 11, 2007
I know you are very busy grappling with motherhood, your job, etc. But hopefully, your perspective can help me solve a problem that simply will not budge, and is threatening to take over my life. I make a good living as a writer, but I'm also a (struggling) actress in L.A. I've experienced some success this year-- booking commercials, a few tv shows. It's tough, but I knew it would be. It's also worth it.
My biggest challenge I never saw coming. I'm 30 years old. I've never had a "real" boyfriend, and I've never had sex. I've come close, and I almost always want to, but my brain stops me: Who is this guy really? Is he going to disappear once the sex is over? Will I bleed, will I cry, will I run screaming from the bed? What if I tell him I'm a virgin, and he (understandably) thinks I'm a freak?
I think I understand how this happened. Growing up, my father was, at best, sexually inappropriate towards me (that is such a weird phrase, but I don't know any other way to put it). Looking back as an adult, I think my mother had an inkling of what was going on, and I do believe she tried to stop it. She also stifled any shred of my sexuality that may have emerged in junior high and into high school. I was not allowed to shave my legs, use tampons or wear tank tops-- even to sleep in. (I had big boobs that developed quite early. I later had a breast reduction.) I was also not allowed to shower (I could only take baths). My mom caught me once, using the shower instead of the tub. I was punished. And she ordered my father to disable the showerhead. This was never said aloud, but I knew, just knew, that to my mother, showers were something women did, not girls (I have a big brother, and he was allowed to shower.) By the time I got to college, I was brainwashed. My friends had boyfriends, but I did not see that as an option for me. I simply could not fathom it. I truly believed that no man would see me in that light-- and I accepted this as fact, without anger or self pity. Kind of like accepting your race or gender. It was just a matter of fact. I was 19 when I kissed a guy for the first time. It did not go well. Something very strange happened: My body shook uncontrollably. My heart pounded, I began to sweat and felt dizzy. It literally felt like I was being attacked. I just laughed it off. I did not know at the time that it was a panic attack. And, for years, it would happen every single time I was close to a guy. Unless I was drunk. And then I felt nothing at all.
I remember exactly when it finally hit me that something was not right. I had just moved from NYC to LA. Sitting in my new, empty apartment, alienated from my family (they were not happy about my committment to acting, or the pursuit of it) -- I began to remember all those rules I had to follow as a child. Or not so much remember them, as thought about them for the first time with my adult mind. I was both dumbstruck and pissed off. What the fuck were those rules all about? Why was I not protected from my father? Why did my parents not encourage even limited interaction with boys or even mention the idea, for fuck's sake? Is this why I never really dated, even after college?
I called my brother and when he confirmed everything I remembered, I sobbed uncontrollably. Then I worked on fixing it. Which consisted of faking it. I simply pretended I was the kind of girl who was used to male attention and comfortable with it. And it worked. The panic attacks stopped-- at least the physical part.
But four years later-- I'm still not really a dater. I do go out with guys, when I find one I like. And I've discovered I am very sexual. But-- it never goes further than a few dates. Hence, I never feel comfortable going "all the way."
I know what you're thinking: She's not ready. But I am! Truly. I know sex isn't going to make me a different person, and I wouldn't want it to. This isn't about self-esteem or peer pressure (does that even exist when you're 30?) I think I'm smart, and funny and a great friend. I like me. I don't want to have sex to fill a void. I want to have this very normal and common experience, before it's too late.
I've tried every road I can think of. I'm on that crazy web-dating site. I go to parties and charity functions. I'm in therapy. She tries, but she doesn't get it. She implied that it might be time to just do it with anyone. Maybe even pay someone. Which only made me feel worse. Why should that be my only option (besides waiting-- which I cannot do any longer.)
I'm not going to get into how "pretty" I am. I will say that I am an attractive person. I have friends, a social life, a solid career-- and I'm generally happy. This situation, however, sucks. And right now, I feel powerless to change it. I could just do it, but I'd have to live with the fact that it happened that way, after all these years. And I resent that I can't seem to meet a guy, date for awhile, then have sex, when there's some sort of mental and physical connection. On the other hand, I'm convinced that if I wait any longer, things will get much worse for me mentally, or I'll shut down altogether. I feel like I was asleep for so long, then something woke me up. Now I'm ready! But all I hear is crickets.
I used to find this whole thing absurd and hilarious. But now it's not funny. Not at all. I don't want to be a 40-year-old virgin. Shit, I don't want to be a 31 year old virgin.
Ready Ready Ready
Dear R. R. Ready,
You present a tough problem, because you're following the same avenues as most single people your age (online dating, parties) and you're taking advantage of the right resources (therapy), but you're going through all of the same difficult things with this lead weight on your ankles: The weight of an emotionally (if not sexually) abusive childhood, the weight of inexperience, and the stigma and side effects of those two things.
You refer to your relationship with your father as "at best, sexually inappropriate" and then talk about how your first kiss gave you a panic attack. I think you can safely classify yourself as a victim of sexual abuse. No matter what actually happened with your father, both of your parents treated sexuality as if it had the power to destroy the known universe with its terrible, dark forces. On top of that, you weren't really conscious of the severity of the problem until relatively recently. That's the kind of insidiously depraved upbringing that can actually be more haunting than straight-forward physical abuse (assuming that wasn't happening as well), because it's never addressed. leaving you to try to manage the huge conflicts and emotions and confusion around it without even consciously acknowledging their existence. This is the stuff that major personality disorders are made of.
So, never underestimate how wildly dysfunctional your upbringing was. It's a really good sign that it doesn't just seem "funny" to you anymore - making light of it is a coping strategy and defense mechanism that probably saw you through some seriously trying times, but now that you want to look at this mess head-on, it's good that you're honest about how ugly it is.
Also, give yourself serious credit for getting through this without fucking shit up, big time. You have a pretty solid life, good friends, a decent career -- I would never have figured all that out, in your circumstances. Obviously you're tough and a hard worker and you have a big heart that's able to let people in despite the injuries of the past.
Given the strength of your character, I have faith that you're going to meet this next challenge and figure out how to face it and grow and learn from it. I know that's cliché, but I really do believe that.
But first, I have to say something that you probably don't want to hear: The first time, whether it happens when you're 18 or 38, is more often than not a disappointment. In my opinion, it's unfortunate that the first time is mystified and romanticized so much, because it just sets people up to feel shitty about it. Why? What if you'd never eaten a ham sandwich before? Do you think you'd instantly adore ham sandwiches, after your first bite? Probably not. Why should your first bite go down in history as the most important?
The thing is, the first time is never all that important to anyone who's had plenty of good sex since then. That's why people say "Why not just get it over with?" Because so many things can happen, before, during, and after, that undermine that original experience. Even if you're wearing white chiffon and all the tiny candles are lit and it's like a scene straight out of "The Blue Lagoon," the chiffon's going to get stained, the candles are going to set the bear-skin rug on fire, the girl's going to feel like she's gross or a disappointment for not exploding with passion, and the guy's going to come too early, roll over, fall asleep in three seconds, and not call the next day.
I think even sexy teenagers in love on a desert island are disappointed afterwards. The first time just doesn't come off the way it should.
And look, that's also why it's tough for someone to take on being YOUR first. They know you'll probably be disappointed, like they were, the first time. It's just heavier for you than it is for the other person, and when the other person knows that (without really knowing how they feel about you), it's a big weight to bear.
You have to look at your long-range plan here, and remove some of the pressure from the first time. You don't want to have sex once, you want to have a sex life. You want, possibly, a good relationship. To get there, you have to accept that it's going to be a rocky road. You cannot guarantee anything about the first time: that it'll be an outpouring of love and physical communion, that you'll even enjoy it. You have to try a few things that probably won't be as great as you expect. You have to spend time with people you might not like a few months later, and risk getting your heart broken.
But you have a good life, you're on solid ground. This stuff isn't going to break you. Part of you wants it to happen so you can stop feeling stigmatized by the fact that it hasn't happened yet.
I don't know if you should walk around telling people or keep it to yourself. All I know is, you have to respect your own path and communicate that respect for yourself to other people -- friends and potential boyfriends or partners -- so they will respect you, too. You have to stop making yourself feel crappy about this, and stop trying to make your past OK, and just say: This is what happened. This is part of who I am.
But that doesn't mean you're scarred for life. You can emancipate yourself, but part of that emancipation is going to lean on your continued faith in yourself. You look at yourself and say: I'm strong. No matter how this next part goes, it's not going to define me. This could be a big, fat failure, but that doesn't mean that it'll stay that way, or that my life will then be a tragedy.
Look around at the people you know. If you could see a little film clip of each of their first times, you'd laugh your ass off, and then cry and feel so bad for them. The first time is, by nature, tragicomic. It's just a pathetic mess. It rarely works out. Most people want to forget about it. Luckily, with practice, with other partners who are actually a better match, the first time is erased like something you scrawled on a sandy beach decades ago. Who the hell cares? No one cares. No one is watching. No one remembers.
I would encourage you to see the whole thing as an experiment. Sure, guard your heart. Ask for what you want -- don't be afraid to do that. But put it in perspective: This is a journey with more than one stop. Things can and will go wrong. You're strong enough to take this risk now -- you weren't before. Remember how strong you are, to be here. Many, many people would never have gotten this far. You think I'm wrong, but I'm not wrong. You're humble, you have a good heart. Men are going to be crazy about you - the only reason why that hasn't happened yet is because you haven't been ready yet. Now you're ready, and all you have to do is try. Go on dates, make out, see where it goes. Don't do anything you don't want to do, but just follow the flow of things without always allowing the sports announcer ("LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, COULD THIS BE IT? COULD THIS BE THE FIRST TIME?") into the room. Just live.
We all have stuff we're afraid of, that we haven't tried yet. This is your corner of not-knowing, fear, anxiety. Ease in. Know that it probably won't be perfect, or even all that good. Accept that you might not be in love enough. Or wait until you are. But open up to all of the possibilities. Don't rigidly wait for something that looks perfect or feels perfect. You might wait forever. And it sounds like you've done enough waiting.
You have to try to meet men, become friends with a few of them, hang out as friends, and see how it goes. Try to be honest and open and present yourself as you are. That doesn't mean that they MUST know you're a virgin, necessarily, it just means that you're open to making a real connection with them, without pressure. Cast a wide net, and get to know some people, either through online dating, friends, whatever. Don't just do what you always do, be open to talking to new people and making new plans. Vow to say yes to every proposed activity that comes your way, just to see if you can learn something new, even if you don't think you'd like the guy. Just show up, and see what happens. Be safe, of course, and don't force it. But try to get to know some men, and to see them as potential friends first.
Remember, you're not a freak, you've protected yourself over the years. Look, maybe that's what kept you from losing your mind. Maybe that's how you developed good friendships and a great career -- by pursuing those things and staying away from the volatile nightmare that lurked in your sexual thoughts, memories, notions. But now you're ready to throw open the doors and just see what happens. Use that sense of humor -- you'll need it. It's going to be hideous and bad and lonely at times, but eventually it'll be great, and you'll fall in love, and you'll be past this, ready for the next big challenge. It might take a while, but you'll get there, and you'll look back the way the rest of us do, and cringe.
And then you'll push it out of your mind, and you'll go walk the dog with your husband and kids, and someone will fall and skin their knees, and your husband will say something that's fucking retarded and you'll be annoyed, and the little imperfections and tiny tragedies will rise and fall with the tides, but mostly life will be damn good.
But today it's time to accept your frailty, be vulnerable, be proud of yourself, be honest, be brave, and stick your neck out. You can do it!
Sunday, November 04, 2007
I'm wearing my Childless Whore shirt. You’re my favorite. Okay, enough of that. I need your help.
I used to be a serial monogamist, but that wasn't working out well for me with the sorry series of bad relationships I'd added to my resume. I decided it was time to try out my single sea legs. They're faulty. I’m excruciatingly bad at dating and/or being completely alone.
I've now been single for about 3 years and I've never shown worse judgment. I just ruined another opportunity to get to know a man by sleeping with him on the first date. Shocking, but it blew up from there and of course, I'm the one left feeling like the asshole. Thinking, "Gee, why doesn't he have any respect for me? That’s odd.”
I've decimated any hope of us even exploring a friendship now by trying so hard to ‘fix’ it and all I’ve accomplished is making it hopelessly embarrassing for myself now. Don't get me wrong here, I certainly think he played his part in this destructive, childish dance we've just done. Let's face it though, women are the keepers of the sex. It's my final say on giving it up or not.
After that fatal first mistake though, when things got scary I ran away as fast as I could (told him we couldn’t be more than friends. I didn’t tell him the real reason: because I have such a fear of drama and arguments now.) which infuriated him. Then I spent the next two weeks trying to make him see that he shouldn’t be angry with me anymore. He, on the other hand, berated me in front of our friends-complimentary swearing included. We met through mutual friends. He treated me with a self-righteous anger in front of others only to later call me to proposition me to come over to his house and have sex with him again (I’m ashamed to admit that I found that sadly flattering. Ugh.).
The responsibility of being the keeper of the sex is proving to be too much for me. I'd like to think I'm not promiscuous, but that doesn't make it true. Where has all the self-respect I thought I had gone when I go out on a date and become doe-eyed and weak-kneed at the thought of a man finding me attractive? Certainly the copious amounts of alcohol I imbibe on a date to calm the old nerves doesn’t help me make good decisions, but is that the only issue? Am I choosing the wrong men? Do I have pathetically cliché self-worth issues like all the girls I see around me?!?!
I think my bumbling, overly-eager attempts to make things better come off as desperate (are they?) and have the added bonus of making me feel so ashamed when I over-analyze them later. I’m not even honest with my girlfriends about the extent to which I’ve gone trying to ‘fix it’. It’s just too embarrassing.
All of this and I should probably be focused on the fact that I’ve had to take a semester off of college for financial reasons. I’m putting myself through college at 26 (got a bit of a late start) and still feel really lost about my major. My bills are late. I work in a pub, which isn’t the best environment for anyone. I drink way too much. I worry about shallow things like my weight and clothes rather than focusing on accomplishing the goals I’ve almost set for myself. Right now I feel immobilized and lost. I probably shouldn’t even BE dating.
I know you’ll slap me with a good if brutally honest answer. Help.
Thank you, Rabbit.
Doomed to Repeat My Mistakes
Let's start with you forgiving yourself for your mistakes. You shouldn't feel shitty about yourself for them, because we've all made them before. It's not easy to be a twenty-something, smart, vaguely neurotic, sometimes impulsive woman who, at some level, wouldn't mind stumbling on true love, in all of its confusing and hard-to-read forms. Every woman I know has, at one point or another (if not for a full decade), fallen into behaving like a fun, easy-going sort of girl, replete with multiple tequila shots and witty banter. And why the fuck not? But with tequila in your blood, you will be sleeping with him, all better intentions aside. Again, why the fuck not? Well, some small part of your brain remembers why not. No matter how legitimately cool (and cute and smart) you are, most men will wake up wondering if you'll invest too much too soon, and even when they're interested, that makes them flinchy. Your less fun, less easy-going self immediately recognizes the flinchy glances at the door, the enforced "Hey, it's casual, see ya around" exit, and that self, the more neurotic, perhaps slightly controling, more serious, more lonely self, tries to "fix it" by acting ultra-casual, by clarifying this or that, by hoping to nail down a future encounter, by proclaiming the whole thing a friendship and nothing more, or by doing all of the above at once, thereby coming across as half-insane.
This is where you scare them off, where we ALL scare them off: We're at war with ourselves, and we're intent on lying about what we want, to ourselves and to them. Trying to fix it makes it messier. And then he gets mean in front of friends, and you try to fix that because now your whole reputation as a cool girl (not a psycho chick! not one of those!) becomes threatened. This is where you try to "fix it" in ways that you don't tell your friends about: you make dumb calls, you say stupid things, you snoop, whatever. You make manic, obsessive, stupid moves in order to regain control of something that you were never in control of, from the moment you had that third tequila shot.
So, let's be fair: We've all done this. Forgive yourself. You're not a bad person. You're not even all that insecure, necessarily, or you're about as insecure as the rest of us women. Women always have insecurities and bluster and fears and swagger in strange layers, just like men. Don't worry about having more or less than anyone else. It's safe to assume that this stuff is acting on everyone you know right now, just in different ways. So don't beat yourself up. You're fine, you've got a lot going for you, and you're definitely good enough and smart enough and people like you. You know that.
But you're not the sexiest, most entertaining, most wonderful, charming, thrilling, scintillating woman on the planet. Just give that up right now. No one is going to fall in love with you over the course of a night of hanging out, therefore you're never justified in going for it, if what you're really looking for is someone who likes you a lot. Forget being the hottest woman in the room. Forget being the coolest. Forget being the one everyone wants. Not only isn't that you, that isn't anyone. And the women who pull that off? You don't want to be them, trust me. They have so much ego riding on that shit, and eventually, it comes back and bites them in the ass. It's nothing to strive for. It has no value at all, in fact. Give it up.
You're just you. You're great just being you.
Now for the tough part: You should stop drinking, and quit your job at the pub. Your self-esteem is faltering and your life is slipping downhilll because you're feeding your delusions of grandeur with alcohol. You have a few drinks and you're pouring drinks for tons of guys and you think you're the queen of the world. You're not. You wake up the next morning and start trying to forgive yourself for being a drunk and fucking some guy, and then you try to fix it. You're working really hard at a bad balancing act. You can't expect to make firm decisions about anything and then get wasted and carry them through. As long as you keep getting wasted regularly, your bills will keep being late, you'll get into credit card debt (if you're not there already, I'm guessing you are), you'll never go back to school, and you'll keep going out with guys who insult you in front of other people (I don't care what's going on with you and him, that guy definitely isn't a good bet).
I'm sure you make good money at the bar, but you'll blow it all if you keep working there. There's no way someone who drinks too much is going to control their drinking while working at a bar.
Now you're thinking: "She thinks I'm an alcoholic, and I'm really not! She's misreading this whole thing." That's not actually what I think. I think that you're going to take a mediocre path with your life and with men and you're going to think less and less of yourself, if you keep doing what you're doing now. Practically speaking, you're going to go into a slow, 10-year downward spiral, and then you're going to have to join AA and chainsmoke on some street corner every night with world-weary, wrinkled, exhausted, desperate human beings like yourself for the next 10 years after that. Even if it doesn't reach that low point, you're going to waste 10 years of your life to lame men, untrustworthy but entertaining friends, and a go-nowhere but ego-boosting job.
Wouldn't you rather quit your job, try to find work in a sane, promising environment, explore your talents, be honest with yourself and dare to present yourself as who you are, warts and all, to the people you meet? Get a normal job and stop getting drunk, and then you can actually have 2 or 3 drinks now and then instead of giving it all up entirely. Get a normal job and get yourself out of debt, and you can go out with men who like you for reasons that have nothing to do with your bad-ass demeanor or pouring skills in a low-lit dive bar. Stop drinking so much and you won't jump into bed for no reason and you'll feel better about yourself, and there'll be nothing to "fix."
And look, for anyone else reading this who doesn't have a drinking problem like you do, let's talk for a second about trying to control how a guy feels about you: You can't. You will never change any man's opinion of you by trying to do so. You can't spin things over and over. You can't call him and act like you're too busy to talk and you don't care. You can't make up for having slept with him too soon. And if he rejects you, it's not personal and actually has nothing to do with your relative quality as a woman. He made some choice. Who fucking knows why? Who is he, anyway? Who knows? It has nothing at all to do with you.
Just stop it. Stop trying to control his view of you. Don't you care at all about your view of him? Don't decide so fast that he's the one you want. Wait and see. Let him prove himself. Don't touch him. Keep busy with more important stuff. I'm not saying that you won't get carried away and decide you're in love too often - we all do. Just don't try to fix everything and make everything work out when it really shouldn't. We women always think that, when we feel bad, we need to DO SOMETHING. No. Don't do anything. He knows you like him. He knows plenty. Look over the information he has, and be honest with yourself. He always has enough information, and if he doesn't, he can come to you for more information. Do not volunteer what you think, what you feel, what will make it all better for you. He doesn't want to live in YOUR little world when you lay it all out for him before you even know him.
Stop drinking, make a few male friends (friends only), be honest about who you are, (sentimental weak sometimes needy bossy, whatever) and get another job. Make your self-image and your finances your new project. You may have to ditch some friends, too, because chances are they all drink way too much and would prefer that you stay in that category. Spend more time by yourself. Work out more. Try to enjoy feeling healthy. Sign up for some classes, meet some people. Don't expect them to be as entertaining as the drunks you know. It's fine to know boring people. Hell, it's fine to BE a boring person. And really, there's something about being boring. Over the long haul, it makes you more interesting, more trustworthy, more lovable, more real, sexier, and happier.
I guess what I mean is that when you're not afraid of boring, that means that you've set your ego aside. In your mid 20s, your number one job is to get over yourself. (Some of us take another 10 years to do this, actually). You have to stop wanting to be the star. You have to stop looking for people to fall madly in love with you across a dark, smoky room. Love and real life don't play out like some Brad Pitt vehicle -- and look, that lie didn't even work for Brad Pitt!
You're really young and everything in your life is still pliable - don't wait until things get really dark and ominous and you feel like you have nowhere to turn, because it happens. Get out now, because you're losing your self-respect, and you know it. Don't spin anyone's view of it, either. Just be honest with yourself, and with your most trustworthy friends. Don't talk about it to men you don't know. Don't tell the guy you slept with, who insulted you in front of your friends, about any of it. You're not changing so people (men) will like you more. You're changing so YOU will like you more, because you're starting to dislike yourself.
Again, we ALL do this. All of us. The mid-20s are tough in this way. There's too much fun to be had, but everyone is hopelessly shallow. It's ok to indulge every now and then, to feel young, whatever. But you're looking for ego rewards and cheap thrills all the time now, and you're life is quickly falling apart.
2008 could be the best year of your life, if you start being really honest with yourself and stop being afraid of showing the world who you really are. You don't have to be the coolest girl in the world, you just have to be you, and people will love you in a real, lasting way, a way that's currently eluding you, just for that. You can be vulnerable, and flawed, and kind, and dull, instead of being aggressive and funny and hot. You can be regular. You can be ordinary. You'll never be ordinary, in fact, as long as you stop struggling to be extraordinary looking, seeming, acting. See how working at a bar plays into this illusion? Stop begging for ego doggie biscuits, and start nourishing your true self.
Did I just write "nourishing"? Sweet Jesus. I sound like a fucking guru. Please forgive me.
Anyway, good luck out there. Give us an update in a few months!