Ive had sexuality but have never been out with anyone. After all these years, Ive still no idea what the reason is for my long-term singledom
There is a name for people like me-” relationship virgin “. It is apt and accurate because I have managed to get to 54 without ever having had a boyfriend.
It is hard to believe, given that I haven’t been living in a cave at the bottom of the ocean, but it is the truth. I have never had a significant other, never been someone’s other half, never been asked out. Come to think of it, I’ve never even had a Valentine’s card– well , not unless you count the piece of paper with a love heart draw in blue pen that Kevin from Sunday school shoved into my coat pocket when I was about seven.
I am not a virgin, sexually speaking, as I have had sex- thank goodness. I did it a few days when I was in my early 20 s: I never imagined that the last time I shared a bed with someone, which was 31 years ago now, would prove to be the last day I ever experienced physical intimacy. Had I known that, I would have tried to enjoy it more.
I was an early talker and walker, but when it came to losing my virginity, I was the last of my friends to do so: the last one to hit one of life’s most expected milestones. It didn’t happen until after I left university, by which time I was desperate to sleep with someone, simply to get it over with.
I had a temporary task in sales and our company flew us to Spain for the annual company meeting. I got totally drunk and made a play for one of the guys on the team. I went back to his room and we slept together. I don’t think I even fancied him that much, but I still hoped that he would want to see me again- I just wanted to feel wanted. But nothing came of it except a terrible hangover and a few weeks of embarrassment at work.
About a year after that, I did something similar at a party. This bloke was chatting me up, the banter was good, so when he asked if he could take me, I said yes. Again, I woke up thinking it might be the start of something, but then he admitted he was in a serious relationship, and had only wanted a” bit of fun “.
Soon after that, I went on holiday with a couple of girlfriends and I had a week-long fling with an Ozzie barman, which was fun and made me feel normal. Finally, I was the one who had something to talk about, the one who was giggly and giddy with excitement and self-importance.
That was my last day. I candidly don’t understand it. I am gregarious, have loads of interests, work out, have good dress sense- or so I am told- and am no more or less attractive than my friends, most of whom are happily married, or at least know what it feels like to be in love.
It was hard watching them settle down, and even harder when their children started dating. I had wiped their bums, and one by one, from about age 14 onwards, they started to overtake me. That was bad, but not quite as bad as when it dawned on them that there was something very, very unusual about me.
Kids are so prepped for relationships these days- even 10 -year-olds talk about having girl- or boyfriends. So when they realised they had never seen me with a man, out popped the inevitable, nausea-inducing questions:” Why aren’t you marriage ?”,” Why haven’t you got a boyfriend ?”,” Have you ever had a boyfriend ?” I gave each child the same answer:” It merely didn’t happen ,” which would lead to the equally inevitable “Why?” And that’s the question that I have asked myself throughout these years. “Why?”
When I was younger and still had the kind of social life that involved going to parties and bars I would sometimes wish I could stand outside my body to ensure what was going on. I wanted to observe what it was that my friends were doing that I wasn’t, or vice versa. Why did they get chatted up and I didn’t?
I never felt I was being stand-offish, but maybe there was something in my body language that constructed me less approachable. I went to an Catholic all-girls school, and I know I felt awkward around boys, but you could say the same about loads of my classmates- or at least about the ones who didn’t turn into man-mad flirts the minute they were let loose on the world.
I remember when my two best friends and I started going to saloon. We would have been about 17 and our interest in sons was just awakening. Those were the days when chaps would come up to your table and ask to buy you a beverage and generally things would start off well enough, with everyone chatting, but then, as the evening progressed, I would slowly be rubbed out until I felt I had become totally invisible.
Maybe that is where it all went wrong- perhaps those early experiences, those horrible, confidence-sapping lessons in disappointment became more and more hardwired until I reached the stage, first of believing it might never happen, then believing it wouldn’t and finally knowing it.
When I went to university, I fully expected my life as an adult to begin. I expected to toddle through a few relationships, learning as I went along, until finally, I was ready for” the one “. But nothing happened.
Just lately, my best friend- someone I have known since junior school- said to me that she wishes she had given me a good shake when we were at university. She was studying in the next city and would visit me for hall parties and other socials, and now says she could see what I was doing wrong. She says I made it such hard work for any boy who approached me, that I was too much of challenge.
I half know what she means, although it had nothing to do with playing hard to get. I think, at the root of it, was my lack of self-belief. I so doubted myself, and that anyone would fancy me that I wanted anyone who showed an interest to prove that he liked me, to stick around long enough to persuade me. They never did- they just moved on to the next person.
I think there were three periods when the” what’s the matter with me ?” feeling was at its strongest. The first was when I was at university- three interminable years of watching from the sidelines as my friends fell in and out of love, and worse, hearing them make out noisily in our shared house, where the huge Victorian rooms had been divided into two by plywood partitions.
The second was in my late 20 s and early 30 s, when I was changing jobs regularly and having to go through the same getting-to-know you scenario, which, of course, involved being asked about my love life. I get quite adept at lying, at saying I wasn’t seeing anyone “just now”, or building up some rubbish about having recently broken up with person, but then the months, and sometimes the years, would roll by and there I would be, still on my own, and I would feel like the office curiosity.
I know that many of my colleagues in my previous chore thought I was gay, particularly when I started holidaying regularly with the same friend after her divorce- so I would make a song and dance about mentioning her children. As if a woman with kids can’t be gay.
The third time was in my mid- to late-3 0s when all my friends got married. It was unbelievable- I was invited to four weddings( no funerals, thank goodness) the year I turned 37. That is when I decided to join a dating agency, but it turned out to be one soul-sinking encounter after another with men who were inadequate, unsuitable or both.
Often, I would drink too much, too quickly, trying to overcome my anxiety and mask my dating ineptitude, but I don’t think things would have gone any better had I been stone-cold sober. The best thing about those evenings was going home. In that whole year, I believe I merely fulfilled one person I wanted to see again, but it wasn’t reciprocated so that was that.
The dating agency experience was definitely my nadir. After that, I seemed to turn a corner and, over the years, I have become incrementally more and more accepting of my singledom– as have my parents and friends. The one remarkable thing about me has finally become unremarkable- in as far as people have stopped remarking on it.
The fact that I have never dated is not something I want the world to know, but I am much more comfy with being single now than when I was young. And recently, there has been a lot written about people who are” single at heart”, which has also made me feel less of an oddity. That is a phrase coined by Dr Bella DePaulo, while she was a project scientist at the University of California, to describe people who are somehow programmed to be single.
DePaulo is an expert on the subject. She has been studying singletons for decades, and speaks from personal experience because she has never been in a relationship, either. Her TED talk, in which she proudly announced this, was fantastic. I don’t think I am” single at heart “. I actually think that I would have made a great girlfriend or wife: it is sad that no one gave me the chance.
I don’t know any other relationship virgins, but I am sure DePaulo and I can’t be the only ones in the world. Perhaps I should start a group- Singled Out and Proud!