It Happened To Me: I'm 35 and I've Never Had A Romantic Relationship

I'm a regular, semi-attractive person with friends, a job, weekend plans and creative pursuits. Yet somehow I've utterly failed at "normal" when it comes to a love life.
Publish date:
October 10, 2012
relationships, love, Sex,

True fact: I've never had a boyfriend. (Or a girlfriend, for that matter.) I've never had even one official, serious, monogamous relationship. I'm now 35 years old, and I highly doubt I'm ever going to experience one.

Here's the thing -- I'm not particularly dissatisfied with this state of affairs. I mean, I've always been aware that I'm supposed to want a significant other, but my inner desire for one has never been strong. When I think of participating in dating I feel about the same way I'd feel about participating in an aggressive game of dodgeball. Namely: I'd really prefer a comfy seat on the sidelines. Better yet: a seat in the very back row, right near the door, where I can read a book in peace.

I wouldn't say I'm ashamed of having zero relationships under my belt, but it's certainly not something I'm eager to advertise, either. While I don't mind being alone, I do sometimes mind being different. And lifelong singlehood carries a pretty strong stigma.

Already I want to rush to assure you I'm not creepy or emotionally vacant. I'm not overweight, dour, ugly or dull. I'm not a social outcast or terrible company. I don't have bad skin, poor hygiene or body odor. I'm a regular, semi-attractive person with friends, a job, weekend plans, and creative pursuits. Yet somehow I've utterly failed at "normal" when it comes to a love life.

I can't say I understand what it's like to fall in love or be in love. Maybe I've just never sought out that experience hard enough. I probably haven't. But I'm okay with that, oddly enough.

How did I come to be this way? Did I have a happy childhood? Well, frankly, no, not really. Granted, I had a stable roof over my head; I had two parents and I was adequately fed, clean, and clothed. But no, our home wasn't happy.

My parents were married at 20, had my older sister at 21, and me at 24. They fought a lot and seemed miserable most of the time. My dad was the sole breadwinner; my mother loathed being stuck home with children all day. Both of them were short-fused and abusive toward us kids. I never felt very welcome in their home. But when I tried to stay out of their way by holing myself up in my bedroom, they'd ridicule my weird, reclusive behavior. I could never win. I could never relax.

I didn't fantasize about having a husband and family when I grew up. I dreamed, instead, about having my own space someday. I dreamed of having privacy, autonomy, dignity. Sure, I wanted to be loved and desired, too. But nowhere near as much as I yearned for a sanctuary, for space to breathe.

The first time the question of a "boyfriend" came up, I was in sixth grade. A friend of mine was trying pair up everybody on the playground, and she asked me which boy I wanted to go with. I wasn't entirely sure what being part of a grade-school couple entailed, but thought I might as well try it out. So I pointed out a studious, well-groomed boy who'd recently worked on a social studies project with me. I figured he'd probably say yes.

But, "he said no," my friend reported back, "because you have that brown shit all over your teeth."

Ouch. My top front permanent teeth had grown in covered in fluoride stains, dozens of tiny brown pits scattered irregularly across the enamel. I'd been told they weren't that noticeable and I'd have to wait till I was older to get them fixed.

It hurt to be rejected like that over something I couldn't help. But I felt something else, too. Relief. I wasn't going to have to spend all of my recesses from now on holding hands with this kid in front of the school doors. I didn't have to start drawing hearts around our initials in the margins of my notebooks. I didn't have to let a clumsy 12-year-old boy put his grubby hands up my shirt and mess around with my training bra. I couldn't help but feel glad about that.

In junior high, someone started a rumor that I was a lesbian. In my small Midwestern hometown in the early 90s, being accused of homosexuality was pretty much akin to being accused of cannibalism. And it seemed that everyone knew that rumor, even people I didn't know from Adam. I could be walking through the local mall with my mom and some high school kid would yell out, "Hey, there goes that lesbian," as we went past.

Why were so many people saying this about me? I wasn't "butch" in any way. I'd never felt, much less acted on, physical attraction toward another female. Yet I still didn't feel drawn to guys either, and I suppose my peers could pick up on that. I knew I was eventually going to have to try and date a guy, but I viewed this mostly as an unpleasant-but-necessary future obligation, like getting a tetanus booster or taking the SAT.

If being thought a lesbian exempted me from it for now -- well, I didn't really mind. It was actually kind of convenient.

I put off involvement in all things remotely romantic until my senior year of high school. By then, I'd gotten my teeth fixed, made it through the worst of puberty, and the lesbian rumor had died down. I was cute, I flirted, and sometimes guys were interested in me. None of them was ever very interested in actually getting to know me, though. No, their prevailing attitude was definitely, "a little less conversation, a little more action."

I found it terribly uncomfortable to grope and make out with these boys I didn't even really know and thus felt no affection toward. I hated being in that powerless position, trapped underneath a guy's weight, my mouth stuffed shut with his tongue, his hands shoved down my pants. It was so awkward, so overly intimate, so mind-numbingly boring.

I tried my best, but guys could always tell I wasn't exactly into it. Any tentative steps toward establishing a "relationship" with one of them always fizzled out pretty early.

I was 18 when I lost my virginity. That year, 1995, was a confusing and chaotic one for me (to put it mildly). I got caught smoking pot once, right after graduating from high school, and my parents' response to this heinous crime wins the prize for Overreaction of the Century.

They went through my things and read all the diaries I'd kept since I was 13 years old, withdrew all financial support for college and tried to force me into six weeks at an intensive inpatient rehab. When I wouldn't cooperate with that plan, they told me to go stay in a homeless shelter and left me on the side of the road holding two suitcases full of my possessions.

Obviously that experience shook my world up pretty significantly. Until then, I'd been adamant about not wanting to go "all the way" unless I truly, truly felt comfortable with the guy. But now, when the next opportunity for sex came along, I only thought, well, why not? What did I have to lose? After all, maybe intercourse would be great; maybe it would finally make physical intimacy appealing to me. Maybe it would be a bright spot in my messed-up life.

So I had sex with one guy a handful of times. It was, unfortunately, not great. It left me more bewildered than ever. It also left me pregnant.

I gave the baby up for adoption. This decision -- like every decision a woman in that situation makes -- was a deeply complex and personal one, tangled up in a million different, conflicting emotions. But one feeling never wavered, and was immediately familiar. Relief.

I was relieved I wasn't going to have to try and raise a child when my heart wasn't in it. Relieved I would never have to pretend my relationship with the baby's father was anything more than what it was.

And relieved, oh, so relieved, that now I had a damn good excuse for staying celibate. I absolutely could not risk getting pregnant again, now that the ordeal was over and I had a second chance at college. Right? Who could argue with that? (As an added bonus, I wouldn't have to let anyone see my bright purple stretch marks and veiny thighs, either.)

Have I slept with anyone since then? Nope. I haven't even kissed anybody since I was 22 or 23. The desire just hasn't been there, and I don't see the point of faking it anymore. I mean, faking it never got me anywhere positive. It never brought me anywhere close to happiness.

I love my life today. I may not have a boyfriend, by my world is not a lonely, gloomy void. I have awesome, close platonic friends. I laugh a lot. I have time for the things I truly love: music, art, writing, thinking. Plus a little time left over for sloth and guilty pleasures, too.

I've moved across the country twice and didn't have to worry about taking anyone else with me. I don't have to check in with anyone else before making plans, spending money or changing jobs. I know I can take care of myself, and believe wholeheartedly that I'm good enough without a partner.

I even have a house of my own now, and it's exactly the type of cozy, drama-free sanctuary I wanted so badly when I was a kid.

Have I missed out on anything, being single and asexual? Of course I have. Like anything, it's a tradeoff. No one has ever made a devoted commitment to me or considered me their special soulmate. I have no idea what it feels like to see someone and long to know every bit of their body, deeply and passionately. Sometimes I get sick of always going to things like weddings and funerals by myself.

Oh, and I'm probably going to die alone. There is that.

But you know what? The fact is we're all going to die alone. You don't get to take anyone else with you on that final journey. In the meantime, I figure we might as well each live the life that makes us happiest.