I have a problem, and I’m just going to say it straight up. I’m a 25-year-old Hill staffer with a master’s degree and a wide circle of friends – and I’m a virgin. I dated guys in high school and college, but never got close to having sex with any of them. It’s not a religious thing – I just haven’t had the opportunity. I can blame my parents for handing me a healthy fear of getting pregnant in high school, but I assumed that my college and post-grad experiences would include long-term boyfriends and the intimacy that comes with those kinds of relationships. I never had the chance to just “get it over with” and now each time I meet someone new, I worry about having to eventually tell him I’m a virgin. It’s so embarrassing; I never even talk about it with my girlfriends – all of whom seem to be having wild sex with short- and long-term boyfriends. All of the sudden, engagement rings are starting to pop up on the hands of friends and coworkers – I’m running out of time. What is wrong with me? I feel like I missed my chance to find The One.
— Sexually Frustrated in Foggy Bottom
Dear Foggy Bottom:
Deep breath. Your letter carries a lot of anxiety – which can only hint at the large burden you are carrying around because of this. I’m hopeful you felt some amount of relief in writing. Often, just naming a feeling can diffuse some of its power. So you’re a virgin. I promise you’re not the last unicorn in DC. But let’s talk about why this seems so overwhelming.
Our society is sex-obsessed, so you cannot be blamed for thinking about yourself in comparison to the billboards, TV shows, and public displays of affection by teens on the Metro. But when you start equating virgin-status with marriage potential, we have to think about your emotional maturity. Let’s talk about why none of your relationships has progressed to the level of intimacy that would lead to having sex or getting married.
What exactly are you looking for? Do you want to find a soul mate to bring home to mom and dad, or are you actually more interested in your career and spending time with your friends right now? That’s ok, you know. It may not feel like it all the time, but at 25 you really are not on the cusp of Old Maidhood. Are we dating simply to clear this rite of passage, or for something deeper, during which losing your virginity will only be a side effect? Being clear about your intentions is the first step in getting what you want.
Next, where are you looking? If you think you have to hang out at the bar, waiting to give it up to the first guy to buy you a drink, I’d imagine that there is a part of you so violently opposed to that scenario, that it’s keeping you from connecting with anyone, anywhere. So let’s take your virginity off the table. You are a catch – a career-focused, highly-educated femme with a lot of friends around you – start acting like it. Do your girlfriends know you’re looking to meet someone? Are you trying online dating? Is there someone you’d like to ask out, but the virginity question takes you so far down the mental rabbit hole, that you’re avoiding it altogether? There’s no reward without some risk. He’s not going to find you if you’re hiding in your cubicle.
I get it, believe me, the pressure about “women of a certain age” and the dating/marriage/baby trifecta is a common theme in my counseling office. But if you are viewing your virginity (or cup size, or height, or accent) as a defect, then you give it the power to keep you out of relationship. With the right person, your level of experience will be an asset. Give him the opportunity to surprise you.
My three daughters are grown up and out on their own. I still live with my wife in the house they grew up in, and so we still have some of their personal items here at home. I like having these things to remember the good times we had when they were younger. It’s not like I’ve created a shrine to my girls, I’m just talking about a few trophies, awards, photographs, and the odd report card. I keep these things in a spare room, and my daughters each have said these mementos are not important to them, and that they do not wish to have them in their own homes. My wife, on the other hand, thinks that since the girls do not want these keepsakes, we should throw them away. She has started calling me a “hoarder,” after watching some cable TV show, and has threatened to purge the house when I’m not here.
Her words make me mad and embarrassed. I’m also worried that she will act on her threats, and I don’t know what to do.
— Wanting More Time in Washington
Your letter gives me the opportunity for a brief public service announcement. Hoarding is a trendy topic these days – the mass media would have us believe that every third household has its own hoarder. But most in the mental health community agree that this condition falls somewhere between the larger categories of impulse-control disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorders, both fairly uncommon diagnoses. People suffering from these types of disorders may be unable to resist the drive to do something harmful to themselves or others, and may believe that if they do not act on the compulsion, something even worse will happen. Pyromania, kleptomania and compulsive gambling are impulse-control disorders. While there is no official diagnosis for hoarding as of yet, most agree that it includes the compulsive need to acquire and store largely unnecessary items.
What I’m getting at is that hoarding much more complicated than holding onto a few mementos in the spare room.
Parenting is a life-altering experience. It’s not uncommon for moms and dads to hold onto things that remind them of those times. If it’s indeed what you say it is – just a few items in the spare room – I’d be curious about why this bothers your wife so much.
I wonder if this is part of the regular division of labor in your relationship? Do you take on the emotional and she holds the practical? Consider approaching her about this (in a non-threatening way) so you can learn about her motivations, and perhaps explain your own in terms she can understand. We are hard-wired to react to confrontation with defensiveness – that’s what our brains believe will keep us alive when under attack. If you address the issue in a gentle, fact-finding manner, you may be surprised by what you hear from her side. Perhaps she’d like to use the space for another purpose. Maybe she wishes you held onto souvenirs from your honeymoon in the same way. You may need to make a deal that you get to keep the items, even though she doesn’t understand. But you never know unless you ask, and make room for the answer.
Stacy Notaras Murphy is a licensed professional counselor and certified Imago Relationship therapist practicing at the Imago Center of DC in Georgetown. Her website is www.therapygeorgetown.com. This column is meant for entertainment only, and should not be considered a substitute for professional counseling. Please send your relationship questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.