Ask the experts: How to approach dating and virginity in your 30s09/05/2021
Dear Nic and Verity: I’m in my mid-30s and have focused heavily on obtaining a professional career for the past 15+ years. I now have my dream job and am L O N E L Y. Lockdown has really highlighted that. I am fit, intelligent, well-liked but have very little romantic relationship experience and have not had sex with a partner (solo options well explored!). I’m embarrassed to acknowledge that to anyone, and it puts me off dating. How unusual is my situation and how can I move forward? Kim
While not common, your situation is becoming increasingly usual.Overseas research suggests that, among millennials, the age for entering a sexual and romantic relationship is shifting to older and older – especially the romantic part.So you can think of yourself as a bit ahead of the curve.Unfortunately, society often stigmatises anything out of the ordinary as weird, bad or wrong. We would encourage you not to buy into that.
Before we talk about romance and sex, let’s talk about loneliness.Being lonely is hard on human beings; we are very social animals.Regardless of how experienced you are, it’s never a good idea to look to a romantic relationship to meet all your needs for connection.So if loneliness is an issue, start by looking at your non-romantic relationships.
How much time and energy do you put into friendships?Do you have one or two people in your life you can be vulnerable and authentic with?If not, think about who in your circle of acquaintances you would like to try and get to know at a deeper level.The skills of tolerating vulnerability, managing boundaries and resolving differences are necessary for good relationships of any kind.Reflect and explore how good you are with these in your friendships.Suppose you have avoided intimacy even in a friendship context. In that case, you might want to explore why that is and cultivate those skills before you get into sexual and romantic relationships that are more complicated and riskier.
If you can handle intimacy in a friendship context, then by all means, listen to the part of you that is hungry for romance and partnered sex.We strongly encourage you to ignore the stigma and reject the idea that lack of experience is an embarassing fault or problem.Yes, many people your age have had more experience, but that is not inevitably a good thing.There can be quite a risk in having tough sexual and relational experiences younger when your confidence, sense of self, and brain are still developing.
We would strongly encourage you to apply the “glass half full” approach to yourself.You don’t have a whole lot of relationship and sexual “baggage”.You have probably worked out quite a bit about who you are.We would stress how significant it is that you have developed a solid and pleasurable sexual relationship with yourself. So many women do not have this, despite having had lots of sex.All of these are considerable assets in developing an intimate relationship with someone else. If you look at what you do offer someone as a relationship partner rather than focusing on your “lack”, you might be surprised to notice your glass looking 3/4 full!
We don’t mean to suggest that you can simply ignore your lack of experience.Some potential dates may well have an adverse reaction to that. However, dealing with negative reactions is part of dating. Sadly, some will also have a negative response if you expect to be treated with respect. Finding that out before you get too involved is a wise approach to dating.
It’s not an uncommon problem to have something socially sensitive (e.g. having a child) that you will need to discuss with someone you are dating.Our advice to anyone in that situation is to suss the person out you are on a date with before you decide to reveal something they might judge you about.
You would be wise to look for people who are non-judgmental, open-minded, or less conformist, and avoid dates who are judgmental of others or who chase social validation and get nervous if they don’t feel they or others are fitting norms.
Take your time and go slow in your dating.The purpose of dating is sussing people out, and you can be upfront and unapologetic about that.Someone dating you is not doing you a favour, and you don’t owe them anything.You are allowed to say – “You don’t seem right for me”, without having to explain or justify.When you find someone who seems solid, in a calm matter of fact way, tell them about your level of relationship experience, while holding solidly in your mind the notion of your own considerable worth.
We would caution you about getting too enthusiastic or involved with the first friendly person who comes along. Don’t start off seeking “the one” to start a romantic relationship with, despite the time pressure you may feel.There is quite a bit of learning about sexual and romantic relationships for you to do through dating experience.We would encourage you to date a few people before settling on someone.In the first instance, it can be quite a challenge just trying to get your head (and body and hormones) around the idea and experience of being with someone with the explicit purpose of exploring relationship and sex.
We also think it is a good idea that first partnered sexual experiences occur in the context of a friendly relationship.To have an enjoyable experience, you need to feel comfortable talking with and exploring with the person you are having sex with. That’s hard to do when you’ve just met them.
In terms of becoming more involved with someone, as well as looking for them being insecure or judgmental, check they show some self-awareness about their defences, relationship mistakes they have made and things they have learned and are willing to talk on this level openly.
Don’t make dating more complicated than it needs to be.It can be as simple as: are they someone you would genuinely want to spend time with, to have as a friend and is there some sexual attraction?If the answer to those is “yes” then it’s probably worth exploring further.
You are looking for a friend with whom to explore the territory of intimacy and sexuality.If you treat yourself as worthwhile and desirable, the two of you can have a lot of fun seeing what’s possible.
Verity & Nic are psychologists and family therapists who have specialised in relationship and sex therapy for over 25 years.They have been working on their own relationship for more than 40 years and have two adult children.
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