I was standing in church during mass recently when my thoughts began to wonder away from the liturgy and to the subject of my love life or lack thereof. I thought I would take the time to pray for God’s blessing in a seemingly dead area of my life and ask for its resurrection- some miracle. I was now in the last year of my twenties and had never had a romantic relationship.
As I stood in church, I thought of the chapter I had read the night before in Maria Shriver’s book, “I’ve been thinking”, where she encouraged the reader to ‘own their story’, whatever that story might be. I then heard an inner voice say, “Own your story” ; I wondered whether this was spirit talking within me or my higher consciousness. Then I realized they were one in the same. After hearing this voice, a thought of this story’s title emerged in my mind. In a matter of seconds, I had experienced a feeling I had never experienced before when it came to this area of my life. I felt a desire to not only share my story with others, but an accompanying feeling of confidence that took away all the shame and fear of judgment I had long harbored. In that moment, I believe I received the miracle I was praying for. I no longer felt like a victim of life’s misfortunes but an empowered agent. I now wanted to share my story. So here it is:
As you now know, I’m a relationship virgin. The thought of being a relationship virgin had terrified me as I grew chronologically but remained emotionally stunted over the years. I had missed relationship milestones on a psychosexual and developmental level. There was no making up for this, I thought. I had never dated, never had a first kiss, never become intimate, physically or emotionally with anyone. Emotionally intimate with friends- yes; not with romantic partners, though. I often thought of myself as a lost cause. Other times, and I’m not saying this to be funny or derisive, I honestly thought I was meant to become a nun. Maybe I wasn’t meant to have a relationship, I thought, maybe I was supposed to have a relationship with only God. When I was little, I often thought of joining a monastery when life got overwhelming or I just felt like I couldn’t deal with the stress of life.
Over the years, I had gone on dates, sure. But they were so few I could count them on my fingers. I didn’t grow up in a strict household, so I can’t attribute my developmental crisis to a restrictive or authoritarian parenting style. I would be lying if I said I didn’t have any suitors either. I had several in high-school and even after college. As with everything, though, the timing has to feel right; it never did for me. I never ‘clicked’ with anyone. High-school was a very difficult time, as it was and still is for so many youth. I was plagued with severe anxiety and felt like a misfit most of the time even though I was well-liked. I was not in the head-space to date then, and to be honest, I spent more time with my mom, her boyfriend, and my family than with people my own age. When college came, I was so focused on making up for those horrible high-school years academically, that dating just wasn’t a priority.
There were also many changes within my family and my health that brought a lot of negative circumstances into my life at the time. And as Psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs suggests, we are not thinking about relationships when we are in survival mode for our most basic needs. After college, life became very difficult. My early and mid twenties flew by before my eyes as I was ‘suspended’ or in ‘arrested development’ as I like to say. I did not live those years; they were marred by death, family schisms, estrangement, emotional abuse, unemployment, and a very intense grieving process that followed a series of unfathomable losses. Dating was something that then became a burden, an unnecessary thought, and something I had lost interest in completely for a very long time.
There were times when, even amidst all my troubles, I developed crushes or attractions. This was a surprise to me but a reminder that that that part of me was still alive and well. My timing, however, has always been off. For the past several years, I seem to have attracted only unavailable men, which were men that I did not want. ‘Just my luck’ I would think, and with every new upset, I would convince myself that love was simply not meant for me. I stopped trying and caring and decided that I would just accept that this part of my life was just not going to follow the trajectory of ‘normal’ people my age. I now had a game of ‘catch-up’ that I would never catch up to. While I looked at my counterparts all getting engaged, married, and having babies, here I was still without a first kiss or first relationship.
I’ve addressed this area of my life in therapy and have become aware of my own blocks in the process of finding love; I’ve worked on changing old habits and becoming more open. I’ve changed a lot of my expectations to be more realistic, I began working on myself, loving myself, and figuring out what I wanted from a romantic partnership. My graduate studies in Counseling Psychology spurred a lot of introspection, reflection, and real work on myself. If I was to effectively help people with their issues, I had to make it a point to address my own first. Now, more than ever, I’m at a place where I feel I know myself well enough to enter a relationship confidently and with more maturity than in my previous years. I am in a place where I am now open and ready to becoming an active agent in this area of my life; yes, it took me a long time to get here, but I’m here and am choosing to no longer compare my beginning to someone else’s middle or end. I’m also choosing to honor my journey and not be ashamed of it.
Up until now, I’ve never shared this part of my life openly with anyone except for a few close friends and my family. I’ve carried a lot of shame around the subject and feared how I might be judged by others. All my life, I have felt like an oddity, an anomaly. I felt like no one would understand or that I would seem like someone who had a deep-rooted pathology. Perhaps both were true at some point, but I now see that everything in my life has happened the way it needed to regardless of the timetable it’s happened on. I’m a late bloomer, and that’s ok. I now choose to see this journey as an integral part of my growth. I now see myself not as a lost cause, aspiring nun, or an oddity, but as a special, strong, and resilient woman- as a hero. I have gone for what seems like an eternity without important psychological needs having been met and yet adapted to life in mostly healthy ways- give or take a few neuroses.
Brene Brown has spoken frequently about the power of vulnerability, which I am a believer in. I want to share a quote on vulnerability that I find really empowering for anyone who has had a similar path to my own:
“Most people believe vulnerability is weakness. But really vulnerability is courage. We must ask ourselves…are we willing to show up and be seen? ”.
I want to be seen because I have grown tired of hiding. I’m choosing to be courageous and embrace my story today with all of its flaws and missed milestones by sharing it. I’m choosing to become an empowered woman who sees herself, not as a victim of circumstances or an object of self-pity, but as an active agent in her life. Own your story; there is tremendous power in that. Decide today that you don’t have to feel ashamed of who you are because your life doesn’t look like someone else’s or fall under the ‘norm’. I’m glad I made that choice. Hopefully you will too.