Confessions of a relationship hermit

Friday, March 18, 2011

Question

My life is entirely lacking in sex, and that’s related to my inability to connect with women on an intimate level. I’ve not had sex in about 15 years. In my late 30s now, I last dated when I was in my mid-20s.

The few women I dated then had the unfortunate experience of being with a man who could not perform. When being intimate, I would get excited (as in hard), but when it came time to do anything with my erection, it would always become limp. The flaccidity was always precipitated by my brain going into overdrive with concerns about my previous impotence.

This spiralling Catch-22 resulted in tremendous embarrassment and frustration. After being with three women and always getting the same result, I gave up and have become more or less a relationship hermit ­living in the largest city in Canada. It should probably be said that these were not single-date encounters. One of the women I dated stayed with me for three months.

What caused my problem in the first place? I experienced a bad breakup in my early 20s. The woman in question had been unfaithful, and when I confronted her about it, the blow-up was epic. Insults were shouted, threats were made, both physical and verbal. The whole experience was devastating for me, the worst part the fact that I no longer trusted myself to remain in control of my emotions or my hands when betrayed like that. I was brought up to never raise a hand to a female and took pride in abiding by that rule. To think that I was one of those guys who could physically threaten a woman made me sick.

I would really like to find someone to be with. I regret so much of the time that’s been lost. Having a girlfriend would bring so much joy into a life that’s essentially restricted to working, eating and sleeping. I can’t pursue any of my attractions for fear of my inabilities. It may sound like this is all about sex, but it isn’t. It’s just that I realize the importance of it in any relationship, and if I can’t provide it for a woman who wants it, then my brain will recognize the flaw in the plan and destroy my self-confidence.

I can almost never engage a woman I’m attracted to in conversation. On the very rare times that I overcome my insecurities and try to chat a girl up, it turns into a “friendly” discussion that goes nowhere, or she senses my lack of confidence and hightails it.

I know there is plenty of variety to libido levels. Unfortunately, mine is pretty high (I think). So being with a woman that I am attracted to who’s uninterested in sex wouldn’t work either.

Answer

It’s about 17 years ago you hit a woman and you’ve since been unable to carry on an intimate relationship. Hermit, I’m going to lay some shit on you that might sound a little harsh.

The fact that you took pride in the knowledge that you never struck a woman says a lot. This is nothing to be proud of; when we elevate this simple fact as something to take pride in, then our own injury around failing at it stands in much greater contrast. I often think about how a single unspeakable moment can set the tone of a person’s life.

In your case, a black-and-white concept of manhood (let’s called it the virgin/whore dichotomy for men) has now completely shattered your self-regard. You crossed a line, you can never be a non-hitter again, and now you define yourself as “one of those guys” who will forever be marked by a certain unsavoury behaviour. You’ve fallen from grace. That’s it for you. You will never be welcome back to the noble order of men who have never raised their fists to a woman.

Your determination to hold onto this shame reminds me of people who contract an STI, then go years martyring themselves to their disgusting mistake, as though this will somehow absolve them of it. In the same way that we believe that punishing other people for our anger will make us feel better, we often believe that punishing ourselves for a misdeed will release us from it. But look at you: your flagellations have done nothing but isolate and confuse you. It’s no wonder you can’t maintain a boner. All that blood’s being used for another sacrifice.

Someone betrayed you and you reacted poorly to this betrayal, but now it’s time for you to wrestle your way out of the quagmire of humiliation you’ve created around this event. Sure, if you want to continue lugging this around like a cross – that you were once a good man and a single, ugly incident has stripped you of that quality – you can. 

But I think you should explore your options. Monastic life can be much more gentle and rewarding than the one you’ve chosen for yourself. Have a look at some of your opportunities here: HYPERLINK "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monk"en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monk. Check out Jainism. It’s rad.

I have been pretty open about my own dealings with rage and have found great inspiration in a few books. One I have been reading lately is Taming The Tiger Within: Meditations On Transforming Difficult Emotions by Thich Nhat Hanh.

“There are those who are so discouraged that they no longer have the courage to love,” he writes. “They suffer a great deal just because they made an attempt to love and failed. The wounds within them are so deep that it makes them afraid to try again. We are aware of the presence of these people among us, all around us. We have to bring them the message that love is possible. Our world desperately needs love.”

I’m telling you to get out there and love, Hermit. Starting with you, of course. Find yourself a good relationship therapist and start hashing stuff out with him or her. Be serious about this and don’t keep falling back on your old mantra. Be humble enough to forgive yourself.

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