ask ammanda

I'm involuntarily celibate

I'm a 23-year-old man. My problem is basically that I’ve never had a relationship. I've never even been close to someone - I've never been kissed, I've never been in love, none of that stuff. I'm not looking for anything perfect, I just want to be a human like everyone else and be allowed to express myself in a physical and emotional way. I'm fairly average in looks, but I'm intelligent, always active, sociable, hardworking and have a well-paid job. So what's wrong with me? I can't take it anymore. I'm sick of being treated like I don't exist.

I’m not sure there’s anything actually ‘wrong’. What I am certain about though, is how distressing this problem must be for you. The isolation you talk about must be very difficult to bear and I’m glad you’re asking me about it now.

I’m wondering immediately if those you work with or the people you may know socially are all in relationships, which may be adding to your sense of loneliness. It can be really difficult to be around people who seem to have exactly what you most want.

From your letter though, I’m not sure if you mean you’ve never experienced being loved from as far back as you can remember or if it’s as you’ve got older that forming relationships has started to seem tricky. Sometimes, if we haven’t felt cared for when we were younger - or perhaps weren’t encouraged or even not allowed to express feelings - knowing how to get a partner (and hold on to them) when we’re adults can be a real issue. I say this because I was particularly interested in your comment about ‘being allowed’. I found myself wondering if maybe you’re always waiting for others to give you permission to express yourself.

Feeling close to someone is obviously usually really good, but the flip side of this is that to be truly close, we have also to be vulnerable. By this, I mean that we must allow that other person to see all the bits we may not necessarily consider to be our finest attributes - and that we do this because we feel we can trust them to be caring and considerate with our fragility. 

When you think about it, it’s a real leap of faith. One thought I have is that perhaps, although you really want to find someone, on catching sight of anyone remotely attainable, concerns about trust and becoming vulnerable may mean you ‘switch off’ and cancel out the possibility of starting something. I know this sounds like a contradiction, but how we feel about relationships is usually very complex, and if any of the above rings any bells it might be an idea to see a therapist to explore this a bit more.

Another idea is that you may not actually notice when opportunities present themselves. Sometimes, other people give out confusing signals and I’m wondering if it’s possible that you’re too easily put off. I’ve worked with many clients who really wanted to be in a relationship, but had a very fixed idea about how that might happen and how they would notice if someone was showing an interest in them. The ‘our eyes met across a crowded room’ scenario where it’s 'love at first sight' does happen for some people, but often people know each other in a different context before anything gets remotely close to being more intimate. Sometimes, being just friends, acquaintances or work colleagues can be the beginning of something, even if initially it’s not easy to spot.

That said, sometimes it’s the most obvious things that are holding us back. Do you show an interest in people? Are you able to listen carefully and not always be just waiting for your turn to speak? Dare I mention this too - but is your personal hygiene up to scratch? Stuff like this can be easy to forget ourselves, but can put others on red alert.  

From your letter, it sounds like you’re almost seeing yourself as ‘faulty’ because you’ve not yet felt a closeness to anyone. I doubt very much that this is the case, because I can also that you feel deeply and can eloquently express this. I want to encourage you to take this a step further and, although it may seem daunting, to be a little bolder. 

A good way forward might be to consider internet dating. Many people do this and there are sites for every possible taste - including people who want to find a meaningful connection with someone. I think you have a lot to offer. You just need to step out from behind the smoke screen.

Do you have a question to ask Ammanda?

Ammanda Major is a sex and relationship therapist and our Head of Service Quality and Clinical Practice

If you have a relationship worry you would like some help with send a message to Ammanda.

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