Thursday, December 12, 2019

The Last Virgin on Campus

Normally, you would not think of this as a problem. A young woman, a college student, is about to graduate, but has never had sex. Her intended beaux seem to stop at one kiss. Thus, she feels unwanted and unloved and undesired. With some reason.

And yet, in the age of Tinder, you can ask yourself how difficult it can be for a woman to have no-strings-attached sex. Didn’t Amy Schumer utter the immortal line:

“I’m probably like 160 pounds right now and I can catch a dick whenever I want, like, that’s the truth. It’s not a problem!” 

Unfortunately, the coed in question writes to Ask Polly in New York Magazine. For your edification I will ignore what Polly says. It is not worth repeating.

At the least, I would point out that in a different age this graduating senior would be considered admirable. She would be lauded for having preserved her virginity through the trials and travails of the college hook up scene. If she has to choose between hooking up and nothing, perhaps nothing is not such a bad idea.

Yet, her letter does not suggest that she is looking for love or a relationship. We find that strange. And not very normal. At the least, we want to know whether she has any male friends, whether she belongs to any study groups, whether she socializes with men at all. Surely, the way into intimacy can and perhaps should start with a less fraught set of circumstances… than a drunken frat party. 

Unfortunately, she sees herself as a reject. She does emphasize the fact that women do care deeply about their ability to attract male attention. How does it happen that she does not?

Surely, we would have a better idea if we could see a picture. Appearance matters. Self-presentation matters. Dress and deportment matter. If she walks around dressed in overalls or a nun’s habit, she is sending the wrong signal. If she employs all of the tools that the beauty industry makes available to women and still does not attract any romantic interest, then she has a different kind of a problem. 

She says she cannot admit to herself when she has a crush, but perhaps she does not crush on very many men. Perhaps she is not that into men. It’s a real possibility. If it is not real, then the ambient culture might draw her toward this conclusion.  

She might also be phobic of sexual contact with men. She might be terrified about what will or might happen to her when she becomes intimate with a man. In an age when women are far too cool about being open to just about anything, she is afraid of just about everything. 

She does not tell us how she dresses or  presents herself to the male gaze. She only tells us that she is a mouthy smartass, a woman who talks too much and who uses her words to throw up a miasma that tells men to keep away. Or else, that presents men with a challenge. We recall the character of Kate in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. She might not have been to every man’s taste, but still, the right man can have an interesting interaction with her.

Here are the opening paragraphs of the letter:

I have intimacy issues, and I almost cringe at how stupidly cliché that sounds — but it’s true. I am in my final year of university and have never had sex and have only been kissed once. (My physical intimacy has really stopped at that one kiss, too — no bases have been reached beyond that.) This lack of physical and romantic intimacy has really threatened to throw me overboard in the past. I used to be really mean to myself about it. Why didn’t people find me cute? Why couldn’t I just get laid? Why, oh why, couldn’t someone’s eye contact linger on me, just once? It’s really hard in college when it feels like everyone is having experiences and you’re not just alone but lonely. I’ve tried working through it on my own by divorcing myself from my sexuality completely. I used to see romance/sex as something that wasn’t for me. That’s actually not as painful as it sounds — I have a good time on the weekends just hanging out with friends and not participating in hookup culture, but I mostly know that’s because I’m used to it. I’m not used to seeing myself as someone who can be desired and wanted (which means I don’t let myself desire or want. I can’t even admit when I have a crush!).

The truth is, Polly, I feel really sad when I think about how I am not a wanted person. I don’t think people know the depth of it. Just for useful background, I am a pretty rational person. I am constantly observing and learning about the world around me. I come across as sharp, mature, and I think unfazed by most things. I am not outwardly emotional, and actually friends would describe me as a chatty, sardonic, smartass. I am not offended by any of this — it’s all true! But there is an underlying romantic in me that drives me crazy. I watch everyone else get to connect, and I just get to sit there watching, offering my analysis, telling people who should text who, indulging in gossip about secret trysts. That’s my role. I just want to be in the thick of it — messy, young, and stupid. I want to turn my brain off and go for it, but I just can’t. What makes me doubly sad is that the feeling of physical unwantedness mixes in with a more general feeling of unwantedness. Maybe people would like to connect to me more if I could just shut up? If I didn’t pick apart every little thing going on to later analyze it? If I was less of a mouthy smartass? If I could play nice and bat my eyelashes at the right dude? I’m smart enough to know that this kind of thinking never gets anyone anywhere, but my lonely little heart won’t quit piping up. On top of the fact that I desire this kind of connection, I know that if someone even tried it with me, I’d run away! I want it so bad, I’m scared and I shy away.

As noted, she seems to be terrified of contact with men. It does entail risks. She might have been hurt by a man in the past. Or else, she might have known a woman who was. When she says, in the next excerpt, that she had intimate knowledge of one of her parents’ affairs, we would like to have a few more details. 

Now, she has started therapy. She has discovered that her parents’ divorce might have played a role, though her imbecilic insistence on using politically correct pronouns deprives us of the information we would need to know.

I’ve recently started going to therapy to figure out where my lovelessness comes from and why it cuts so deeply. I connect some of my reluctance to my parents’ divorce. From a young age, I had intimate knowledge of one of my parent’s affairs that lasted a very long time. My parent ended up briefly moving across the country with their partner and my siblings until the relationship became (even more) unhealthy and ended. I always hated their partner, by the way, infidelity notwithstanding. I know that I am working on trusting that romantic and sexual relationships can be healthy and not destructive to the self, partnership, and family. In fact, I KNOW that they can be actively good for the self. I know all of this in my head, so why can’t I let go, Polly? How can I be less afraid and more bold?

Touch Me But Don’t Touch Me

Perhaps she just needs the right kind of man, a Petrucchio to her Kate. No one ever treated a phobia successfully by poking around in the past. Good therapists treat phobia by gradual desensitization. If you are phobic of spiders, you begin by looking at pictures of spiders, first harmless spiders and then dangerous spiders. Then you look at spiders who are in glass cages, so you can become more comfortable in their presence. You learn to distinguish dangerous from non-dangerous spiders and learn to accept the first while avoiding the second.

How this might be applied to her situation, I will leave to your imagination. In truth we do not know enough about her experience and her phobia to draw any good conclusions. But, as psychologists know well, people are phobic of objects and situations that are dangerous.

We would not want her to charge ahead pretending that she can never be hurt by a man. But, we would also like her to accept that being the last virgin on campus might very well be a badge of honor.


UbuMaccabee said...

“I’m probably like 160 pounds right now and I can catch a dick whenever I want, like, that’s the truth. It’s not a problem!”

I'm probably like 265 pounds right now and I can catch a dick whenever I want as well. How is this unique to women?

jdgalt said...

Blame the #MeToo movement. Women who don't want male attention have criminalized it, and any man who notices you doesn't dare say so. Get as loud as the feminists about it and maybe you'll get somewhere.

Or start making the first move yourself.

Anonymous said...

She answered her own question: "Maybe people would like to connect to me more if I could just shut up? (YES) If I didn’t pick apart every little thing going on to later analyze it? (YES) If I was less of a mouthy smartass? (YES) If I could play nice and bat my eyelashes at the right dude? (NOW SHE IS ACTING LIKE THE OTHER THINGS SHE SAID WERE AS STUPID AS THIS STATEMENT) I’m smart enough to know that this kind of thinking never gets anyone anywhere" (WRONG. IT WILL CHANGE EVERYTHING.) She has to become a woman with something to offer and right now she has very little or nothing. It's pretty simple!