33 Days of Truth: Day 28
The Great Wait
I once read a prompt for telling your life story in six words or less. I wrote:
When the great wait is over.
I’ve held myself back in a lot of ways in my life, but the biggest of all was in waiting for love, and sex. I waited for it to be the right time, to meet the right person, to be the right person. At first, the waiting was clear and intentional. I knew exactly what I wanted, and didn’t want to settle for less.
If I’d known just how long the wait would be, and how I would flounder in it, I might have done things a lot differently. Jumped into the dating scene much sooner than I did. Instead, through a combination of choice and circumstance, I got stuck in a holding pattern of holding out, holding back, and waiting… waiting… waiting…
The truth of that wait is something I have really struggled to express and share with others. It is the biggest thing I’ve kept hidden from the world; covered up and in the dark. It has been a huge part of my life journey, yet few who know me know it at all.
It has stood foremost on my mind throughout this 33 Days of Truth challenge. After four weeks of writing every day on personal subjects, I thought I would be warmed up by now, to finally get this out. It has been harder than I expected. I have tried multiple times to tackle it and gotten nowhere, faced with a confusion of pieces and fragments, words and sentences, and no cohesion, no completion.
I suppose the topic is particularly difficult to talk about for me because the history of it is rather tangled up and extensive. Even though I’ve worked through this stuff for myself, I have carried it in private and in silence for so long, for years. It is proving to be a heavy thing to move out into the light.
This is my story, and I’m afraid to tell it. Not because of what anyone will think, but because letting it out means I will have to finally own my truth, not just privately but publicly. The whole messy kit and caboodle, opened up and revealed.
It is time, I think, that I own it.
In doing so, my hope and intent is that someone out there, somewhere, someday, might read through my experience and think, “I’m not the only one!” That’s how it felt, for me, and it would have been nice and relieving to know at times I wasn’t.
To tell my “Great Wait” story fully, requires a bit of back story. A return to my roots, to the way I grew up, which influenced my unique why and how for originally making the decision to wait.
With the exception of fourth and fifth grades, I was homeschooled before high school. At age 11, I moved with my family from a coastal town in California to some property in the woods of Northeastern Washington, where we lived in a cabin without running water, plumbing, or electricity. We were off the grid and pretty isolated. I had my siblings, but knew few other kids my age.
Consequently, while kids my age were in middle school and struggling together with the pangs of adolescence, I was flying solo and developing in a totally different way. I was in my own world, communing with nature, exploring spirituality, and delving into self-discovery.
When I started public high school as a freshman, it was total culture shock. I couldn’t relate to anyone. I was thrust into an alien world without the skills to communicate who I was on the inside. I stayed quietly on the outskirts and just watched. I didn’t like most of what I saw. The drama, drinking, partying, sex, dating…
Even as a young teen, I held grand visions for what a deep love connection could be like, and it was not the shallow, insecure relationships I saw being formed amongst my peers. I saw the way they would use each other to fill the void that was meant to be where they found themselves.
It wasn’t only my peers that I saw this happening with; adults did it in their relationships too. They were all halves trying to complete each other. I wanted to be whole and complete unto myself, and to share that fullness with another. I knew I was not far enough along in my personal development to be a match for the kind of person or relationship I wanted, and that high school was definitely not the place I’d find it anyway.
It was then that I made the intentional decision to wait.
I always had crushes, but did not act on them, and declined the (very) few advances made by others. Those four years for me were primarily about overcoming shyness. I pushed beyond my comfort zone again and again, to become a more outgoing, confident person. It took all my energy and focus just working on that, along with trying to survive the veritable hell that is the high school experience.
I might have finally broken through the social barriers and blossomed into dating and relationships after graduation. But during junior year, my dad went on trial for something he didn’t do and was sentenced to ten years in prison. I shared a little bit about it in a previous post on trust wounds.
Losing my dad to the system left my heart hurt and closed off. I was 17 then, and it would take over a decade before I started opening it up.
I was already a quiet person, and was not skilled at conversation to begin with, but I really shut down when it came to talking about my dad; there was too much to say, so I said nothing. Invariably, the silence leaked into other areas of my life, including my love life – or lack thereof.
The extent to which the emotional trauma interfered with my search for love, did not really dawn on me until much later. As far as I was concerned, I was still trekking down a conscious path that I chose for myself.
Eventually, the path would come to be overgrown and leave me in a rut. I would lose sight of my purpose for walking it and stop making any meaningful progress forward.
But, I set out after high school with my hopeful vision of love intact and stuck firmly to the decision to wait for it. I highly anticipated meeting someone with whom I had a magical instant connection (I did not call it love at first sight), and to feel ignited by that person on every level, body, mind, heart, and spirit. Partial matches were out. It was all or nothing.
Close family members who were aware of my high standards told me my expectations were too great. I needed to come down to earth and learn how to operate in the real world. I was taking it all way too seriously. (True dat…!)
My perfectionist streak was definitely rearing its ugly head in my refusal to compromise, and I stubbornly persisted in my approach. I pre-judged opportunities and rejected them before I was even invited to do so. I held out for what I wanted with such rigid determination and inflexible conviction that I never gave it a chance. I was going for all or nothing – and I got nothing.
For years I had virtually no prospects in sight, but continued to wait patiently enough. I was optimistic. I expected that my dream partner would appear around the next corner. Or the next. Or the next. I was so hopeful that love would find me. What I could not see is that I was keeping myself invisible to it, hiding my heart. Hiding it really, really well.
My body acted as the guardian of my heart, although for a long time I perceived it the other way around. I insisted on wanting to be in love before having sex, when I was actually avoiding sex in order to protect myself from the vulnerability of love. Despite that being the thing I wanted most.
This dichotomy between love vs. sex became a Catch-22. I didn’t let anyone close enough to touch me, and as a result they also could not get close enough to reach me in any other way. My boundaries were rock solid to the point that nobody could get in, and I couldn’t get out, either. It was quite the conundrum.
I was in a trap of my own making. I had marooned myself on an island, waiting for someone special to arrive who could save me. Nobody showed up, and I remained perpetually single.
By the time I discovered just how far I’d backed myself into a corner, it was too late to easily get out of it. I headed into the game really late, so that everyone else had the rules down, while I bumbled forward like a new calf learning to walk. And I had to disassemble the walls I’d built up, brick by brick. It was a slow, uncomfortable process.
I had thought that choosing to remain a virgin until finding love would make me feel pure, brave, and strong in the face of social pressures. But I ended up just feeling inexperienced, naive and silly. Although I hated to admit it, I was wrong in my approach. It didn’t work. Damn.
I still felt strongly that I could not take action on something I didn’t feel or believe in; I would not lose my virginity to just anybody simply to get it over with. I didn’t want that to be my experience. But I knew I had to gain experience somehow, and that required changing my tune, giving a little ground, and allowing others in.
Being single was easy. I sucked at connecting. When I finally started dating, it was super awkward; I was out of my element and felt continually let down by the experiences and by my own inadequacy to meet them well.
What I imagined intimacy would be like was disappointed by the relative mediocrity of the real thing. Which, I have to take major responsibility for, because by and large I failed to be honest about my situation.
I was afraid to say the word virgin, not wanting anyone to make assumptions about why I still was (e.g. that I was weird or undesirable). And I didn’t want to explain why, assuming that my intentions would not be fully received or properly understood by the kinds of guys I was meeting. I remained closed off and had a hard time opening up.
The whole predicament got too complicated. And it got really, really old. I was sick of my story of being a virgin and waiting for love. In an effort to move beyond it, I made several attempts to rewrite my own story by manipulating the truth.
I wrote a letter to a guy I liked at university, telling him I thought a first kiss between two people should be special, and if he set the stage I would be open to it. I didn’t tell him it would be my first kiss ever. That little omission turned into an epic fail. He invited me to his messy basement bedroom, asked if I wanted to make out, and thus my first kiss became an hour long make out session set to the soundtrack of drum kit noises (that he was making) and duck quacks (from the alerts on his phone every time his dad texted).
At least, I got a funny story out of it. One that genuinely amuses me now! But for the love of god, I was 25 by that point. It was embarrassing to be such a late bloomer and so hung up on the fact that I couldn’t even talk about it.
Getting over the hurdle of my first kiss, albeit not what I’d hoped it would be, was nevertheless liberating. The sex dilemma persisted though, and hung heavy in the air whenever physical contact was made. And unfortunately, I didn’t quite learn my lesson from Basement Boy.
My other story rewrite involved telling a guy that I had made a New Years Resolution to be celibate, rather than explain that the reason I didn’t want to go all the way with him was that I was still a virgin. It sounds ridiculous, it was ridiculous, but that is how afraid I was of revealing my authentic self.
I was unable articulate my true needs and desires, lacking the experience or skills necessary to manage such an honest, vulnerable conversation. And, I felt incredibly frustrated that such a discussion was necessary in the first place. I straight up did not want to have it. So I avoided it like the plague.
All in all, there were only a couple of guys who held any real promise, who ignited a spark and I considered as my possible first. But one met his future wife right as I was working up courage to reveal my interest. The other I did tell about my virgin status, and contrary to my fears it was not a big deal. When it came to doing the deed, I found my heart wasn’t into it, and I backed out.
My focus shifted to doing inner work. Shaking off the past, getting to know myself again, and embodying a more vibrant and authentic version of me. And it was around this stage of expansive personal growth that I finally, at last, after all that waiting, met the man of my dreams.
As it turned out, with an Alanis Morissette song level of irony, he was already married. Even though feelings developed on both sides, we were just friends, and remained that way without crossing any lines. His marriage was struggling, but he chose to stay and work on it, while I faithfully honored his decision by keeping away and not revealing the true depth of my feelings. Yet another long vow of silence.
Because there was a tiny sliver of twisted hope that something could change, and he would become available, I secretly held on to the possibility for years. Not that I wanted to though. I tried to move on. And physically, I did. I turned in my v card and, gradually, began the process of untangling my heart strings.
To be continued…