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I've had so many flings, I want to swear off of dating and sex entirely. Am I going too far?
By Cait Robinson
Have a question? Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters may be edited for length, content, and clarity.
Dear Miss Info,
I am dating a girl who's never had a boyfriend or even been kissed, and I am not entirely sure how to go about it. We've been friends for years now, and our mutual affection has recently come to light. We decided to give dating a shot.
We went out to a movie and all seemed to be going okay. I put my arm around her in the theater; her reaction was mixed. Some moments she seemed to enjoy it, and other moments she seemed uncomfortable. The rest of the date, I didn't try to make contact like holding hands, because I thought it would make her uncomfortable. But she still talked to me as though she were having a nice time.
I really like her and I understand that I need to have patience with this, but how do I go about trying to help her with this without making it harder than it needs to be?
— Touchy Situation
Dear Touchy Situation,
Touch can be welcome or unwelcome, and being respectful of that is vital for anyone. I give you a high five for being sensitive to that, and for trying to meet your girlfriend where she is. Well done.
A frustrating part of heterosexual relationships is the pressure on the man to pursue and on the woman to be pursued. It sells everybody short, men and women alike. Your girlfriend is probably nervous about the prospect of sex and, by extension, anything that could lead up to it. If you think she's a little gun-shy about this whole thing, then let her take on the more aggressive role. It will allow her to build confidence in herself as well as trust in you.
Start with warm, non-threatening, and nonsexual touches, which will probably put her more at ease. If you're talking and it feels like you're clicking, maybe brush the hair out of her face fondly. Or rub her upper back with your open palm while you're walking side-by-side. Rather than grabbing her hand — which might feel possessive — hold your own hand out and let her take it: this puts the agency on her. Offering your arm while you're walking together is also a nice, trust-building gesture. When you want to kiss her, don't sweep her off her feet in some grand, invasive gesture — let her take control. Gaze into her eyes; push back her hair. Or lean in and hold your face close to hers, but let her move in the last inch. This allows her to take the next step, also building sexual confidence in her.
In general, remember that flirtation is an acquired skill. Your girlfriend may not yet have that vocabulary, so don't assume that these gestures mean the same thing to her that they do to you. When you put your arm around her and she shrinks away, it's likely not a sign of "ugh, this guy;" it's probably closer to, "I don't know what to do at this particular moment." It takes a lot of strength to be in your position. Just remember that even though she may not show it in familiar ways, she's choosing to be with you.
Dear Miss Information,
I've had relations with more guys in the past six months than in my whole life prior. Not relationships, mind you — just meaningless flings and sex. I've recently decided that I hate it, and like other things I've given up in life (smoking, drinking) I want to give up sex and men altogether, cold turkey. Just for awhile, so that I can get back to knowing myself and what I want. Is this the best way of getting over the pointless hook-ups that I liked mainly for the attention?
Your letter reads not so much as a question, but rather as a request for a cheering section. To which I respond "Yes! Wholeheartedly yes!" If you think you need to take a break, take one. Focus on your job/take that macramé class you've always wanted to/choreograph the shit out of some interpretive dances. If you think you've been having sex for the wrong reasons, by all means, put yourself on hiatus. For all its strengths, sex can be a big distraction from other, important things in life that might be calling out for attention. Tend to those other urges, and put sex on the back burner. A+, Go Team, Highly Recommended, Gold Stars for All.
During this process, though, don't shut yourself down. Men aren't, and never were, the enemy. Any "break" should be about refocusing on yourself and clarifying what you want from a relationship, not about avoiding guys as a whole. Worthwhile men are out there; great ones may even help you in your evolution. Don't let a few bad experiences close you off to half of the population. Consider this a regrouping, a recentering of priorities — not a "swearing off" or "quitting cold turkey." Knowing yourself can only reap dividends.