I am a 34-year-old virgin. This wouldn’t be such a big issue were it not for the inevitability of heartbreak. Every now and then, I fall in love with someone – often at work – and I become infatuated before I know them properly. There is always a big conversation in which I admit to my feelings and she says she doesn’t feel that way at all. Then I’m heartbroken for about four months. These feelings are purely romantic and I never fantasise about having sex with any of the women. I think I might be asexual but I can’t be sure, given that I’ve never had a relationship.
I know I’m not normal in how I approach romance, but I don’t know exactly what is wrong with me. I can’t get help. When I’ve tried, I have been taken through the checklist: I am in stable employment, can do everyday tasks and don’t have thoughts of suicide, so I don’t stand a chance of moving up the long [NHS] waiting lists for counselling. But if I don’t find a way out of this cycle, it is only a matter of time before I fall in love again, get rejected and spend another six months listening to sad songs about unrequited love.
You could be asexual – one of the characteristics is not feeling any sexual attraction to another person. You might want to look at asexuality.org which is largely a forum for other “aces” to talk, but has lots of useful, thought-provoking information on the subject. But, as you point out, without having had any sort of relationship, it’s hard to say. You are certainly not alone in not having sexual fantasies, nor is being a virgin in your 30s so unusual any more. (I wonder if you saw the Guardian’s recent articles on this on 18 and 24 June.)
I don’t think you’re “not normal”, but your approach to love – whether asexual or not – isn’t rooted in reality. Your life is all about fantasy, which is fun for a bit but no substitute for real-life love, which is what you seem to want. There appear to be three points in your falling-in-love scenario: your initial attraction, the fantasy you build of that person, and then disclosure.
The first and third are rooted in reality – the person exists when you first see them, and when you tell them. But the second part of the sequence is not based in reality. It is a fantasy centred around the person you imagine you are in love with, and it grows to epic proportions. The other person isn’t at all engaged in this process – she has no idea how you feel. When you eventually tell her, of course, it’s shocking and overwhelming for her. In different circumstances, she might have been more receptive to a relationship. If you could narrow the gaps between these three points – more reality, less fantasy – it might help you to understand who you are and what it is you really want.
Psychotherapist Martin Weaver (UK Council for Psychotherapy, psychotherapy.org.uk) wondered what you were like as a boy – did you do a lot of reading/watching films? If so, you might need to look at whether it was for entertainment or as a retreat from life because reality was, in some way, too painful. And has this led you, in the absence of real-life experience, to romanticise relationships?
“Why do you wait,” Weaver asked, “to have the big conversation [with women] instead of lots of smaller ones?”
I thought this was a really important question: what stops you getting to know these women before you tell them how you feel?
Weaver also wondered what your job was, and whether it “isolated or disconnected you [from real life]”. Do you have everyday interaction with women? “Your world is very internal and, because of this, you are not learning how to create a relationship that is engaging and empathic, nor are you learning that you can influence what happens.” Heartbreak need not be inevitable.
You are right that therapy, other than cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), isn’t always easy to get on the NHS, but I wonder if you would consider spending some money on it? If so, you can find therapists via the UKCP website. I think having somewhere private where you could talk freely and get another perspective would benefit you enormously.
One final point I want you to ponder: Weaver felt the way you describe these situations sounded as if you felt you had “no control, no agency over what happens” – where did you learn that?
• Send your problem to email@example.com. Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.
Comments on this piece are premoderated to ensure the discussion remains on the topics raised by the article. Please be aware that there may be a short delay in comments appearing on the site.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010