Me: I still have ‘big scary post’ on my list.
EA: You really need to just write that
Me: I’m basically never going to write that post, am I? Not unless there’s some celibacy prompt on Wicked Wednesday or something that I won’t be able to ignore.
I periodically like to brainstorm blog ideas with Exhibit A and it’s often successful, but this time it came back to bite me on the bum. By the time we’d finished dinner Marie had emailed him to confirm that celibacy was now on the list of future prompts. Stitch up. Possibly. But the fact is this blog is four years old next month and I’ve had ‘big scary post’ on my list of things to write for almost as long. So why have I taken nearly four years to write this and why, when I sat down on Monday evening to write it, did I almost sabotage it by purposely letting myself get upset by something entirely unrelated? How exactly did it come to be called ‘big scary post’ anyway?
If I’m honest I think it’s because I was (am?) ashamed. Ashamed and embarrassed to write about a period of my life where I didn’t have sex for five years. Then, after that drought was broken, went on to only have a handful of flings over the following few years. Nine years where I could, if I thought about it for not too long, probably remember every occasion that I had sex. There is no reason to feel ashamed about this, I had done nothing wrong. Thankfully, there was no distressing reason for it either – no abusive relationship in my past and I wasn’t harbouring an unrequited love or nursing heartbreak. I wasn’t being unnecessarily unkind so that karma got me (sorry, but I totally believe in karma!) and I didn’t have sex on a pedestal. I was just a normal late twenties woman who’d had a couple of infatuations, a small love, a big love and a good amount of fun casual sex during the ‘Camden party days’. That my sex life dried up was entirely circumstantial.
First off, marriage and babies happened. Not for but me but for all the people I used to party with. There is a period during your late twenties and early thirties where you are on a merry-go-round of hen dos, weddings and new baby celebrations. The life that you knew momentarily becomes hijacked by celebrations of other people’s milestones. Of course, this is wonderful, but if you’re not on that path you emerge slightly bewildered that your own life has ‘settled down’ against your will and with you as a solo player. For a while, if you want to stay close to your oldest friends you swap stumbling home at 3am with tales to tell for a bottle of wine on their sofa and interrupted conversation. (Spoiler: the storm passes and before you know it they’ll be up for stumbling home at 3am again and if you’re really lucky you’ll have some new friends in the shape of their children.)
I also chose that time to start working in a sector with a higher than average proportion of women and gay men. My now business partner (who I met at work) was the only man in a department of 30 women. My (gay male) desk mate once looked up at the huge open plan office and said “do you know, we can only see seven men from our desk and they’re all gay.” I wasn’t likely to meet a string of suitors for casual affairs at work!
“What about online dating?” I hear you cry. Mmm. I refer you to the age rings in my trunk and ask you to count the years backwards! Online dating was fledgling back then. I joined Dating Direct and Guardian Soulmates and every so often I half-heartedly went on a dates but those sites largely filled me with doom. The fundamental flaw with them was they assumed that everyone was looking for ‘the one’ and people behaved accordingly. Namely, in a tedious this-is-how-a-first-date-should-be-done way. If that wasn’t your bag there weren’t really any options 15 years ago. I still remember the straw that broke the camel’s back. I spotted a hot bloke on Soulmates and clicked on his profile. “I wake up to Radio 4 and go to sleep to Radio 6”. Really? REALLY? Your opener is going to be that self-conscious? I didn’t hang around to read the rest but I am sure if I had got to sentence three I would have discovered that on a Saturday evening he liked to curl up with a bottle of red wine and a DVD.
Apps for hooking up and sites where you could be more nuanced in your preferences were way in the future. In hindsight, I am sure there were numerous like-minded men who would have been more than happy with the kind of relationship that I now know suits me but those conversations were not happening in the early noughties. At 30 the idea that I would one day use apps to seek out men who were specifically looking for a secondary partner rather than ‘the one’, or couples looking for a regular play partner would have been inconceivable. That tech did not yet exist and my social life had shrunk to nights in with mates and nights out after work with colleagues and I just slipped into a place of acceptance that sex wasn’t part of my life.
So, if I can objectively look at the personal, professional and tech environment that I was operating in and recognise the circumstantial nature of my celibacy, why do I still feel shame about it? And why was it a ‘big scary post’ for so long? I think it was scary because however much I can rationalise why it happened there is still a part of me that sees it as a reflection on me. I am embarrassed that I accepted without much of a fight the loss of something so important and fun. And I worry that all the rational reasons I use to explain why it happened are just hot air. That actually it might be that I just wasn’t hot and that people didn’t fancy me. That thought casts the longest shadow.
There is much about my physical self that I love. I love my height, my legs, my arse, my hair and my face does a very good job of reflecting who I am on the inside. I don’t like my belly or my tits but generally as a whole package I can live with what I’ve got. But I don’t really believe I am hot. And that lack of confidence in my physical appeal bleeds into sexual confidence. I equate being good at sex with being physically appealing and as long as I don’t really believe I am physically appealing I don’t really believe I am good at sex. I should say at this point that I think I suck cock like a boss and I have awesome partners who work hard to reassure me that I am hot and good and that I should just shut the fuck up about all of this, but the voices in our head linger.
So what changed? How did I emerge from a sex-free decade to the life I have now? At 36 I became self-employed. I joined a host of freelance networking groups and bobbed about all over London meeting new people. Overnight I had new circles of friends, all in the mid-thirties to late forties ball park and virtually all of them committed to nurturing just one baby – their business. I had a found a new tribe and they shared my priorities. Within months I was having a fling with a fellow freelancer. Then in early 2012 I was on a contract where idle lunchtime chat with a fellow consultant led to her saying, “You haven’t heard of OKC? Oh my God – it’s amazing! I am having so much sex!” And the rest as they say is history. There I have met many more like-minded people, one of whom led me to this tribe.
The app can get a bad rap and people can be inappropriate but I don’t really see a whole lot of difference between a drunk bloke in the pub pinching my arse and saying my dress would look better on his bedroom floor (hello North Wales circa 1995!) and someone being suggestive in an app. They’re certainly easier to mute in an app than the pub! I think of OKC as being like the flirty parties and pubs of my twenties. I don’t give a fuck what radio station you listen to and I like watching movies on my own. Some flirting and some suggestive chat as a gateway to some drinking and fucking suits me fine. Would I have had the wilderness years that I did had something like OKC existed in 2003? Probably not. Am I bitter that it didn’t exist 15 years ago? Hell yes!
So now I am in the happy place that I am – with one regular partner who I value deeply and other more casual affairs that come in and out of my life according to how my diary is dictated by my business (roll on April when work quietens down for six months and I’ll be looking for this year’s spring/summer flings!) – I have finally written this post. How do I feel? Relieved to be honest. That period of my life sometimes makes me feel a bit of fraud in this community and, like I said, the long shadow affects my self-confidence at times when I feel more vulnerable. But something I have learnt here over the last four years is that almost every time I have worn my heart on my sleeve someone has popped up to echo my sentiments or to express relief that they are not alone. Part of what makes this community strong is how honest people are and how giving they are of their own experiences in supporting others. It’s kind of a relief to look at this secret, take a deep breath and chuck it in the fuck it bucket.