I spent many years in a sexless relationship with a man I dated following the dissolution of my marriage.
We met while working at a retail sporting goods store. I gave him mints and chocolate. He stole my cans of Coca-Cola out of the refrigerator in the employee break room. I was smitten. He talked too much. I chased him, and he allowed himself to be caught. In retrospect, I don’t know why he bothered to date me.
The first time I kissed him in the back seat of his car, he grimaced. “I don’t like saliva in my mouth,” he said, making a face as if he’d just sucked on a lemon. “And I don’t like tongue,” he added. He swiped his face with the back of his hand.
“Oh,” I said, mildly offended. “Okay.” I felt stupid and awkward, and gross, and a little bit slutty. That didn’t stop me from accompanying him to a seedy hotel a few days later. To my confusion and dismay, he just wanted to sleep.
Our second stay in a hotel room was even worse. We had agreed to have sex but ended up watching reruns of “Seinfeld” first, which wasn’t my idea. By the time I changed into a negligee I’d borrowed for the occasion, any chance at consummating our relationship had wilted along with his erection.
We made a half-hearted attempt at romance, by which I mean sex, but his body was in no way willing to cooperate with mine. I threw the borrowed negligee in the trash.
My newly minted boyfriend had a strange aversion to all things physical—at least when it came to me—and I didn’t know why. So I did the right thing. I asked him. Communication is key. Right? Unfortunately, I didn’t love his answer.
“Your weight is a stumbling block,” he said. “I’m not comfortable touching you. Maybe if you lost weight—”
“You knew I was fat when you met me. I was fat when I paid your rent and bought you dinner.”
He shrugged. “What can I say?” he said.
What could he say indeed?
My weight would become a recurring theme throughout our relationship. Even when I starved myself down to a suitably “feminine” form through a combination of hunger and anger that transcended today’s use of the word “hangry,” he still showed no romantic interest in me. He once kindly advised me that he was “almost interested” when I managed to wrangle my waist down to 27 inches.
Today, I recognize that I could have done things differently. While I don’t think I could have changed or improved my former partner’s sex drive or his level of attraction to me, I could have changed my circumstances long before hitting the decade mark.
If I wanted a physical or sexual relationship with him, and he didn’t, then it was incumbent upon me to leave sooner rather than waiting patiently/impatiently for him to change his mind. Remaining in a sexless relationship until my self-esteem was decimated and I couldn’t stand the sight of my own reflection in a mirror was entirely on me. Not him. I realize that now.
Unfortunately, I am still feeling the effects of living in a sexless relationship for more than a decade. I have a strong sex drive and high levels of sexual desire, but I have an even higher aversion to being touched. I think of my body with its imperfections, its cellulite, and its soft spots as being a “stumbling block” my ex-boyfriend called it—at any weight.
Being rejected for my body when my body is a huge part of my self has been devastating. I’ve never recovered, and I doubt that I ever will. The self-hatred and self-loathing I learned from constant rejection over the course of those years will follow me for the rest of my life.
That doesn’t mean I haven’t had sex since then. It just means I’ve spent more time worrying about every offending part of my body than how to make sex a shared, successful, and respectful experience for everyone involved—especially me.