How to Handle Sexless Dates
Q: Me and a male friend of mine at church recently admitted our interest in each other and decided to go out. We work in a ministry together and have always had a great time hanging out with the group. It seemed like it would be even better with just the two, but our first couple of dates were beyond awkward. We talked, but there was definitely a wall there. We still talk and go out, so there must still be some interest there on both sides.
I'm 30 and have been abstaining for the past two years, and this is the first person I actually felt ready to date. I feel like now that I'm leaving sex out of the equation, I don't know how to behave, joke or even just hang out alone with a guy! Not that I was some sex goddess before, but there is sooo much that just seems off limits now that I'm abstaining, and I don't want to send out any wrong messages. Should I talk to him about the "pink elephant" in the room, or let things phase out naturally, which I'm assuming they soon will if nothing changes? -- Monica
Dr. Susan: Sounds as if, as a born-again virgin, you're struggling with setting appropriate boundaries in what is actually a whole new world for you. I'll assume that you dated without abstaining for quite a while before embarking on this new plan, and thus you fell into the habit of depending on your sexuality as a way of interacting with the opposite sex. That's pretty common, of course, and everywhere you look and everything you read leads you in that same old direction. But now here you are, left to your own devices, so to speak, but without the usual tools in your arsenal. You really are starting over, and I'm not surprised that it feels awkward at times.
Let's give your guy friend the benefit of the doubt. Since he's involved in the same ministry as you are, and since you've dated several times already without him complaining, it might be fair to assume he looks kindly on your effort to relate to him in a genuine and non-flirtatious way. I think the two of you would enrich your relationship if you opened up about how weird it feels to avoid flirting. Talk about what the messages are that you want to get across and what might be wrong ones. He might be quite relieved to have that "pink elephant" acknowledged and out in the open. Why would you assume things will phase out if nothing changes? What do you want to change? Do you mean you'd like to feel more sparks between you? Then I suppose you have to stop avoiding so strenuously and start living in the moment -- and living fully doesn't have to mean you have sex before you're ready. But you can admit you feel something physical, can't you? At least to yourself! Abstaining from acting sexually isn't the same as denying we're all sexual beings who have to make choices. And of course the wall between you might have nothing to do with any of this. Maybe you just don't have enough to talk about to sustain a great relationship.
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Susan K. Perry, Ph.D.
Susan K. Perry, Ph.D., is a social psychologist, relationship expert, and bestselling and award-winning author. Her books include Loving in Flow: How the Happiest Couples Get and Stay That Way, and Kylie's Heel, a novel for adults.
Pamela G. Chollet, Ph.D.
Dr. Pamela Chollet has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and Master degrees in educational psychology and fine arts. Her passion has been helping people face and get through those times when they feel trapped and unable to move forward.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, stress management expert, and author. If you're feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, or struggling to make changes in your life, Anna can help.