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Sex & Love My year of celibacy as a love-struck twenty-something

Mar. 7, 2022
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Quarantine got me thinking a lot about relationships, and like all the great women before me, I fell into the trap of romanticizing my own destruction and psychoanalyzing myself. I’m 20 years old and I’ve dated; I’ve had good and bad sex; I’ve fallen madly in love with the worst person possible. Whether or not I want to admit it, the pursuit of love and sex drove my life for a long time. I was enamored with the game of it all. I  wanted to be a part of the hustle that every other twenty-something seemed to be working toward. 

It’s been about a year since the last time I entertained the thought of dating or sex. I don’t like to think of myself as a born-again virgin—I’ve already had sex and done a number of embarrassing deeds. Besides, it’s not like I’m not celibate for any deep, introspective reason; frankly, I just got my heart broken so badly that I needed to take a year off from men—from awkward split-the-meal first dates and not-so-subtle switches in LED lights preceding sex—for my own sanity. But I also want to be able to look back years from now and be able to say I learned from getting my heart broken. Dating went from something fun to a completely unfulfilling chore because I never gave myself the chance to sit down and reflect on the types of men I was introducing to my life—and I needed time to confront this glaring reality.

Right after I broke up with my boyfriend, I threw myself into the next guy. I thought I could handle it—that with time, maturity would quickly follow. Tinder apps became my best friend. I’ve talked to all the male archetypes: skateboarders, actors, self-proclaimed fashion designers, and SoundCloud artists. Before I even understood my emotional and physical needs, I understood the upsetting multiplicity of born-and-bred New York City men. And even with all these options, I fell in love with the worst kind of guy: a Parsons student with no moral compass. No essay could capture the terrifying chasm that is this man’s personality.

Long before things ended, I realized I was caught in the throes of a major depressive episode—the kind that makes everything feel like nothing. Traumatic situationships rewrote themselves as dramatic cliffhangers, and deceivingly codependent relationships quickly transformed themselves into the question of was he the one or was I just really stupid? It became hard to seperate my dreams from reality because I found the struggle I once was in to be if anything comical in comparison to the days spent laying on a sinking mattress.

I had no faith in myself to find someone new. I had taken several punches that I just couldn’t recover from and it was affecting everything. I’d stopped eating, reaching out to my friends, and working on side projects; I was considering dropping out of college. It took me some time to realize that I was not only depressed but also grieving for a person who only existed in my mind—because in reality, this man was atrocious.  The countless what if’s were eating me up and there was no logic to it. I was simply a victim of pure, unadulterated teenage delusion and it hurt to not only experience rejection but to simultaneously question my validity as someone deserving of love and to painstakingly revisit all my past relationships. It was enough personal turmoil to push me to delete every trace of who I once was because as hard as I tried I couldn't understand that version of myself. Phone numbers, my Instagram account dating back to middle school, Tinder, Bumble, Hinge—all of it was gone. I sent departing messages to a few Tompkins skaters and opened my laptop to schedule my first therapy appointment in years. And this all brings me to a far more upsetting thought, that in New York, possibly in every great twenty-something city I will never be enough. People are always obsessed with the next best thing. If not with endless swipes, we’re always competing for a new apartment, brunch spot, or sexually competent man. 

My period of grief went on for months, I ran myself sick trying to understand the ways in which I messed up until one morning I just woke up and everything clicked. All the work I did in therapy, months of the same cyclical conversations with my girlfriends about this guy all culminated in me finally understanding that relationships are supposed to be simple, and more importantly tailored to the individual. I had been looking for hope and stability in the most egregiously complicated man I could find; when sometimes, you just have to stop and take an honest look at what’s in front of you..


Sex is whatever you want it to be. To some it’s a prize meant to be saved for marriage; for others it’s a nice break from reality; for most, it’s a shoddy escape from true romance. And all of that is okay. But the issue for me is that I learned to associate sex with emotional trauma before I understood it to be a space for growth, hilarity, and passion but in this last year I completely changed that outlook for myself. Sex, masturbation, really anything that I once saw as sexy quickly became a mere after thought and I suppose that it was because I was depressed. But, I also suspect that once I began to decentralize men from my life all these expectations I had about when to have sex and who to have it with just dissapated. Sexuality as a whole became a void for me as I worked to prioritize my mental health and regain the friendships I had previously disappeared from and this feeling has continued to stick. 

And even though this feeling of not wanting to have sex at all has stuck for a suprinsgly long amount of time I find myself conflicted because my year of celibacy is definitely coming to an end. The confidence I gained this past year has also managaed to attract men that are sweet and supportive enough for me to entertain the idea having sex again. But now I am positive sex is no longer a part of the end game. However, I think I can only begin to love again once I really begin to sit with the fact that I’ve never actually experienced romantic love, even though I strongly believed I had at so many different points of time. This love stuff takes a lot of guts, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m just not one of God’s strongest warriors but this past year has reassured me that my failure is okay. 

I have had my heart broken, my love reciprocated, and my little middle-school dreams fulfilled. This is further than I thought I would get, frankly; I’ve hit goals I originally set for thirty-year-old me, so now I just have to take the time to figure out what’s next. And while this time without sex has been liberating, it’s undoubtedly a temporary shield that I always intended to lower. I’m still insecure about all of this, though, and new insecurities have arisen as I worry about how I’ll ease back into sex.

Will I remember how to kiss? How do I open myself up to someone new? It's like I’m fifteen again, except with much more baggage. I once thought this new, completely lost, frustrated version of myself was pathetic—but now I understand it to just be another step in the maddening reality of my life.