Kathryn's Blog

Late bloomers and love shies

In my March 1 and 15th issues of *eMAIL to eMATE*, I wrote articles about singles who never got started with dating or relationships.  I’ve seen a bit of interest in the subject, so I am putting the two articles together here, just in case someone comes looking.

Late bloomers is a term that describes a person whose talents or abilities are slow to develop.  In this case, I am using the term for adults who missed the normal start of sexual and relationship skills.

I’ve had two different clients over the past year who have been struggling with this phenomenon.  One is a woman who met a man online that she liked very much, but who seemed pretty inexperienced sexually.  The other client is a man who represents the other side of the issue: despite being good looking, a professional, genuinely nice guy, he has never had sex with another person.  Highly sensitive men, they seems to have “missed the boat” in relationship experience, continued to miss opportunities that came later, and have gotten so far behind that they cannot figure out how they can ever get started.

It’s been a real privilege for me to work with these two people and see, close up, the frustrations involved.  And you will get the benefit of what we have been learning together. Maybe you know someone who is in a similar situation, or maybe I am describing you.

Here are the similarities: Both men are good looking, professionals with good incomes, and never married. One of the men has never had a full consensual sexual experience with another person.  The other man I cannot be so sure of, because he has not been my client, but all signs point to an extreme lack of sexual experience, coupled with active avoidance of sexual situations.  Another similarity: both men had close emotional relationships to their mothers.

Here is the difference—and it is a biggie: One man is my client and the other is not. 

Let’s call the one who is my client Jack.  The other man we will call Bob, and his girlfriend who is my client, Joyce.

Jack is highly motivated.  After some struggle in the beginning on who was going to be in control, we’ve settled into a really fine working relationship.  Jack scours the Internet for information about his “condition.”  He reads everything that I suggest and quickly puts it into his formulation and understanding of what is going on.

Bob is not motivated at all. Bob avoids real dates with any chance of intimacy.  His avoidance pushes Joyce into pursuing, which of course causes Bob to become even more remote.  I think that Bob’s needs are met with Joyce – he has a diversion, Joyce is very nurturing, and he has a “sort of” girlfriend.  But for Joyce, this relationship is full of frustration and pain.

Do either of these situations describe you or something you have been involved in? 

These two men are in a silent and hidden group who have yet to “come out.”  It is all too easy for them to stay “in the closet” because they are not DOING anything.  That is what they are doing, actually: nothing.  Because doing nothing is hard to detect or find fault, they stay hidden and totally misunderstood.  The best that most folks are able to do as far as understanding what is going on with these men is to guess, “Well, they must be gay.”  Most men would assume that, because men have a hard time understanding how a man could resist the internal sexual pressure they experience themselves. 

Certainly, some men who avoid sexual relationships with women are gay, closeted or not.  But this group of men appear to be quite interested in women, just way behind in sexual and relational experience.  My client Jack has really helped me with my understanding of the issues these men have.  Working together, we have come up with some strategies that have helped Jack get much farther in a relationship with a woman than he ever has before.

Jack has helped me a lot in my understanding of this phenomenon, and together we have designed a plan of action that is helping him bloom.  I asked Jack what has been most helpful for him.

Jack says that the biggest revelation was stumbling on Brian Gilmartin’s book “Shyness and Love: Causes, Consequences, and Treatment.”  The book is out of print, but has been made available online here.
Gilmartin’s book is huge – over 600 pages, and dated (published in 1987, researched in the ‘70s and ‘80s).  It is also flawed and has been criticized in the professional literature.  But for sure, Gilmartin’s description of this group which he called “love shy” has been extraordinarily helpful to the men who have discovered it.  Jack wrote that the Gilmartin book “showed me that no I am not alone.  Rare yes but not alone. I really did think I was the only guy like me on the planet. It was horrid.”

While women can also be “love shy,” Gilmartin focuses on men (which frankly is typical in mental health research), writing that while women may be afflicted, men are more seriously affected because societal expectations place men in the assertive roles romantically, which are close to impossible for this group of men.  These women he theorizes can still be courted and marry, because they do not have to take the initiative. 

Love shies tend to be heterosexual, highly sensitive, highly anxious, highly self-monitoring, and isolated.  A high proportion of the love shy men had no sisters, and even few if any cousins.  A very high proportion had abusive families.  ”Even as grown men, the love-shy men’s parents expressed that they were disappointed to have them as sons and still belittled them for their current situations” (Wikipedia).

For sure, this is a hidden group, without even a descriptive label in the common understanding.  I’d suggest that while the men seem largely hidden, that women would be even more so.  These days, older single men (over 35) would tend to be noticed and thought to be closeted gays, whereas women without relationships could fade from sight more easily.  After reading about “Late Bloomers” in my newsletter, a female reader recognized herself in the description, contacted me and we talked on the phone.  Except that she was a woman, she otherwise fit the love shy description.

While Gilmartin does have treatment recommendations, most involved “practice dating” and use of sexual surrogates in an attempt to help the love shy man “catch up.”  That just did not seem to be the right approach to me. 

What finally made the most sense was a variation on my strategy for dealing with secrets.  *eMAIL to eMATE* readers may already be familiar with this from the free download I offer to new subscribers: “Do You Have a Secret? How to Tell Your Sweetheart the Worst,” a shortened version of Chapter 13 of my book “Find a Sweetheart Soon!”  I just couldn’t imagine my client Jack, an attractive and otherwise successful man in his late 40s, as being able to convincingly come across as sexually experienced, no matter how much “practice” he got.  The problem, as far as I was concerned, was trying to keep his inexperience a secret. 

Secrets are just plain poison.  Feeling shame about something spreads rot and contaminates everything around the secret.  So people avoid situations and relationships that might require telling the secret.  This is the phenomenon that gay people struggled with and conquered with “coming out of the closet.”  If they were open about being gay, then no one could manipulate them with the information.  As well, society would be forced to acknowledge the existence of gays and confront their own prejudice.  It’s only been just over 40 years since the Stonewall riots  which is when the modern gay rights movement began.  Look at the progress that has been made in just 40 years, the basis of which was a spontaneous decision not to hide anymore.

So Jack and I started working on a plan for him to come out – not the front page of the local paper or a billboard on the Interstate, but with potential female partners. 

At first, Jack could not imagine telling a woman about his lack of sexual and relational experience.  But he did agree with me that passing as sexually experienced with a woman near his own age was a near impossibility.  So we started working on a “coming out story,” a way for him to explain and inform a prospective Sweetheart of his situation. 

I told Jack that he be prepared to tell on date one or two, so that the woman could freely choose whether to proceed with dating him.  We polished and refined his story, and then he practiced on me, at first, just telling the story over and over (our sessions are on Skype, so we can see as well as hear each other).  Then in subsequent sessions, I told Jack that to interrupt me with his story as we talked about other matters.  “No woman is going to give you an opening for this or be prepared for what you have to say, so you are going to have to create the space to tell,” I said.

Jack started contacting women on Match.com, met an interesting and interested woman, and on date #2 told his story.  Understandably, he was very nervous, but did a good job, and presto!  His date did just fine with the news.  He was astounded that she could know the truth about him and still be interested. 

Jack has also had some side benefits from starting a coming out process.  Like gays and other sexual minorities who come out, he has felt enormous relief as he has taken the pressure off himself to evade the truth and hide.  He has started to tell a few trusted friends and family members.  This of course has enhanced those relationships: truth telling fosters intimacy.  He now is aware of the energy it took to be closeted and how all of those years of keeping a secret contributed to the damage. 

Wow.  What a change, huh?

If Jack’s story sounds like you, like Jack, you can do something about it, rather than resign yourself to a life alone.  Get in touch with me.  I can help.



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