Sunday, March 20, 2011

The 40 Year Old (Emotional) Virgin

We all know the very entertaining movie “The 40 Year Old Virgin” in which the main character’s co-workers marvel at the fact that a decent looking, seemingly “normal guy” (yes, he rides a bicycle instead of owning a car and collects figurines but other than that, he really seems to be a pretty average dude) has reached his fortieth year of his life without having done the deed. If any of us were to meet an “Andy” in real life who shared with us that he is still a virgin, we would likely react with even more disbelief than the characters in the film, trying to fathom how it would be possible for a “normal” person never to have had this pretty universal life experience.

But what about a scenario where a man or woman has reached 40 and they have never been in love? What about a scenario where a man or woman has reached 40 and they have never dated anyone for more than a few months? They have never passed the four seasons with the same person, have never experienced the devastating heartbreak of ending things with someone they were discussing marriage with but it somehow wasn’t right ... They have never marked a year anniversary, a two year anniversary and looked back on how the relationship - and both parties in it - had grown and evolved.

Would you say these individuals are Steve Carell’s character’s equivalent - 40 year old emotional virgins? And if you met one of these emotional virgins, would you want to pop his or her emotional cherry or would you run for the hills? Ok, now what if the person were 35? 30? At what age does someone never having had a long term relationship raise an eyebrow? At what point, if any, is it a serious red flag?

Now, let’s get the question of married vs. not married out of the way. I know a lot of singles who take umbrage if you ask them why they are not married yet. People often respond with variations on the following answers: “I just haven’t met the right guy/girl, the right person got away, I always knew I wanted to get married and have a family but I wasn’t ready until now, I didn’t want to get married until recently ...” and so on. All understandable answers, some of which may be true. I certainly don’t subscribe to the philosophy that someone has to get married to be happy or be successful in life (indeed, there are plenty examples to support the contrary view). However, I do think most people have an innate and profound desire for meaningful companionship.

And so, it initially amazed me when I started my business when I had conversations with people in their mid-to-late 30s who were part of my extended social circle who had never been in love or had relationships past a few months. How was that possible? Yes, you will hear excuses why someone has not had a relationship that lasted more than a few months - a loss of a family member, grad school, bad geographical location (unless you are on a deserted island, it’s hard to grasp this one), someone is a late bloomer, etc. But aren’t these just excuses after all? Of course, once you reach your 30s it helps to identify who is not going to be a life partner sooner so you don’t spend valuable time in something that is not going to further your goals. But at some point, whether it’s high school, college or your 20s, shouldn’t there have been someone who made the cut, some relationship that went the distance?

Recently, I spoke with an extremely bright, nice looking, successful guy who was in his mid30s and who had shared with me that he had not said “I love you” since he was 16 (except to his parents, of course). When I tried to get to the heart of it (I was trying to see if he could be a nice match for a client of mine), he responded by saying that when he utters the words “I love you” to a woman it’s going to be for eternity - that woman is going to be his wife. Although I tried to reason with him that while many people experience love towards people who they don’t eventually marry (especially in today’s world where the marrying age is slowly getting pushed back), it doesn’t mean that they did not experience true love - but he would not have any of it. His response was to simply reiterate that his definition of love is different. A defense mechanism to explain why he has not been in a relationship for more than a few months his entire life? Or an enlightened definition of the word?

At the risk of antagonizing those who can identify themselves in this blog, I have come to see as result of my experience as a professional matchmaker for several years now that the people who have never had a relationship for more than a few months by their mid 30s often have one of the following issues:

(1) either they do not have a realistic view of who their equal is (this is a common scenario I see - these individuals never want to date the people who are interested in dating them, however, the men and women they are seeking to be with do not care to have a relationship with them);

(2) they do not have a realistic view of what a long term relationship is like and are apt throw in the towel the minute things do not go their way;

(3) they do not give people a chance and immediately focus on critiquing the other person’s flaws over appreciating their attributes; or

(4) there is something about them or something they are doing that pretty quickly makes people think they will not be a desirable life partner/parent.

In my professional opinion, having a loving long term relationship (or several) - even one that ends - helps us grow as individuals. They help us better understand the opposite sex. They help people reach emotional maturity and realize that while you may love someone, sometimes he or she is going to drive you crazy, frustrate you, etc. but you still love that person warts and all (not literally, of course). They prime us so that when we meet that “right person” we have a better chance of recognizing him or her and also of being a better partner.

If this blog hits close home, maybe it’s time to do some real soul searching or get the objective input of a third party. I write this blog with the true interest in getting reader’s opinions and commentary so, Dear Readers, feel free to weigh in!

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