In the bedroom

I'm scared of falling in love with someone and disappointing her by being a "two-pump chump."

Published February 6, 2003 8:04PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I'm a 31-year-old divorced dude, and so sexually inexperienced that it has prevented me from dating for the last two years. What? you ask. How can this freako have been married for five years and still consider himself a novice in the sack? Well, I married a woman who "didn't like sex," but that turned out to be ultimately untrue -- it wasn't that she didn't like sex, it was that she didn't like sex with me. Intercourse was painful for her, so our infrequent intimacy consisted almost entirely of hands and mouths. It ended when she told me she was never really sexually attracted to me; she married me because I was such a "nice guy."

A year after the split, I hooked up with Miss Rebound, who was just the opposite. Being naked with me was something that didn't repulse Miss Rebound, and she went as far as to tell me how perfect I "fit" her (yes, that means what you think it means). My problem was, I didn't believe it. I'm convinced she was lying to me to boost my ego and make me feel better about the sexual rejection from my ex (which I foolishly told Miss Rebound about). I had problems controlling my climax, which I know stems from my anxiety about my inexperience, which causes the premature problem, and around and around I go.

The two years since the end of Miss Rebound have been celibate, and I've half-heartedly convinced myself that maybe I'm just someone who should be alone. But my real problem is I'm scared of falling in love with someone, disappointing them in bed by being a "two-pump chump," and having to hear that soul-crushing "You're such a nice guy, but I guess I'm not attracted to you that way" spiel. Women will expect a guy in his 30s who has been married to know what he is doing, to be over their teenage prematurity problems, but in terms of experience I am a teenager.

I met an eternally cute girl this past weekend who seemed to dig me, and all I could think of was, "She'll never want a guy like me." Ugh, I need to get past this. When you've had your already fragile self-esteem shotgunned at point-blank range, how does one even begin to find the little chunks and pile them back up again?

Two-Pump Chump

Dear Two-Pump,

You sound like an ideal candidate for some cognitive therapy. So I will tell you my story of cognitive therapy and maybe afterward you will give it a try.

It wasn't really my idea to get cognitive therapy. I wanted something involving dreams and archetypes, riding crops and monocles and a trip to Vienna. I thought that if you were deep, you hired a psychoanalyst. But, aside from the fact that only rich people could afford it, every time I tried to get a real psychoanalyst, for whatever reason, maybe I'd get scared and not follow through, or maybe I didn't know the right people or live on the Upper West Side of Manhattan or have interesting enough problems or an interesting enough bank account, for whatever reason, my dreams of being psychoanalyzed were never realized. The Jungians, in particular, told me that yes, indeed, I certainly did need help, but not theirs.

When I finally got both the medical insurance and the courage to call somebody and say I wanted therapy, I ended up with a guy who did cognitive therapy. So instead of spending many interesting years on the couch, I instead very quickly got much better.

The only disappointment was that it was so quick and effective. I had been expecting truly medieval revelations about vile repressed memories of devil-worshipping babysitters. There were no insights about babysitters, or about my mother. OK, there was one insight about my dad, but not involving rape or incest or pirates. It turned out that I was afraid of my dad's precise grammar.

For a guy like me, who would rather be interesting than happy, happy was a bit of a disappointment. But I think it's a disappointment most people could live with.

My problem, like yours, concerned my performance, but in my case it was literary. Some would say it might as well be one as the other, and, indeed, I was basically afraid to get into bed with a publisher, for fear of rejection. And indeed, I did see my writing as my being -- that was one of our little duels, the cognitive therapist and me, where he would say, "You are not your writing" and I would say, "Yes, I damn well am my writing, of course I am, what are you, crazy?" and he would say, "No, I'm not crazy, and you are not your writing," and I would say, "If I'm not my writing, then what am I?" and he would say, "Well, you are a person," and I would say, "Really? I thought I was my writing!"

This may be difficult to grasp, but we quickly realized, the therapist and I, that I believed, on some deep level, that my entire being was an article in Spin magazine. I believed that I was the same thing as a phone interview with Iggy Pop. Once I saw that I was not a phoner with Iggy, because a phoner with Iggy cannot marry or drive a car, I was ready to tackle the little voices in my head.

My problem was that I had these little voices in my head, just as you do, except mine were telling me that I couldn't write.

My dear cognitive therapist, who was not particularly interested in my dreams or my fears, had me read a book called "Feeling Good." The main idea of the book was that no matter where your destructive thoughts come from, what's important is whether they are true or not, and what you do about them. Your mother may have bitten you when you were a child or your dog may have withheld its love unless you promised to become a lawyer, but what matters is what you do about these voices today. You may have a voice in your head today that says all mothers are biters and so you can never marry a woman who has a mother. What matters is that these thoughts do not pass the truth test. To act on them is to act on bad data. Because the data is bad, its implications are irrelevant.

So by keeping a record of these thoughts, as instructed in the book, I first discovered what they were. Once I knew what they were, I could test their truth value against observed reality. By cataloguing the actual writing that I had done, the successes I had had, I came to see that yes, indeed, I might not be Herman Melville, but I could indeed write. So I could combat these voices with the facts. The simple act of writing became less terrifying. I was then free to be terrified by other things.

I suspect that a similar breakthrough could be had by you for cheap in not much time. Any reasonably smart guy who can do cognitive therapy could probably fix you up. If you go out and buy that book, "Feeling Good," that's great, as long as you do the exercises. Otherwise it's like reading about some other guy's brain surgery. It's best if you pay a therapist every week, too, because otherwise you probably won't do the exercises. My medical insurance paid for my guy. I think that's pretty common.

So the good news is that your brain just needs a little fixing. The bad news is that you'll have to start sleeping with women again and having a lot of sex.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Want more advice from Cary? Read yesterday's column.

By Cary Tennis

MORE FROM Cary Tennis

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Love And Sex Sex Since You Asked