I'm 19 and never been kissed

I'm starting to wonder if it will ever happen

Published April 24, 2012 12:00AM (EDT)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

I'm a freshman in college, I just turned 19, and I've never been kissed or even had a serious boyfriend. I was totally fine with this in high school -- I went to a very small school  and so the guys in my grade felt too much like brothers to go out with. In ninth grade, I went out on a few dates with a junior, but I was shy and he was much more experienced and we stopped dating a little awkwardly. The next year, we randomly ended up interning at the same company and I started to like him a lot, but he was leaving for college and he didn't seem interested. Junior year, I found out that he was, and we reconnected briefly over winter break but decided not to date long-distance. There were other guy friends of mine who expressed interest, but I didn't connect in that way with any of them. There weren't significant relationships by any means but there was enough of that teenage intrigue to occupy my time and make me feel wanted. I had my own crushes. I was on student council and the honor roll and I had an inseparable best friend and a great group of larger friends. I'm very close with my family. Sometimes I felt impatient and wondered when I would meet a guy that things might stick with, but overall I was happy. I've always been confident in my looks - I love clothes and makeup. I'm an athlete. I even did a little modeling in high school. I always was fine with waiting and trusted that good things would happen in college.

Unfortunately, that hasn't been true. I'm from the West Coast going to school on the East Coast, and I've experienced significant culture shock. It's been hard to make friends, especially guy friends since I live on an all-girls hall. I have a great gay friend and three really close girlfriends, but it's been a struggle to find a larger group. I don't drink or do drugs, not for any religious/moral reason, just because I don't like their effect on me. Since I'm an introvert, I don't do as well in big group settings. But I really am good at close relationships - they're incredibly important to me. I'm fiercely supportive of and loyal to my friends and family. I'm a good listener and I love taking care of people. I think I would make a great girlfriend, but I haven't had a single guy express interest in me this year. There's been the typical "so-and-so thinks you're cute," but I don't trust people who like girls based purely on looks and rely on middle-school tactics like that. I'm usually pretty laid-back, but I'm starting to freak out about this a little bit. I can't talk about it with my friends here because most people just assume I'm more experienced than I am and I'm too embarrassed to tell the truth. This embarrassment is new to me but the label "19-and-never-been-kissed" seems so awful.

I worry that it will never happen. I worry that my shyness is more off-putting than I realize, and that I don't know how to get over my introversion. I worry that I come across as too old-fashioned and formal: I wear mainly vintage dresses and I love domestic things. I worry that I come across as prudish because I don't swear or take part in the college party scene. I worry because having a family one day is incredibly important to me, and falling in love is part of that. I worry because this is not under my control. I can't make it happen, and yet lately I can't seem to let it go. It's more than embarrassment, it's sadness. Love and lust and all related things seem like such an integral part of the human experience, but I have no personal understanding of them yet. How can I grow up if I've never kissed a boy or been in love? How do these things start happening? Should I be worried? Should I keep waiting for somebody important or should I just go for guys to get past this awkwardness?

I feel like I have to put in the obligatory disclaimer here that I'm a feminist and I have big goals for myself, academically and career-wise, but this is an area I need help in.



Dear 19,

I can imagine you as part of my crowd at the age of 19, quiet but brilliant, quirky but strong, evoking protective feelings even as you intimidated us. Not to our credit, many of us young men gravitated toward other women who were less of a challenge, much to your amusement and your disdain.

You waited your turn to be admired according to your lights. Which in some cases never happened, because some of us never awoke from our obsessions to seek out an actual woman and an actual relationship. Meanwhile there were young women like you all around us -- beautiful, proud, smart, sensitive, aching for affection.

We were such idiots.

Perhaps because you shine with such a fierce light of self, the East Coast college boys are a little frightened of you. They may act confident but rest assured they are frightened. All young men are frightened. It is the most frightening thing in the world to be strong physically yet emotionally lost, carrying the weight of the world on unsteady shoulders, mystified as to what comes next yet feeling you must act as if you know every step of the way.

Believe me, no young man knows every step of the way; many are just waiting for someone to tell them what to do.

One of the most memorable things a young woman has ever said to me is, "Do you mind if I take off my clothes?"

Of course, asking to take off your clothes might be asking for more than you're asking for. You just want to be kissed. Something equally bold but more to your purpose might do the trick -- for instance, "If you don't mind, I'm going to kiss you now."

Pick a guy. Give it a try. See where it leads.

By Cary Tennis

MORE FROM Cary Tennis

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

College Dating Since You Asked