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I'm an introvert, but I want to start dating.

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firefly21 asks:

I'm 19 and I've never even been kissed. No guy has ever shown any interest in me in that way. I am so tired of waiting. I feel like I'm missing out on this huge part of life, like there's this line separating me. I think part of the reason might be that I don't go to parties and things like that. But I don't know what to do about that, I don't have many friends that are into that scene and the one friend who is, I don't want to go with because I would just end up standing awkwardly in the corner.

I'm an introvert and I just don't know what to do. People see me as the cute innocent girl, but I don't think I could be any more interested in sex. I'm constantly reading smutty romance novels and I love learning about sex. I feel like I'm going to end up knowing too much considering I'm a virgin or I'm going to be freaked out because I've waited too long.

Robin Mandell replies:

What I'm hearing a lot of in this question is you wondering if you're okay.

So, I wanted to start out by saying: Yes, you are okay, just the way you are. I realize this may not be a comfort, but in spite of how it might seem, there are plenty of 19-year-old folks (plenty of folks of any age, for that matter) who haven't had dating or sexual experiences, or haven't had dating or sexual experiences they've enjoyed. As you can see from the results of this poll we ran here at Scarleteen, never finding a sexual partner is a big fear for a lot of people. Not having a romantic or sexual partner doesn't make anyone less of a person, or make their sexuality any less important or valid.

There are also plenty of introverted people who date, have active social lives, have sexual partners, or some or all of the above.

Finding potential romantic or sexual partners is, in my opinion, very much like finding friends. Generally, if we're trying to meet people, for whatever reason, it helps to do so intentionally. While it's certainly possible to become fast friends with, develop an attraction to, or fall in love with someone we just meet In our routine daily activities, the more we intentionally spend time with, and try to meet, a wide variety of people, the more likely it is that we'll meet someone we click with. This is even more true when we take the time and spend the energy to interact with people with whom we have at least something in common. Usually we make friends through work, school, recreational activities, other friends or acquaintances, or chance encounters.

As a person who also doesn't like to go to parties, and doesn't get much out of them socially, I can tell you that it is possible to meet people without being a party-girl. While parties do certainly offer folks who enjoy them a chance to meet a large number, and sometimes, depending on the party, a wide variety, of people, that's really all they facilitate--the meeting. The ability to develop friendships or other types of relationships really does depend on the people involved to put the energy into interacting and getting to know each other. Put another way, one can meet all sorts of folks at a party, but if it's noisy and crowded or the party is centered around something specific (such as watching a football game) it's unlikely they're going to be able to get to know each other well, let alone develop an attraction for each other.

So, part of the trick here might be to brainstorm some ways for you to meet people. I really don't know anything about you, except for what you've shared here, so it's tough for me to offer specific suggestions tailored specifically to you. If I could sit down and have a chat with you, I'd ask whether you're in school. I'd also ask what you like to do for fun, and whether you live in a big city, a small town, or something in between. I'd ask you whether you'd prefer to have a regular activity that you participate in every week, or would rather do something or go somewhere on a more casual basis.

If you're having trouble thinking of the kinds of activities or events that appeal to you, or the kinds of places in your area that you could go that would more closely match your interests than parties do, don't be afraid to reach out to your friends and family, to people who know you well, and ask them to help you figure out how you could meet more people in your area. You've said that most of your friends aren't into the party scene. What do they do? How do they spend their leisure time? Maybe you could ask to accompany them to the places they do go or the activities they do participate in to see if these are things you enjoy and ways you enjoy meeting people. Maybe you could host a get-together where a bunch of you brainstorm ways to do fun things and meet new and interesting people.

Since you feel shy, you might be more comfortable meeting people in small group settings. If you enjoy reading, for example, you might enjoy joining a book club or attending poetry readings, where the groups can often be small, and you can interact (or not!) with someone around a common interest.

In larger group social situations, you can focus on getting to know the people nearest to you, rather than feeling overwhelmed by the whole entire crowd and going into complete introvert mode. If the people nearest you aren't people you feel compatible with, you're allowed to just be quiet and observe. In observing, you might notice other people, or a person, who catch your interest. I know that life as an introvert got much easier for me once I realized that I could just relax and observe, instead of exhausting myself by trying to participate all the time. Your mileage may vary with this, of course, but I thought I'd put it out there.

Meeting people online is another option. Again, interacting with people online can give you the time and space to talk with them one-on-one or in small groups and get to know them, which might help bridge your shyness. Certainly you could go to online dating sites or forums, but you could also go to online forums that align with things you're interested in and like to do. It very much sounds like you're looking for in-person interactions, but meeting people online can give you a chance to get to know them in low-pressure ways and decide, if they're local to you, if they're people you'd like to meet.

I'm unclear about whether you're looking for intimate and romantic companionship which includes sex, or whether you're looking for less long-term, more sex-focused interactions. You certainly can have either one without the other, but I'm not sure what you're wanting here. Who knows, maybe you aren't either just yet: and that's okay, too. You get to feel this all out as you go, you don't have to magically know all you want at the front gate.

No matter how old or young a person is, they're not required to have specific knowledge or experience by a certain age. Sure, our society places expectations on us, but those expectations rarely reflect what people's real experiences are.

You've said that you've never been kissed and no one has ever asked you out. From this I'm gathering you both think that you should have had these experiences by now, and that it is the guy's job to approach you. Have there been people you were interested in? While it feels scary to make the first move, you're allowed to do so. Might someone say no? Yes, they might. Might someone say yes? That's just as likely.

In most parts of the world these days, there are no rules about who makes the first move to kiss, or who asks who out. This isn't 1860, after all, it's 2013. When there are or have been those cultural rules, they're arbitrary. So, if you've been told that you need to wait for the guy to make the first move, know that that is more about the beliefs of the person or people who told you, and not at all about the reality of what is socially acceptable or what you're allowed to do.

You've expressed being very aware of your own sexuality. Your also allowed to express that sexuality. Yes, it can feel scary to put yourself out in that way, but taking risks is truly the only way we get what we want or need.

In terms of sexual satisfaction, I think you already know that one can enjoy a satisfying sexual life on one's own. You haven't said here if you masturbate, but the fact that you enjoy erotic fiction tells me that you're quite in tune with what you like sexually. You're engaging sexually with yourself.

Sex with yourself is "sex", not any less or more important or significant than sex with a partner. So, while in not having a partner you're missing out on having partnered sexual activity, this doesn't mean you're missing out on being a sexual person or on having sexual experiences. Solo sex--which can include everything from masturbation, to reading or looking at erotic art forms, to devouring the latest sex research--gets a bad rap as something people only do if they don't have a partner, and I don't think that's at all fair or accurate. Knowing yourself sexually is an awesome thing. Our sexuality belongs to us, after all, not to any partner we might or might not have in future.

In your reading about sex, have you come across Betty Dodson's Sex For One: The Joy of Self-Loving? Not only does Betty talk about the practical hows of solo sex, but she includes many stories from women, some of whom are single, some of whom are in relationships--and how they engage with their own sexuality, both mentally and physically. I think you might find this book enjoyable and validating.

For a lot of reasons, I don't find that describing people who haven't had partnered sex as virgins is particularly helpful. The idea of virginity has a loaded cultural history. The idea of virginity is built on assumptions about how people "should" behave, "should think, "should express themselves.

There's no level of knowledge that is too much or too little for a person who hasn't had partnered sex to have. For most other things, after all, it seems perfectly expected and acceptable for a person to learn about it before ever doing it. Someone might buy a book on gardening before ever buying any plants. They might do a whole bunch of research before starting a new sport or recreational activity. No one would bat an eye if someone looking to buy a home first did a whole bunch of reading and talking to people about what home ownership is like.

There's no reason it should be any different with sex. Knowing about things can help a person feel confident, and move past the nervousness and shyness a lot of us experience. Learning about sex also doesn't take any of the fun or magic out of it. While one can learn the facts, and get ideas for things they'd like to try either solo or with one or more partners, there's no sex manual in the world that can tell you how different types of sex are going to feel for you and no sex manual (or erotic novel) in the world that will tell you what the sensation of being with one partner or another will be like.

As I mentioned above, there are a lot of beliefs about virginity, including this idea that the "ideal" virginal girl is shy and uncertain (and maybe also wears a bonnet, blushes a lot, and can't say the word "penis" out loud without giggling). You know, you really can be cute and innocent (whatever innocent means to you) and still be interested in sex; and still be a sexual person. Bonnet or not: also optional. There isn't a certain type of person, or personality, for whom it's more appropriate to be interested in sex than any other. I don't think, by the way, that innocence, whatever innocence means to you, is contradicted by a knowledge of sex. That would imply that sex is somehow dirty and wrong, and I very firmly believe it's neither of those things.

I think perhaps you're worried about scaring people off with these different parts of yourself; the part of yourself that is quiet and introverted, and the part of yourself that really likes and is intrigued by sex. Those parts of you can coexist and they do for many people.

As much as it may seem useful in everyday conversation to divide people into categories like "cute innocent girl" or "virgin," or any other, it doesn't actually serve as an accurate way to understand people to do so. The different categories a person can be labelled as can and do overlap. Think about it this way: You're a daughter, you were once a student and maybe still are, you might be a sister, or a niece, or a cousin, a sexual person, a shy person, a person who loves books, and so on. Maybe some people wouldn't think that all those roles could coexist in one person, but they very clearly do, as they coexist in you, and you're not trying to do or be someone you're not, you're just being you.

You know this yourself, as the way people perceive you, or the way you perceive they perceive you, isn't the way you actually are.

There isn't one type of person who is allowed to be sexual and all the rest of us just must not be, by default, sexual.

I'm not really sure what you mean by being freaked out because you waited so long. Are you worried that you'll have built up so much anticipation that when it comes time to engage in sexual activity with a partner you'll freeze and not know what to do? That could happen to anyone, regardless of how much or little knowledge they have. Many people describe their first experience of being sexual with a partner as nerve-wracking. Really, many people experience a fit of nerves, or a freak-out, at any point in their sexual lives for any reason. In that sense, it doesn't differ at all from new experiences of any kind; many of us are frightened of the unknown or at least get that nervous, butterflies-in-pit-of-stomach feeling when doing something we've never done before. That doesn't necessarily end at any specific point in anyone's life. It is just part of, I think, being human.

If you are afraid that whenever you experience partnered sex that you just won't be ready, or will find yourself overwhelmed, one thing that might help you is, yes, to know more, not just about the mechanics of sex and romance, but about the mechanics of caring for the physical and emotional well-being of you and your partner. At the end of this, I'll give you a list of links and resources that I think help with this.

Maybe the key here is feeling comfortable just being yourself, and having the confidence to know that, with a little help from you, there certainly can be opportunities for you to date or be sexual with others if you choose. That's not to say that what I've suggested here is a magic formula for meeting people and finding sexual partners. It's not. What it is, though, is a way to accept yourself, value that you're not like so many of the other people in your life that you've described, and instead of remaining stuck there, work with what you like and what you desire to build what you deem to be a fulfilling life for yourself.

Here are those resources I promised you:

written 06 Jan 2013 . updated 14 Dec 2013

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