One Question Quiz
The green help me Hera template with Steve Carrell from 40-year-old virgin in the centre
Image: Archi Banal

SocietyApril 20, 2023

Help Me Hera: I’m 26 and have never had sex

The green help me Hera template with Steve Carrell from 40-year-old virgin in the centre
Image: Archi Banal

I like my life but it doesn’t involve sex or relationships. Should I be trying harder?

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Help me Hera, 

I’m 26 and I’ve never had sex or been in a relationship (even though I would very much like both of those things). Part of me feels like my time to do it is running out, before I become an unwanted commodity, but another part of me isn’t worried, because I enjoy my life, and I enjoy having friends (not lovers), and dating is a nightmare – especially dating apps, which is the only place I’ve ever found people to date. What am I afraid of, and am I not trying harder to get laid?

P.S. I’m a queer, gender queer male.  

Aku mihi

A line of dark blue card suit symbols – hearts, clubs, diamonds and spades

The phrase “unwanted commodity” makes you sound like a piece of remaindered office furniture. But there’s no such thing as running out of time when it comes to matters of the heart. Medically, people can experience love at any age. It isn’t one of those time sensitive things, like being a Granta Best Young Novelist or auditioning for a place on the Russian Olympic gymnastics squad. You can afford to relax a little.

Twenty six is young. You’re so young you could legitimately retrain as a cardiovascular surgeon and still have a long and distinguished career ahead of you. You’re worried you’re haemmoraging time, but your life is only just beginning. Enjoying your life and having good friends is a solid baseline from which to attempt almost anything, even recklessly courting heartbreak. If everything goes wrong, at least you know you’ll have plenty of shoulders to cry on. 

I’m grouping sex and relationships together out of laziness, but you can also just have sex. You don’t have to tell people you’re a virgin if you don’t want to. Or you can make a big deal of it and insist on playing the Ally McBeal soundtrack to mark the occasion. But if you want sex and relationships to be a package deal, hopefully the person you’re dating won’t judge you for your lack of experience. Unless they have a naturally mean personality and you like that about them. 

In your letter you ask what you’re afraid of. Who knows? There’s a general feeling of romantic pessimism in the air these days. Lyrical essays about acrimonious marriages, with glib mythical parallels. Dump Him book bags. We’ve all seen enough depressing prestige television set in funeral homes to know love is no picnic. But honestly, who cares about the bad stuff. Falling in love is a fun and transformative thing to do. I would recommend it at least once.

Still, easier said than done.

These days I don’t use apps for anything except subtracting numbers and checking hourly rainfall, but surely dating apps can’t be any less demoralising or stressful than they used to be. Having to flirt on the same device you use to reorder your cat’s ringworm medication? There’s something unspeakably grim about it all. On the other hand, I know plenty of people who have met through dating apps. I have eaten their wedding cake. I have held their infant children. Love can’t so easily be privatised and dismantled, like a national railroad. 

I’d like to think we don’t need the apps, and it’s still possible to find love by going to an opera conference or simultaneously looking for directions in Estonia. If you’re stuck for ideas on how to meet people offline, you can always read the Guardian’s “How We Met” for cheer and inspiration. Joining online messenger boards on niche topics seems to be a good way to find love. But many ancient courtship rituals still hold water. Like going to bars and making eye contact with strangers. Or handsomely playing an instrument. Statistically the most common way is through friends, which is great, because it’s also an easy way to outsource some responsibility. Do you have any bossy friends? Deputise them. Make your love life someone else’s problem. 

Ultimately it’s useless to give someone advice on how to find love. So much comes down to timing and luck. Not even Maureen Pugh can control lightning. But if your life is already good, you have nothing to lose by trying. 

Knowing what you want, and being open to meeting new people is about the best you can do, without actively turning the pursuit of love into homework. Don’t study too hard, or you’ll get burned out. If you decide to use the apps, take regular breaks, for your own sanity.  Remember, it’s a hobby not a job. 

You may start dating and quickly discover you prefer the company of dogs. You may immediately get married and invite me to your wedding. There are many beautiful ways to live. 

But stop watching the clock. You have plenty of time. Barring any untimely traffic accidents, life is infinitely longer and more surprising than you think. The next time you’re flying to Kazakhstan or breaking your jaw, take a look around. The love of your life might be the person standing over you calling an ambulance. 

Wishing you the best of luck.

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