Q: At 19, I married the first man I slept with. He died last year after 23 years of marriage, and within a month, I was in a new relationship with a wonderful man I met online. I’m certainly still grieving, sometimes horribly, but my new man understands, and he’s patient. He appreciates me and insists on my total commitment to him (meaning that I can’t date anyone else). The problem is, he lives in another state, and in our year together, his work schedule has kept him from visiting me. He can make me quiver when we talk on the phone, but the distance leaves me lonely at night. Can a long-distance relationship ever work?
—Cradling The Phone
A: So, in an entire year, your Mr. Wonderful couldn’t line up a single weekend to come see you because of his work schedule? Well, that sounds perfectly reasonable — if, for him, getting out of work early means digging a tunnel with a sharpened spoon so as to avoid the electrified razor wire and the armed guards.
As a rule, Internet dating should be composed of very little Internet and a whole lot of dating. (Phone dates don’t count.) Until you spend considerable time in a man’s presence, your view of him will be part him and a good part you filling in the blanks with who you’d like him to be. And sorry, quivery romantic moments are just the sparkly topping on a relationship. The actual relationship is mostly the day-to-day stuff — how you are together at the grocery store and whether he’s mean to you when you forget to pick up the dry cleaning. And while your heart might be singing for him across the miles, you could hate the way he kisses and find that your nostrils make a strong argument for lashing him to an old mattress and putting him out with the trash.
Where you go right is in not appearing to buy into cookie-cutter ideas about how you “should” be mourning, like the widely held myth that there are specific, neatly ordered “stages of grief” everyone must move through and Freud’s notion that grieving people need to slog through all their thoughts, memories and emotions about the deceased. (Never mind that he had no evidence for this or that actual evidence suggests that ruminating can cause depression; he had some serious eyeglasses and that groovy Persian rug-draped armless couch.)
When life as you knew it for a quarter-century suddenly developed a big husband-shaped hole, it’s understandable that you started rummaging around the Internet for a scoop of human grout. But, being desperate for filler meant that any critical assessments about this guy were drowned out by “Cripes! I’ll be alone!” At the same time, maybe you weren’t quite ready to be with anybody, so it worked to have a boyfriend who demanded your “total commitment” — creepy! — while not actually bothering to show up. You can strongly suggest that he hop a plane in the immediate future, but chances are whatever’s prevented him from giving you a peek at the real him will continue to prevent it. Maybe now would be a good time to try to get comfortable being alone. Only when you are will you be able to choose a man for the right reasons — and not simply because he talks a really good game, giving him something of an edge over the guy in the urn.
Q: I’m almost 30 and still a virgin, but not because of religious beliefs. I have strong sexual urges, but I was a really late bloomer (mid-20s), traveled constantly for work and never had a relationship take off. (I’m not into casual sex.) How do I reveal my virginity to guys I date? Won’t they think I’m a freak?
A: Some guys will be weirded out that you’re still a virgin, but for many, it’s preferable to starting to have sex with a girl and having balloons and confetti fly around and a loudspeaker crackle: “Congratulations, son! There’s been quite a bit of traffic in and out of this particular garage, but you’re lucky number 100!” Don’t announce your virginity on the first date, like it’s the most relevant thing about you. Wait till a guy’s a little attached, and when the making out gets heavy, explain, “Oh, by the way…late bloomer, blah, blah, blah. Also, I’ve been saving myself for a virgin sacrifice on the edge of an active volcano.” Coolly offering an explanation and even poking fun at yourself suggests that your virginity is just a fluke, not a sign that you have psychological problems or low sexual desire — or that your pa came out with his shotgun and offed all the other guys before they could, uh, pull into your garage.