‘I’ve never dated anyone or had sex. I feel like a failure’

This makes it harder for me to try going on dates, even though I want to

Dear Roe

I’m nearly 24 now and I’ve never kissed anyone, been in a relationship or even gone on a date or had sex and I just feel like a complete failure about this. This fact also makes it harder for me to try going on dates and seeing people now, even though I want to, because I’m afraid of what people’s reactions to this news will be. What should I do?

The first thing you need to do is banish the word “failure” from your vocabulary about yourself. Defining yourself in these terms, even just in your own mind, is going to erode your self-confidence – and needlessly. Twenty-four is still so young, and it’s not that unusual to not have had a serious relationship at this stage.

But that’s not the only issue: by setting up romance, relationships and sex as terms that define your personal “failure” and “success”, you’re objectifying sex and relationships as quantifiable end-goals to be checked off a list, instead of acknowledging that they are processes, experiences, evolutions that involve connecting with another person.


By looking at sex and relationships as separate from people, you’re in danger of treating prospective dates or partners as a means to an end, rather than individuals who you appreciate and want to share an experience with. And trust me – people can tell if you’re using them.

For many people who have trouble connecting with others romantically, social anxiety and a lack of self-esteem are often key factors

There are two issues to address here: acknowledging what has prevented you from dating and having sex with people so far, and moving forward.

For many people who have trouble connecting with others romantically, social anxiety and a lack of self-esteem are often key factors. Work on building up your confidence generally. Engage in social activities that not only make your life interesting and enriching so that you have conversation starters galore, but that allow you to meet a variety of new people and become more comfortable connecting with people socially.

Romantically, online dating is a great way to meet people, as you can be clear with your intentions to take someone out on a date. Don’t put too much pressure on first dates; meet for a drink or a coffee and keep it to an hour and a half so you can build connections slowly and organically.

When it comes to telling potential partners about your lack of experience, you get to choose what to disclose, and how to do so. Remember that your reasons for not having dated anyone previously are valid and worthy of respect, because they’re true. But these reasons are also being defined by your attitude towards yourself. There’s a huge difference between thinking and telling someone, “I haven’t had a relationship because I’m a failure and there’s something wrong with me”, and “I can be shy and found it hard to connect with people romantically when I was younger, but I’ve become much more comfortable with myself and others in my 20s, and am excited to explore dating”.

People who respect themselves and are positive are always attractive. Work on your self esteem so that those traits start to come naturally – admiring people will follow.

* Roe McDermott is a writer and Fulbright scholar with an MA in sexuality studies from San Francisco State University. She's currently undertaking a PhD in gendered and sexual citizenship at the Open University and Oxford. If you have a problem or query you would like Roe to answer, you can submit it anonymously at irishtimes.com/dearroe