My Sex Life Needed Some Time Off: Lessons from Abstinence

by MEG HARTLEY for SheKnows

AUGUST 25, 2016 AT 8:00AM AM EDT

How abstinence changed me for the better
Alex Bl?jan/StockSnap

Last month, 20 long months of celibacy came to an end. It didn’t start out as intentional at all. I went through a rough breakup, did the “woo-single!!” thing for a few months, and then I just really had no desire to date.

So I didn’t. Before that, there were only a few hookups, but only because I’d wait so long that I’d get so horny I’d think I might lose my shit — so I’d go out and get some. A couple of years went by like this, not putting any effort to dating, not meeting anyone by happenstance, just kind of shrug-ishly uninvolved. At one point, I Googled to see if asexuality was a thing that develops later in life. It’s not.

It didn’t help that last fall a naturopath diagnosed me with severely low B-12, which causes the protective myelin sheath around the nervous system and brain to deteriorate, leading to systemic nerve damage. It’s a big ole bummer, and definitely not a turn-on, let me tell you.

More: How a vitamin deficiency nearly paralyzed me

I’ve been homebound due to my illness for 10 months now, and I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on life, like, a lot a lot. I’ve been in three romantic relationships with a lifespan of over a year — but there weren’t any that quite made it to two years, and one was in high school… so I don’t know if it even counts. I was always intensely focused on romance, but very rarely actually involved in genuinely intimate romantic relationships; the very thing I thought I wanted so much.

I lacked game. That had to do with it, no doubt. I lacked self-worth. That had a lot more to do with it, for sure. But I also think that on a deeper level, I knew I wasn’t ready to find a life partner, that I needed to figure out a lot of stuff on my own first. I needed to deal with pain from my childhood; I needed to really ask myself what I wanted out of life. I needed to figure out what I really believed in.

But I didn’t want to do that. That’s hard.

So I’d subconsciously focus on crushes as a way to avoid dealing with my shit — up until five years ago. I remember talking to a friend after a big breakup, telling her that I didn’t even remember what kind of music I liked anymore, that I had compromised so much of myself, I couldn’t even remember who I was.

But my life has changed completely in the last five years. All of this quality time alone while being homebound has especially brought me closer to myself in an incredibly centering way. It’s taught me how to move from my own center rather than reacting to others’. It’s given me space to define what I value in relationships, what kind of a lifestyle works for me and what I — me, and only me — truly want out of life.

I realized that in the years where I had been desperately looking for someone to love me, I was also concealing myself — the very person I wanted them to love. And who can truly love you if you don’t even reveal who you are? It’s impossible and very silly. I see that now.

It felt so real before, though, this fear that if I went for the things that I really wanted, if I revealed who I really was, I’d be rejected. It’s such a common fear; it just reeks of humanness. We hide from each other, and then we whine that we’re misunderstood.

I’m getting healthier and I’ve finally started dating again. Just one guy. It’s hard to say if dating’s easier for me than it used to be, whether I’ve grown so substantially and become so self-accepting that getting to know someone is actually easier and more fun or if he’s just a goodie who gets me. But I’ve also noticed a stronger and more fearless ease of authenticity in my interactions.

I can definitely say orgasms are easier to come by in your 30s — that’s not a rumor. (Or perhaps years of starvation have made my body more grateful for sex?) It’s lots of fun without that old nagging thought, he wouldn’t like me if he really got to know me. I hope he will, sure, but at the end of the day, I don’t really care — because I like me.

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