I was born, and still am, at the post-adolescent age of twenty-two, a virgin. I admit embarrassment over this fact, but it is still a fact. Very little has been done to remedy this. My substitutes, such as masturbation and women-watching, serve less and less to satisfy my passion, which no doubt it is. I hate to continue this way, but I still allow myself to be afraid of the opposite sex, or of sex in general.

A traumatic first sexual experience, without intercourse, remains with me. During this experience, my heart went wild, and, at the same time, I was thinking, “Why am I doing this? I don’t love her.” My body felt it could go on all night. Foreplay, which never became union, lasted at least an hour, including massaging and steady rubbing against the sheets. At last, I came, and my partner actually said, “Did you shoot?” It was humiliating, but that was nothing. I had fingered her, and later she whispered, “You touched me down there,” and demanded to touch my penis, which was erect again. And, when she did, she said, “Ooh,” but with disgust in her voice. Before then, she had moaned crazily, as I licked her ear with my tongue. But, it all got bad. And she had initially seduced me, under the pretense of wanting a massage. I left the room to sleep in another room. Leaving was cruel (especially since she cared for me, despite contrary evidence), but I was devastated. And after all the waiting and desiring, that was my reward.

Now, you can imagine my mental and emotional state. I try to make excuses for myself, to avoid getting involved. An attractive woman will be in my vicinity. (This also happens in a milder form with women friends whom I have begun to think of sexually.) I’ll stare at her the whole time. I’ll fantasize, and hope she’ll seduce me. I’ll sometimes convince myself to be normal, and make conversation, but the barrier is already there and I think, how beautiful. Then, when the woman approaches, my heart somersaults, my face tightens, and short, insignificant words peep out. I can feel the mechanism starting, but I probably need it for defense. Even if I’m able to talk intelligently, I stop there, the woman goes, and my body is cold. I blame myself. I know I’m making the woman an object, but that doesn’t prevent the action. I’m really doing it because of myself, and it is unrelated to the woman. I have to confess, though, that women can be aesthetically exquisite, in my eyes. Being with, or seeing, an attractive woman, is one of the few occasions when I can concentrate.

My dreams indicate a further evasion. I rarely have blatant sexual dreams which I remember. And, usually, if I’m in the middle of one, I wake myself before consummation, thinking how absurd. I’m not with a flesh and blood woman, just a phantom. But, strangely enough, that is what women have become for me sexually — phantoms.

I am still a virgin, craving and avoiding, simultaneously. The pressures of friends and family have deepened my problem. My own physical appearance, which some consider pleasing, has not helped. I focus on looks, but I see how little they work for me. I escape into spiritual and metaphysical questionings. And all because of this simple but pervasive fear of women, that is, of dependence, or love.

Name Withheld

Dear ____________,

I probably would be too sensible to write this normally, but there is very little normal in my life these days. I realize I’m not taking much responsibility for your feelings doing this, but that’s good for me. Hope it’s good for you, too.

Don’t ever again talk to me about marriage. It is ultimately bad for your cause, if nothing else, because it seems so ungrounded in the landscape of essential emotion. You begin to look like a person contemplating a smorgasbord of LIFE/WOMEN and lighting on me as the most succulent peach. OK, I am, I’m a winner, I’m the moon, but the moon is Buddha. I guess I’m telling you that I have a lot of disrespect for what I perceive as greed in your love.

I don’t feel comfortable being defined as the woman who means one woman to you. It’s not reciprocal — when I feel that way about someone, he’s usually very yang, to kick off the yin echo in me. That’s never been the energy dynamic between us. Ruthless and nasty as this may seem, it feels like a motion towards truth on my part and even the most difficult truth is better than the most delicious of lies.

We’ve had some delicious times that weren’t lies. I don’t want to deny the good stuff, but I am really angry at you. Some big blind spot keeps you from respecting something in me that requires your respect or I will hate you. You will violate me again, and again I will get pregnant, I will have abortion after abortion.

Give it up. I am here, your sister, someone else who has fought past the bankers of souls to songs and words that dance, I will help you in your growth, your struggle whichever way I can, but you’ve got to give it up, the thing you are doing relative to me. I hate it. I hold hands with you, it’s warm and sweet, we wade into it, my smile congeals over teeth, icy teeth. I guess I’m warning you. Don’t come near me with your projection, ever again. Give me my wholeness, it will help you find your own.

To mail this? Or fade into safety and distance. I’m not sure. Maybe it will end up to be more healing than harmful. You will survive it, I will respect you for surviving it. Where is your own anger? Write me a letter.

Not two.

Name Withheld

Marriage is an organizing principle, order brought to bear upon chaos, the complications of two laid against the complexity of one. It is a coordination, “coordinate” meaning “of equal rank,” a protean and perseverant form.

The word for “single, alone” — monos — is related to the words for “to lack” and “sparse.” There are benefits to be had from sparseness, from solitude, from being with oneself. The question is whether, in any given person, this signifies a deficiency of being.

A twosome is a complementary endeavor. A threesome is more stable yet, suggesting completion. Marriage provides the third corner to a twosome and stabilizes it into the unit of our biology and culture. A child from marriage transforms a metaphorical triad into a physical one: thus is family generated.

And yet there is a sense in which a marriage is itself family, is progeny of the two. The marriage is an entity or energy which comes from a combination of beings, giving them ballast and balance.

A twosome without marriage lacks this provision, and is that much less secure, standing on two pivot points, must be supplied with that many more accompaniments — of gesture, vocabulary, and social riddles. It tends not to have such firm footing or endurance.

Marriage does not survive in many twosomes because the number of elements is tripled, not doubled as they may suppose. There is me, you, and us. Therefore, there must be skills of autonomy, relationship, and of creation. Self, other, and that whole which is greater than the mere sum of its parts. A decreasing number of people bring such skills, or the ability to develop them, to each other. There are more and more twosomes masquerading as marriages.

Hal Lenke
Prescott, Arizona

How quickly water rushes in to fill my cave. I am not sad. His absence is a relief.

My life has again taken structure. I no longer don’t know when I’ll see him again, as we have a date for June, in Vermont.

I was apprehensive, a couple of weeks back. In my journal I wrote, “Now in the whirlwind of you, what happens when the dust settles? Where will I stand?” I’m there now, standing back, thinking back, the sun on my back, backstroking. The mind is so like the body, taking cuts, bruises, falls, kicks. If strong it will fight back and make whole. The mind can intensify a matter, blow it out of proportion so it becomes obsessive. And then — suddenly, or slowly, or discreetly so one doesn’t notice for weeks — drop what was once soul-magnifying as if it were winter merchandise in July.

Secrets from his dark cave: he disdains structure, cherishes spontaneity. Ties, he says, are to wear around the neck, not to bind people. He is self-centered, egotistical, suave. Also insecure and unaggressively laid back. I see this now.

When the time comes, I will meet him head on, person to person. The months might tear the relationship apart, a wild animal’s teeth sinking into tender meat. Yet all-mighty time also has the magic to make what is lukewarm boil and spit fire.

New people have seeped in, not to replace him, but to allow my mind to put things into proper perspective. I know how I stand and it’s a relief. This isn’t to say I know what will happen, but each breath reaches deeper, filling me with change. Sometimes I wonder what is dancing in his cave.

Sara LeFever
Chapel Hill, N.C.

Relationships with lovers bring unpredictable revelations; each morning is a mystery. We are new, different, constantly shimmering, vacillating, volatile. Being honest is hard work. Exposing the depths of one’s soul is exhilarating, but frightening. And the vulnerability is often overwhelming, takes control of our love. Sometimes we don’t know who we are. Sometimes we don’t like what we see in each other. Our psyches are tantalizing, but disturbing, turning to predators. We risk destroying ourselves when we delve too deeply into inner secrets. We catch glimpses of our powers. We think, “Turn away, my lover, you have come too far.” Then the relationship loses intensity, disintegrates. We wonder if we can start anew, find the beginning place again.

Sarah Pike
Durham, N.C.