It seems that when you’re what is termed an “older male virgin” (that is, an American man who hasn’t had sex by age 21 or so, or in my case, by age 30-plus), not only are you up against a variety of factors (such as time and inexperience), you’re up against general social norms. Greater society (men in power) seeks to classify everyone and sets up rigid rules which everyone is supposed to follow or embody or live up to. Those who don’t tend to be seen as deviants at worst and at best “a bit off”. Even if you follow as many of those “rules” as you can, sticking out in even one or two elements can place you in an area apart from others where you’re on the outside looking in. And often when those of us who have the secret of being “older male virgins” express feelings such as anxiety, fear, and even frustration about our state, it is common for those responding to claim that it’s not as insurmountable a status as we think. “Nobody has to know unless you tell them,” is one platitude I’ve heard; another is, “It’s all in your head.” And as one thinks about things rationally, these platitudes (or to be fair, perspectives) can sound sensible.
But sometimes you encounter an example within everyday life where someone you know, by complete accident and in a completely impersonal way, reminds you that these social norms do exist. That being one of that “community” of older male virgins does place you in a position of difficulty or lowered status compared to most other men out there. And that perceptions about you, should you reveal your secret, face greater odds of being negative.
(For the record, I haven’t typed a post directly related to my angst about my virginity since the start of August, so I’m about due.)
This anecdote takes place earlier this week at work. I’ve been hesitant to reveal exactly what I do for a living but I will say that it involves a lot of talking on the phone. So much so that I imagine if I did reveal it all, someone would reply, “My god, you can do all that and you can’t talk to a woman!?” To which my reply would be, “Give me a set script, a list of rigid rules of engagement and no other avenue but my voice and then get back to me.” At any rate, it was a full night shift towards the end of the week and as usual, my supervisor was trying to keep the morale of the office high and the energy positive, without distracting anyone from working hard. And as my line of work usually attracts various types of “characters” to the office, he was engaged in some banter with one of the top men in our department (who I’ll dub “Ned”). Ned is an ex-con in his 40’s with plenty of experience, and an ego which far surpasses it. Yet that ego and confidence are part of why he does well, and trash talk is a part of his demeanor. Since my office employs mostly men (and most of them under the age of 25), such things are common. Ned and my supervisor go way back, and while they trade a lot of barbs against each other, it’s always in jest and never personal.
At one point in their never ending game to out-diss each other, my supervisor was responding to one of Ned’s many statements of self congratulation and arrogance around the office with, “Please don’t be a 40 year old virgin like Ned is! Please, please, PLEASE do not be a 40 year old virgin guys! Take care of that!”
Naturally, the joke was that Ned is far from a virgin. He has a daughter with a woman he’s not married to, and even in the time he’s returned to the company over the past 3-4 months he’s seemed to go through at least two lovers (and briefly lived with one). And naturally, “The 40 Year Old Virgin” is a famous Steve Carell movie from 2005 which has become part of pop culture. I’ve heard good things about it, but I never watched it in part because I feared it would hit too close to home and upset me. But naturally, my supervisor giving that line (and the thunderous laughter it got from the entire rest of the office) showcased that sentiment about older male virgins. It is that they’re lame, defective, bottom of the pecking order, lower than other men, and less desired by women.
What did I do? I faked a smile, but I didn’t laugh. I didn’t feel personally insulted, as I haven’t revealed my secret to anyone in the office and the line wasn’t directed at me. I’m sensitive, but not that sensitive. My supervisor and I get along very well, even if like most people he likes to joke around a little. Once several years ago he played a minor prank on me in which he tried to convince me that one of our co-workers who was a woman liked me (and in which she was a willing accomplice). I initially smelled a prank and refused to believe it, even with the two of them trying to convince me that it was true. It was only by about the fourth round of, “No, seriously, she likes you” did I appear to almost swallow it and allow them to get to the gist of the joke (she made sure to tell me she had a boyfriend, and that it wasn’t her idea). I can take a joke and I had no hard feelings about it, even if I hardly laughed (and, ironically, I did have some crush on her). But that was years ago, and that co-worker had long since left the company. My supervisor, and no one in the room, could have any idea of how close to the mark a line like that was for me.
Which is the point. Being a post-30 virgin is so rare that it does seem like the stuff of improbable comedy cinema. And while this was an office full of men, the opinions of most women on the subject aren’t a whole lot more flattering. There are far worse secrets to have to keep to one’s vest, but this situation only reminded me that my “scarlet V” is really the “secret shame” that I sometimes term it, and it is genuinely something I have some merit to fret about.