Really, what was wrong with me? Nothing. OK, something: Lack of information. Crippling fear. Miscommunication with boys. So actually, a few things.
I made it to 18 without ever being kissed. It was my deepest humiliation, my ultimate confusion, something I still rarely talk about. Oddly, I was the opposite of shy. I was not a prude. Or overly religious. I was not a wart-covered troll. I was 5’9″ with glorious legs, freckles, and long, Dallas-big auburn hair. My mother was a professional model; my dad, Ted Danson’s doppelganger. Yet somehow I was stuck in a deep freeze. “Dear God, will I die having never kissed a boy? Why is it so easy for other girls? Should I be attending a special school?” I scrawled in my heart-covered diary. Really, what was wrong with me? Nothing. OK, something: Lack of information. Crippling fear. Miscommunication with boys. So actually, a few things.
There were plenty of sexually active kids running around, however sex just wasn’t really talked about openly at my Texas high school. Even classmates who had boyfriends waited years to share their twin beds. Of course, it was the South. Them bibles got their fair share of thumping.
Alas, I found myself wearing a cap and gown in utter disbelief that my lips still remained untouched. I had a girlfriend on the Pill. Rumors flew about a different friend having a clandestine abortion. Another one was suspended for giving a back-of-the-bus blow job. Meanwhile, I felt forever stuck in Humiliation Station. I could never reveal that this decently attractive, quasi-popular girl was the world’s biggest loser.
I finally lost my kissing virginity the summer after graduation on a booze cruise in Cancún, with a cute (enough) guy two inches shorter than me—I’m fairly certain I could’ve tossed him like a javelin. He loved that I was “real tall.” The kiss was different than in my fantasies. Sure, it was dreamy, in that “tequila-and-jello-shot” way. What was better than waiting years for a kiss that was barely good enough to remember? Further research was needed.
My first semester at the University of Texas at Austin was not nearly the easy makeout ride I’d imagined. But one fateful night, I found myself studying a girlfriend with a guy on the dance floor. How she gazed into his eyes, smiling through lowered lashes. I examined her body language, relaxed and open, gently touching his arm in a subtle yet effective way that clearly gave him all the right signals to go in for the kill.
That night, at a dive bar aptly named The Library, I finally learned something. I had never put myself out there. Never really flirted, smiled at a guy, made serious eye contact or expressed any kind of real interest. Looking back, if I ever passed my high school crush in the hallway, I would instantly look away. “He would KNOW I like him,” I feared. Clearly, I was confused. I was under some strange expectation guys would just come to me. Thanks a lot, Sweet Valley High.
How could I be so outgoing yet going nowhere when it came to displaying interest in dudes? I grew up in a nice, Southern Jewish household with über-supportive parents, but I couldn’t talk to them about my fears. I had been impaired by embarrassment and didn’t want them to discover they were raising an undercover developmental dud.
Armed with my research findings, I realized I’d need to ditch my bizarre 1950s notion that gentlemen callers would magically arrive at my doorstep. It was time to take action if I ever wanted to get any. I began to flirt and [gasp!] actually let guys in on the crazy secret when I was interested. Sophomore year in college, in my ballsiest move since wearing overalls with high heels, I handed an adorable guy my phone number at a hometown holiday party and scored a New Year’s Eve date. As the clock terrifyingly inched towards midnight, I thought my brain might combust with rapid-fire thoughts of “Will he kiss me? Does he even want to? Do I have lip gloss on my teeth?”
With only seconds till ball drop, I strong-armed those dreadful, swarming insecurities with a simple mantra: “Make. It. Happen.” I forced myself to look directly into his twinkling blue eyes and hold his gaze, willing him to meet me halfway. He did. Big time. Makeoutus Majorus. Harps played a victory march and my insides turned to mashed potatoes. Forget that boozy night in Cancún, THIS was what it was all about. The real moment I had waited 19 long years for. I finally felt sort of normal after all those years of ineptitude. I finally understood something intangible and inexplicable—the feeling of really being kissed.
Soon after New Year’s, my makeout parner returned to his senior year at Chapel Hill and we lost touch. I didn’t regret it. His lip lesson was well worth waiting for.
Not surprisingly, kissing wasn’t the only thing I was tardy for … I was late to bed too. Although I was no longer scared of kissing, when it came to sex, I had another wacky notion about waiting for love. By senior year, my patience had worn thin right around the time I met an Abercrombie-model type named Carter. What he lacked in brains he made up for in hotness, which helped shift my focus from losing my virginity to finding fun.
At 23, I found my first serious boyfriend in NYC. A nice Jewish boy from Long Island with whom I was beyond elated to finally experience all those firsts—first passionate kiss with someone I really liked; first entire weekend spent together; first proposal; first engagement. That eight-year relationship was like falling into a pair of warm, fuzzy slippers. I finally felt what I hadn’t during all those former years of angst—comfortable. Safe. Secure.
We married at 28 in the San Antonio wedding of my dreams. Gorgeous flowers, incredible food, a killer band; aside from riding in on a unicorn, it was everything I thought I’d ever wanted. But it didn’t work out. I was far too limited in understanding myself or what I needed. More experience in my formative years could have helped me foresee that relationship would ultimately fail. More serious romantic encounters would’ve surely given me more knowledge and sharpened my red flag-raising abilities. Eventually, I figured all that out. I just did it in reverse, a Benjamin Button-esque romance.
At 32, I found myself a divorcée thrust back into the ice-cold waters of dating. But now I had something I’d been lacking before: wisdom combined with zero fear of rejection. My give-a-crap bone had been extracted. Not only was I unafraid to confidently initiate conversation with men, it became a thrilling challenge. I once left my digits for a sexy waiter on the receipt (he called; we dated). On another occasion, I picked up a specimen at The Russian-Turkish bathhouse, makeup-less in a bathing suit (he called; we dated). I was finally owning it. Hallelujah! Just 15 years later than I had anticipated.
I’ve realized that my slow-bloomer road to today was no mistake. Without all my stumbles and shiners, I wouldn’t be me. I wouldn’t have grown closer to my family. I wouldn’t have gotten to know my current boyfriend, Dan, who I can’t imagine ever not knowing. Or not kissing.
My message of hope to the modern-day delayed bloomers: Keep your mouth held high. The good news? You’ve probably managed to avoid mono. The better news? You’re gonna figure it out. Hopefully, a little faster than I did.
Originally hailing from Texas, Lindsey Kaufman, now a New Yorker, is a Senior Copywriter at an ad agency, a professional voice-over talent and moonlights as the lead singer in a band, Tatters & Rags. Find her on Facebook or Twitter @theopinionstore.
As published in xoJane.