Monday, December 5, 2022

COLUMN: I'm 20 years old and I haven't had my first kiss.

November 18, 2022
Design by Madison Echlin.
Design by Madison Echlin. —
Photo by Madison Echlin | The State News

My friend Maylee has a reminder on her phone set for Dec. 16 labeled “slap Hannah in face."

I actually told her to set this reminder, and to fulfill it if I still haven’t had my first kiss by the end of the semester. She’s had it set since August, when I had the realization that I’m now halfway through college, and despite how I thought it would go when I was in high school, my love life has remained pretty stagnant. I figured a little pressure would force me to pick up the pace a bit.

It’s a running joke between my friends and me. I’m 20 years old and I’ve never had a real boyfriend, nor a first kiss. It's starting to feel a little pathetic. So, like many things, I cope with humor – albeit, violent humor.

It’s now November and Slap Day is getting closer, without much standing in its way. It’s not like I haven’t been on dates or had guys show interest in me. Needless to say, every date I’ve been on has ended because I either didn’t have enough interest or time for the guy. So, I just never ended up kissing anyone.

High school was a pretty similar story. I had little time for guys and there wasn’t really anyone I thought would be a good fit for me. It also seemed like guys had no interest in me either – for the longest time, I blamed myself for that.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been told that I’m “too intimidating” or that guys my age just aren’t “mature enough." I’ve often been told how high my standards are, that I’m not likely to find the “perfect” guy that I’m looking for – at least not now.

In my defense, I’ve never had wild daydreams about having a beautiful, romantic first kiss. I’d never thought much of the fact that I haven’t been kissed until I got to college and was exposed to hookup culture.

It's easy to be embarrassed about my limited relationship experience at my age. Twenty isn’t ancient, but when people find out this simple fact about me, their reaction is usually, "Oh my god, seriously?”

It doesn’t feel bad. But it doesn’t feel great.

To my displeasure, when someone who knows me and knows my “situation” sees me with a guy, they’ll do everything in their power to “help me along." Once, when I was talking to a guy, my well-meaning friends changed the music to “All of Me” by John Legend, hoping it would “put us in the mood." Because I felt embarrassed about my lack of experience, I became uncomfortable and wanted to push away from any advances even more. 

Sometimes I'm hesitant to admit my inexperience in this area to others because it makes me feel like there’s something wrong with me. Most of my close friends have been in at least one serious relationship by now, so what makes me so different? 

I think back to the comments about having high standards for myself. As more time passes, the more I think I should just lower my standards and get my first kiss out of the way. Maybe this way, when I finally meet someone I really like, I won’t scare them off with the fact that I’ve never been kissed.

Against my best judgment, I sometimes feel like my lack of physical experience makes me a less “valuable” option as a partner. This feeling has only intensified since coming to Michigan State.

Hookup culture can be damaging in many ways for those involved in it. For me, it’s damaging because I’m not a part of it. Hearing stories about what other college students participate in makes me think I should be doing it, too – even if I don't truly want to.

It doesn’t help that I struggled immensely in high school with my self-image. I hid it well, but I had a hard time appreciating my body, so I felt like no one else would appreciate it either. I’ve gotten a lot better since then. But those mental scars are still there, making me feel like I shouldn’t be touched or kissed. 

I’m aware these are struggles that practically everyone goes through, especially women. We often think we can only be desirable if our body looks a certain way or that we should be embarrassed for our lack of experience. 

I didn’t want to have to keep telling people I’ve never had my first kiss, so I thought giving myself an expiration date would make things better. But it hasn’t. I used to think I just wanted to rip the Band-Aid off and get it over with, but the closer Slap Day gets, the less appealing that sounds. 

My first kiss doesn’t have to be perfect and romantic. It doesn’t even have to be memorable. But it should happen because I genuinely want it to, not because I feel pressured to fit some sort of societal norm. And, if I’m being completely honest, anyone who gets scared off by the fact that I’ve never had my first kiss is probably not the guy for me anyway.

Nevertheless, I’m still allowed to be frustrated. I’m still allowed to feel impatient and I’m still allowed to want to keep quiet in conversations about relationships. But I can’t continue treating myself as less valuable just because I haven’t had my first kiss.

I will, however, continue to cope with humor. The next time my hairdresser, aunt or neighbor asks me if I have “found anyone special at school," I’ll laugh it off and say that I can’t even imagine finding the time for boys right now, like I always do. 

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Hopefully, someday, that answer will change. But it will only change because I truly wanted it to.

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