Mailbag is an occasional Q&A of your inquiries regarding faith, sexuality, and relationship from an LGBT perspective. We aren't theologians or counselors, but we're walking the same path as many of you and will do our best to answer the questions you have. You can submit your own question here.
Dear Dave and Tino,
I’ve related to a lot of what David has described about his experiences—the icky factor, the emotional fortress, the ongoing struggle with openness and figuring out what you're feeling, and where those feelings are coming from.
What I've been noticing is that I just don't seem to even EXPERIENCE much attraction to anyone. I'm in my early 30s and started dating a year or so ago, after years of being closeted and then years of celibacy. In that process I naturally suppressed a lot of emotions and any hints of attraction (which have existed over the years; I don't see myself as asexual).
Now I find that I'm going on a lot of one-to-three dates with people, whereby we have some utterly pleasant conversation, followed by me saying, "Well, it was nice to meet you" and then riding home trying to figure out what I feel about them. I have very little inclination to take things further. Maybe meeting people online isn't the best fit for my style (I’d prefer a low-pressure environment, much like how people from churches manage to meet in social settings). But I am concerned that it goes beyond just "haven't met the right person yet" to a more systemic issue with attraction.
I’ve had some counseling and I'm continuing to work through the shame and ickiness, but I thought perhaps you might have encountered some of these problems or have some insight into what's going on here.
Thanks for your letter. First and foremost, it's important to point out that this is the kind of issue best addressed in counseling, with a qualified professional (which neither Constantino nor I are). It sounds as if you are seeing someone in a professional capacity, which is important for figuring out what your feelings are doing (or in this case, not doing). I can only respond from the framework of personal experience. If any of it fits for you, take it. If not, leave it.
Attraction is a complex and incredibly nuanced thing. It's influenced by countless factors: our age, psychology, upbringing, physical wellness, emotional intelligence, self-confidence, stress levels, etc. All of which is to say, attraction toward someone has more to do with you than the person to whom you are (or aren’t) attracted. And as you've probably experienced, attraction can ebb and flow, both broadly in seasons of life and specifically toward an individual. Because of the squirreliness of attraction, you may never be able to pin down one specific reason for your lack of it.
My question for you is this: When do you feel attracted to other men? When you go on dates, are you attracted to them initially when you first agree to the date? Does that attraction fade once you get to know them? For me, at least, I have always struggled with "Attraction to Newness." Which is to say, I've historically been most attracted to the new and unknown. The classic "mystery man." Once I got to know a man, and that mystique faded, my attraction for him quickly waned. You can see how that kind of attraction is diametrically opposed to long-term, committed relationship. It is something I've had to work on, understanding this kind of attraction as a projection of fantasy that, by its nature, can never be fulfilled.
Or perhaps there’s simply too much pressure meeting someone online, when there are immediate romantic intentions and expectations. You said you’d rather meet someone organically rather than jumping into a first date, and that makes sense. If you have trouble tapping into your emotions, it may take some time for you to figure out how you feel about someone. When romance is already on the table, you may be inclined to throw up walls as a way of putting on the brakes. As a solution, maybe start to engage in environments where you can meet other guys platonically, whether it’s at church or at an organized activity, like sports—join a rugby team, a CrossFit gym, a kickball league.
Since you can relate to the "emotional fortress," I wonder if maybe your attraction has been stuffed down and buried along with your feelings. For me, attraction was a way for me to feel something—anything—when I couldn’t otherwise touch my emotions; I used attraction as a means to medicate my numbness. But I could also see how someone who has trouble tapping into feelings might also have trouble tapping into attraction. We develop an amazing capacity to disconnect from ourselves as a means of protection and survival.
Learning to reconnect is a slow and monumental challenge. You must offer yourself grace and patience. We can't force ourselves to feel, and we can't force attraction. But attraction can be kindled. My sense is that you'd be best served seeking out low-pressure environments for engagement while continuing to work on reconnecting to your emotions and overcoming any issues of shame. For me, I've healed most from shame when I have placed myself in situations where I am vulnerable and where I can be genuinely seen. To tear down the walls we use to protect ourselves, we must let people inside, into our most private spaces. Only then can we see that the walls, on the whole, do not serve us. If you can connect with yourself in these ways, I have a sense that your attraction will return as well.
Thanks again for writing in.
David Khalaf is a fiction writer living in Portland.
Photo used through Flickr Creative Commons.
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