Ellen Burkhardt is a 26-year-old virgin, and she aims to keep it that way until she meets and falls in love with the man she wants to marry. To wait for The One is hardly a new desire, but it may just be the first time in a long while that someone over the age of 15 has had the courage to say it out loud.
Burkhardt recently recounted how saving herself for marriage has presented a challenge to her dating life in an essay for Salon called “When Guys Found Out I’m a Virgin.”
As the Minneapolis-based writer admits, saying you’re a virgin in the age of Tinder is kind of like daring the world to make fun of you. “People think that you have something fundamentally off,” she says. Burkhardt talks to FLARE about how it feels to still be a virgin, how far she’ll go before she says stop, and why she doesn’t want your pity.
Flannery Dean: What does it feel like to be a 26-year-old virgin at this point in time culturally?
Ellen Burkhardt: I’m a pretty confident person and I like to pretend that things don’t bother me, but if I am super-honest it feels like society treats us like outcasts, like something to be ‘fixed.’ And that is frustrating and a little bit…I feel like it’s condescending to me. They think of me as less than a person because I haven’t experienced that yet, and they treat me like I’m naïve. I don’t like being pitied and I feel like I’m being pitied a lot.
FD: What I liked about your essay is that your tone was confident. The culture will make you feel weird and odd, but in reality all you’re doing is making a personal choice based on what you want.
EB: Right. That’s what I was trying to get across. This is my decision. What’s so wrong with that?
FD: That being said, is your virginity a major obstacle to successful dating?
EB: No. But I think it’s an obstacle in that it makes me even more picky than normal… I don’t want the guys I’m dating to feel guilty if they want to end the relationship because sex isn’t a piece of it. I try to avoid forming relationships with people where that might be an issue because I want to protect their feelings too.
Everyone has a list of things they’re looking for. I don’t need to date a virgin, that’s one thing that a lot of people assumed. It’s just that he needs to respect my decision and that we need to to work on our relationship together and be intimate emotionally without that piece of it… And so, it could be an obstacle because maybe there aren’t that many guys out there willing to do that. But at the same time, it’s no more of an obstacle then someone who, say, has super-extreme political beliefs and they can’t date someone who has opposing beliefs.
FD: Have you ever met the guy who is willing to wait?
EB: Yup. I have… It’s ongoing. I’m dating someone.
FD: That’s great.
EB: Yeah, he and I haven’t been together a super-long time but he’s been great about this and we talked about the essay before, obviously. He’s great and we’re completely happy without having to worry about that piece of it because we’re both on the same page.
FD: When did you decide you wanted to wait until marriage?
EB: Obviously I was taught about it when I was young and so it was kind of in the back of my head, but really I think seeing some of my friends go through the process of having sex and breaking up and seeing what it did to them, and then also I never really had a relationship early on where it was a big deal to me… in high school and college there wasn’t a guy who I felt so compelled and so attracted to that we even got close [to having sex].
I thought I’d meet someone in college and it wouldn’t be a big deal because we were still young and then you just get married. It was after college that I realized that I had to make that decision that ‘OK, I’m an adult now dating is going to get harder the older I get, what do I want to do?’
I just realized that it was a special thing to me. I am still a Christian and faith shapes everything I do. It was a decision that I made for myself but also I see marriage as a sacred thing. It’s something I don’t enter into lightly. That relationship with my future husband, I want it to reflect what I believe. For me, it is to wait until I’m with that one man.
FD: Do you ever get negative reactions to your choice?
EB: Yeah, from commenters and things like that. A lot of them think I am repressed or scared or putting sex on a pedestal or a closet lesbian. They have a million ideas of why…but I haven’t had any negative feedback in person, except for the ‘Are you sure you want everyone to know?’ kind of thing.
When I have expressed frustration or when a relationship ends or I’m sad about it, I have had a couple friends say, ‘Are you sure you just don’t want to do it and get it over with?’ They mean well, but to me I’m like ‘get it over with?!’ This is a special thing and I’m never going to see it as something to ‘get over.’ That’s not how I see it.
FD: Some people really see it as an albatross…
EB: Yeah, and a lot of the advice flowing in is like practice makes perfect. This isn’t basketball! I don’t need to go practice my ‘free throws’ so when I meet my husband I can shock him on our wedding night…
FD: How long are you willing to wait? What if you’re 30 and still a virgin?
EB: It might sound naïve but right now I would say yes, because I do still see it as something that comes with marriage…I can’t really separate love from marriage at this point. If I’m in love with someone and they’re in love with me, we’re going to get married. I don’t know what the alternative is. I’m not someone who’s just going to live with someone.
FD: So you’re committed to your choice…
EB: I don’t feel like I’m living less of my life because of this and it really doesn’t impact me except for when I’m really into a guy and I think our relationship is going great and he just can’t do it and it breaks my heart. I might have been a little too flippant in my description of those three relationships in the essay, but it wasn’t easy to break up with any of them really. Well, maybe guy no. 2.
Guy no. 1, I was head over heels for him and it really was hard for me to realize that we couldn’t be together because we weren’t on the same page.
FD: It sounds like you are having relationships that involve affection, where do you draw the line?
EB: Basically, the agreed upon boundary for me for now is we kind of do the pants-on kind of thing. Anything below the belt is as of yet not [happening]…
FD: Do you ever think about your first time?
EB: Yeah, a lot of my friends are getting married right now so bachelorette parties are a big chatfest about sex and so I think I’ve talked about it quite a bit with my girlfriends. I’ve had experienced friends give me advice and tips. I have my fellow inexperienced friends and we’ve talked about the things we’re nervous about.
FD: What are you nervous about?
EB: Doing it wrong. [My friends who’ve had sex] are like, “There’s no wrong way to do it. You’re humans, you’ll figure out what goes where.”
But when I think about it, it’s more in the sense of excitement and I think it will be so much more special because I know it will be with the man who I’m going to be with till death do us part and that’s important to me.