I am 28 years old and have a very strange problem: I've never dated more than one or two dates with anyone. The reason for this has been that I've been very focused on my career as well as having many life things happen that have simply kept a relationship out of the question.. However now that I'm trying to have a relationship with "someone, anyone" and struggling to figure out how to start I deal with a lot of selection issues. I'm terrified of telling the person I try to date that I've never been in a relationship, but I also don't want to feel like I'm settling for someone because I feel like the person I'm in a long term relationship with should be someone I actually desire in the long term. There have been people that I've felt this way about but it has not worked out with them (otherwise I would be in a relationship by now.). I'm just trying to figure out: is it okay if I have a different amount of experience from someone else? Maybe it's a numbers game? Do some people not care and others see it as a turn off? How bad exactly IS it. I need a "loser level" reading here because none of it makes sense to me.
It's TOTALLY okay if you have a different level of relationship experience than other people. We are a product of our experiences. Point me in the direction of someone who has not endured challenges and upheaval, because those people are rare. How many people you've dated or how long you've dated someone is not a reflection of your character. That's what matters, not the number of Valentine's you've received over a life time.
With that in mind, I would be lying if I said that, upon hearing you've never been in a relationship, might not see that as a red flag. What's important to keep in mind, however, is that the people who would even ask you about your relationship history probably aren't ones you'd want to date anyway. Why? Because they're not basing their opinion of who you are now or on how you treat them but rather on the past. They want to make sure other people wanted you because they don't feel good enough about themselves. You want someone who sees the entire collage that is you, not just random snapshots. If someone asks you about your romantic history, tell them you've been so focused on school and work you've had little time to invest in a relationship, but have finally cleared time to make a relationship your priority. That's enough. If they push, turn it back on them and put them on the spot. See how they like it. Trust me, if they keep digging, you'd don't want them.
My most recent ex let it slip once that he'd never been with someone long enough to consider living together. I knew what that meant. Dud it concern me? Totally! But things were so healthy and good between us I didn't let that accidental admission affect my opinion of him or us. Romantic relationships aren't any different than familial or platonic ones. They all require the same requirements to thrive - mutual respect, trust, affection, empathy, kindness. I have no doubt you already possess all of these qualities/abilities. If you're a good friend, you'll be a good partner. It's pretty simple. You have plenty of relationship experience. We've just been bamboozled into believing that romantic relationships are different, but they're not.
You mention that things happened that made having a relationship difficult. From that I am inferring that you experienced some trauma in your past - a parent's divorce, abuse of some form, illness, etc. The main reason I went for my trauma certification and expanded my training scope to include dating is because there are so many, many, MANY men and women out there who have had their romantic lives impaired by trauma.
I'm one of them.
I lost my mother when I was seven and survived several years of childhood neglect as well as sexual and emotional abuse. My dating history is riddled with dysfunction. That sense of feeling damaged followed me from experience to experience. As a result, I attracted people who were equally damaged, which only served to re-traumatize me further. I believe this happened because I defined myself by my trauma. It wasn't until I was ready to really dig into it did I break the pattern. I am not my trauma. Nobody is. What I hear in your letter is shame. Tim, you have nothing to be ashamed of. Trauma is something that happens to you, not something you bring upon yourself.
I could be totally wrong, of course. Maybe the only thing haunting you isn't a past experience but a belief that something is wrong with you. (Spoiler alert: there isn't.) Your biggest hurdle might be that you are hiding or afraid to let someone see you because you feel you're "weird" or "different."
Before you try and anticipate what others might think of your relationship history, first I think you have to confront your own biases and beliefs about yourself. There's nothing wrong with you. Once you can say that and actually believe it, you'll have more room for the experience you seek.