For several years in the early ’90s, Lifetime aired reruns of “thirtysomething.”A relic of this happy time can be found on the Entertainment Weekly website.The article dates from March of 1992 and is titled, “Hope (and Co.) Springs Eternal.”

“It was Monday night,” writer Kelli Pryor began, “and ‘Murphy Brown’ was a rerun. But I was happy anyway. We had ‘thirtysomething.'”

I was seven in 1992. Too young for such sentiments.

But by the time 1995 rolled around, I too had become a “thirtysomething” devotee. At the tender age of nine, I found myself totally engrossed in lives of Hope and Michael and their crew of good-hearted-but-hapless yuppie friends and relations. I also caught “Sisters” in syndication and consequently began a lifelong love affair with Swoosie Kurtz.

I watched “Hope and Gloria” and “Murphy Brown” and “Designing Women” while my friends tuned into “Double Dare” and “Guts.”*

Though I hadn’t yet completed the fourth grade, I identified with these older women. Their problems felt familiar somehow. Sure, I didn’t have kids or lovers, but I had the angst thing down pat. And, in my own mind, I was Melanie Mayron with a dash of Sela Ward and a sprinkling of Annie Potts.

Which is to say that I was an odd sort of kid.

For a while, I was precocious.

When I was in fifth grade, I tried to take Waiting to Exhale out of the library. If it was good enough for Whitney Houston, it was good enough for me.

The librarian, Mrs. Cooley, had other ideas.

“If you want to check this book out,” she said, “you’ll need permission from your mother.”

Parental permission, my ass! This was censorship, plain and simple. A civil rights issue. This so-called librarian was threatening my intellectual autonomy and she had to be punished.

So I left the library, vowing never to return.

* * *

Like I said: for a while, I was precocious.

I quickly outgrew the YA section and took to stealing my mother’s paperbacks.I read The Joy Luck Club at 11 and I kept a well-worn copy of The Client in my night table drawer. I stayed inside during recess, illustrating my own literary works. I kept my legs crossed neatly at the ankle and completed assignments with a maniacal efficiency. I was given to attacks of anxiety and periods of dreamy melancholy. I was 12 going on 42.

For a while I was precocious and then one day, I wasn’t. While I’d been reading Joyce Carol Oates and The Bell Jar and writing overwrought poetry, everyone else seemed to have been, you know, living. And, without my noticing, they’d surpassed me.

I was, it seems, the proverbial hare.

* * *

And so, the big reveal.

At 23, I remain stubbornly, regretfully, embarrassingly virginal. Pure as freshly fallen snow. Chaste as a home-schooled trekkie.

* * *

Things started to slow down in seventh grade.

All the other girls were shaving their legs and buying bras and kissing boys. I, on the other hand, was dutifully preparing for my bat mitzvah. I was writing bad poetry for the Lit Page.

At the time, the situation wasn’t dire. Sure, I hadn’t been kissed or gotten my period, but at least my braces had finally come off. And my friend Roger had been hinting that someone liked me. I just needed to wait it out.

So I did.

But nothing ever happened with the boy. I finally got a name out of Roger and we slow-danced at my bat mitzvah party, him all sweaty and nervous, me flush with the success of the day. But he never revealed the secret himself and it seemed rude to mention it.

I just needed to wait it out.

* * *

The summer before high school, my sister was a counselor at a Jewish sleep-away camp. At 13, her campers were a full year younger than I. But their lives were on the fast track. A couple had been caught giving blow-jobs. Kissing at Make-Out Rock.

I was unspeakably jealous.

That was the summer that a boy kissed me behind the dorms of Haverford College.

We were playing truth or dare. Or maybe just truth.

“I’ve never been kissed,” I said.

He looked at me appraisingly and said, after a minute, “You wanna?”

I shrugged and we got on with it.

It was the fourth of July.

* * *

When I was sixteen, I decided that I was fat and I was ugly and that something had to be done. Soon I had little time to think of boys. I had little time to think of anything, in fact, other than the day’s figures. Calories and pounds.Mathematics had never meant much to me, but in those days, it became fraught with significance. Subtraction was sacred, holy.  Addition was profane.The devil’s arithmetic.

Men were irrelevant in those days.

 

I just needed to wait it out.

* * *

A gangly redhead kissed me in a dirty hostel room when I was seventeen. He was tall and pasty and more than a little nerdy. He was sweet, though. He had a passion for music: the trombone. Apparently he had a passion for me, too.

“I really like you, Marni,” he said. And then, as the song says, he kissed me.

It was…awkward.

“Do you maybe want to try again?” he asked.

I demurred. Maybe later.

* * *

Then I was eighteen. College-bound. No longer starving myself, I was heavier.Heavily scarred, too. But my breasts had come on fast and full. I was a D-cup and a senior and I was finally getting out of Dodge. Going to Vassar. Moving on and moving up.

That summer, the boy who gave me my first kiss was the first boy to see me naked.

We’d gotten back in touch and, for months, we’d been spending hours on the phone with one another. At their best, our conversations were like vaudeville routines. They were screwball comedies. We were like Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant but Jewish. He gave good phone. There were jokes and songs and maybe a bit of soft-shoe.

It was dizzying.

And then he came to visit and he saw me naked and he put his fingers inside of me and I sucked his dick.

He came and then he went.

We both did. To college. To new lives.

He stopped calling.

He’d seen me naked and he’d been repulsed. It was, I thought, the only explanation. He’d seen my thick thighs and my drooping breasts and he’d run for the hills. He saw the patch of stubble on my thigh I’d missed when I’d shaved in the shower. He saw the bulge of my stomach and the hook of my nose. He saw that I was imperfect. That I wasn’t beautiful or thin or desirable.He saw all these things and he stopped calling and I just needed to wait it out.Right?

* * *

But the waiting never stopped.

At Vassar, there were two girls to every guy and of that small pool of guys, half were gay.

“I’m not going to lie,” my friend Lindsay told me, “your self-esteem will plummet.”

I just needed to wait it out.

* * *

“You could have sex,” my friends say. “No guy is going to turn down free sex.”All of them say this exact thing. You could have sex. If you wanted to.

Technically, I suppose, that’s true.

As far as I know, I am physically capable of sex. My nipples retain the ability to become erect. My vagina seems to be in working condition. And, as they put it in those Viagra commercials, my heart is healthy enough for sex.

But here I am staring down 24 and still a virgin. A virgin who hasn’t kissed a boy in five years. I used to be precocious but somewhere, somehow, I became a late-bloomer.

They say Tina Fey didn’t lose her virginity until she was 24. I cling to this fact like a talisman.

* * *

In the Bible Belt and on the Senate floor, old white men shed crocodile tears for sexually active teens. They tell us that girls who put out are sluts, destined for a life of unhappiness and amorality. The kids put on purity rings and listen to the Jonas Brothers and wear “true love waits” tees. Abstinence is the watchword and condoms are mentioned only in hushed tones.

In the other America, the America of those raunchy teen comedies and craigslist casual encounters and Cosmo- in the other America, virginity is death. Virginity is the province of D&D disciples and nuns. Even priests seem to get it on. Virginity is the dirty little secret, the skeleton in your closet.

But regardless of which America you live in, sex happens. Pledges are broken and Tolkien-lovers get lucky.

Sex happens.

 

For everyone else, that is.

 

 

 

 

*I should note that, though I wasn’t allowed to watch television on the weekdays throughout my childhood and adolescence, I still managed to see pretty much everything that aired in the ’90s. I should also note that I wasn’t all the discriminatory in my tastes. I too watched “Double Dare” on occasion.

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Marni holds a B.A. from Vassar in Women's Studies. The degree turned out to be of little practical value, but nonetheless holds a lot of sentimental weight. She's written for BUST, Playgirl, Heeb and gURL.com. Her interests include subverting the patriarchy, reading, and "Law and Order": the Jerry Orbach years. She'd like to know why the inhabitants of the tiny Maine hamlet Cabot Cove so frequently come to violent ends. She'd also like someone to hire her.

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