Sex, of course, is something you can have outside of a relationship and I think it’s worth saying that these days with the amount of apps and online sexual subcultures open to us, it’s more possible than you think to find sexual partners who don’t prize “standard” penetrative intercourse as the be all and end all. Part of being a minority rendered sexually invisible by the culture is knowing that human sexual tastes are much more varied than what pop culture reflects back to us. There are many men out there who may have their own reasons for preferring different kinds of sex, even if it takes a little trial and error to find them. Try to keep an open mind and maintain your curiosity so that you don’t fall into sweeping generalizations about what “men” like in order to write your own sex life off.
Apps are an unavoidable part of sex and dating these days but they can make you feel like you’re playing a video game where it’s possible to win or lose. It’s worth remembering that impersonal and detached interactions on apps have a tendency to bring out the worst in some people, especially men, and when we come to them with insecurities or low self esteem about our own desirability, a few negative interactions with rude individuals can become confirmation of an underlying negative belief about ourselves. Try to maintain a view of dating as both casual and abundant—there are lots of people you haven’t met yet and meeting them might be a laugh—and not allow it to become a tool of self-appraisal.
On that point, you mention “trying to be realistic” and figuring out how to lead a life without romantic love as if it were the sadder, sensible alternative to finding fulfilling sexual encounters and relationships. Try not to give yourself ultimatums like this. You can work on building the happiest life you possibly can alone while also keeping yourself open to romantic love should fate present you with an opportunity for it. It’s tempting to shut yourself off to dating completely because you’re afraid of the risks—uncertainty, rejection, heartbreak, failure—but that would be a drastic and unwise move, especially when you’re so young. Dating can be full of risk and vulnerability, but it’s important to remember that it should, most of the time, be fun. A single friend of mine recently told me she dates for a few months at a time. When the anxiety seems to be outweighing the excitement and novelty of getting to meet new people, she knows it’s time for a break. She stops the hunt and has a break from the apps so she doesn’t become fatigued and depressed. Work out your own boundaries to help keep it fun.
Whatever happens in your sex life, though, you absolutely must work on cultivating love in your life outside of the romantic sphere. You say you have a lot of love to give—so you must give it now. Don’t wait. Give it to yourself, your friends, your family, give it to strangers: volunteer, read books, go see art. This is how I have built self esteem in a society which told me I was less-than. When I relied on my romantic love life to heal those scars it meant that I often ran towards the wrong men because they were offering affirmation I needed to give myself. If you do this, the rejections of the dating scene won’t feel as existential, and they just won’t hurt as much. You’ll have a solid sense of self.
Loneliness is a state of being. I have been devastatingly lonely in bed with a man and felt completely surrounded by love and care while sitting quietly in a park on my own after months of being single. You are the part of your problem you can work with regardless of who else does or does not come into your life. So start with her.