Edge of Everywhere

Archive for the ‘asexuality and relationships’ Category

In my last post, I theorized that relationships rely on one of two things: proximity and work (which could also be called effort, or commitment). So what happens when two people who became friends at school or work or through some other activity lose that proximity? In what situations do we work to maintain the relationship, and in which do we abandon it?

When relationships work/when we work at them:
1. We both find the relationship fulfilling (as DJ said in the comments on my last post) and feel a special connection that we feel has a meaningful place in our lives.
2. We each feel invested in the other person’s life and automatically feel compelled to keep in touch and support the other person through whatever they’re going through.
3. We feel that spending time together is worth prioritizing above at least some of the myriad ways we could each be spending our time.
4. We have activities that it’s important for us to do together as opposed to with other people or alone.

When relationships don’t work/when we don’t work at them:

1. Both people get lazy and don’t make time to contact the other person, even though we always enjoy the time we spend together.
2. Only one person makes the effort to stay in touch and make plans, until the lack of reciprocity leads them to give up.
3. There’s no specific motivation to contact each other or do a particular activity together, or to prioritize seeing each other above the myriad other ways we could each be spending our time.

Maintaining a strong relationship doesn’t feel like work. However, if I’m the only one putting in the effort, or neither of us is, it does feel like work. In these cases, I feel like the fate of the relationship is in my hands, and I need to remember and decide to contact people and try to make plans with them. My motivation here is different than in the examples up top; I am working to keep in touch because I feel that the relationship has potential and I should nurture it–and that if I do, I can help it grow into something meaningful and self-sustaining. This isn’t nearly as strong a motivator as the reasons above, and most of the time it does not actually motivate me to take action.

In my next post, I will discuss online friend-dating, which has produced most of the relationships of this variety–ones that did not develop naturally through a shared environment, activity, or group of friends, and that require a conscious effort on the part of both people in order to survive and progress.

Over the past year, while my understanding of asexuality has developed, the way I think about all of my relationships has evolved as well.

You know how when people talk about dating, they often talk about “deal breakers,” the qualities or habits that make them call off (or not want to enter into) a relationship? These are often small, ridiculous-seeming things that they would never hold against a friend, but for some reason find unsuitable for a partner. Since I am not looking for one person to be my perfect everything, I find it possible to appreciate each person and relationship for what it is rather than holding any of them up to a highly specific set of standards for the “right” person and inevitably being disappointed.

But at the same time, I often end up disappointed anyway, because I’ve raised my standards for what I expect from each of my friends in terms of how they treat me and show that they value our relationship. I want each relationship to be meaningful and worth both of our time, and just as people who are dating often want to be clear as to whether they are “in a relationship,” I have found it increasingly necessary to know whether or not someone is my friend, and to see it as an all-or-nothing thing the way people view romantic relationships. I’ve developed my own set of expectations, of “deal breakers,” that I think most people wouldn’t apply to people they are “just” friends with. I don’t care if any given one of them is taller or shorter than I am or snores or likes the same sports teams, but I need to know that each of them is committed to the maintenance and growth of our relationship, and that they won’t drift away and abandon me whenever they’re in a romantic relationship. But my expectations have just set me up to get let down again and again, and then to let go. It really frustrates me that while it’s normal and expected for people in romantic relationships to discuss their relationships, I’m pretty sure that if I attempted to have a similar “state of the relationship” conversation with a friend who had disappointed me, I would be seen as crazy, as imagining myself as and/or wanting to be that person’s girlfriend, when that wasn’t the case at all. I don’t have a framework for making demands, for fixing things, because I haven’t earned that right by being their primary person–we never actually made a deal either of us is obligated to uphold. So instead, frustrated and insulted, I walk away, wondering why it has to be that way.

When discovered my asexuality a year ago, I saw the word heteroromantic and figured it must apply to me; after all, I have occasionally felt attracted to guys over the course of my life and have been in a long-term relationship with one. And I figured that even though I didn’t ever want to have sex with anyone, I would still want romance at some point, and be forced to navigate the pursuit of it–a complex thing for asexuals in a sexual world.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized romance wasn’t actually a goal of mine. While it may be intriguing and dramatic and fun, I see it as being unsustainable and separate from the types of relationships I really want in the long run. In my experience, romance is the butterflies and excitement and flattering mutual admiration at the beginning of a relationship (or the beginning of something that never goes anywhere), but it’s not a characteristic that I see as necessary or even possible (for me, at least) in a long-term relationship of any kind.

I have learned that the distinguishing characteristic of the relationships I seek (whether friendships or partnerships) is commitment. Not commitment that requires a ring or a vow or even an explicit declaration, but a mutual and unshakable feeling of being committed to each other’s happiness. It’s about a feeling of “I care about you. I will always be there. I won’t abandon this.” So I’ve reached the point where I know that I won’t be too disappointed if I go the rest of my life without having any romantic interludes, as entertaining and ego-boosting as they may be, because if I can have the less flashy but safer comfort of true understanding and companionship, that’s enough for me.

Rainbow Amoeba recently wrote a great piece for the Asexual Perspectives section of the AVEN website called How Discovering My Asexuality Set Me Free. I found this part to be especially thought-provoking:

I do not think very often about what this orientation describes – my lack of interest in sex – but I am grateful every day for the many other things my awareness of it has brought me – all the choices I discovered I could make, all the new ways I discovered I could relate to other people and love them, all the possible futures that I now see open before me.

I love thinking about asexuality as a set of possibilities rather than as the lack of something. It’s usually framed in terms of the absence of sexual attraction/desire, but to me, that’s not what’s at the heart of asexuality. The dual realization that we don’t want the things we’ve grown up being taught that everyone wants, and that it’s actually valid to feel that way, is simply the beginning of a lifelong process of deciding what we do want out of our lives and relationships.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about asexuality less as an orientation and more as a worldview. Seeing the world asexually is about taking ownership of our feelings and desires and embarking on the sometimes scary but exhilarating journey of deciding what exactly we want from the people in our lives, based not on a set of pre-defined relationship models we’ve been handed, but on a new set of models that we can make up as we go along. It’s about being completely honest with ourselves and knowing that whatever we want is not only okay but maybe even attainable and satisfying beyond our wildest dreams, even if it doesn’t fit into society’s boxes. Instead of nothing making sense, suddenly everything makes sense, because it’s what we want, plain and simple. Before I knew I was asexual, my desires (and lack thereof) left me confused and occasionally ashamed. Now, everything I want and don’t want is simply a fact, a natural fact, and I can spend my time thinking about new possibilities and futures. I am incredibly grateful to have been given the chance to view and reassess my life through the lens of asexuality. It’s a lens I think all people could benefit from looking through.

It seems that when a woman announces that she is getting married, it is the duty of all the other females in her life to get hysterically excited and immediately start drilling her for all the details of the proposal, wedding plans, and so on, and then maintain that level of excitement through the whole process. It’s one of those rituals I just don’t understand at all, because when I hear the news, I don’t feel anything, except maybe annoyance at the fact that I will inevitably have to fake excitement.

It’s not that I don’t care about the happiness of the people in my life–quite the opposite. And if they find meaningful relationships that make them happy, I think that’s truly great. However, I don’t understand why I’m supposed to feel extra happiness about the fact that they are getting married. Personally, the idea of spending my life with someone has never been connected in the slightest to legal contracts, public spectacles, dresses, rings, or making my family members buy me expensive appliances. The whole wedding package holds no interest for me (and honestly, seems downright terrifying and torturous, because I am very private about my relationships), and the institution of marriage holds no meaning for me.

As an asexual person who is only ever going to be in somewhat unconventional relationships, it is very difficult for me to buy into the idea that people who are getting married have found the best, most meaningful relationships possible, because it can feel to me like an implicit invalidation of my relationships. When one of my coworkers gets engaged to a man she met only months ago and the frenzy begins (this has happened a few times), I can’t bring myself to believe that whatever she has found and fallen into so quickly is the be-all, end-all thing she hopes it is, or that it is somehow categorically better than any ultra-close, lifelong, yet not socially validated relationship of mine. I secretly feel superior, stronger, because I lack two of the things that seem to bring many these brand-new couples together: sexual attraction/desire, and (in my very cynical view) susceptibility to societal pressure to be married, which seems to lead them to put the ceremony before the years-long process of actually building a relationship together, and hope that the relationship actually lives up to the symbol.

Yesterday, I spent some time with a guy I met recently. He seems like someone I could become good friends with, but he made me a little uncomfortable by repeatedly complimenting my looks, saying things like “it’s a date” while discussing further activities we could share, and telling me before he went home that although he didn’t want to put any pressure on me, he wanted to put it out there that he’s “interested.” It seems like I should be flattered by these things, but I found myself just being annoyed by them because I don’t operate on the same wavelength. When I first meet someone, all I’m looking ahead to is the next fun thing we’re going to do together, and I am unable to envision any sort of romantic future when I don’t even know them yet.

I’ve written before about wanting the ego boost of male attention. In reality, though, I’ve found that it’s not very satisfying. For some women, knowing that men find them attractive and alluring boosts their self-esteem. I’ve come to realize that for me, this attention rings hollow, and what would really make me feel good about myself is knowing that a guy thinks I’m awesome and wants me in his life even if I end up having no sort of romantic interest in him whatsoever. I’ve heard people talk about how they have “enough friends” and are specifically trying to meet new people with the goal of finding a partner. I have a feeling the guy I was discussing above might fall into this category. I don’t want my value as a person to be tied in any way to whether a guy has a shot at getting with me. I don’t want it to be considered a loss if all I can offer someone is friendship. I don’t click with many people, and I think my friendship is a special thing that should be appreciated. It makes me feel bad about myself to imagine someone not wanting to be friends just because he has a different idea of what he wants from me, as if I’m not smart/funny/interesting/exciting enough to be given a place in his life if I don’t fit a specific role he’s trying to fill.

The way I see it, there are two ways to enter into a “more than friends” type of situation (with the “more” signifying emotional and/or physical intimacy beyond what is generally associated with friendship). The first is by extension of an already close relationship. The second is through mutual attraction, which often serves as a shortcut to intimacy when people don’t know each other very well. Although I know that the latter can be thrilling, the factors that are the most important to me are often absent: complete trust, comfort, and the knowledge that the other person truly appreciates and “gets” me.

For me, the best part of being close to someone is understanding and appreciating all the things, big and small, that make them who they are, and knowing that they understand and appreciate me as well. This is why I have recently resolved to be more forthcoming with information about my asexuality when applicable. Although I want guys to like me and am sometimes hesitant to be honest for fear of pushing them away, I realized that I would rather be honest and push away someone who only likes his own fantasy of me than have a short period of romantic excitement based on a lie. I am so grateful to have gained an understanding of my asexuality and what I want out of relationships, and I know that with the right person, speaking honestly about those things could yield something amazing that I have yet to experience.