Edge of Everywhere

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Hey everyone – it’s been ages since I last wrote a post, but I want to thank everyone who has subscribed, commented, or encouraged me to keep writing.

I stumbled upon the recent New York Times story New Love: A Short Shelf Life and found it interesting to read from an asexual perspective. The article concerns a study that found that “newlyweds enjoy a big happiness boost that lasts, on average, for just two years.” Why only two years?

“When love is new, we have the rare capacity to experience great happiness while being stuck in traffic or getting our teeth cleaned. We are in the throes of what researchers call passionate love, a state of intense longing, desire and attraction. In time, this love generally morphs into companionate love, a less impassioned blend of deep affection and connection.”

Although this may be a new study, it states in academic terms what our culture tells us over and over–that couples eventually lose the “spark” of passion that united them and eventually morph into sexless old people together, or otherwise end up cheating on each other or breaking up in the search to find that spark with someone else.

But what about those of us who never experience that spark in the first place, who only seek companionate love? Are we better off for not expecting that first brief phase and having to undergo the transition to the second?

Also, I always find it a bit baffling to hear it acknowledged that most relationships eventually (and according to this study, surprisingly quickly) end up being closer to the type we seek, and yet know that many people can’t get their head around the idea of asexuality. What’s so weird about wanting the deep affection and connection that characterize all long-term relationships, regardless of orientation, just without the intense longing, desire and attraction that fade quickly anyway?

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Cool art alert: Moved by the negative reactions to her and other women’s decisions not to have children, Miriam Schaer embroidered real quotes onto white baby dresses with red thread, creating a shocking visual representation of the societal prejudice against childless women.

The artist writes:

“Selfish… Neurotic… Irresponsible… Immature… Unfeminine… Unfulfilling… Materialistic… Uptight… Deviant” — all words I have heard to characterize my decision to not have children, a decision transforming me into a target of one of society’s remaining and widely held prejudices.

Baby (Not) on Board: The Last Prejudice?, addresses the question of why the existence of women who choose maternal independence over child-rearing angers or offends so many people and institutions. The work presented here is part of a continuing exploration of our culture’s pejorative views about women without kids. For Baby (Not) on Board: The Last Prejudice?, I hand-embroidered representative negative comments on baby dresses using red thread to create scarlet letters. Gathered from interviews with childless women, online research, and personal experience, the statements taunt and accuse, and are typical of an endless flow of critical statements that seem to be growing bolder even as non-traditional families are gaining greater acceptance.

***

As a women who has never had any interest in having children, this work struck a chord with me. The quote most similar to the reactions I’ve received is “You still have time; maybe you’ll change your mind. You can adopt.” Many of the others Scher uses are shockingly negative, like “Childless women lack an essential humanity” (shown above) and “Your not having children was the biggest disappointment of our life.”

I have a lot of trouble understanding why anyone would be angry about a woman choosing not to have children. I can understand the idea of parents being disappointed about not having grandchildren, to a certain point (though not the point reached in the last quote above), but I can’t get my head around the idea of anger toward and disdain for a woman whose life plans do not include raising children. Raising children is a very difficult and lifelong job. We should be glad when a woman who does not desire to undertake this job chooses not to; unfortunately, many women who do raise children do not have the desire or ability to perform the job well, which is a horrible situation for any child to be in.

Cheers to Miriam Schaer for bringing a little-discussed form of discrimination into the public eye in a clever and powerful way.

As a follow-up to my last post about meeting friends through Craigslist, here’s a little more about what I’ve gotten out of the experience and what I’ve found challenging.

Benefits:

-Ability to connect with people I probably never would have met otherwise

-Ability to seek out people in my area and/or who share specific interests

-Ability to expand my social circle by not only meeting new people, but also meeting their friends

Challenges:

-Friendships initiated online lack the context of ones formed at school, through work, through other friends, etc. This means it takes more effort on the part of both people to grow and maintain the friendship, because we won’t see each other unless we plan to get together. In a few cases, I’ve met people with whom I’ve felt somewhat compatible, but we haven’t kept up with each other because neither of us found an immediate motivation to prioritize getting together over all of the other things we could be doing on any given day, and we have no other connection that will happen to bring us together.

-I have occasionally met people (guys) who seemed cool at first but later made me uncomfortable (once, this involved inappropriate comments of a sexual nature) and with whom I decided I did not want to be friends. So I had to platonically “dump” them, basically by ignoring them until they went away. But overall, I’ve had far more positive experiences than negative ones.

I’ll leave you with a few more tips:

-If you meet someone  you “click” with as friends, try to establish something you might like to do together in the future before the meeting is over. If you don’t hear from them in a few days, be sure to email them to let them know you enjoyed meeting them, and try to make a plan to meet again. If you both get lazy and wait too long to make contact again, you might just forget about each other and miss out on a potentially great friendship.

-Once you’ve begun to establish a new friendship, invite the person along to things you’re doing with your other friends, and be open to doing things with them and their friends. If you can integrate into each other’s social circles, it will strengthen the friendship as well as enhance both of your social lives.

-Remember that technology, which brought you together in the first place, can also be a huge help in staying in touch and growing your friendship. Once I’ve met someone (this actually goes for real-life meetings as well as ones initiated online), I’ve found that if we add each other on Facebook and start to keep up with and comment on each other’s posts, we will feel like we know each other better and have more to talk about by the next time we see each other. I’ve found keeping in touch via text message to be useful with certain people as well. For example, if we’ve  discussed a certain topic or established a common interest, and then something happens to me or I learn some new information regarding that topic, I can immediately tell the person about it, thus enforcing the initial connection.

I generally find that people my age (post-college 20-somethings) meet new people in one of three ways: at work, through other friends, and through dating. The third often involves the internet. Thanks to Craigslist, asexuals have access our own version of online dating (other than the great-in-theory but not widely used asexual dating sites): the Strictly Platonic personals section. I have met a lot of people this way, and a couple of them (as well as other people I’ve met through them) are now among my closest friends.

I’ve put together a little FAQ on online friend-dating:

Q: How does it work?
A: You either make a post detailing what you are looking for in potential friends, or browse and reply to other people’s posts. You can search posts according to keywords, by gender, and by age.

Q: What kinds of friendships are people on there generally looking for?
A: Posts very widely, from requests as specific as “Does someone want to see Avatar on Saturday?” to searches for people with certain interests or living in specific neighborhoods, to elaborate treatises from people looking for their next best friend forever.

Q: What are the similarities to and differences from regular online dating?
A: In both cases, people are casting out a net to find a person or people who meet a perceived need in their lives. They may be looking for something general or specific, one-time or long-term. The platonic section has an emphasis on interests and activities without the dating section’s emphasis on looks, and I think posters are generally more likely to write back to everyone who writes to them because they’re not as focused on judging people’s attractiveness.

Q: What else should I know about contacting and being contacted by people through the site?
A: Create an anonymous email address to use for your initial correspondences with people from the site. If you make a post, don’t feel obligated to write back to everyone who responds if you get a weird vibe from them or they don’t provide sufficient information about themselves to warrant a response (e.g., “wanna chat?” or “We have a lot in common. Let’s meet up”). In responding to other people’s posts, I suggest writing a concise yet informative introduction in relation to the content of the specific post you are responding to. Take the time to give them an idea of who you are and why you think you would be compatible as friends. You can include a photo or link to your Facebook page if you want to, but shouldn’t feel obligated to do so.

Q: What should I know about meeting up with people through the site?
A: Different people have different expectations about how much contact they will have before making plans to meet. If you find someone who seems cool and compatible with you, you might choose to make immediate plans. If you feel more comfortable exchanging emails until you get to know someone a little bit first, that’s fine, too. Even though this is the platonic section, as with dating, it’s a good idea to arrange a meeting in a public place. Some people prefer sit-down, conversation-based meetings (over tea, drinks, etc.) and some prefer to share activities.

Next time, I will write more about the challenges and rewards of cultivating friendships initiated through the Internet.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the ways relationships form and what keeps them going. Most relationships are initiated due to proximity–two people being in the same place at the same time, generally over an extended period of time. The internet has mixed things up a bit, so that we can meet people with similar interests whom we never would have encountered in real life, but we’re still more likely to become friends with our classmates, co-workers, and neighbors than with most people we don’t regularly spend time around.

What I’ve come to realize recently is that most relationships also require proximity in order to keep going; in other words, most of the friendships I’ve made through school, work, and other activities have been abandoned once I stopped going to school or working or doing whatever with those people. This has often happened despite the fact that we had a lot in common and really enjoyed each other’s company when we were involved in the same things.

Therefore, the necessary element when there isn’t proximity to keep the relationship going is work–both people have to have an active desire to work at maintaining the relationship. This means taking the time to keep in touch and get together. It amazes me how many friendships just fade away because people get busy and just don’t prioritize keeping in touch with their friends. Sometimes, both people are equally responsible; sometimes, one is willing to do the work and the other isn’t. There have been many times when I kept contacting and chasing down and trying to hang out with a formerly good friend, only to give up on the friendship after I finally realized that I was the only one trying. It was depressing to know that I would probably never hear from them again once I made the decision to stop trying.

In my next post, I’ll look at the different motivations behind working to maintain a relationship.

I recently found out about the phenomenon of the Cuddle Party, “a playful social event designed for adults to explore communication, boundaries and affection.” A bunch of strangers pay to go to a trained facilitator’s house, put on pajamas, go through exercises dealing with the aforementioned topics, and spend a couple of hours sharing non-sexual physical intimacy and affection. Participants must ask each other and receive a verbal “yes” before hugging, cuddling, giving massages, or engaging in any number of other types of physical contact.

I totally agree with their belief in the value of affectionate touch, but just as hooking up sexually with a stranger just for pleasure makes no sense to me, cuddling with a stranger just to enjoy the sensation doesn’t make sense to me either. I can only understand physical contact in the context of a close relationship, whether it’s with family, friends, or a partner. I mean, isn’t affection about liking and caring about someone? I just don’t get how people can take a shortcut to intimacy without actually knowing and liking each other.

The other thing that struck me about the Cuddle Parties is that their site spends a lot of time convincing people that cuddling can, in fact, be non-sexual. It also acknowledges the inevitable presence of sexual energy and arousal (including erections), and talks about how those are dealt with during the parties. Interestingly, a major rule of the parties is “no dry humping.” It was fascinating for me to read about non-sexual touch from a sexual perspective, because I generally forget that things like cuddling could ever be construed as sexual or seen as necessarily leading up to sexual contact.

I’m curious to hear everyone’s opinions on the Cuddle Party phenomenon. Great idea, or just kind of creepy? Have you ever gone to one? Would you?