Edge of Everywhere

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.

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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.

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.

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’m going to try to get into the habit of posting regularly again. I have a lot of things I want to write about relationships, but right now I’m just going to share a pop culture observation.

I had heard about Britney Spears’ song “If U Seek Amy” and how the title is scandalously meant to sound like a word that can’t be said on the radio, but I didn’t actually hear the song until the other day. The verses make no sense because they’re about this Amy character, whose real purpose is just to be one letter out of four, and the chorus goes, “Love me, hate me, say what you want about me, but all of the boys and all of the girls are begging to if you seek Amy.” Get it? I found this statement to be quite interesting. She’s certainly not the first celebrity to make a “love me or hate me” statement (the most recent that comes to mind is Lady Sovereign), but instead of telling the haters that she doesn’t care, or saying that it doesn’t matter because she’s rich and famous, or (as Lady Sov did) cursing them out, she brags about her sexual attractiveness. I think this doesn’t make a lot of sense and is kind of sad. Is that all Britney’s songwriters could come up with for her? That no matter what bad things people say about her, they are somehow negated by the fact that people want to have sex with her?

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.