…And Then What?

[This post was written for the December 2012 Carnival of Aces topic of “Dating and Significant Others as an Ace”.]

It was the first day of the ninth grade.  A new girl was in a bunch of my classes.  She had a funny name and long red hair.  Over that year, I found that she was smart, quirky, and had a dangerously sarcastic personality that matched my own.  She could play the piano and the cello.  She was going to grow up to become a doctor who would save the world.

People said we’d be perfect for each other.

I remember deliberating over all the options before deciding that she should be the one I’d have a crush on.  I guess I thought that’s how it worked.  Come up with a list of candidates, weigh their strengths and drawbacks, narrow down the list, then pick one.  Presto!  Instant romance!  Now, I don’t think other people tend to consciously choose potential romantic partners with the mental equivalent of a feature comparison chart.  (I suppose it’s a good thing they don’t, given that the runner up using this method turned out to be a drunken rodeo queen the next year.  Clearly, if you do use a mental feature comparison chart, make sure it’s comparing the proper specifications.  If you’re not looking at the right criteria, it can lead to some poor decisions…)  But, at the time, that’s how it seemed like it was done, so that’s what I did.

Anyway, I think I obsessed over her for months.  And by “obsess”, I mean that I would think about her name over and over and over.  Sometimes at night, I would attempt to telepathically communicate with her.  (To my knowledge, it never worked.)  As I was trying to send brainwaves in her direction, I would occasionally imagine her sleeping…  While wearing a full-length thick cotton nightgown with frills.  Once, on a family trip to the Bay Area, I spent the whole weekend with “I Love Saturday” from Erasure’s I Say, I Say, I Say album stuck in my head because, for some reason, I had associated the synthpop hook with her.

I never asked her out.

I was supposed to ask her out, right?  I mean, I was a boy, she was a girl.  I liked her, there was a significant probability that she held a positive opinion of me.  On top of that, we were in the same math class.  Obviously, we were made for one another.  So, clearly, I should ask her to be my girlfriend.

…and then what?

That’s where I got stuck.  I wasn’t afraid of being rejected.  I was afraid of being successful.  If she said yes, what on earth would we do together?  I just couldn’t figure that part out.

I couldn’t really take her on a date, because I had no money, I hate restaurants, and the nearest movie theater was about 20 miles away.  I couldn’t take her to the monthly school dance, since that would have been a traumatic social experience for me.  (Plus, my long arms and awkward steps are not allowed to attempt to engage in uncontrolled rhythmic motion, especially around other people.)  She lived ten miles away, so just hanging out and doing homework was out of the question, too.  And I wouldn’t buy her flowers or trinkets, because the entire concept of that sort of thing seemed silly to me.  I didn’t really see the appeal of the idea of dating anyway.

So why should I ask her out?  What would be the point?

I analyzed and theorized, worked through the options, and tried to come up with something that would work.  At one point, I think I even launched a misguided attempt to get her to be my girlfriend in title only, without any of the attached social responsibilities.  (That was less than successful.)  I don’t think I realized that I didn’t need to have a 23-step six-month plan for going steady.  Just talking to her at lunch and calling once in a while would’ve been enough to fulfill the boyfriend requirements.  (Of course, I’m terrified of the phone.  So that’s out, too.)  I guess I looked at going out as literally going out: That you and your partner had to regularly go out and do something, such as seeing a movie or going bowling or something.

Through all of that, no sex of any kind was ever in the imaginary picture.    I never even fantasized about her.  It’s not that I actively resisted those kinds of thoughts.  It just wasn’t something that I even considered.  I mean, look, even when I imagined her sleeping, I pictured her in what had to be least erotic sleepwear ever to enter a 15 year old boy’s imagination.  I think the furthest I got in my mind was maybe a brief hug and a kiss.  On the cheek.

(Well, okay, there was a vague sense that there would probably be sex in the far future, like maybe after the 527th step in the extended plan, which was something like “Get married at age 23″… But it only turned up there because people who date eventually get married, and people who get married have sex, not because of an actual longing for sex.)

Now, I was 14 or 15.  I was supposed to be clueless and awkward about dating.  I was supposed to make painfully embarrassing mistakes on the road to figuring it all out.  But…  I just wasn’t interested in figuring it out.  The idea of romance and coupledom held no real appeal.  I think I just wanted to be a closer friend, but societal pressure and gender expectations ended up twisting around my head.  It was like I was not permitted to have any female friends (Unless they lived on my street), so she had to be my girlfriend or nothing at all.

I figured that I’d eventually get “activated” and decide that I wanted to give the relationship world a spin, but that never happened.  I went all the way through high school and college without going on a single date, and that never really bugged me.  There were a few people I found vaguely interesting, but not interesting enough to do anything about.  I think a couple of people flirted with me, but that was completely wasted on me.

I’ve only had one girlfriend.  When I was 21, a woman from a forum I was involved in began expressing an interest in me.  I did not express interest back.  She left her boyfriend for me.  Still not interested.  She attempted to give me a topless webcam show.  I didn’t catch on and told her to put on a different shirt if she hated the one she was wearing so much.  She came to visit for the day.  I had an escape plan.  During the visit, she pounced on me and began caressing and kissing me.  I didn’t react.

You might say she was persistent…

Eventually, after months of begging and declaring her love and pleading and getting angry that I didn’t feel the same way and wishing that I would change, I came around and declared that she was my girlfriend. It was an LDR, so our relationship was mostly conducted online.  It really didn’t change much when we became a couple.  We still spent all day and half the night talking, just as we’d done before.  About once a month, though, we’d have a visit.

These visits were essentially dates.  We’d go to restaurants I didn’t like and felt obligated to see a movie together, even if there wasn’t anything particularly that great playing.  And occasionally, things would turn physical.

I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.  I had no internal “This is nice” barometer to guide me.  Obviously, when she touched me, there were some things that were physically pleasant, but overall emotionally, I was indifferent.  And when I touched her…  Nothing.

I didn’t feel anything when I put my arm around her.

I didn’t feel anything when we held hands.

I didn’t feel anything when I kissed her.

I didn’t feel anything when she had me touch her breasts.

I didn’t feel anything when I reached into her pants.

I didn’t feel anything when we slept together.

Wait…  I did feel something.  I felt like I was acting.  Like I was supposed to be following a script, but I hadn’t learned my lines.  The physical connection felt alien and forced.  I didn’t know how to respond.  There was a hollowness there.  Emptiness.  I was just going through the motions.  None of it felt natural.  Everyone else talked about how amazing all these things were, but for me, there was nothing.

And I lived in fear of being found out.

I did love her.  I think.  Maybe I’d just convinced myself that I did because I should.  Maybe I just convinced myself that I did because I wanted to be in love.  Maybe I didn’t understand the concept of love.

I didn’t cry when she broke up with me.  I didn’t beg her to reconsider.  I was relieved.  I had been feeling that I wasn’t in it for a while, but I just couldn’t bring myself to dump her after all she went through in the first place.  And it’s not like I had a clear reason I could point to.  There wasn’t anyone else, no horrible event that turned me away.  There was just that sense that something was missing, there was that hollowness that never went away.

That was ten years ago.  I haven’t been on a date or in a relationship since.  (Came close once, but didn’t quite get there.)  I don’t know that I’d actually like being in a relationship.  I certainly don’t need one.  When I think about having a girlfriend, I think about it in practical terms.  If I had a girlfriend, she could drive when we go on vacation.  If I had a girlfriend, she could help me load Ikea flat pack furniture boxes into my car.  If I had a girlfriend, she could do something about that weeds in the back yard.  If I had a girlfriend, she could make phone calls for me.  If I had a girlfriend, she’d get me to the hospital if I fell down the stairs.  But never anything about companionship or love.

So…  I don’t know.  Am I aromantic?  Am I just bad at being heteroromantic?  Is this all just extreme shyness and social awkwardness preventing me from being able to have a relationship?  Do I need to fling myself out of my comfort zone and experiment more, or would that just lead to disaster?  Is it asexuality coming into the picture and saying “Why Bother?”.

 

(By the way, in case you were wondering, no, that first girl didn’t grow up to become a doctor and save the world.  Instead, she’s making awful indie comedy movies with her director husband.  Had I known at the time, I might have been able to set in motion a chain of events that would have prevented those movies from being made, but I did nothing…  Or because I did nothing, did I, myself, set in motion the very chain of events that led to them being made?  Either way, I must live with the guilt…)

22 thoughts on “…And Then What?

  1. Whoa there, just wait a second, did you just read my mind? The narrowing via criteria, the steps plan, the not liking the whole concept of dating (or finding it weird), being indifferent when touching, feeling like acting, not fantasizing about said “crush”. Being afraid of being successful when asking out someone (potentially), being relieved when someone who is romantically (and sexually) attracted to you leaves you. Wow…..

    • Yeah, eh? That’s just freaking eerie.
      My experience differs a bit at the “relationship ending” part. There was a girl that I’m might have been attracted to. I say “might” because at the time I was experiencing some pretty severe depression. Triggered, if you will, by something else but at some point I fixated on the fact that I never had a romantic/sexual relationship (because why would I want that? What is the point of it? What would I do with them and not my other friends?). Aaaanyway, I decided to try something with her to see if that fixed things, but it didn’t last long and when she broke it off I was crushed. Looking back at it after reading this site I think it had more to do with “my plan failing for reasons outside of my control” than “I’m not with this person anymore”. Also, the depression in general made all things crap.
      I still need to read a lot more about aces and do a lot of introspection before I can say that I am or am not one too. However this box *is* feeling like it’s the best fit so far and I can definitely say that I wish I found this place four years ago when all my stuff started.

  2. I can relate so much to the “and then what?” bit. I didn’t do the narrowing via criteria thing, since I wasn’t interested in dating, and felt no pressure to be so. I became obsessed with a friend of mine anyway, but while we were together, I never felt much attraction beyond the platonic. I was never sure what I’d expect if we actually started dating, either. At one point, I thought something along the lines of “screw it, I’ll ask her out anyway, and just see where it goes”, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it and kinda hated myself for it. The next day, I realized that, like you, I wasn’t afraid she’d say “no”; I was afraid she might actually say “yes”. I felt a bit better after figuring that out.

  3. Your thought train made me wonder, do you happen to be on the Autism spectrum? I have Asperger’s and your logical consideration of emotional situations reminds of my own thought process.

    • I’ve often wondered myself, but I’ve never bothered to go to a doctor to find out. Some traits fit, some do not, and I don’t know if I have enough of a mix to land on one side of a diagnosis or the other.

      • very cool story. i have a sister who is asexual but by choice. she is not interested in marriage or children or relationships or anything like that. and she’s just coming to grips with it. i thin it’s the coolest thing in the world. no others drama, just her own. she is an aromantic, bi relational (?) asexual but her qualm is that she doesn’t believe there are men out there that doesn’t feel sexual attraction. how do i let her know that there are men out there like her? (btw: she’s a Christian and so am i.) i’m married. but i support her to the fullest and every asexual. i think that there are other things on earth to think about or do than sex as well.

        • Well, asexuality isn’t a choice. We’re not actively deciding to avoid thinking about or engaging in sex, so it’s not some sort of admirable life path we’re walking. If someone’s choosing not to be involved with sex, that’s abstinence. I never said to myself that I’m doing to avoid sex and sexual thoughts. It actually confused me and it hurt that I didn’t feel the same as everyone else.

  4. Like nearly everything that you’ve posted, I was nodding in agreement about the whole situation. Your thoughts fit me exactly. My mom has pressured me to find a boy and date and the way I think about the available options is to compare them mentally. I’m sort of scared of dating because I don’t have the slightest idea what someone /does/ on a date and I can be socially awkward enough without dealing with an unknown situation like that. Definitely I’ve wondered if I’m an aro ace as well but I’m not ready to make the leap to commit to that label.

  5. This paragraph just blew my mind:

    “I don’t know that I’d actually like being in a relationship. I certainly don’t need one. When I think about having a girlfriend, I think about it in practical terms. If I had a girlfriend, she could drive when we go on vacation. If I had a girlfriend, she could help me load Ikea flat pack furniture boxes into my car. If I had a girlfriend, she could do something about that weeds in the back yard. If I had a girlfriend, she could make phone calls for me. If I had a girlfriend, she’d get me to the hospital if I fell down the stairs. But never anything about companionship or love.”

    This is me. I never thought of myself as aromantic or asexual, but I have absolutely no desire for romantic companionship. I just sort of accept it when someone declares feelings for me and go along with it, since I don’t want to hurt them. There’s no pleasure or draw to it.

  6. About that… I have always liked the idea of being with someone, and being in a romantic relationship was my main goal for years (before I realised that yes, maybe it would be nice, but being alone isn’t that bad, actually). And I have a huge list of things I would like to do with a significant other. Only, as I said to a friend when he asked me what I would do if I had a boyfriend, these are things like watching movies while cuddling under a blanket and eating chocolate. I have hundreds of movies and tv shows and animes that I would like to watch with someone. Or we could make pillow forts, or read together, or built a paper statue of a character we both like, or cook… I never thought about sex in a relationship. It’s so great to see that it’s not weird or anormal.

    • I felt the same way you did for a long time! Plus, I was always very confused, as I still very much have romantic attraction towards people and like the idea of being in a romantic relationship yet never, ever once thought about sex in a relationship. It made me feel weird around my friends who were constantly talking about sex, and sometimes talking to another ace person I knew online didn’t really help because they didn’t feel romantic attraction so I just kinda felt… broken.

  7. Wow. I’ve been talking to my friend about my sexuality, I’ve been through straight, to bisexual, to asexual. I’ve never really thought about it and had to google the definition when I initially heard it and it really sums me up. I’ve had 3 relationships, all of which have gone downhill since the start of them. I feel the same, as though I’m acting to fit in. Thanks for this article, it gives me something to relate to

  8. THIS!! I did have fleeting crush on a guy at school- read “he’s cute. Oh there’s my rubber!” Then I mostly did the same thing as you with another guy. “Going out” meant actually going out but I never thought of him in a romantic way. I just figured since we were friends we should since everyone else was doing it but I never asked and he never asked me either.

    Nice to know I’m not the only one who thinks like this!

  9. You really have no idea how much I can relate to you!
    Love and attraction always had a strong rational component to them uncommon to other people,

    I’m a 20-year-old girl. I basically always felt the same way you feel.
    There is this boy I like. I think he likes me. I actually started thinking we could be good together when he started showing interest in my company.
    We go to university together, he is a model student, he’s clever, hard-working, he loves sci-fi and musicals, he’s kind, he recieved an education similar to mine, we share a similar sense of humour. We’re also both short in stature, so I wouldn’t have to ask his permission to kiss him (yeah, I considered EVEN that factor). Perfect match, right?
    Yep, that’s what I thought. But I’m never going to ask him out first. I’m sort of scared of the expectations he may have. Will he expect sex? Will a boyfriend limit my freedom?
    The point is, I would just be content to discuss Marvel movies with him, let him bring me to watch a musical or spend an evening at home watching Doctor Who.
    I sort of have a feeling he might feel the same, because he’s a 21-years-old boy that never had a partner and in 6 months hasn’t made any move past the “let’s grab some coffee at the university cafeteria”.
    I wish I could let him know I am asexual, maybe he is too, maybe he would understand, would he?

    Anyway, thank you for this blog, you have become one of my favourite paople on the net.

    Also, I HATE the phone too. I always try to force my mum to make my calls. I feel so much less lonely now!

  10. Thank you for this and all the other posts! I’ve been searching for someone else who has had romantic “crushes” based exclusively off self-aware decisions. Every crush I had was pre-meditated. It was a carefully constructed list of pros and cons. For the longest time I thought that was how everyone did it. I think I did it to conform to social norms without even realizing that’s what was happening. Thanks for relaying your experiences. It’s hard to understand asexuality from the cold, scientific definition. It only fits me when I see it play out in the details of other people’s life stories.

  11. I can definitely relate to some of this, but I’m also slightly the opposite in some ways. The idea of having a romantic relationship definitely appeals to me, and I often find myself really longing for one. I have never been with anyone, though I did have a girlfriend in my late teens for about 3 months. I felt the way you did when our relationship ended–relieved. It was like a 3 month anxiety attack until I ended it and finally felt better.

    I’ve been pursued/hit on by a decent number of girls throughout my life, but I always freeze up, can usually hardly bear eye contact, let alone conversation. I know that part is just from being very shy with the other sex, but the part that I’m still personally confused about is the physical part. In the very few instances things have gotten physical for me, it’s always felt kinda forced and awkward. Like, “oh, ok, that’s her tongue, now I guess I use my tongue? Is that enough? Is it too much!?” And it just feels kinda weird, like you said. And in the only 2 (count em–2!) instances where things escalated to more than kissing and clothes were removed, I was kind of in a state of, “well, I guess I HAVE to do it now. I guess this is alright.” But, and this is a bit embarrassing, but true, no growth ‘down there.’ No arousal. And I don’t know why. I do ‘service’ myself, and only in thoughts of girls, and with porn that is hetero, and I don’t have arousal problems there. And in general, I am very attracted to woman. So I am definitely hetero in thought and in romanticization, yet when things get physical, it’s just oddly feelingless to me. I think maybe there is so much underlying anxiety from my lack of experience that my body is just freezing up even if my mind isn’t panicky, but I’m really not sure. It really sucks, cus on the one hand I do at times get very lonely, and I have always, since I was very young, had a very active romantic fantasy life, always falling for girls I knew and always imagining myself eventually getting married and having kids and all. Yet, the combination of lack of experience, extreme shyness, and this weird physical detachment in the rare cases where I’m actually with a girl, all add up to a feeling of hopelessness.

    But, in general, unlike you, when I think of having a relationship, it’s not really for the practical stuff, it’s definitely for the romantic side. It’s lying on couches watching tv together and whispering little secrets and all that corny stuff. I really don’t know why I can’t bridge the gap between those desires and physical reality.

    Anyway, great post.

  12. i never commented in social media even in my own language but now although its very hard for me writing in english . im doing it becuse i wanted to thank you . it feels like meeting humen beings in another planet couse no one understood my feelings before and. at last i find a logical reason and a term about all i felt. except what other people told me about being gay or having huge psicological issues becouse i didnt and if its not as recognized as other orientations are,thats not my problem. i think im ok with being ace.but the reality of living and diying alone bothers me sometimes. also i think on the other hand by saving that energy that other people put on their sexual desiers , i can put more energy on more important taskes as a part of humanity. (!forgive my lack of english knoledge!)

  13. I went from straight to bi and then to ace. I think it had something to do with not knowing what attraction is exactly, so it was like I’m equally attracted to guys and girls, probably, but I didn’t realize for awhile that it was pretty much nil. The hollow acting and emotional disconnect hit me pretty hard. I like being physically close to people though, but intimacy? Nope. There’s more than one type of attraction: sexual, aesthetic, sensual, and probably more. Aesthetic is just sort of the recognition of someone or something as attractive, and sensual is more what I feel, like you want to be close but not sexually.

  14. I am seventy one years old. I cannot believe that I am experiencing a revelation about myself at this age. I am happily married, married once before and have no children. When I was younger, I had a number of relationships, all ending because I was not sexual. I went through the motions just to make the man in each relationship, feel satisfied. I was engaged at 22 but my fiance said he felt I never enjoyed sex and just had it to make him happy but not because I was enjoying it. Duh, I didn’t get what he was saying until much later in life. My current husband never put any real demands on me sexually, because he had a drinking problem and could not perform any way. I have always loved him and felt secure with him. He doesn’t drink anymore but is 75 and has health issues so sex, or the lack thereof, has not.mattered. We kiss, we hug, we tell each other all the time how much we love one another -romantic, but definitely not sexual. I came across this blog because I saw something on Facebook about asexual it that I read and realized that was me. I still look at men and think they are or are not attractive but there is no sexual thought that goes along with that. Thank you for this blog. Now I have an answer for why I am the way I am.

  15. Thank you very much for posting this I’m 21 and am quite glad to have found so many people (blog+comments) who are also aromantic and have such similar thoughts and life experiences. I’ve never been interested in relationships, sex or other people in general. I just always assumed it was because I’m autistic and that it was a phase I would grow out of. I’ve always preferred just sitting in a corner and reading or watching anime.Anyway It’s disturbing how while reading this I kept thinking something like “yep, yep, I agree.” ” Wait…..This sounds-
    OH MY GODS ITS ME!!!” (Im agnostic). This was word for word except the relationship bit, obviously because no sane Girl would be interested in me.
    Anyway I grew up with all sorts of people I knew and heard about having tons of drama. My mum especially: 5 failed marriages and 2 boyfriends (one was a criminal) over the course of 15-16 yrs or so. Granted I’ve never had problems being alone, if anything I thrive in empty places and closed rooms like a ghost haunting a house. All of this of course to the constant consternation of my family. “Now stay here, don’t go and hide in your room again!” Etc.
    I have read/watched a lot of Shoujo/yuri manga/anime so I’m extremely romantic and want to find someone who I can hang out with, make phone calls or help me out when I need it. Also as someone else has mentioned I would love to do CCDCT (Cute Couples Doing Cute Things). I dunno what though, oh! Lastly reading this has inspired me to make my first story a slice of life/romance/litrpg about myself. I’ve had serious writers for a while so thx!?!!

  16. Hi, I know this is probably a late comment, but I can’t help but to want to know a few things, if you don’t mind talking about it.
    Do you feel any bad feelings when someone who’s in your life regularly talks about the pain/problems in their lives? A few things you’ve talked about in your post have me thinking you could have an antisocial personality disorder. Feeling like you’re having to “play the part”, not being sure if you loved the girl or not, and feeling nothing in the presence of intimacy.
    However, being antisocial would cause you to have no regard towards others.

    Another thing that could be going on is that you just don’t see the need/desire for a partner, causing you to be aromantic/asexual.

    Another possibility is that you could feel more negative effects to having a partner than positive, although you haven’t mentioned anything about this.

    Thanks for the read, hope to hear from you soon. I’m excited to understand personalities a little better

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