What I’ve Missed Out On Being Single

A lot of times, people will say that single people are “Missing Out” on the partner experience.  What they generally mean by that is that I do not experience some of the things that have brought them joy.  They assume because they want these things, that I must want them too, and must be suffering from their absence.

They think that I’m missing out on having children.

They think that I’m missing out on waking up next to someone in the morning.

They think that I’m missing out on sex.

They think that I’m missing out on someone to share the pain with.

They think that I’m missing out on laughter and love and those hundred little intangibles they couldn’t live without.

I’m not.  I’m not missing out on any of those things.  I’m not really interested in any of those things.  I have to assume that the people who think I’m missing out were driven to obtain those things, and feel that a hole in their life was filled by them.  But I feel no such hole.

However, there is one that I have missed out on because I’m perpetually single.  It’s stuck with me over the years, and it stands out as the only thing I can honestly say I’ve missed out on because I was alone.

The Jot Dean Ice Cave.

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I should point out that I travel.  Not travel, as in the globetrotting fly to Europe and take a cruise around the world kind of travel, but travel as in pack up the car and go driving kind of travel.  I’ve been to places you’ve never heard of that are down roads you’d be reluctant to drive.  I routinely find myself in places that are untouched by cell phone signals.  I’ve seen some amazing things and been to places that will stay with me forever.  Control room of a nuclear reactor from the Manhattan Project?  Been there.  Watch the sun rise on the Equinox in Chaco Canyon?  Done that.

But the Jot Dean Ice Cave?

No.  I turned around because I was alone.

The Jot Dean Ice Cave lies in the backwoods of Northern California, among the lava fields of the Medicine Lake Volcano.  It’s halfway between Lava Beds National Monument and nowhere in particular.  The partially paved road that passes it is empty.  In one section, I drove for an hour and didn’t see another car.  If it’s solitude you’re after, this is probably a good place to go looking for it.

There are many lava tubes in Northern California.  That’s what Jot Dean is.  In many cases, the thrill of exploring a lava tube is enough of a reason to break out the flashlights and put on the bike helmet.  But Jot Dean has an attraction beyond simply going underground.  Jot Dean is an “Ice Cave”, which means that there’s ice in the cave year-round.  Normally, this means that there’s a slightly puddled ice sheet at the far reaches of the cave, but not here.  Here, in Jot Dean, there’s a massive ice wall.  Six inches thick and eight feet high.

And I didn’t see it.

I didn’t see it because I didn’t go in the cave.

Because I was alone.

I missed out because I was alone.

See, the Jot Dean Ice Cave is not a developed cave, where there’s a nice lighted trail and steel stairs leading from the surface into the depths.  There are no tours, there’s no interpretive signs, there’s no gift shops, there’s no elevator back to the surface.  The entrance is a hole in the ground, filled with massive boulders, the jumbled remnants of the collapsed ceiling.  It’s friendlier than some caves, sure, but I’m an uncoordinated city dweller, not a mountain goat or a seasoned caver.  To get to the cave, you have to scramble down into this pit of loose rocks.  I started down, reaching about halfway, before I realized where I was.

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I was in the mouth of a cave.  A bee-infested cave.  On a loose pile of sharp boulders.  In the middle of nowhere.  With no one else around.

Certainly, the likelihood of something going wrong was low.  But if something did go wrong, that would not be a good situation.

I could get attacked by the swarm of bees.  I could get bit by a rattlesnake.  I could twist my ankle or break my leg on the rocks.  I could fall and hit my head.  I could slip on the ice and dislocate something.

And no one would find me.

There was no one else there.  I think I’d passed one car on the road to the place.  There was a very good chance that no one else would stop at the cave that day.

I pictured myself lying badly injured in the cave.  In the dark.  In the cold.  Screaming.  No one would hear me.  Not a chance.  Maybe -just maybe- a ranger would drive by, see my car in the parking lot, and check the cave.  But would they get there in time?  I might have been there for hours.

Even if it’s a less serious injury, and I’m able to crawl back to the road, no one’s driving past to be able to help.  And it’s probably a two hour drive to the nearest hospital.

And so I said no.  I’m not going in there.  Yes, there’s an amazing ice wall.  Yes, I’m only a hundred feet away.  Yes, I’m probably overreacting.  But no, I’m not going to do it.

Because I’m alone.

What’s especially important to notice is that I missed out because I was alone, not because I was alone.  I didn’t say, “I’m not going to do this because I’m not in a relationship”.  I said, “I’m not going to do this because I’m probably the only person for miles and I don’t feel like dying in a cave while I’m on vacation”.  It really wouldn’t have mattered who was there, as long as someone had been.  Strangers on the trail would’ve sufficed.

People in relationships have an automatic buddy system.  You slip and fall and break your leg in a remote ice cave in Northern California, your relationship buddy will drag you to the surface and race you to the nearest hospital.  I am missing out on that aspect of a relationship.  Thing is, that’s one of the few aspects of a relationship that I actually find appealing.  Other people want to get paired up for the love or the companionship or the sex, but I look at getting paired up as a Fairy in a Bottle or a Second Chance perk.

Here’s the other thing that most people don’t mention.  By “Missing Out” on one thing, you often open a window on something else.  Had I actually gone all the way into the Ice Cave that day, everything the rest of the day would have been shifted back by about half an hour.  That means I wouldn’t have made it to Fleener Chimneys for the sunset.  I probably would have been someplace far less spectacular.  So, in the end, did I actually miss out at all?

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…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…)

Possible Signs of Asexuality – Part 3: About Others

This is the third post in a three part series on the possible signs of asexuality.  The items discussed here aren’t meant to be any kind of “Am I Ace?” checklist, so it’s okay if you don’t identify or agree with any of them.  They’re just experiences that I’ve seen pop up over and over when asexuals talk about their lives.

The first day was all about thoughts you may have had about yourself and your identity, the second day was all about thoughts on sex and sexual activity, and today is all about thoughts about other people and other things.

Links to the posts in this series:

You’ve never wanted to “jump someone’s bones”.  You’ve never thought “I’d hit that”.

This is one of the more common reasons people discover that they’re asexual.  At some point in their lives, they’ll look around and realize that other people say things like that and mean them.  That straight out of the blue, one person will look at another, often a complete stranger, and think, “I would like to have sex with that person”, and that, in some cases, this thought will drive people’s actions.

Some asexuals may even look at this and think that’s bizarre.  Why would anyone do that sort of thing?  The whole concept is so different from how they look at the same scenario that it may be impossible for them to process those actions into something that makes sense.  For some asexual people, the thought “I would like to have sex with that person” could seem as random and unexpected as “I would like to paint that person blue, cover them with twigs, and dance around them in a circle all night”.

You don’t feel that anyone is “hot”.  “Cute”, maybe, “pretty”, maybe, but not “hot”.

Some asexuals don’t connect with the word “hot” and other words describing someone’s sexual desirability.  We’re able to judge and rank subjective beauty on a scale from “ugly” to “pretty”, we may feel that some people are “cute”, but “hot” can be a word that some asexuals avoid.  It’s not that we don’t understand it.  We can usually point at someone and identify whether other people might classify them as “hot”.  It’s that we don’t feel it.  When other people use words like “hot”, we can sense that there’s some innate internal buzzer going off inside their mind, and that the word is not just some synonym or sub-category of words like “cute” or “pretty”.  The word means more to them than “visually appealing”.  There’s something behind it, some sense, some response that’s driving them to choose “hot” over “pretty”, and we don’t experience what that sense is.

Additionally, the word “sexy” is also not within your realm of understanding.

You thought that everyone else was just pretending to be interested in sex.

Many asexuals describe having a sort of “Emperor’s New Clothes” view of sex at some point in their lives:  That everyone else is just pretending to like it simply because everyone else seems to like it, and they don’t want to be the only one who speaks out and says “No, I’m not really into that.”  In this view, a sexually charged culture enforces conformity.

This view often comes about during the teenage years.  The asexual’s friends all start talking about boys or girls, but they don’t feel anything yet themselves.  Puberty strikes different people at different times and in different ways, so at first, they’ll just think they’re not there yet, but as time goes on, they’ll realize that they never started getting all that interested in boys or girls.  This may lead to thoughts like, “Well, I never got interested in sex, so maybe no one else really did, either.  Maybe they’re all just faking to fit in.”

Which brings us to…

You just pretended to be interested in sex.

Sometimes, some asexuals will feel pressured to pretend to be interested in sex in order to fit in.  All your friends get caught up in what they’d like to do and who they’d like to do it with, but you don’t feel that way about anyone.  So, you just smile and nod, until…

“So, who do YOU like?”

…and you sputter out something about Johnny or Sally, not because you’re actually interested in them, but because they seemed like acceptable options to use to hide how you really feel, because if you told your friends how you really feel, they’d just laugh at you and think you’re a freak.

And so, you lie and go along with it.  Eventually, you may even end up in a relationship and…

You pretended to like sex so your partner wouldn’t think you didn’t love them.

For many people, love and sex are inextricably linked.  A sexual rejection is taken as a rejection of the person as a whole, a sign that they’re unloved, rather than just an indication that their partner has an activity they’re not all that interested in.  This can pose a challenge for asexuals in a relationship.  They can be truly, madly, deeply, and endlessly in love, yet just not care for sex.  They fear that letting their partner know how they feel would mean that their love would be doubted and the relationship would be destroyed as a result.  “If you really loved me, you’d want sex with me.”

It’s even possible that the asexual partner does enjoy sex, but are afraid to let their partner know that they don’t find them sexually attractive.  And so, they put on an act of attraction and will say things like “You’re so hot” or “You turn me on so much” when that’s not actually the case.

Sex is not love, love is not sex.  It’s possible to love someone you’re not sexually attracted to.  It’s possible to have and even enjoy sex, even if you’re not sexually attracted to the person you’re involved with.

Conversations about sex aren’t interesting.

Friends and coworkers like to talk about sex.  They like to talk about what they’ve done, what they’d like to do, and what they’ve heard about other people doing.  They boast about bachelor(ette) parties or one night stands.  They discuss who’s hot, how hot they are, and what attributes make them hot.  They make suggestive comments about the delivery person or the receptionist or the wait staff at the restaurant.

And you couldn’t care less.

If they’re talking about other people, like how “hot” the waitress is or how “steamy” the delivery guy is, there’s a good chance that you didn’t even notice them.  If they’re talking about parties or one-night stands, there’s a good chance you don’t have any comparable experiences to discuss.  You just zone out when they start talking about these things, and let the conversation run its course.  Sometimes, people may notice that you’ve gone quiet and think that you’re offended by where the conversation has gone, but that’s not necessarily the case.  You’ve gone quiet because you’ve got no input, no commentary, no questions.

You often find sex scenes in books/TV/movies to be out of place or boring.

You’re watching a movie when suddenly the male and female leads start going at it for no reason:  [fast forward!]

You’re reading a book when suddenly it turns to “heaving bosoms” and “love’s juices”: [next chapter!]

Perhaps it’s a sense of “Ew, icky”, but it doesn’t have to be.  More often, it’s a sense of “Why are they doing that?  What’s the point?  Get back to the story!”  Half the time, the sexual encounter is unforgivably contrived.  Sometimes you can even imagine the writers meeting with their editor or producer and being told to “sex it up a bit, the ratings are off this year”, and the writers just randomly drawing character names from a hat to decide who should go at it.

Bad acting and lame stories in porn really bug you, because, after all, what’s the point in watching a movie if it’s no good?

“Oh, come on, if that sort of thing happened in real life, she’d have that doctor arrested.  That guy is a terrible actor, it’s like he never even bothered to look at the script.  And don’t even get me started on that set and how cheap it looks!  It’s supposed to be a doctor’s office, so where’s the blood pressure thingy and the jar of tongue depressors and the bed with the paper stuff?  I mean, that looks like a cheap Army surplus cot from the 50′s!  That can’t possibly be sterile!  What’s this now?  Why is she moaning?  He’s not anywhere near her!  What is supposed to be happening?  She keeps looking directly at the camera, too.  And that guy keeps getting in the way of the shot..  Didn’t the director plan out the scene with the actors ahead of time?  Why am I even watching this?

You feel like sex comes naturally to everyone else, but you have to work at it.

You look at other people, and they seem to instinctively understand sex, and how to play the game.  Your partner handles it effortlessly, while for you, sex ends up more like a poorly-choreographed attempt at a secret handshake that no one taught you than a spontaneous expression of intimacy.  It’s like everyone else went to some sort of intensive training camp and knows everything inside and out, while you have to pick it up on the job.  Even so, there’s some secret that everyone else seems to know, the key to understanding the whole thing, and you know that you will never learn that secret, no matter how hard you try.

If given the hypothetical chance of a no-strings, no-regrets, no-consequences sexual encounter, you’d have to think about it.

Usually, this comes in the form of a hypothetical situation:  “Random Hot Person X appears in front of you and says ‘Let’s get it on’.  Would you go for it?”  For many people, the response is an unequivocal and immediate, “Yes”.  For others, it’s “No, I can’t, my boyfriend wouldn’t let me”.  But for you, it’s something more like, “Well, I don’t know…  It’s Friday.  Fringe is on.  I guess I could record it, but I was looking forward to watching it all day.”

You never initiate sex.

It’s not that you dislike sex.  It’s not that your partner isn’t any good.  It’s that you just never think about it.  It’s never on your mind.  So, as a result, you never think, “Hey, I’d like to have sex right now.  I should go see if my partner is up for it.”

This, of course, can cause problems in relationships.  Your partner may end up feeling like they always do all the work and may even begin to think that your lack of initiative is an indication that you’re not really in love with them.

You don’t catch it when people are flirting, even when you’re the one doing the flirting.

I’ve seen this one pop up in asexual discussions a couple of times.  It’s happened to me, and I just thought I was completely oblivious.  I’ve been told that I’m good at flirting, even though I just thought I was having a normal conversation.  And whenever someone is flirting with me, I won’t notice.  (And probably wouldn’t know what to do, even if I did.)  Only hours later, when I think back on the conversation, will I realize that something was off.

I was once on vacation, in a park, taking 3D pictures with a homemade stereoscopic camera.  A woman called me over and started asking questions about the camera, and telling me how she was a photographer, too.  We spoke for a minute or two, then I continued wandering around the park.  On my way back to my car, I passed the bench, and she loudly lamented to her friend “Where are all the good men in this town?”.

I was literally in the next state when I realized that she probably wasn’t that interested in my camera.

—————

I know that I didn’t discuss every possible indicator of ace-ness, and I’m sure there’s some of these that that you’ll have your own take on.  I’m even starting to come up with more things I should’ve written about, but I know that if I keep adding and adding, I’ll never actually get this out the door.

I sense a part 4 in the future…

Links to the posts in this series:

(BTW, in case you’ve been wondering about it this whole time, this is a XONOX.  It has absolutely no relation to anything else, I just needed a nonsense word and that’s what popped into my head, because that’s just the kind of nerd I am.)

Forward Advances

I was watching a TV show today when a familiar scene came on. There was a woman who was interested in a male character, and in order to make her intentions clear, she physically forces herself on him as he sits in a chair. Usually, this scene leads to one of the following outcomes:

  • Sex
  • Someone walks in on them (And they typically end up having sex later anyway)
  • Outright refusal (And they typically end up having sex later anyway)

Today, it got me thinking: What would I do in this situation?
Then I remembered… I’ve actually been in this situation, so I know exactly what I’d do.

I just sat there.

It was almost ten years ago now. I was meeting an Internet friend for the first time. She had made her feelings for me quite clear, but I didn’t feel the same for her. I expected some sort of physical display of affection, a hug, maybe a kiss. I knew it would probably be awkward and I almost didn’t want to meet her because of it.
We’d been together for a couple of hours when she told me that she wanted to sit for a bit.  We were on the fourth floor of a university building and there was a small study lounge at the end of the hall.  We sat and chatted a bit while looking out the window.

Then she pounced.

She flew over into my seat and pressed herself against me.  With one hand, she rubbed my chest, the other hand ran through my hair.  She pressed her lips against my neck.

I just sat there.  I watched the people in the courtyard below.

I couldn’t push her away because that would kill her.
I couldn’t actively take part because that would be a lie.

She pressed closer.

I felt like I wasn’t there.  If I were there, I’d react.  I’d want to kiss her, to touch her.  But I didn’t feel anything.
Why didn’t I feel anything?
Here was a friendly, attractive woman who obviously wanted me.  No one had ever expressed an interest in me like this before.  She wanted to do this for months.  I wanted nothing.

And I just sat there.

This isn’t right.
Why didn’t I want her?
Why didn’t I feel anything?
Why couldn’t I feel anything?
What is wrong with me?

I watched the people in the courtyard below.

I replayed that moment in my mind over and over in the days that followed.  The weeks, the months, the years that followed.  I searched for clues, for hints, for anything that would help to unlock the mystery of my heart.  There was nothing there to find.

When I discovered asexuality last year, this memory was one of the first that jumped to mind.  Everything finally snapped into place and became perfectly clear to me.  Nothing was wrong with me at all.  That’s just not the way I’m wired.

A Bit of Attraction

So, you’re asexual. That means you can’t love anyone and are going to die alone, right?

Asexuality only means that a person does not experience sexual attraction. It doesn’t mean that they can’t fall in love. It doesn’t mean that they want to be alone forever. It just means that they don’t see someone and immediately want to jump their bones. There have been asexual people who have fallen in love and gotten married.

Wait, so… Some asexuals get married? What do they do on the honeymoon?

Play Scrabble.

(No, really.)

But how can you fall in love with someone and not want to have sex with them?

Love and sex are different things. Appreciation of beauty and sex are different things. It is quite possible to think someone is stunningly gorgeous and be dumb-struck in love with them and not be interested in having sex with them.

There’s a word for a relationship without sex. It’s “Friendship”.

There are many non-asexual couples where the sexual flame has long been extinguished, but who are still inseparable. There are many non-asexual couples who are in circumstances where they can’t have sex, but they’re still madly in love. Just because there’s no sex, that doesn’t negate the romantic aspect of the relationship. Would you say to an elderly couple that they’re “just friends” because he’s no longer able to perform? Would you tell a couple who’ve been in a bad car accident that they’re “just friends” because she’s paralyzed?

But those people are still attracted to each other. How can you have a relationship without attraction?

There are actually multiple different kinds of attraction. Sexual attraction is just one. Asexuals don’t experience sexual attraction, however, they may experience other types of attraction. Romantic attraction is what draws a person toward someone else and makes them want to get into a relationship with that person. For most people, romantic attraction and sexual attraction are directed toward the same person. They will find someone romantically and sexually attractive, that is, they will want to have a relationship with that person and they’ll want to include sex as part of that relationship.

It’s possible to experience sexual attraction without romantic attraction. A one-night stand, a friends-with-benefits situation, even some extramarital affairs are often examples of this arrangement. A person will only see the partner as sexually interesting, but not want to become romantically involved.

For many asexuals, they will experience romantic attraction without sexual attraction. They’ll want a girlfriend or boyfriend, and want to do most of the things that couples do, like go on dates, live together, take trips with each other, even get married and spend every moment of the rest of their lives together. But amongst all of that, there’s no burning desire to do the horizontal mambo. And it’s not a temporary “Not tonight dear, I have a headache” type of thing. The interest just isn’t there.

So do asexuals just randomly pick someone out of the phone book and call them up for a date?

Um. No.

Just like the different sexual orientations you’re probably already familiar with, there are multiple romantic orientations:

  • Heteroromantic: Romantically attracted to the opposite sex/gender.
  • Homoromantic: Romantically attracted to the same sex/gender.
  • Biromantic/Panromantic: Romantically attracted to both/all sexes/genders.
  • Aromantic: Romantically attracted to no one.

For instance, a heteroromantic man would be interested in a romantic relationship with women. Likewise, a homoromantic woman would be interested in having a relationship with other women.

In some cases, a heteroromantic asexual might call themselves a “straight asexual” or a homoromantic ace might say they’re a “gay asexual” or “asexual lesbian”. Those terms are used as convenient shorthand, because saying the word “heteroromantic” is a mouthful and will probably get a confused blank stare from whoever you’re talking to. However, other asexuals will refuse to use those words to describe themselves, as they carry such a strong sexual connotation.

(By the way, there are other romantic orientations that I did not include in the list above.  If your feelings on love and romance don’t fit into one of the boxes above, I’d recommend looking around for a more complete list.  Something like “androromantic”, “gynoromantic”, or perhaps even “wtfromantic” might suit you better.)

In my case, I lie somewhere between heteroromantic and aromantic and I still haven’t quite sorted it out yet. I know that I’m not homo- or bi-romantic because I’ve never felt any interest in having a relationship with a man. But at the same time, I’m not terribly drawn into wanting a relationship with a woman, either. I had a girlfriend once, but it never felt quite right. Whenever I think about being in a relationship, I don’t desire closeness or inseparability. It’s more that I want someone who’ll take the wheel on long road trips or run interference against salespeople in the store or help me load Ikea furniture into the car. But I know that I’d want it to be a woman. So yeah, still totally confused there… Moving on.

In addition to romantic attraction, there’s aesthetic attraction. Aesthetic attraction, aside from being remarkably troublesome to spell, is being attracted to the way someone looks. This may sound sexual in nature, but it is not. Instead of thinking, “She’s hot, I’d totally tap that”, aesthetic attraction is more along the lines of “She’s cute, I’d totally stare at her for hours and study the lines and curves and contours and the interaction of the lighting on her hair and the way the colors she is wearing highlight her fingernails”. It’s more like the sense one gets looking at a beautiful landscape or a masterful painting, and there’s no sexual desire connected to it.

I definitely experience aesthetic attraction. There are certain people or certain types that will draw my eye, but I have no desire to have sex with them, I don’t picture them naked, I don’t really even want to talk to them. I just like the way they look and they stand out to me for some reason.

Are asexuals only romantically attracted to other asexuals?

No, not necessarily. Love is blind and doesn’t really care about sexual orientation. Very often asexual people will end up in relationships with non-asexual people.

And how does that work out?

It works out like any other relationship. Most of them fade away within a few months, some will last a year or two, sometimes they’ll move in together, maybe even get married, have children, get divorced and end up in a bitter custody dispute. You know, the usual.

No, I mean, how does a rela- Wait… Have kids? What?

Asexual people aren’t inherently incapable of having sex, and they’re not inherently infertile. Since asexuals generally can have sex and are generally fertile, I’ll let you figure out the rest.

Okay, that brings me to the point. How does a relationship work between someone who wants sex and someone who just isn’t interested?

Sometimes it just works. If the non-asexual partner has a low sex drive or the asexual partner is willing to have sex as often as the other partner wants, then it may be a non-issue.

Sometimes it’s difficult. If the asexual partner doesn’t want to have sex or isn’t willing to have sex as often as the non-asexual partner would like, then there could be trouble in the relationship. Often both partners will have to compromise in some way, but if both partners are committed and loving, they may find a way to make it work.

Sometimes it doesn’t work at all. If the asexual partner flat out refuses any kind of sexual activity and the non-asexual partner requires it three times a day, and neither party is willing to give, that relationship will not last. It will probably end in a pit of misery and resentment.

Sometimes it’s comically misguided. Like when the asexual partner talks about the sexual activities of night before with all the passion and fire of an economics textbook. But that’s a topic for another time…