I was wondering how you felt about relationships?

Q: This is probably a deeper question than what would usually be asked. I was wondering how you felt about relationships? Not the usual kind of ‘are you okay with dating’ type of thing, but the prospect that it may never happen? I am asexual aromantic, so that leaves little room for anyone to have a serious, romantic relationship with me, although I have tried.

I’m fine with the thought that it will never happen.  I think it would be extremely awkward for me.  Like I just wouldn’t belong there.

I had a romantic relationship years ago, and it just didn’t fit right.  Last summer, the prospect of a romantic relationship came up again (with another asexual, no less!) and I just couldn’t see how it could work for me.  There was absolutely nothing wrong with this person, no reason to say no, I just couldn’t bring myself to say yes, because I knew that I didn’t belong there.

Then again, I’ve always been an introvert, a loner.  I’m fine taking 5000 mile road trips with only a map and a camera.  (And a ton of camping equipment and clothes and snacks and guidebooks, etc.  But you get the idea.)  I don’t know that I’d know how to share a life with someone.

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…)

Asexuality Questionnaire #5.3: Relationships

If you have not already done so, please stop off at the main questionnaire page for important information about the intent of these questionnaires.

Thank you for your interest, but this survey is now closed!  We are no longer accepting responses at this time.  If you’re curious, here’s what the questions were:

  1. Has anyone ever hit on you or made advances toward you that you refused because you are asexual?
  2. Have you ever been in love?
  3. Have you ever had a “crush” on anyone?  How would you describe it?
  4. Have you ever had a “squish” on anyone?  How would you describe it?  What makes you consider it different from a “crush”?
  5. Have you ever been married or in a long term committed romantic relationship?  What does/did your spouse or partner think about your asexuality?
This survey is currently disabled.

Asexuality Questionnaire #5.2: Relationships

If you have not already done so, please stop off at the main questionnaire page for important information about the intent of these questionnaires.

Thank you for your interest, but this survey is now closed!  We are no longer accepting responses at this time.  If you’re curious, here’s what the questions were:

  1. If you are aromantic, gray-aromantic, demi-romantic, or something similar, have you ever been in a relationship where your partner considered it a romantic relationship, and you did not?
  2. Have you ever experienced problems in a romantic relationship because of or related to your asexuality or romantic orientation?
  3. Did discovering you were asexual change your outlook on relationships?
  4. How would you explain the difference between a romantic relationship and a platonic relationship, if there’s no sex in the romantic relationship?
  5. Do you notice flirting?  Do you flirt (knowingly or unknowingly) with others?
This survey is currently disabled.

Asexuality Questionnaire #5.1: Relationships

If you have not already done so, please stop off at the main questionnaire page for important information about the intent of these questionnaires.

Thank you for your interest, but this survey is now closed!  We are no longer accepting responses at this time.  If you’re curious, here’s what the questions were:

  1. What is your romantic orientation?  If you are unsure, please explain why you are unsure.
  2. How did you discover your romantic orientation?
  3. If you are not sure what your romantic orientation is, how important is it to you to find out?
  4. Have you ever been in a romantic relationship with a non-asexual person?  Can you describe what that was like?
  5. Have you ever been in a romantic relationship with another asexual person?  Can you describe what that was like?
This survey is currently disabled.

Things That Are Not Asexuality

Asexuality is a sexual orientation where a person does not experience sexual attraction.  That’s all it is.  However, since asexuality isn’t well known, it’s often confused with similar (and sometimes not even remotely similar) concepts.  Because of this, it’s important to point out these distinctions and differences.  It’s also important to note that most of these concepts are not necessarily mutually exclusive with asexuality.  For instance, even though asexuality is not celibacy, it’s possible for someone who is asexual to also be celibate.

Asexuality is not celibacy or abstinence.

Celibacy and abstinence describe behavior, they’re about actions.  A celibate or abstinent person does not have sex.  Asexuality is an orientation, it’s about attraction, not action.  An asexual person does not experience sexual attraction, but they may or may not have sex.

Asexuality is not a lack of sexuality.

Asexuality doesn’t mean that someone can’t have sex.  Asexuality doesn’t mean that someone can’t masturbate.  Asexuality doesn’t mean that someone can’t wear make-up or nice clothes.  Asexuality doesn’t mean that someone can’t be interested in sex.  Asexuality doesn’t mean that someone is infertile or impotent.  Asexuality doesn’t mean that someone doesn’t have a libido.  Asexuality means that someone doesn’t experience sexual attraction, and that’s all.

Asexuality is not virginity.

Asexuals do not experience sexual attraction, and won’t suddenly start experiencing sexual attraction by having sex.  Many asexuals have had sex, and yet are still asexual.  In fact, many asexuals don’t even discover that they’re asexual until after they’ve had sex and start to wonder why they’re not all that interested in it.

Asexuality is not a hormone imbalance.

Many asexuals have had their hormones tested and have been found them to be within normal levels.  Some asexuals have undergone hormone therapy for other conditions and have not reported any change in their sexual orientation.  In general, asexual people do not experience any of the other signs of a hormone imbalance (hair loss, erectile dysfunction, depression, hot flashes, etc.), so even when they haven’t been specifically tested, they can be reasonably sure that their hormones are in order.  Also, a loss of sexual interest due to a hormone imbalance is often sudden, while an asexual person typically has never experienced sexual attraction for their entire lives, so it’s not like anything was “lost”, because it was never there.

(If you do have reason to believe that your hormones may not be in order, particularly if you’ve suddenly lost the interest in sex that you used to have, go see a doctor about it.)

Asexuality is not a fear of sex.

Being asexual doesn’t mean someone afraid of sex, just like being heterosexual or homosexual doesn’t mean a person loves sex.  Being asexual doesn’t say anything about a person’s opinion of sex. Some asexuals are afraid of sex.  Some asexuals love sex.  Some asexuals are indifferent to sex.  Many people who do experience sexual attraction are afraid of sex, but that does not make them asexual.

Asexuality is not a purity pledge or a religious act.

Asexuality has nothing to do with adhering to religious beliefs and is not the result of taking a purity pledge.  If one chooses not to have sex because their religion or personal beliefs prohibit it, that’s abstinence, not asexuality.  It is possible for someone who is asexual to refrain from sexual activity for religious reasons, which would make them abstinent and asexual.  On the flip side, there are many asexuals who are not religious and do not appreciate having religious motivations ascribed to them.

Asexuality is not a choice.

Like every other sexual orientation, asexuals were born this way.  We never looked at our lives one day and thought “You know, I’m done with this sex stuff” and decided to become asexual.  You cannot choose to be asexual any more than you can choose to be gay or straight.  Certainly, you can choose who you have sex with or whether or not you have sex at all, but that’s behavior, not who you’re attracted to.  If you experience sexual attraction and choose not to act on it, then you’re not asexual.  Asexual people do not experience sexual attraction.

Asexuality is not a disease.

There’s nothing physically wrong with people who are asexual.  We’re not asexual because of a tumor or a virus or a parasite.  We’re not contagious.  Some people like men, some people like women, some people like both, some people don’t care, and there’s nothing to cure about any of those cases.

Asexuality is not sexual immaturity.

Someone who is asexual isn’t asexual because they’ve never had sex or haven’t had enough sex.  Someone who is asexual isn’t asexual because they haven’t met the right person yet.  Someone who is asexual isn’t asexual because they’re hiding or repressing their sexual desires.  Someone who is asexual isn’t asexual because they’re in some perpetual state of child-like naivete.  Someone who is asexual is asexual because they don’t experience sexual attraction.  No amount of experience or information is going to change that.

Asexuality is not a physical condition.

There are no physical signs of asexuality.  Just like you can’t tell if someone is straight or gay or pan or bi just by looking at them, you can’t tell someone is asexual just by looking at them.  Being asexual doesn’t mean that something downstairs doesn’t work right.  Being asexual doesn’t mean that someone has no genitals.

Asexuality is not a lack of libido.

Libido is also known as a “sex drive”, that is, the desire or impulse to experience sexual satisfaction.  Some asexuals do have a libido, it’s just that it’s essentially aimless.  Their bits downstairs will activate and call out for attention, but that doesn’t make a person feel sexually attracted toward anyone else.

Asexuality is not a gender identity.

Asexuality has nothing to do with someone’s gender.  There are asexual men, asexual women, asexuals who are transgender, and asexuals of no gender.  Asexuality does not mean someone is unhappy or uncomfortable with their gender or the parts they were born with.  Asexuality does not mean that a person is genderless.

Asexuality is not a relationship status.

On places like Tumblr and Twitter, I’ve seen many people say things like “Boys suck, I’m turning asexual now”.  Asexuality is a sexual orientation, it doesn’t mean that you’re avoiding sex because of a bad relationship experience.  If someone is avoiding sex, that’s called celibacy or abstinence, not asexuality.  You can’t be temporarily asexual because of a bad break up, that’s just not how it works.

Asexuality is not a relationship cure-all.

Similar to the “Boys suck, I’m asexual” line, I’ve seen people say things like “I wish I were asexual, then I wouldn’t have any problems.”  Asexuality does not mean that someone does not participate in romantic or sexual relationships.  Many asexuals will end up in relationships, and those relationships can have just as many problems as relationships between non-asexual people.  In fact, if an asexual ends up in a relationship with a non-asexual person, that can lead to all sorts of problems due to mismatched sexual interest.

Asexuality is not a dry spell.

If someone hasn’t had sex for a week, that doesn’t make them asexual.  If someone hasn’t had sex for a month, that doesn’t make them asexual.  If someone hasn’t had sex for a year, that doesn’t make them asexual.  If someone hasn’t had sex for a decade, that doesn’t make them asexual.  There isn’t some span of time that someone has to go without sex before they’re granted the title of asexual, because that’s not what asexuality is.  Asexuality is about not experiencing sexual attraction, not a lack of sex.

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…