[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…)