[This has been crossposted from a submission to AsexualActitives.com.]
A couple of years ago, a coworker began flirting with me. Because it went on for a while (I saw them every day and we would spend hours together due to work), I was able to determine that flirting was indeed happening, which meant I was able to start preparing for a response if a move was made.
“Well, you see… You’re fun to talk to. And I like you, just not that way. I’m sorry. I’m what’s called asexual, so I just don’t work like that.”
Then the move came.
One day, I left a book of ViewMaster reels of dissected cadavers on their desk. (Yes, that is a thing. I own it because I’m into stereophotography and that’s an odd stereophotographic collectible item, not because I’m into anatomy or cadavers or anything like that. They, on the other hand, were into vintage things with a morbid twist, so I figured they’d be interested.) And that started the process.
We were in the office, so it’s not like we could just have a straight up conversation about anything like this without everyone else noticing or overhearing, so it began on the company’s internal chat program. While they were pouring their heart out, I kept getting interrupted by people coming up to ask questions (which happens to me all the time at work), so it wasn’t ideal. Among the words they typed were “I’m asexual too”.
Well, there goes my counter plan.
The conversation continued throughout the day. We went to lunch (which I later discovered was considered a “date”), where they told me that they loved me and that they already had a boyfriend and that they’d never done anything like this before. After work, we sat in a hallway talking about things for several hours as they inched closer and started touching my arm. As we parted that night, they gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek.
For some people, this would be a dream scenario, but for me, it was extremely awkward. I don’t know what to do with this sort of situation.
Should I give a clear no, ain’t gonna happen? But how do I do that without losing them as a friend?
Should I make something up about “I don’t date coworkers”? Well, no, they were thinking of leaving the place anyway, so they probably would just for the chance to be with me, at which point I would have ruined both their professional and personal lives.
Should I go for it and see what happens? But there’s nothing appealing about being in a relationship with this person. Specifically, there’s nothing appealing about being in a relationship period. I don’t know how to do that and I don’t really want to do that. I wouldn’t be good at it. Going this route would lead to me being uncomfortably pulled into things I don’t want to do pretty much all the time, and it would lead to disappointment for them, and the combination of that would probably lead to the destruction of what had the chance to turn into a long friendship.
After agonizing over it for a day and a half, I told them the truth. That it wasn’t anything against them. That I just didn’t see a way that a relationship with me would work, because I’m incapable of doing the things that a relationship would require. That I’d probably feel compelled to act like I was into it, even when I wasn’t, which would be stressful. That I couldn’t be what they’d need me to be.
It was hard to do, but it had to be said.
After this, we remained friends until the end. Ultimately, they transformed my life, both in silly ways (The adventures of the mountain goat!) and profound (Inspiring me to go to NAAC15). No romantic relationship required.
If you’re waiting to find out what it’s like to find someone hot, waiting, waiting, waiting, and it’s just not happening, you’re not alone. I’ve been there too.
If you find yourself retreating into your shell when the conversation turns to dating or sex, you’re not alone. I’ve been there too.
If you wanted a relationship because that’s what you’re supposed to do, not because that’s what you want to do, you’re not alone. I’ve been there too.
If you end up in a relationship and nothing feels natural and everything feels like you’re acting in a play but have never read the script, you’re not alone. I’ve been there too.
If you’ve had sex and found it boring, you’re not alone. I’ve been there too.
If you went through high school without going on a single date, you’re not alone. I’ve been there, too.
If you went through college without going on a single date, you’re not alone. I’ve been there, too.
If you’re desperately searching for something that will turn you on, and constantly come up empty, you’re not alone. I’ve been there, too.
If you looked at someone’s naked body in a sexual situation with more scientific curiosity than erotic desire, you’re not alone. I’ve been there, too.
If you’ve ever been baffled by why a sex scene was included in something, you’re not alone. I’ve been there, too.
If you’ve sat on the stairs alone, for hours, staring at the wall and wondering just what in the hell is wrong with you, why can’t you be normal, why aren’t you interested like everyone else is, you’re not alone. I’ve been there, too.
If you suddenly realized, hours after someone talked to you, that the person was trying to flirt with you, you’re not alone. I’ve been there, too.
If you’ve felt that you’re masturbating wrong, because everyone says you have to think of someone while doing it, and you never have, you’re not alone. I’ve been there, too.
If you find the entire concept of sexting completely baffling, you’re not alone. I’ve been there, too.
If you find the entire concept of fantasizing completely baffling and impossible to do, you’re not alone. I’ve been there, too.
If you’ve ever told someone who’s trying to give you an erotic webcam show to “Go upstairs and put on a more comfortable shirt if you don’t like the one you’re wearing”, you’re not alone. I’ve been there, too.
If you hear people talk about how horrible it is that they haven’t had sex for a month, and you wonder what’s so hard about it, because it’s been far longer for you and you don’t care, you’re not alone. I’ve been there, too.
If you’ve ever completely frozen when someone starts hugging or kissing you, because you simply do not know how to respond, you’re not alone. I’ve been there, too.
If you tried kissing and couldn’t figure out what’s supposed to be so appealing about it, you’re not alone. I’ve been there, too.
If you’ve felt that people around you are just faking their interest in sex to seem cool, you’re not alone. I’ve been there, too.
If you sometimes feel like you’re a failed man because your parts work, but you don’t want to use them with someone else like everyone says you’re supposed to be doing, you’re not alone. I’ve been there, too.
If you’ve been in a conversation with a group of other people, when suddenly it turns to which celebrity is the hottest, and the only thought that comes to your mind is “Please don’t ask me because I can’t answer that”, you’re not alone. I’ve been there, too.
I eventually discovered that I’m asexual. Maybe that’s what you are. Maybe not. I’m not going to pretend to have all the answers. I just want you to know that you’re not alone. I’ve been there too. Really, I have. Sometimes I’m still there, lost and confused. But I’ve kept going, and you can keep going, too.
If you’re there now, you can talk to me. If you want me to say more about any of these things, just to hear what I went through, I can do that. (I’ve already written about many of these experiences, either here in the archives, or on my site: http://www.asexualityarchive.com/)
And if you’re someone who’s been somewhere, feel free to reblog and share where you’ve been, so others know they’re not alone. Let’s keep going together.
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.
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.
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?
Whenever asexuality gets mentioned in an article or in an interview, there’s always the inevitable remark in the comment section:
Why do you have to talk about this? Who cares that you’re not having any sex? Stop shoving it in our faces!
It frustrates me to see that kind of attitude, to see people who are unable to close their mouths and open their minds long enough to understand that there are people who are different than them. And it’s not just anonymous Internet nobodies who share that view. In his infamous appearance in (A)sexual, that’s basically what Dan Savage says. But really, those people aren’t who I’m talking about asexuality for. Ignorant jerks like that are a lost cause and not really worth spending energy on.
But the questions remain. Why do I have to talk about asexuality? Who does care?
Let me share a conversation that I came across the other day. It’s between a guy in his early twenties and a girl who’s interested in him. It’s a real conversation, edited slightly for privacy and to remove a few irrelevant bits. It’s a bit on the long side, though, so please bear with it.
The Girl> Sorry, Joe and I are having an ass competition… Don’t even bother asking..
The Guy> I wouldn’t ask.
The Girl> Cast your vote anyway!
The Girl> I probably just scared you. :P
The Guy> Are you sure you’re not trying to scare me away?
The Girl> Hey, you scared me multiple times today.
The Guy> Yes, but this is one of those things that’s likely to get me rolling around on the floor beating the scarythought our of my head.
The Girl> I’m winning anyway. I don’t need your vote.
The Girl> Such a wimp. ;)
The Guy> And what gives you the idea that I would’ve voted for you, anyway? There’s only so much psychological trauma someone can take, and I’m well past that limit.
The Girl> Seriously, does that sort of thing actually disturb you?
The Guy> It was a part of the world I was happier not knowing existed…
The Guy> But does it actually have me rolling around on the floor, baning on my head to get the scarythoughts out? No.
The Guy> I’m not that messed up.
The Girl> Guys are supposed to be turned on by that, but I suppose you have all that repressed..
The Girl> And no, I don’t understand why they’re turned on by it either..
The Guy> If you want to call it repressed, sure. But I honestly don’t think of it that way. I don’t feel that I’m holding something down, that there’s something evil lurking inside that I have to keep hidden. It’s just not there.
The Girl> So it was never there?
The Guy> I don’t know if I didn’t get it, or if I just haven’t found it, or if I lost it somewhere.
The Guy> But it’s not bothering me. I don’t see why it should. I’m not excited at the prospect of looking at people’s butts. Somehow, I don’t see that as a bad thing. I like the fact that I’m not turned into a slobbering idiot by that sort of thing.
The Girl> You know, I kind of like that… It’s always bothered me that guys I talk to, and even some of the girls, obviously have other intentions while talking to me, and I know that with everything they say, they’re just trying to get a step closer… It drove me insane with Jake. He’d wine and sulk, and beg, and generally act like an idiot…
The Girl> er, whine
The Guy> Maybe I just take a functional approach to things. “Hey, wow, that looks like that would be comfortable when you sit down.” That sort of thing. I don’t see anything interesting in it. I don’t have a desire to touch it, I mean what would that get me? “It feels like it’s confortable, too.”
The Girl> I guess it’s just one of those things where there’s multiple ways of thinking about it… Not really sure that I could explain the other way, though… or if I would want to..
The Girl> I guess for me, it’s all about trust or something.
The Girl> And now I’ve really scared you…
The Guy> No, no you haven’t scared me. The words are coming, they just aren’t forming coherent sentences.
The Guy> The words… They want to speak, they want to curse society for thinking there’s something wrong with me, they want to ask myself if there is something wrong, they want to dig up my past, see where I went wrong, if I went wrong, they want- …
The Guy> They want to speak, but they have nothing to say.
The Guy> I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. I’m just…
The Girl> Just what?
The Guy> You see what an ass competition can do to me?
The Girl> I’m seeing it, but I’m not quite understanding it…
The Guy> I guess you hit a gas line with your digging… It’s not my sexuality that’s repressed, it’s all of that.
The Girl> Now I have nothing to say… I’m still confused, I guess.
The Guy> I’m sorry for letting it out on you.
The Guy> Wow, this is a switch… I’m the one emotional, and you’re the one that can’t find anything to say. Never thought I’d see this side of things.
The Girl> That’s fine… I like it when you talk to me, and you’re talking to me…
The Girl> And I’m also curious, I guess. I know none of this is any of my business..
The Guy> I guess it’s that I have a name for everything but myself. I don’t have a place in the “Normal” order of things, and I’m fine with that. But I’d like a name… “I’m not into women.” “Oh, you’re gay?” “I don’t like men, either.” “Oh. What the hell is wrong with you?”
The Guy> No, if this is anyone’s business outside of mine, it’s yours.
The Girl> Non-sexual. Sounds pretty awful, but I think that’s the word…
The Girl> That’s the way I always assumed you were, too… I mean, even when I barely knew you.
The Girl> I’ve heard “asexual” used, too, but that makes it sound like you’re some sort of single-celled organism…
The Guy> I’m sure there is a name for it. One that no one’s ever heard and doesn’t have a clue what it means. Yeah, it’s probably something like that. Anything like that means “I can’t get none” to Joe Average. But “I don’t want none.”
The Girl> I actually went through times when I thought like that, too… The thought kind of disgusted me. But I realize that I was thinking in the internet porn site way, or whatever which -is- completely digusting.
The Girl> But obviously it wasn’t a permanent thing for me, I guess.
The Girl> Anyway, I just started thinking about it in that trust way, I guess… And it’s really a beautiful thing if you think of it that way.
The Guy> I don’t know if it is for me, either. I don’t know. Maybe one day I’ll wake up and realize “Hey, I’m in love”. Or can I be in love anyway. the way I am now? It’s separate, so why not? Or don’t I have that, too?
The Girl> It’s completely separate, from what I’ve heard and experienced…
The Girl> Well, maybe not -completely-.
The Guy> I never felt any kind of physical attraction to Red. But was it real, or some concocted response to early teenage pressures? If it was real, why hasn’t it happened since?
The Girl> Because it’s “evil” now, I guess… You’re probably afraid of it. I mean, subconsciously.
The Girl> And you know the cliche quote that everyone would use here…
The Guy> Why don’t I think about you or Thursday and think, “Hey, I’m in love”? It’s “Aw, gee, she’s nice.” What’s not connecting here?
The Guy> Thank you for listening. I don’t know if this is going to help me (Or if there’s even anything to help), but thank you.
The Girl> I don’t know… If you don’t think it, then it’s obviously not happening, because you’d know if it were.
The Girl> I guess you should probably get to bed then..
The Guy> Oh, now you want me to leave, do you?
The Girl> No, I don’t want you to be even more tired tomorrow. :P
The Guy> If it’s something in my subconscious, it’s deep. It’s very deep. I don’t think one person could do that much damage. Maybe make me more reluctant to act, but there’s been enough time that something should have happened by now.
The Guy> I almost just said “Statistically something should have happened by now”. Maybe that’s it. Maybe I think too much. I’m probably not supposed to think, I’m just supposed to run.
The Girl> Well, you don’t talk to a heck of a lot of girls… And if you’re not physically attracted to people, you’ve not going to find anyone without talking to them…
The Guy> But every once in a while one gets in my path that I will talk to.
The Girl> Personally, I just can’t be attracted to people I first meet in real life. I guessI’ve just accidently trained myself to want to see what’s insane their mind first… Sometimes I see really attractive guys, and make eye contact, just for fun, but I don’t feel…anything, really.
The Guy> Why would it even necessarily be restricted to girls? I haven’t found Mr. Right, either.
The Girl> Exactly…
The Girl> But you don’t talk to a heck of a lot of -guys-, either..
The Guy> “Insane their mind”? You have been talking to me too much…
The Girl> errrr… inside!#$%
The Girl> They always have to make other words… always…
The Girl> Can I ask what it was that attracted you to her?
The Guy> “Attractive.” I don’t even have that concept defined for myself. There’s “What everyone else says is attractive” and then there’s the “That person looks interesting”, which I guess is supposed to count, but I feel more like I’m judging the look of a painting in an art gallery than being attracted.
The Guy> And people don’t like it when you take them home and hang them on a wall.
The Girl> But what made her different from, well, everyone else you’ve ever knwon?
The Girl> known even
The Guy> I don’t know. Nothing, I guess. The time and place.
The Girl> Did you actually know her? Like was she a friend?
The Guy> Yeah. We had half our classes together. We’d not do anything in PE together, we’d trade book recommendations for the essays in English class. That sort of thing.
The Guy> And my God, she actually liked the Grapes of Wrath. That right there shouldn’ve been a hint.
The Guy> Wait! She’s not the one that’s Evil! John Steinbeck is!
The Girl> So you -did- have a social life at one point, huh?
The Girl> How long did you know her before you started to feel that way about her?
The Guy> If you call that a social life… I call it talking to classmates in school. I didn’t spend often lunch with people, and I never went anywhere with anyone after school. Then again, it was Nevada… Nowhere to go. People hung out at the old gravel pit. Really, they did.
The Guy> I don’t remember. Months, of some sort. Not years or anything like that.
The Girl> What happened when you did? What felt different?
The Guy> I don’t remember.
The Girl> So you don’t remember how you knew?
The Girl> I’m not trying to pry anything out of your, by the way, so feel free not to answer that or anything else…
The Guy> No. I don’t remember the feeling, either. It’s like a stamp in a book. It’s the remains of getting knocked upside the head with an inky hammer.
The Girl> Well, anyway… Just because you think you -should- like someone doesn’t mean they’re the right person, or whatever… There’s plenty of people in the past that I -should- have liked, but there’s just something that wasn’t there… There’s even people right now. Sometimes there’s some flaw I can’t see past, it drives me insane that I could be so shallow. And even when I’m absolutely obsessed with someone online, there can be something that’s just…not there in real life.
The Girl> Anyway…
The Girl> Yeah…Go to bed… I don’t want to feel bad about you being tired tomorrow. ;)
The Guy> I’d probably end up tired even if I had gone at 10…
The Girl> More tired, then…
The Guy> And thank you for this. Normally I’d write these things, but I haven’t written them yet…
The Guy> I probably should, though. I mean, come on, “Coming to terms with an alternative sexuality”? That has Oprah book written all over it. And “Oprah book” means rolling in cash…
That is why I have to talk about asexuality.
That guy… He’s in pain. He’s broken and confused. He’s different from everyone else and doesn’t have the words to explain how he feels. He makes some jokes, sure, but that’s how he tries to deal with it. He’s empty and frustrated and alone.
He’s … me.
That was a chat log of an actual conversation from 2002, between me and the woman who’d later become my first and, so far, only girlfriend (and not too long after, my first and only ex-girlfriend…). It would be another nine years before I’d discover that asexuality was a real thing. It was another nine years of being confused and broken and alone. Another nine years of feeling like that. And I had felt that way for years before that night. Every time someone brought up love or sex or relationships or getting married, there was that emptiness, that confusion, that “What in the hell is wrong with me?”
She even mentioned the word “asexual” in there, and I dismissed it. It was something I’d never heard of and didn’t have a clue what it meant. I couldn’t be that.
But that one word would have made all the difference to me then. Why didn’t I hear it? Why didn’t I know what it was? Why did it take me another nine years to find it? To find me…
So, who cares about asexuality?
I care because of all the time I spent lost in the wilderness, thinking something was missing. I care because of all the time I spent looking at other people and seeing that I was fundamentally different than them, thinking something must be broken inside me. I care because of all the time I spent not knowing where I fit in the world, thinking that I must not fit anywhere.
I care because I don’t want anyone else to go through what I went through.
I have a place now. I have a name for me.
I’m not broken anymore.
But… Someone else is.
I talk about asexuality because somewhere else, there’s another person who is feeling lost and broken and alienated and confused, just like I was. I do it because every person I tell might know that person. I do it because every person I tell might be that person.
It only takes one informed person to be in the right place at the right time to change someone’s life. That is why awareness matters. That is why visibility work is important. That is why I have to talk about this. That is why I care.
[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…)
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?
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?
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…
“Sex? No thank you. I’m too busy DISCOVERING GRAVITY.” -Sir Isaac Newton, 1666