Oi, the last three weeks have been full of news and realizations. This could get lengthy. So music: Love Me, Just Leave Me Alone – Jewel
First off, late Happy Pride Month! I want to thank all the LGBTQ+ people who have persevered through all the ups and downs of the last few decades, let alone the last month of bull and Justice Kennedy’s decision to retire from the Supreme Court. And thank you also for posting all the awareness and inclusion issues. You have helped me come to a new facet of my identity.
While looking up info on the ace/aro community to ensure I actually, for sure, knew what it meant (the “ace” threw me since asexual only sounds like “ace”), I found more on the spectrum of aromanticism. It’s dumb, but even though I know I am not a romantic person, I didn’t realize there was a spectrum. It has also led to some very interesting discussions with friends and lovers about what exactly constitutes “romance.” In the past, I have generally thought of romance as a “desire to find The One,” that flowers and endearments and dating are all vehicles to secure that One. That definition had evolved to include the possibility of multiple people or a more solid commitment. I’ve changed my mind on that last part – I think commitment is something different than romance. Some of my conversation partners have contended that, to them, romance is the flowers and poetry – the expression of loving relationships. I agree with that to an extent, but feel that then people use those expressions far earlier than they feel it in the hopes or intention that they will feel it eventually. Having read up on the community, pages often state that defining romance is very difficult and varies widely, and that some in the asexual community reject the romantic/aromantic dichotomy all together. As someone who is sexual, and specifically tends to be sapiosexual, but is not romantic, I find it a rather useful to delve into and understand.
For me, I know that I have a distinction between “friends,” “lovers,” and “partners,” and that they operate more as a Venn diagram, with people in various places on that diagram, with no one really in the middle. It has been very difficult for me to define what makes a person more than a friend or more than a lover, but I know that I do have that shadowy distinction in my head. To make matters more confusing, my best friend and I have referred to each other in the past as “hetero life mates” (thank you, Jay and Silent Bob, for the term) and, for quite awhile, we operated like nonsexual partners or, really, like sisters who live together. But even when I am in what could be deemed romantic relationships, I have consistently prioritized my friendships over them. So far, I’ve really only been able to define my more-than-friendship interest as expectations of the following:
- Somewhat consistent and reliable contact
- A focus on emotional and physical intimacy on a more consistent and intense scale
- The use of endearments and Love Language (as defined in the 5 Love Languages – mine are overwhelmingly Acts of Service, then Physical Touch, and Quality Time to a lesser extent) – in other words, if I want a romantic relationship with you I will let you help me with my burdens, may actually ask for it, and may, eventually, expect it
- Notification of new lovers or potential new lovers
And the expectations go in that order. Aside from #4, those things may seem like pretty normal romantic expectations, however, there are a few key things that I think are different from traditionally romantic relationships and, also, I need to note that I rarely get to the point in a relationship with someone where those things are needed, or actually wanted. We would have to take time developing the relationship before I would be comfortable being romantic in it and before I would be comfortable with the other person being romantic in it. The only way a “more than friends” relationship with me would look any different than a regular friendship is the more frequent and longer lasting contact and me intentionally learning your Love Language. Anyone who has tried to date me (assuming they were paying attention) can attest that trying to give me gifts, call me pet names, initiate frequent contact or express annoyance about a lack of daily contact, profess a desire or scenarios alluding to a desire for long term or committed partnership (honestly, even desiring overly affirming or flowery relationships), wanting to take care of me, or, especially, expressions or expectations of territorial jealousy completely backfires. Seriously, trying to make me jealous doesn’t work – I’ll just assume you’ve moved on and forgot to tell me, and, in the past, I’ve only occasionally been annoyed by the lack of notice.
And, finally, the traditionally romantic thing that I just cannot do and have never really been able to do: the expectation of consultation in major life decisions. For example, one of the major stressors in my relationship with my son’s father (and this was back when I was still trying to do traditional relationships and prior to having my son) came when I decided to extend my enlistment contract in order to deploy to Afghanistan with my unit. Most alloromantic people (yes, there’s a term, just like heterosexual and cisgender) would bring that issue up in conversation with their significant other prior to making any big decisions, there would be discussion about what that would look like, and there would be at least minimal negotiations on what that decision would be. Yeah, I didn’t do that. I didn’t want to break up, really, but I brought it up more like this:
“Hey, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and I’ve decided I’m going to reup to go to Afghanistan. Are you up to doing a long distance relationship for a year or more?”
In retrospect, he was understandably upset. I reupped anyway with the knowledge that our relationship, such as it was, would end when I shipped out in a few months. I ended up not going due to becoming pregnant, which put the relationship into a weird limbo because, despite having a fierce independent streak that would not allow for someone else to take part in my personal life choices, I was now carrying a piece of both of us and, as I had made the decision to keep my darling boy (a decision making process I also did not include him in), I felt that he had the right to be involved, if he so chose. And, if I’m being brutally honest, in my most selfish moments I often wish he hadn’t. But he said he wanted to and he has been, with varying degrees of success, though in a much more healthy and stable way since he moved in with this mother. The stability since moving in with this mother and having regular visitation has been beneficial to our son and I can appreciate that while still knowing that I feel trapped by it.
Please, keep in mind there were a lot of other factors and lead up conversations I am going to leave out of the following descriptions and these are not literal in terms of what was said (most of the time), but I feel it’s necessary to boil it down to illustrate this tendency of mine to make my own decisions about what I will be doing with my life regardless of how it may affect yours. My decision making while pregnant and after having our baby went like this:
“I’m enrolled in college and will be working full time. I’ve made arrangements for care unless you have a better idea. What say you?”
“We are both going to school in La Crosse and spend more time there than here. I am probably going to move at the end of the semester, but we can discuss this in more detail.”
“Of course you can visit your ex even though we are in a rocky place right now and you have not actually planned where you are staying yet. But no, you cannot take the baby with you.”
“Since we are moving to La Crosse and you are not reliable with our son, I’ve run the idea of moving in with us past my friend and her boyfriend and they said yes. Here are a couple of places that are options. Clearly, you need to have some input on this, but quite frankly, I will not be isolating myself with you.”
“You’ve decided not to move in with us. Ok, I understand. We’ll discuss visitation next week. I love you and will miss you. Please, let me know if you change your mind.”
“I’m going to Korea for a semester and I’m taking our son with me. Are you going to sign for the passport or do we need to look at custody?”
I’m being overly harsh about my approach to these conversations, but that doesn’t change the fact that, overall, that is my attitude and approach to life decisions and it has caused problems, not only in my romantic relationships but, sometimes, with roommates as well, although I try very hard to give as much notice as I can and will uphold any financial commitments. I also, generally speaking, don’t even consider arguing with a partner’s major life choices, regardless of how I feel about them. When I was dating in Tennessee, my then boyfriend informed me he was moving back to California, even though I was only still in Tennessee because I had signed lease for him (like, literally, in his stead – he was supposed to take it over and never did). It never even occurred to me that I should try to talk him out of it or ask to go with him. Now that I am in less traditional relationships and am living in my own place, there are fewer problems, but this tendency towards romanticism in other partners and even in guys who may or may not have been thinking of dating me has sometimes caused some kind of comical conversations.
Him: *dating me, meets me at the dance, sidles up with a single red rose* Me, at 14: *runs away and hides in the corner*
Him: *clearly drunk* “I love you.” Me: “No, you don’t. You’re drunk.” Him: “Oh. Why you gotta call me out like that?”
Him: “I’ll come out and visit you while you’re in training. I love the East Coast.” Me: “Yeah, I’m sure it’s great. Don’t do that though. I mean, visit the East Coast all you like. It’s just that I’ll be busy and focused and I’ll only be gone a month.”
Him: “I would love your opinion on this house I want to build.” Me: “Um….. But, like, I’m awful to ask about that kind of thing and would make completely different decisions than you. But check out ondol flooring. It’s awesome and should be used more.”
Me: “Yeah, I really want to go back to Korea someday. I’ll probably try to teach there after my son becomes an adult.” Him: “That’s great. I would love to come with you.” Me: “Uhhhh…. I mean, visiting would be cool.”
Him, a guy I was deeply in love with: “We should get married.” Me: “What?? Why?” Him: “Who would be better together than us?” Me: “This is not a reason to get married! And, also, literally, almost anyone.”
After meeting my partner, the first time they had heard of him – Me: “I’m applying to grad school for the fall.” Stepmom: “Oh, but what about your partner?” Me: *stares at her in confusion* “…. He’s not. Is… was there another question there? I’m lost.” Her: “No, that pretty much answered it.”
Him: “Everybody wants someone to grow old with.” Me: “But do they, though? Maybe we’re just afraid of being left alone.”
In addition to all of the above, I don’t even allow for the trappings of romance except under some very limited circumstances. It feels fake to me and always has. The weird thing is I can recognize and appreciate it in other couples – like, I understand the significance, importance, and even think it’s very sweet. I get excited when I see expressions of sincere romantic love… as long as it isn’t directed at me. It’s probably very telling that one of my favorite romances involves robots (Wall-E) and the other has the partner in it for 10 minutes before she dies (Up… and actually Deadpool 2). However, lately I have fallen into some romantic tendencies with one of my partners, but that seems to be only because there is absolutely no pressure that he is ever going to want to move in, have children, follow me if I move, ask me to follow him, get married, or even ask that I be a primary partner (he’s poly, I’m…. fluid). For that reason, I am classifying myself as somewhere between gray-romantic and demi-romantic, which means “experiences romantic attraction infrequently or rarely” and “only experiences romantic attraction after developing an emotional bond beforehand” respectively, although, actually developing the right kind of emotional bond is rare and infrequent, too. I would interested in trying it out with Shim Changmin from TVXQ – I miiiiight be able to accept roses from him without gagging.
It has taken me a really long time to figure out and accept this incredibly obvious thing about myself, which probably could have helped me through a lot of stupidity. I spent a lot of time in relationships where I was forcing myself to behave in ways that were romantic, which left me feeling extremely uncomfortable and wondering what the hell was wrong with me. It caused significant misunderstanding about where I was emotionally and, in some cases, led to me staying long past the point that was healthy for the relationship. I have spent a lot of time contemplating whether my aversion to romance is really emotional scarring and fear. I know some people would argue that it is, that this isn’t a valid identity or that I’m really just selfish because I don’t want to share the most important things in my life.
The conclusion I have come to is that these romantic standards are really only in my head because that is the societal default. Go back to Elizabethan England and we see a very different prioritization of relationships – at that time friendship (platonic love) was considered the highest form of love (granted, it was because men considered women intellectually inferior and, therefore, unable to meet them on their level, and Shakespeare’s plays, which showed romantic love as a worthy in its own right, changed a lot of that – the reason is problematic, but the shift in societal importance of relationships is what I am getting at). Also, I DO share my life with people, lots of them. I just don’t feel like anyone should be making major decisions about my life except me, and there are very few exceptions. And, you know, maybe it is selfish, but seeing as finding romantic love has never been high on my priority list and I don’t believe in soul mates, and now that I know how to express this when I am dating or, really, friending, well, then, does it really matter? Can something be selfish if the only person you are affecting is you? It’s not like I think I am depriving some obscure future soul mate from the love of his (or her, or their) life. I’m still more than willing to do as much as I can for those around me and, especially, those I care about and I can still promise to be there for them any non-romantic capacity they need, which includes intense emotional support.
Even earlier this week, I wasn’t sure if this was just good information for me to know or if this is something I am going to actively identify with, but now that I’m writing it all out this is probably the most solid aspect of my sexual identity. I am annoyingly hetero-ish – I wish I were more fluid in that regard – but even that distinction varies when androgyny and polyamory are in the mix. This tendency towards aromanticism is the most consistent thing about my sexuality and has been in place for a long, long time. Even in middle school and high school I had a cynical view of dating because I knew I wasn’t going to be sexual with the people who were interested until I was at least 18 and having just the romantic component didn’t make any sense to me. Looking back, not knowing about the aromantic spectrum is actually what caused me to wonder if I shouldn’t be identifying as a man. Much of my gender questioning has come societal stereotypes about women and their approach to sex and romantic love. In that regard, I thought I behaved a lot like a stereotypical man. Now that I have a more nuanced understanding of gender, sexuality, society, and psychology, it is much more clear to me that I am a heteroflexible, sapiosexual, non-conforming female, and a whole lot of that identity stems from being demi-romantic. I’m willing to bet that part of why I am less flexible than I would like is because of the societal push on women to be more romantic and that perception has ingrained itself enough in my psyche that it shuts the possibility of sexual attraction off early, which is something I can work on. So, with that, I’m going to fly my little pride flags and embrace my other half: me.