Writing From Factor X

January 8, 2011

Planning For The Long Term

One of the things that always keeps me up at night is thinking about the long term. Thinking about family, about my relationships, about whether people will take their relationships with me as seriously as I take them. Or whether, instead, my friends with gradually pair off and develop “more important” relationships and leave me permanently alone. It hasn’t happened yet, but then I’m a college student. I’m only twenty years old, and I know that I won’t be living close to most of my meatspace friends two years from now; we’re all ambitious enough to jettison our lives here for the shot at a career studying the things we collectively love, and I might end up in a program near one of theirs but I’m not betting on it. Which sucks.

I plan to be single, in fact. No, actually, it’s more complex than that–I plan to be without zucchini as well. I’m a cynic and I plan for the worst case and for me, that is the worst case, but… I suspect it to also be the most likely.

Romantic relationships are always more important than friendships; friendships get devalued and are almost inherently defined as “less-than.” And of course the weird relationships I do want–the friendship that is understood not to end as soon as something more important comes along, the person-I-love-who-becomes-family, the blurred lines–I don’t even have real words for those, they’re so invisible that there’s nothing in the whole language to describe them at all.

I suspect that much of the value that gets placed on specifically romantic relationships rather than friendships is that romantic relationships are assumed to be a prelude to developing a family. The ways in which different kinds of relationships get devalued seems to relate to the “realness” of the families which might result from them–monogamous queer relationships get devalued because of not being able to produce biological children, for example, and friendships and non-monogamous relationships get devalued because of not being nuclear and easily defined. The definition between family and not-family is supposedly absolute, easily understood, with no crossing-over; relationships which do not have the possibility of becoming family are assumed to be inherently lesser at best, and entirely temporary at worst. Or both.

And for me, this is nonsense. There’s more kinds of families than the two-adults-and-children sort. What happened to extended families, for example? Why is this one, constricting model so annoyingly pervasive?

I want a friendship that is taken just as seriously as this culture takes romantic relationships. Or multiple friendships, which would be even better. I want a family of my own, without having to lie to myself or a partner to do it. I want consistency in my life. Ideally, I’d want to live in the same house as someone I cared about; I’ve been living alone for the past six months and it is not my ideal situation. I want someone to share my life with and someone to care about and who cares about me, who is understood to be sticking around and not going to drop me for a real relationship as soon as that comes along. I don’t particularly care about exclusivity, but I care about committedness.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to find that kind of a relationship, because so few people are looking for one. Which means that it will be far more difficult for me to form the kind of family I’m looking for. There’s another traditional route to starting a family, though: there’s always children. (Assuming I want or consider myself to be a fit parent, which is an entirely different conversation to have.)

One of the big reasons I personally get worked up about better maternity policies and more parent-friendly workplaces, in fact, is that without such policies it’s nigh impossible for me to have children, because I plan to be single in the long term. The fact that I cynically think that the hell I don’t believe in will freeze over before America institutes enough social policies to make such a situation truly workable means that when I plan for my future, I don’t include children–while not even taking into the consideration the broader question of whether I want to have them. (The answer is a resounding maybe, anyway.) And so romantic relationships, in this culture, are almost necessary to having a family in that respect as well.

I’d like a family, eventually. I don’t plan for one, because like I said, I’m cynical. But I hope anyway.


  1. Oh, how I know how you feel. I live with my best friend, and consider her my sister. People keep insisting that we are a lesbian couple. Even my parents asked if we can join our temple “as a couple”.

    We are emotionally closer to each other than many romantic couples, but we will never be a romantic couple. I used to be nervous about the fact that she is sexual and looking for a sexual/romantic partner AS WELL because I thought, once she finds that, what happens to us? It doesn’t help that her ex was very jealous of me and presumed I was lying about my asexuality and just wanted to hook up with my friend, and when I wasn’t there constantly fed her lies about “Stephanie isn’t really your friend and you don’t need her in your life.”

    I really don’t have to worry, because our lives are intertwined, and because we are best friends for life and that’s how it is. But it is always going to be slightly scary and slightly sad, because what I want is not precisely what we have but it is so damn close. I don’t want to find someone else because I’m happy with my friendship arrangement here, but eventually she will want to live with someone else and marry someone else, and even though our lives will continue to be intertwined, I do still wonder… where does that leave us, or more specifically me?

    Comment by Stephanie Silberstein — January 8, 2011 @ 5:13 pm | Reply

    • Oh, yes, that entirely on just waiting for someone to come along and take friends away, if they happen to be romantic and you aren’t. Like–I trust my current friends, yeah, but the insecurity that someone will come along and have a more “real” relationship and take them away is so very depressing. Especially when you know it’s not really baseless paranoia. And the bit about not being precisely what you want but close… yes. Yes exactly.

      I’m glad that your relationship with your best friend is as close to what you want as it is, though. At this stage, even “it’s not quite what I want but it’s close” and “she hasn’t left to live with someone else yet” give me hope, because there are so few models for the kinds of relationships I want that just knowing that someone else has something almost close is reassuring. How sad is that?

      (This is not a happy post for me. And the comments–the fact that so many other people have been coming in and going “yes, I worry about this too” makes me even more sad, because I’m sad on everyone’s behalf as well as my own.)

      Comment by Sciatrix — January 9, 2011 @ 11:29 pm | Reply

      • Yeah, that’s the stuff that makes being asexual so hard. When people tell me, “Oh you’re so lucky, you don’t go crazy with desire when you haven’t had sex in a while like I do.” it really irks me.

        Anyway I’m sorry you feel sad. I wish I could be a bit more encouraging.

        Comment by Stephanie Silberstein — January 10, 2011 @ 1:34 am | Reply

  2. I feel the same way, although at this point I’m a lot more worried about never having a decent job. While I want to have my own living space, I would love to, say, live in a duplex with a close friend, or have some friends living on my street or in my same apartment building. I never thought I would, but I miss the college dorms now. I feel like I can live without close relationships if I’m able to throw myself into some career, and I can live without a career if I have close relationships. Right now I basically have neither, and I’m surviving, although I’m not too happy about the situation. But we’re talking about the long-term, and I don’t want my life to be like that forever. I could say (too much) more, but I have to run, so I’ll stop tweaking my comment now–

    Comment by Ily — January 8, 2011 @ 9:00 pm | Reply

    • Oh, yeah, I feel you on the “but maybe I can substitute with a career” thing. One of the big reasons I’m so very determined to go into academia and to get a career that’s both demanding and interesting, is precisely that–on some level I hope that that might be a good substitute if it needs to be. I just don’t want it to need to be, if that makes sense.

      Comment by Sciatrix — January 9, 2011 @ 7:54 pm | Reply

  3. Oh, this post really spoke to me. (Hi, I’ve just started reading your blog in the past couple of weeks, it’s really awesome.) When I think about my future, I’ve never really thought about whether or not I’d like to spend the rest of my life with someone, because it seems so vanishingly unlikely.

    Before I heard the term asexual (or aromantic), I used to refer to myself as “one of nature’s spinsters.” Because that’s how I’ve always seen myself — one of those women who’s just SOL in the life-partner stakes. Fortunately my love for period novels and dramas has given me a quantity of good role models in that area (including some not-so-good ones, but I don’t intend to turn into Miss Havisham), but you do also run into the problem that society is much less interconnected than it was back in the days when “spinster” was a common descriptor. I think if I could be sure of living somewhere with a tightly-knit community, even if I was not particularly close to any one person, I would be perfectly happy. Now the problem is to find that place.

    Comment by Jenavira — January 9, 2011 @ 12:43 pm | Reply

    • (Thanks for the compliment!)

      And… yes on the tightly-knit community thing. I think that if I had much evidence that those existed, I’d be happy enough to find one, as long as I thought I could find one to accept me for me. Or even a close-knit group of friends–I’d be quite happy in that situation, too. But I just don’t see those models around me, not once you’re past about college age, and I can see that sneaking up on me too fast. Stupid nuclear family model, eroding other forms of community. Bleh.

      I like the whole “SOL in the life-partner stakes” way of describing it, too. Because it really does feel like being SOL.

      Comment by Sciatrix — January 9, 2011 @ 11:05 pm | Reply

  4. Okay, who gave you the password for my brain? Because it’s clear you’ve been reading material from there. (Down to your comments, re: academic career being a substitute.)

    Seriously, I am pretty much the exact same way. I mean, I sort of wavered on my romantic orientation for ages as you know but in my long-term planning I knew that *if* I wanted a romantic relationship I wanted it with an asexual or maybe grey-a woman (because I’m repulsed and even the *possibility* of my partner at some point feeling they needed to bring sex into the relationship was terrifying enough to discount sexual people). Which reduced my dating pool to 0.1% of the population even *before* you factored in asexual visibility. So, you know, not going to happen. And I planned that it wasn’t going to happen.

    (on a related note, I have a loooot of trouble sympathising with sexual – especially bi or straight – people complaining about how hard dating is on the finding someone they like front. Like, although I can intellectually understand that being feminist and trying to date men must cause some complications and I *want* to be sympathetic, most of me just wants to go “okay, you have no problems finding people of a compatible sexual/romantic orientation, so STOP COMPLAINING.”)

    And okay, I have a zucchini so you could say it’s much more likely I’ll get something going on that front, but… we’re still on opposite sides of the planet and there’s a lot of other issues going on that make me wonder how realistic it is. So I hope that one day we’ll end up living together but the cynic in me is planning for if it doesn’t work out. And, yeah, I’m pretty sure I’ll never be able to have kids – whether I want them or whether I think I’d be a good parent doesn’t even come into it (and I start to feel immensely conflicted looking at my niece, because it makes me realise that some deep-seated part of me does want to have kids of my own.)

    The most frustrating part of it for me is I think that living with a zucchini would make certain aspects of disability sooooo much easier for me to deal with. And planning as if it’s not going to happen… I’m not sure I can actually live on my own like that. I’m living alone right now and there are some pretty big problems, ex I’m planning to look into whether there are things like autistic-friendly hired help that will help you tidy and clean or stuff and I use my hour/week meeting with someone from the National Autistic Society for stuff like sorting out my paperwork and opening mail because I can’t do it on my own.

    Comment by Kaz — January 9, 2011 @ 8:29 pm | Reply

    • Academia: so all-consuming that it can be used as a substitute for a personal life! Sob. (And if you’re seeing yourself in here, that might be because some of it is influenced by your recollections–I think it was a post you made a long time ago that hit me and made me realize the thing about probably never being able to take the time to raise a child properly, for instance.)

      I don’t experience anything I could call romantic attraction, and so I’ve always been thinking in terms of “friend who will stay” and there’s never been any model in my life of friends past young adulthood staying permanently in each other’s lives. Seriously, never. I mean, sometimes you see friendships like that on TV (always between men) but you see unicorns on TV too and how am I to know whether it’s another example of media distortion or something I could actually have?

      Oh, hell, I feel you so much on romantic sexual people whining about how hard dating is. There’s a little person inside of me screaming rage when I see it, because there’s so much about their relationships that’s just… built into the culture, they have models for how to date and other people see them and automatically acknowledge their relationships as important and they actually have a pool of people with easily compatible orientations to date. (Asexual romantics… not so easily compatible!) Especially people doing the opposite-gender sexual/romantic relationship thing, because dude, so many people are in their pool of people to form relationships with. I don’t even know if a pool of people willing to do a zucchini like thing even exists. It’s hard to tell, what with the whole total invisibility thing.

      The thing with kids… yeah. I don’t even know if I want children. I have reservations about my ability to be a good parent, particularly to infants and toddlers. But I have a sister who is quite a lot younger than I am who I have a sort of strange half-parent half-sister relationship with and I might want to be a real parent later when I’m more mature and I just don’t know. I wish I could have that conversation with myself without taking a left turn into “and just where is the time for that supposed to come from, again?” and “why bother wanting if you can’t have?” all the time.

      Yeah. I mean, I can live alone, I know from the past several months that I can do that just fine. (Although the three weeks I tried living alone without my dog were hellish, and I can’t tell how much of that was anxiety about the flea infestation I had at the time and how much was because I do rely on said dog to impose routine on my life, and I find routine to be absolutely important.) And I can take care of myself. But… I don’t like living alone. It makes connecting with people much more difficult, and I like to come home to someone who doesn’t mind me complaining a bit at them or snarking gently back and forth with one another. And I have the option to fall back onto–I wish society didn’t just assume that everyone could find a romantic partner to lean on and then everything will be okay.

      Comment by Sciatrix — January 10, 2011 @ 1:28 am | Reply

  5. You’re in my brain too, apparently. I wonder how many people are looking for zucchinis. I’d like to think there are more of us who haven’t quite realized it yet, if only so that I can stop myself from falling into angst about being Forever Alone. But looking at society as I see it, I must say that I share your cynicism. Especially since, due to invisibility, lots of people looking for zucchinis don’t realize it. I know when I was younger I had an imaginary girlfriend who was in all practical aspects a zucchini instead of a romantic partner, but I didn’t realize it and so deluded myself into thinking that I was looking for romance. It’s one of the reasons I hesitated before settling on aromantic, actually, because I don’t really want to live alone forever and I didn’t have a model until quite recently for how I could manage not living alone while not having a romantic partner.

    Anyway, these days I do sort of have something like what I’m looking for in the form of the threesome, but they live halfway across the country from me and, despite spending my life on the internet, meatspace contact would be nice. And in some ways, having it all online almost makes it harder because it’s almost but not quite exactly what I want. Obviously I’m all of a freshman, so I have time before graduating and going out into the real world (and I want to stay in academia too, so the “real world” is perhaps different for me than for others, but even so), but I tend to overthink everything, and I’ve definitely wondered about my future and how that kind of thing will work.

    Re: children, I’m not terribly interested in having them, both because I dislike the parent-child dynamic and because I don’t think I could be a good parent and I’m not about to try if I don’t think I can do well. Parenting isn’t like, say, painting or skiing, and there are consequences if you screw it up. The only model that I have for it is a very, very personality based one and only works because my mother and I are extremely compatible. It’s not a model I feel comfortable trying to reproduce because it doesn’t always work and I don’t have a backup model should the one I know fail. Plus, I don’t think I could cope with single parenthood, so then we get back to the zucchini thing and it’s all complicated.

    Comment by namipuffin — January 10, 2011 @ 4:48 pm | Reply

    • I hope you’re right on there being a lot of people who haven’t quite realized that they want a zucchini! Because that would make me feel less depressed and angsty about the whole thing, too. And–why does everything come back to invisibility?

      It’s so cool you had an imaginary zucchini as a kid, by the way.

      On children: yeah, I have issues and issues about whether I would actually be good at parenting or not. My actual parents’ models are… not as good as I used to think they are, and my relationship with my parents is kind of massively fraught with issues right now. But I’d like to have the option, and we get back to not being able to cope with single parenthood because I don’t actually think I could ever do that for the baby/toddler stage.

      Comment by Sciatrix — January 11, 2011 @ 2:56 pm | Reply

      • Hivemind re: parenting. I’m worried I wouldn’t be a good parent for numerous reasons (one being that, yes, I am no longer quite so keen on how my parents raised us on several fronts), but the idea that I am never even going to have the chance grates one hell of a lot. Like, I’d be perfectly willing to try and sort through my issues and figure out what my worries are re: parenting and whether they’re founded, but I KNOW I could not do the single parent thing so it’s like I’m disqualified before I can even try to figure out if I could manage the race.

        Comment by Kaz — January 11, 2011 @ 5:57 pm | Reply

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