Writing From Factor X

September 24, 2011

Pulling Out the Brain Worms

Filed under: Fitting Sideways,Growing Up Asexual — Sciatrix @ 7:09 pm
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A while ago I was tossing around post ideas on my tumblr and mentioned dealing with the nasty brainworms that growing up as asexual has left me with. So. This is that post. This one is going to be very sensitive for me.

One of the biggest things I have been trying to convince myself of lately is that I have a shot at a meaningful personal life. Because the thing is, growing up I have had no meaningful models in my life of adults with strong emotional relationships besides their spouses. My parents move every four or five years; they keep in touch with a few old friends through email, but they see each other perhaps once in ten years at reunions.

Okay, that’s not quite true. I’ve also seen adult role models in my life rely on extended family! Except the whole thing where I don’t fit very well into my family at all rather puts a crimp into that. (Besides the whole sexual orientation thing, I also manage to be the political black sheep of a very politically active extended family on my paternal side. They’re strong Republicans. There are also some interpersonal dynamics that make relying on extended family rather uncomfortable for me.)

So I internalized the idea that I couldn’t really have much in the way of emotional connection. After all, every adult I was intimately familiar with growing up relied heavily on their spouses for emotional support. And I don’t think I ever met adult close friends more than once or twice across the span of my entire childhood, and I’m counting my teenage years. Everyone I met who interacted with the adults in my life was either related to them or married to them. Occasionally I met boyfriends and girlfriends.

I figured that at some point you got too old for real friendships. Oh, you might have long-distance correspondences, but you don’t get to have people drop by and say hello, you don’t get to go eat dinner with them or celebrate birthdays or really spend any off time in their company. You don’t get to have friends who actually stick around in your life as an adult, is my point.

(This is where I just completely boggle at people who react to the idea of queerplatonic relationships as more or less already what people mean when they talk about friends. Because I never so much as met an adult with personal friends they regularly hung out with, as a child. I’m sure that adult friendships that are closer than that exist, but when we’re talking the things I saw growing up, the things I internalized and incorporated into my vague sense of How the World Works? Yeah, there was nothing.)

Add to this the fact that I am naturally a bit of a workaholic and a perfectionist. This isn’t all that unusual; my parents are both similar types and so is at least one of my siblings. I like to work on things I’m good at, and I like the things I make to be as good as I can make them.

I decided that the solution was to make my professional life take the place of my personal life.

Specifically, I decided that if I could find a career I thought was interesting enough and high-powered enough, I could spend more or less my entire life in it. I figured I could spend however much time I needed to at work to forget that I didn’t actually have anything to go home to. If I started feeling lonely or noticing that I had no personal life to speak of, I could always work harder until there was no energy left for noticing what my emotions were doing!

This is some seriously fucked-up shit, guys.

I should add something here that illustrates the environment I grew up in and the attitudes my family has to friendships. My mother in particular has always seemed a little baffled by the level of closeness I have with my friends and generally reacts in a horrified fashion if I mention actually sharing some insecurity with them. So a few months ago, when I was discussing my asexuality with her, I mentioned this–I mentioned that I was afraid for the future, I mentioned that I was scared of being alone and that I thought it was probably how things were going to turn out. I was hoping a little that she’d tell me I was wrong and reassure me.

What she actually did was nod matter-of-factly and told me I’d need to keep in close contact with my sisters, because no one else would ever be there for me. And the thing was, I believed her. Part of me still does. (And another part of me is pretty sure that my sisters won’t necessarily be there for me, either.)

I look around me at people who have their personal lives all planned out and I laugh, because I never thought I’d have a personal life to plan out. I thought I’d have to bury it in a career so I wouldn’t ever have to remember I was alone. I more or less planned to have nothing, because I never expected to have a shot at anything else.

When I was sixteen, I did an internship class which involved spending a lot of time sitting around and thinking about my future career choices. One of the things they wanted us to do in this class was detail where we wanted to be five, ten, fifteen, and twenty years from that point in terms of our careers and also in terms of our personal lives. I had spent most of my life up until then carefully not thinking about the future of my personal life, and I’ve spent most of the intervening years continuing to carefully not think about that, but I had an assignment to complete and I had to write something.

I have never forgotten looking down at that piece of paper and having absolutely nothing more personal to write about my hopes for the future than a desire to have a couple of dogs. Seriously, I had to fill in the section on where I planned to write about my expectations–no, my hopes–for my personal life, for things that should have been filled with dreams about family, I had to fill that in with ramblings about dogs. Because I figured having a couple of dogs, that was actually attainable. You can have dogs, as an adult. I didn’t think you could have any kind of family if you were like me.

I am still endlessly grateful that we received no commentary on that assignment. Because I can’t imagine any commentary from my teacher that wouldn’t have been salt in my wounds.

So I wrote this to mention that I’m trying to get rid of that conditioning. And it’s slow, and it’s painful, and incidentally it’s very much tied up with all the conversations I’ve been having in various spaces about queerplatonic relationships and other people who are more or less like me, who have similar wishes for the future. I still plan to have nothing, but hope is beginning to creep in around the edges. Part of me finds this absolutely terrifying–because hope means I might have something to lose.

But it also means I might have something to gain.


  1. *hugs and tea* ❤

    Comment by Shiyiya — September 25, 2011 @ 6:56 am | Reply

  2. GPOY. Until about a year ago my only aspirations for my personal life were ‘attain a secure enough home that I can have two cats’. I just didn’t have any model of what a personal life that I could feel comfortable in would look like.

    Thank you for this post ❤

    Comment by Catherine — September 25, 2011 @ 8:57 am | Reply

  3. Thank you for this post. I sympathise with every word: my plan in life thus far has been ‘become a scientist, because they’re allowed to live for their work, and what else will I have?’ (I’m planning on cats, too.)

    Comment by picquet — September 25, 2011 @ 10:24 am | Reply

  4. Thank you for writing this and alerting me to these issues. Even for someone who can’t take much for granted, I still have the habit of drawing conclusions from my own life about that of others.
    It just so happens that my mother is a decent networker, which meant I wasn’t the only one having to catch her when my father left her for something younger and prettier after thirty plus years of marriage. I know your family is religious from another post, so this might not be an issue for them, but life has a tendency towards nasty surprises: heart attacks, accidents, suicides, kids moving overseas for a job, fights over grandpa’s will. Shit indeed does happen, and things go rarely according to plan, as I had to discover.
    Eschewing friends and willingly relying only on one person or even only on immediate family for support is, in my experience, dangerous. I didn’t realize there are so many people out there who don’t know this.
    That said, it’s impressing how you challenge your family’s attitude, and I wish you further good luck with it.

    Comment by Carmilla DeWinter — September 26, 2011 @ 4:37 pm | Reply

    • It’s–my family would agree with you that shit happens, and things don’t go according to plan, and you ought to have someone to rely on and catch you if you need it. It’s just that the way I was raised, especially from my mother’s family, you’re supposed to rely on your blood family first, and if your immediate family can’t catch you then you rely on the extended one. Which is all well and good, except when you can’t rely on them for whatever reason, and then you’re out of luck.

      Also, my family moves frequently, so it’s hard to keep in touch with friends over the long term and harder to build up new friendships in new places. I think that might be another reason

      I don’t think I’m so much challenging my family’s attitudes as rejecting them for myself, though. It’s–I love my parents and my sisters and my extended family but I have very different views to them on a lot of different things, and part of the price of not fitting in that way is that I tend to be quiet in order to keep the peace–because it’s that or spend my entire visits fighting, and they’re my family, and there’s things I will put up with from them that I won’t from anyone else. Besides which, I think that if *they* want to prioritize their relationships that way, that’s their business, but I have to prioritize mine differently.

      Comment by Sciatrix — September 28, 2011 @ 2:05 pm | Reply

      • Ah well – I don’t really have extended family to speak of. An uncle whom I don’t know if he’s still alive, much less where he might live, three cousins I know exist but only met once, plus some of my granpa’s younger cousins I see once a year. Not people I would count on when I need help moving.

        But yeah, I can see how moving often makes keeping friends difficult, especially in the US, which is so much bigger than Germany. And when you know you’re going to move again soon, I can also see how you might come to point where it’s simply too much of a bother to make new friends, even if I don’t get it. It’s probably something that would keep me from moving too far away from where I live. At least where I am now, all of them are within a two-hour drive.

        Oh yes – I’m also one of those people who never really imagined a family life for them. When I was younger, I always assumed I would be married and maybe with kids when those “Where will you be in ten years”-questions got asked, but finding the husband and raising the kids never turned up as an important part of the dream I was nursing. I always had a notion of room-/housemates or a commune kind of thing I wanted to be part of, though. Only I didn’t have a name for it before I ran across ‘queerplatonic’.

        It was never painted as something I wouldn’t be able to have, though. Rare yes, but certainly not unattainable.

        That said, thanks for putting up again with my bad wording choices.

        Comment by Carmilla DeWinter — September 28, 2011 @ 3:32 pm | Reply

  5. “Specifically, I decided that if I could find a career I thought was interesting enough and high-powered enough, I could spend more or less my entire life in it. I figured I could spend however much time I needed to at work to forget that I didn’t actually have anything to go home to. If I started feeling lonely or noticing that I had no personal life to speak of, I could always work harder until there was no energy left for noticing what my emotions were doing!”

    That pretty much sums up my life. I’ve been laughing at how much “work-life” balance comes up during law school, and how everyone is asking if they can manage to still have a family when they pursue this or that job. When I hear that a job will leave me with barely enough time to eat and sleep, I get excited. I always figured that maybe if I got consumed enough by my work one day it would kill me, and that would be wonderful. Because the alternative always seemed like it was to grow old alone, miserable, and probably in a lot of pain too (it’s complicated).

    The scary thing has been when I occasionally do end up close to people (which has really only happened the past year or so, through local ace communities), because that seems to suggest that maybe I did have some kind of choice as to whether or not I have relationships in the future and opens me up to potentially regretting this lifestyle choice.

    Comment by Captain Heartless — September 26, 2011 @ 7:50 pm | Reply

    • Yeaaah, the sad thing about it is that every time I talk about this I get a host of “oh yes I do the exact same thing” responses from people. I don’t think this is really an uncommon way to react, depressingly.

      And oh yes, I have had the same reaction to the “work-life balance” conversations I’ve been having about graduate school. Except that I’m terrified of courting burn-out, because if I burn out what else am I going to do?

      Comment by Sciatrix — September 28, 2011 @ 1:59 pm | Reply

      • Yeah, I should worry about burning out. I’ve just always had the idea that I would die young, so burning out wouldn’t be so much of a problem. But I have no good justification for that, and it’s probably not a healthy attitude.

        Comment by Captain Heartless — September 28, 2011 @ 6:07 pm | Reply

  6. “[H]ope means I might have something to lose. But it also means I might have something to gain.”
    ^^This, exactly. As a child I always imagined living alone (except for a dog)and having some life consuming exciting career. And for a brief time when I went through a “babies are so cute, and raising kids is amazing work” phase, I dreamt of convoluted scenarios where I might be a parent. But I was always sure I’d be alone. But then when I was older I got to experience some amazing queerplatonic (and rarely romantic-friendship) relationships/partnerships. Now those people have “moved on” to monogamous sexual relationships or marriages and I’m back to the “plain old friend” status. I can’t be bitter, I certainly don’t blame them. I want them to be happy and fulfilled. I am so lucky that they still consider me a close friend and have no doubt they would help me if I ever needed it. But now having had NSLPs or “zucchinis”, I’m lonely. Before I was just alone. And that’s a big difference.

    (Oh my this sounds defeatist and depressing, I don’t mean it that way. I don’t think. I always thought I was immune to the sad desperation of the “I don’t want to die alone” worry, since I’d accepted it as a not-so-bad foregone conclusion. But now I want want more, and I’m not sure how it is possible.)

    Comment by tomatl — September 26, 2011 @ 11:53 pm | Reply

    • *hugs* It’s… yeaaaah. I did more or less that for most of my life, and then in the last year I sort of realized what I actually wanted out of life, noticed some, ah, unpleasant dynamics in the friendships I did have, and suddenly it’s all so much more important now than it was. Before it didn’t matter so much because there was no hope, no inkling that life could be any different than the way it was, and then suddenly that changed.

      (I dunno, I think the entire original post is sort of defeatist and depressing and I feel pretty complicated about that, so. :/ And yeaaaah, it’s–for me, I have the idea that it might be possible to avoid the dying alone thing now, but that will involve a move to a new continent and jury-rigging my career to let me do that will be terrifying and I am hoping I can figure it out but it might take some doing and even trying can be terrifying, and I know my zucchinis are both on exactly the same page I am but it’s still scary, you know?)

      Comment by Sciatrix — September 28, 2011 @ 2:24 pm | Reply

  7. I’m on the verge of tears here. You’ve just perfectly summed up my own insecurities about the future. Due to recent events it’s feeling like a particularly open wound. Thanks for helping me feel a little less lonely.

    Comment by Finbarr Ryan — September 27, 2011 @ 3:50 am | Reply

    • Hugs and tea if you want them? I am happy that you feel a little bit less lonely, but sad that you’re in a bad place. :/

      Comment by Sciatrix — September 28, 2011 @ 2:07 pm | Reply

  8. I’ve also wanted a very consuming career…not something I would necessarily be doing 24/7, but something that felt like my “life’s work” and that I loved. But I may not actually have the stamina, energy, attention span, and organizational skills to ever be a workaholic. And that hurts somehow. If this is a common ace thing (wanting to be a workaholic), which it kind of seems to be from these comments, it makes me feel better about it 🙂 It sucks because my skills are more in the arts, which are so hard to make a living at. The idea of having a “day job” that I hate just kills me, because my career was supposed to be a source of love in my life.

    Comment by Ily — September 27, 2011 @ 4:43 pm | Reply

    • Yes, that makes a lot of sense. And I mean–when I talk about being a workaholic, to me that’s not actually a positive thing. That means I have a tendency to spend so much time working that I forget to eat regularly and do things that keep my stress levels from spiraling out of control, you know? It’s not actually the best of all possible futures.

      I wonder if this might be why I see so many aces who are interested in or attempting to enter academia? Sort of like, well, “I can’t have another source of fulfilment so I’d better attempt to take the intellectual interest I love best and make that my life”? Since I mean, I keep looking around at the people I know, and there are a lot of people who are specifically interested in academia in various fields.

      Comment by Sciatrix — September 28, 2011 @ 2:16 pm | Reply

      • I agree…it can be a bad thing. When I think of myself as being a potential workaholic, it looks like I’ve been using it as a shorthand for being able to draw energy from my work, and having work that I like enough that I want to seek it out and do it (rather than dreading it every day). I don’t really think of it damaging my relationships, although that’s what traditional workaholism tends to do.

        I have such conflicting feelings about academia! As a liberal arts student, I feel we were all groomed for this, and even years after graduation I’m still feeling the pressure. To those outside academia, it’s usually portrayed as this haven for nerds, but from what I hear it can be just as cut-throat and competitive as any other workplace. I feel like being a professor *should* appeal to me, but it just never has.

        Beyond asexuality, I think part of it for me is an autistic thing. Definitely some hardcore intersectionality going on for me with this topic. I see a lot of people work full-time at jobs they may not like, but then they get to do a bunch of other fulfilling things in their spare time. But for me, if I work full-time I’m basically dead to the world for the rest of the time. So if I have a job that’s not absorbing and interesting, I have to give up most of the things that are, because I don’t have enough stamina for both. Then I feel like the love in my life is even more absent.

        Comment by Ily — September 28, 2011 @ 5:19 pm | Reply

  9. I think for a long time “asexual = no personal-life options” was the equation I was working off in my head. So I just avoided thinking about things that weren’t a work future … I didn’t even consider what kind of house/apartment/etc. that I’d want to live in when I got to the point of choosing somewhere to live. Sometimes I still forget that I can do that even though I have made non-work plans now. Like Ily said it’s interesting to see from the comments how many people have felt the same way.

    My parents had a few friends and my grandmother had a lot, though they were primarily from church, which as a formal organization I’ve never been interested in. Looking at media, too… Friendships don’t show up as much. A lot of them have something to do with work, and people knowing each other at and from work, or being neighbors with people (which obviously only works for people who don’t move all the time). Hmm … And of course if it’s a man and a woman in a friendship, if the series goes on enough, it’s probably going to end up sexual and/or romantic.

    Comment by ace eccentric — September 28, 2011 @ 2:13 pm | Reply

  10. I grew up under the impression that I was heterosexual and that my life plan would probably follow the stereotypical marry-a-dude plan. It’s coming up on a year since I realized I was asexual, and I’m starting to try to actively envision what I want instead, what kind of relationships. The marry-a-dude plan is still on the table but not in any way that looks like the stereotypical way (though, frankly, it probably never would have) nor as the be-all and end-all of my fulfilling relationships.

    … “will have sword fights with me” is totally on my list of criteria for a future partner of some sort, just for the record.

    I’ve found that throwing myself into my work can be useful when I don’t want to feel any more, when I just need to shut off and feel competent. It’s not something I’ve ever tried long-term nor do I recommend it, but it can be a refuge that I am thankful to have.

    I should make a post about why I love academia, science, the life of the mind, and what Harriet Vane has to do with it all.

    Comment by Aydan — September 28, 2011 @ 10:21 pm | Reply

  11. This…wow. I’ve always wanted to have a consuming career — recently I’ve wanted to be a uni professor because I can be old and alone and have a massive library and perhaps a cat and that’s acceptable? But then I remember that I have paralysing phobias and other issues that mean I probably can’t live alone, and what if I can’t even be a uni professor? Uni professors need to be really, really exceptional at what they do and I’m not exceptional, only decent. I’ve always actively shied away from thinking about the future and it wasn’t until I read this post that that began to make sense — because always for most of my life I’ve assumed I was het and marry-a-bloke was on the books eventually, but I was always sure I didn’t want to have any kids (I was open to adoption, though). Now it’s solidified into ‘don’t want any children, adopted or not and don’t want sex ever not even to try it’. Marriage…god knows. I don’t much like the idea of marriage. Gah, this is messed-up.

    Comment by Emma — October 9, 2011 @ 6:38 pm | Reply

  12. This really resonates with me, although I’m farther along in the optimistic/hope direction than you seem to be at the moment. The “drown yourself in work” part rings all my bells. Even WITH hope and optimism, I’m in the process of becoming a workaholic writer. Partially because I have that level of passion and interest in it but also, just in case it’s the only thing that pans out….

    I sincerely hope you find the relationship or relationships you truly want. I hope every one of us does.

    Breaking out of your internalized isolation is a step in the right direction. Keep going.

    Comment by Marie — October 19, 2011 @ 4:29 am | Reply

  13. Followed your Tumblr post over here, and wow, this is disturbingly relevant to my own life. (The dogs thing just broke my heart. I remember being asked something similar, and I think I said dogs, too, and wanting to travel. Sigh.)

    I’ve always gravitated towards academia — I love science and writing, and I’m a pretty decent teacher as well as just a massive raging nerd about the stuff I’m interested in, so it seemed logical. I wonder if some of the appeal of this option, though, comes from the community aspect of academia. As I’ve stumbled through this self-discovery process of learning what it means to be ace and figuring out what I want from relationships, it’s becoming clear that community is a huge part of what makes me tick. I’m an introvert by nature, but the concept of living alone (I have no specific plans to get married) for my entire life is a bit horrifying. In an ideal world, I’d get to be part of some kind of research team who work and travel together and develop solid, meaningful relationships as co-workers and as friends. Like I said, ideal world — I know academia has a viciously competitive side and this is probably quite unrealistic, but one can dream, can’t one?

    At the very least, I find myself thinking, it’ll keep me occupied even if I do find myself Forever Alone. At least I’ll be doing something interesting and useful with my life.

    Comment by Starfoozle — November 7, 2011 @ 9:35 pm | Reply

  14. […] woman on the face of the planet I worry whether I am fat, or ugly, or insufficiently groomed. Like worrying I will be alone for the rest of my life, or feeling uncomfortable and insulted when people tell me they wish they were ace, too. I have had […]

    Pingback by Need to know? | The Asexual Agenda — May 17, 2014 @ 6:33 am | Reply

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