Writing From Factor X

November 26, 2011

A Set of Affections Difficult to Characterize

This post was originally written for the Carnival of Aces. This month’s theme is “attraction.”

I find attraction pretty hard to conceptualize, most of the time. I do experience aesthetic attraction, when I find certain people very pretty and other people less so, and I am pretty certain that I do not experience sexual attraction, since I have very little interest in having sex with any specific person. I’d really love for people who experience sexual attraction to talk about what that means to them, which is a conversation I don’t get to see often, but I think I understand it well enough to know it doesn’t apply to me.

And then you get on to romantic attraction. This is about the point where I start to get confused. I’ve written a lot before about how frustrating I find the concept of romantic attraction.  It seems to me to be poorly defined, a lot of the time, and people have a hard time articulating the difference to me, and I’ve largely given up attempting to understand it. I’ve also largely given up trying to shoehorn myself into traditional categories of romantic orientation and have begun identifying as “wtfromantic.”

So let me talk about how my affectional patterns actually seem to work.  I tend to have rather few friends at any given time, but these friendships are usually quite close. It is important for me to note that for me, there’s a definite gender skew here; I tend to gravitate towards forming close relationships with other women or people whose gender identity shades toward female. I can think of only one or two close relationships I have had with guys, and I am often much slower to warm up to strange men than I am to strange women. This doesn’t mean that I don’t like guys or that I think men are terrible or anything like that, just that I tend to form more relationships with other women and that my relationships to female or female-shading people tend to be closer than that of relationships with people of other gender identities.

I have a definite tendency to be all-or-nothing about people; either they are very important to me or they are only loosely important to me. And it’s this tendency—either a wealth of strong attachment and affection for a person or a comparative indifference in them—that I think is the most confusing thing for me about the difference between friendship and romantic relationships. All of my friends are very important to me; that’s why they’re my friends, and if they stop being that important I tend to walk away.

I don’t get jealous of the people I care strongly about unless my emotional needs stop being met. I think I’ve discussed this a couple of times, but as long as I feel like the relationship between me and a particular friend is strong and that I’m cared about back, I don’t particularly care who else someone I’m close friends with spends time with or whether they’re dating someone. Exclusivity and monogamy are things I do not understand very well in a gut sense, and I don’t really want either of them in any relationship for myself. That said—I recently walked away from a friendship with a person I cared very much about (and continue to care a lot about) because my emotional needs were not being met, largely because she didn’t seem to think my company was worth seeking out. I do need to feel like a relationship has a similar level of affection on both ends to feel comfortable.

I have no interest in sleeping (in the literal sense) with anyone on a regular basis. I also have no interest in ever sharing a room with anyone, even the people I am emotionally the most attached to. I would prefer not to live alone in the long term; my ideal situation involves essentially permanent roommates. With almost all of my close female friendships, I have gone through at least some phase of wanting to live together or close by. At the moment, I am trying to see if I can use my career as an excuse to move much nearer to two of my closest friends with an eye to eventually living with at least one of them. Both of them are asexual and have more or less the same romantic orientation I do, which is reassuring.

My relationship to touch is another thing again—I like being touched in certain circumstances, although I tend to be weird about it. I am told I’m very standoffish about touching people and being touched until suddenly I’m not, and then I tend to curl up on people if they’ll let me. (One close friend of mine has remarked that I cuddle with her more often than her boyfriend does.) I do react very badly to certain kinds of touch—in particular, I always react badly to being touched unexpectedly from behind, sometimes violently, and this goes regardless of my feelings about the person doing it.  

I suspect that this pattern could be characterized as either homoromantic or aromantic, depending on how you perceive things. Or, I suppose, as secondary romantic attraction, or any number of other things. I tend to see the kinds of emotions I have as combining traits from both friendship and romantic models, which is why I usually use “queerplatonic relationship” and related terminology. I have listened to people describe relationships with similar levels of feeling to mine as either friendships or romantic relationships, and I really have a hard time figuring out where the distinction is. I also have a hard time figuring out where attraction comes into it, because for me it’s a matter of strength of feeling, not type of feeling.

I would like to know, though—for those of you who are comfortable with and understand the distinction between romantic attraction/romantic relationships and friendships, how do you conceptualize that distinction?


  1. This very confused demiromantic cannot really say much about the divide between romantic relationships and friendships as she… doesn’t have close friends. I’m not even going to stick a qualifying ‘really’ in there, I just don’t. I am kind of bitterly jealous of people who do, but I have people I talk to on the internet casually, I have relatives, I have fiance, and I have other romantic partner who I am bouncyglee when I get to talk to because she’s sick and hardly ever available so time talking to her is precious, and there are my interpersonal relationships. The dividing line is kind of three miles wide and bright red.

    (I’m going to poke at sexual attraction as a demi for you in my own post)

    Comment by Shiyiya — November 26, 2011 @ 11:58 pm | Reply

    • …it is possible I either have romantic relationships or I have friendships, really, because while I can see how someone could interpret my descriptions of my relationships/feelings for others as romantic I cannot see how they would do that in such a way to also leave a category of people who count as “friends” in. And describing relationships as romantic without agreeing they are with people ahead of time feels amazingly skeevy, so I default to friendship.

      Also, the sexual attraction poking was very interesting.

      Comment by Sciatrix — November 27, 2011 @ 1:01 am | Reply

      • The elephant is fuzzy and confusing and made of Oobleck. Seriously I have no idea. I call my romantic relationships such because I love my partners, I have the desire to say “I love you” to them. That is… basically my entire criteria for relationship definition. And there are lots of people who say they love their friends so would be a TERRIBLE general definition.

        I’m glad you appreciated it! It was very awkward-feeling to write >_<

        What the hell, the comment box decided to be LARGER THAN THE SCREEN when I wasn't looking o_O

        Comment by Shiyiya — November 27, 2011 @ 1:08 am | Reply

  2. For me, romantic attraction isn’t necessarily about what I want to do with someone, since that remains about the same from friends, but what I’d be *willing* to do for them. If you’re a friend, I want to spend time with you and talk to you and, depending on the depth of our relationship and geographical proximity, engage in hugs/cuddles/snuggles. If you’re a particularly close friend and/or having a hard time, I will want to hold you and kiss you on the forehead. And that’s where that ends. If I have what I call a romantic attraction, I still want the same things, but if you wanted more, I’d be willing to at least consider going further even though I wouldn’t necessarily want it. (I still wouldn’t do anything that I don’t-want to do, but the stuff that I neither want nor don’t want is pretty much fair game.) So if I have a romantic relationship, I’m okay with kissing on the lips, for example, even though that’s not something I enjoy on my own power. But you’re right about the skeeviness – I’d never characterize a relationship as romantic without prior agreement from the other party/ies on the subject. Attraction, though, that’s mine and mine alone, and I’ll call it whatever I want.

    (as a fun side note: my zucchini has been known to say “we’re dating, but it’s not sexual or romantic.” <3<3)

    Comment by pip — November 27, 2011 @ 1:26 am | Reply

    • Oh, that is an interesting way to distinguish between the two!

      (Side note back: I have been known to describe my relationships to panels, when I’m trying to avoid jargon, as “Schroedinger’s dating”: the relationship in the box could be romantic or platonic or both, but no one knows because the panels are opaque and the box has no lid. At this point in my life, I’m pretty much okay with that, as long as all of us are on the same page.)

      Comment by Sciatrix — November 27, 2011 @ 11:39 am | Reply

      • I like that “avoiding jargon” involves bringing out physics 😀 😀 (though it is sort of pop-culture physics. but still. makes my inner nerd very happy.)

        Comment by pip — November 27, 2011 @ 11:43 am | Reply

      • Do you speak on panels?

        Comment by Siggy — November 27, 2011 @ 3:41 pm | Reply

        • Yeah, I’ve been doing Q&A panels through my campus LGBTQA group this semester. It’s actually been a lot of fun.

          Comment by Sciatrix — November 27, 2011 @ 8:56 pm | Reply

  3. I have probably said this before, that I have no trouble whatsoever distinguishing my friendships and romantic relationships, and have a much harder time distinguishing romantic and sexual attraction. As compared to your description, it’s mostly a matter of me enjoying much more distant friends. I don’t mind not seeing or talking to my friends for months or longer. I have no problem with friendships that are transient, lasting only a few years. This is even true of my close friends. In fact, I don’t even categorize my friends as “close” or “distant”. I just let them develop as the do, and don’t think about it too much.

    My current relationship, by contrast, needs to be maintained. We see each other on a regular basis, or I feel bad. I end up giving him more attention than all my friends combined. I don’t want to withdraw socially, so we try to find ways to hang out with each other and with other friends at the same time. And I want it to last forever, even though realistically most romantic relationships end in failure, and are more transient than friendships. And of course, there is the cuddling and kissing and sex, none of which I feel comfortable doing with friends.

    You might ask, how do I actually feel about my boyfriend vs my friends? It was never a distinct feeling for me, nothing I could put my finger on. No butterflies in my stomach or anything like that. No being attracted to any specific characteristics or personality traits. I just feel very motivated to cuddle with him and spend time with him, and it’s a motivation which I feel unable to dissect. I feel pretty weird about this, and have never been sure whether it counts as attraction or not.

    Comment by Siggy — November 27, 2011 @ 3:23 am | Reply

    • *nods* And honestly, I think that’s just a difference in how people relate to one another–I’ve known a lot of people who organize their friendships the way you do, and I’ve listened to people talk about the differences between people with many-but-looser and fewer-but-closer friendship styles for years. At least in the circles I’ve been in, it’s pretty common for people to identify themselves as having either one type of friendship formation or the other when the topic comes up and to identify other people they know as tending towards either one type or the other.

      The fact that you don’t have a distinct difference in feeling is… actually, that’s pretty interesting, because I had figured that there had to be some kind of distinction there judging by the way attraction and romantic relationships are often described. Huh. It’s really just a question of motivation to seek out his company? (I am very surprised by this but really don’t want to get into making anybody feel uncomfortable, by the way, so if I cross the line please make sure to let me know?)

      Par of me is very uncertain about the construct of “romantic orientation” in general because it seems to be so poorly defined and when I start asking questions about it and talking about how some definitions are rather flawed when talking about orientation (like the “I theoretically would want to be in a relationship with X gender” without thinking about actual patterns of attraction to people one), I often see a lot of people go “well, huh, I need to sit down and evaluate this further” or start throwing out romantic orientation for themselves altogether or stop identifying with one while they try to sort things out. I am hesitant to be too strident about that uncertainty, though, since it’s a construct that does seem to work for a lot of people–I just wish they’d talk about why it works and how more often so I can understand it better.

      (This uncertainty about the entire construct is part of the reason I am so amazingly frustrated by outsider attempts to divide asexuals up by romantic attraction, which is still going on at the moment. Romantic attraction and romantic orientations are so squishy, trying to make hardline distinctions looks to me like trying to cut Jello with a cleaver.)

      Comment by Sciatrix — November 27, 2011 @ 11:24 am | Reply

      • People often ask me how I experience attraction, and my answer always seems vague and dodgy. But it’s not (always) because I’m trying to be vague and dodgy. I just don’t know what I’m trying to describe, or if there is anything to describe. It makes me feel happier I guess? But surely I also feel happier around friends. The difference is more in what I want to do and how often.

        I definitely get the sense that I am “atypical” in this regard, while my style of friendships is much more “typical” (though not universal).

        What fascinates me is that the reason that you disidentify with romantic orientation, and the reason I disidentify with romantic orientation are completely different. So it’s not even like our model is missing one thing, it’s missing at least two. When you see people reevaluating romantic orientation for themselves, do they all tend to bring up the same issue, or do they each think of different issues?

        Comment by Siggy — November 27, 2011 @ 3:40 pm | Reply

        • Speaking for myself, I tend to interpret people giving me vague, dodgy answers on questions like this as a sign of confusion and difficulty distilling a complex feeling down to words rather than intentional obfuscation. Especially since almost everyone I ask about it has at least some degree of frustration trying to lay things out in a way that makes sense.

          I do wonder what typical is. It would be nice if people who feel their affectional patterns are common would describe what they feel like–although I suppose they’re not likely to be the ones looking to discuss how affectional patterns and romantic feelings work on the Internet!

          I tend to mostly see people going “wait, this is really confusing,” without necessarily elaborating much on why they find it confusing. I think I might have a slightly skewed sample size given that I tend to be very loudly going “well, hey, I don’t know what romantic attraction feels like, ” which may result in more people that I talk to saying they have similar issues understanding what the attraction itself is? I have also seen people who don’t know what a romantic relationship itself is, or people who have problems with it because they feel their romantic feelings fluctuate fairly frequently and it’s hard to figure things out.

          Comment by Sciatrix — November 27, 2011 @ 10:12 pm | Reply

  4. Hmm. I currently identify as grey-ish in the romance dapartment, so lessee… though, a caveat: my last actual crush was five years ago, and memories get fuzzy.

    This is what things feel like to me:

    Friends are people I want to spend time with: deep conversations over bottles of wine, see movies, go dancing, cook a meal together. They’re people I hug occasionally.

    Romance was… I’d notice cute a male (usually one I’d just met). I’d want to be noticed an paid attention to by said person, and I was going all aflutter whenever he was in my presence. One probably can’t escape the butterlies in the stomach metaphor, and it felt exactly like that.

    Also, a kind of tunnel vision: places would be scanned, and if he wasn’t there, they were automatically less interesting. I’d want to do all the friendship things listed above with the guy, plus more physical stuff: I’d want them to hug me, dance with them while sharing meaningful looks, share a bed.

    However, I was very good in failing to make the guys notice me. In retrospect, I’m pretty certain that my subconscious was at work there: crushing on someone feels really nice, but actually having to maintain the romantic relationship always seems too much work, plus it would crowd me something awful. Most of the time, I am not a touchy-feely person.

    I actually stopped crushing on people once I realized that.

    Comment by Carmilla DeWinter — November 27, 2011 @ 2:10 pm | Reply

  5. I can relate to a lot of this–both your affectional patterns and your frustration with the romantic attraction concept. When I say that I don’t have a romantic orientation, people tend to assume this means aromantic, but what I’m trying to do is reject the category altogether. Yeah…that’s an uphill battle. 😉 My romance experience actually sounds exactly the same as Carmilla’s. Once I intellectualized my crushes, they stopped happening. But I still want to do “romantic” things with people, even if we’re not dating. I see romance as being more of a type of experience than a form of attraction…at least in my own life.

    Comment by Ily — November 27, 2011 @ 11:38 pm | Reply

    • This is interesting. To me, romance often feels ‘romantic’ in this classical literature genre meaning – some kind of intense yearning, though I can’t quite explain what I am yearning for. Deeper meaning, probably.

      There are songs and stories that make me feel that way, too, but not quite as badly as my crushes… so I was/am still tying that feeling to specific persons?

      Comment by Carmilla DeWinter — November 28, 2011 @ 4:41 pm | Reply

      • Me too! There’s this book “Dancing in the Dark” that basically describes my views on romance; the author defines romance as “structured yearning”. I tend to take that literary meaning. And yeah, I have feelings for some songs and stories that seem romantic, too.

        Comment by Ily — November 28, 2011 @ 7:52 pm | Reply

  6. […] you’ve read any of my previous work, a lot of it is about trying to come up with operational definitions for things like sexual attraction, […]

    Pingback by How Important is Terminology? | The Asexual Agenda — December 22, 2012 @ 6:01 am | Reply

  7. […] wtfromantic was coined as a snide joke by Sciatrix (writingfromfactorx), which you can read about here and here […]

    Pingback by Aro/Ace Word Origins Ref | The Ace Theist — September 20, 2015 @ 1:24 pm | Reply

  8. […] as I don’t think it’s particularly good. But when Sciatrix began writing about difficulty characterizing attraction, it resonated with my confusion. These days, I’ve finally settled on a satisfactorily vague […]

    Pingback by Updating the Map: Romantic Attraction and Friendship vs. Romance | Prismatic Entanglements — October 31, 2015 @ 3:44 pm | Reply

  9. […] as I don’t think it’s particularly good. But when Sciatrix began writing about difficulty characterizing attraction, it resonated with my confusion. These days, I’ve finally settled on a satisfactorily vague […]

    Pingback by Updating the Map: Romantic Attraction and Friendship vs. Romance | The Asexual Agenda — October 31, 2015 @ 3:48 pm | Reply

  10. […] Toward the end of the year, she wrote about it again in this post, A Set of Affections Difficult to Characterize: […]

    Pingback by Quoiro/WTFromantic: a brief timeline of disidentification with & personal rejection of romantic orientation | The Ace Theist — January 4, 2019 @ 11:44 am | Reply

  11. […] more troubled relationships, including people who would later come to identify using terms like “wtfromantic,” “quoiromantic,” and […]

    Pingback by Identification For Whose Sake – NEXT STEP: CAKE — November 7, 2020 @ 6:06 am | Reply

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