Writing From Factor X

February 14, 2012

Valentine’s Apathy

If you hadn’t noticed, it’s Valentine’s Day today.

Honestly, this is the first year in a long time that I haven’t managed to completely forget Valentine’s was a thing, and that’s more a testament to the fact that seemingly everyone around me has insisted on making a huge fuss about it than any particular interest of mine in the holiday. It usually doesn’t make me feel particularly bad, or particularly good, or anything more than vaguely apathetic. As a holiday, my feeling is that it’s not for me or about me, and it usually passes me by before I bother to pay much attention to it.

This year the generalized feeling of not existing has been a bit worse than usual, precisely because people have made more fuss about it than I’m used to. When people try to discuss Valentine’s with me, I often find them surprised that I am so completely apathetic about the holiday–it seems to me that the vast majority people expect others to be either happy to be spending the day with a partner or bitter and upset about not having one. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of room for honest apathy in the range of allowable emotions for the holiday.

Oddly enough, that reaction is what has made me irritable today, not the fact of the holiday itself. I’m not bothered that people in romantic relationships are taking the day to make a big fuss about it, and I’m mostly not even bothered by the massive commercialism that always comes along with the holiday. But I am bothered that people expect me to care about it.

One of my classes felt the need to play this TED talk today, which didn’t particularly improve my mood. I don’t like fluff in class–I’d rather be absorbing useful information–and the talk felt to me less like an interesting set of scientific work and more like an excuse to recite anthropological poetry about romantic love and talk about how important and universal a feeling it is. It also did a lot of universalizing about the feeling of romantic attraction, which was occasionally interesting but mostly just annoying.

However, I’m attempting to drag myself out of a grouchy funk at the moment, so I’ll talk about the one thing I did find interesting about the talk. Dr. Fisher describes romantic attraction in an interesting way in that she relies heavily on describing the feeling in terms of obsession.

Out of curiosity, people who say romantic attraction is clear to them, is that an accurate way to frame the emotion? I’m finding it interesting because it’s totally alien to my experiences; for me, initial interest in new people I’d be interested in forming a relationship with is very much “out of sight, out of mind.” Once I am good friends with a person, it’s a little different, but even people I’m terribly fond of don’t get anywhere near the level of fixation I’d call “obsession.” So the idea of obsessing over a person, particularly a person you don’t know well, is fairly alien to me. Thoughts?

17 Comments »

  1. It mostly feels about the same as fandom to me, with a really personal one-on-one experience thrown in and brightening every time you see them. It’s almost like a drug.
    So basically, if you were to read that like a logical person, romantic attraction feels like a real, living being with a personality and a conscious, one that you are able to love and emotionally invest in.
    Sorry, I’m bad at describing it. It’s kind of like a perfume, I guess? Friendship is a beautiful song, and romance is almost an alluring perfume (or if you don’t like that, the strong scent of your choice). Or something. I’m a writer, my metaphors are weird and make no sense. I guess it’s like a song – you can tell if it’s sad or energetic or whatever, so you can also tell when it’s romantic. Maybe?
    I just know it’s really, really strong. I don’t mean that in a hierarchal way, just in the sense that some smells are almost intoxicating while others are nice and fresh. Maybe it’s a spectrum too. Maybe for some people it’s a solid line. It has to be something, otherwise it wouldn’t exist, right? Probably?
    Oh, yeah, and I used to obsess over the girl I’m in love with, but after that it went down – maybe the obsession thing is just an outlet for unrequited attraction or what seems like it.
    Sincerely, a person with a mixed orientation.

    Comment by Lee — February 14, 2012 @ 10:34 pm | Reply

    • Huuuuuuh, interesting. (And no need to apologize for this being difficult to describe–frankly, I usually assume it’s really confusing and difficult to describe because I find so many people find it very frustrating to lay out.)

      And huh, the smell way of describing it is pretty interesting, actually, and that makes a lot of sense to me. It’s really hard to ignore a very strong smell, even if you wouldn’t rank smells as necessarily more or less important.

      And yeaaaaaah, I’m half convinced that some people are actually experiencing related-but-different things that all get thrown under the same banner, because of the way descriptions seem to differ between people. It’s all terribly confusing!

      Comment by Sciatrix — February 15, 2012 @ 8:08 am | Reply

  2. I actually find that a little creepy, in the way that I associate obsession with someone with being unable to leave them alone. But people use it in different ways, so…
    For me some part of it can be that it’s hard to get someone out of my mind for long periods, so I think about them a lot, but more it’s the kind of feelings thinking about them evokes: it’s hard to describe, but it’s disctinctive. And also, I associate that more with limerence, the initial feeling of in-love-ness that’s very strong but also wears off really quickly (usually lasts only weeks to months for me, rarely more than 6). And even then, I haven’t always had to think of someone all the time when I was feeling that. It’s a feeling I get really quickly for people too, so I’ve never thought of it as a good basis for anything long-term, or even for anything at all (if I acted on it every time, even counting all the times it wouldn’t be reciprocated, that would be really damn tiresome).

    But I’m very, very much an out-of-sight-out-of-mind person, to the point where I decided that if my partner went away for 6 months to another country on an internship or something, I decided to come with them, not because it’s so hard to be apart, but because I know by the time they came back I wouldn’t actually feel much for them anymore.

    Comment by Norah — February 15, 2012 @ 4:39 am | Reply

    • Ugh, as an addendum, for further clarification: I would say I’m still ‘in love’ with my partner now, but that’s just not the same kind as limerence, and if I still felt the exact same way about him now as I did in the first 8 months or so, I wouldn’t have been able to do much with my life (ahahah, even less I mean, and day to day), and actually it might by now have made me miserable: it’s not meant for the long term. Sometimes it comes back a little though.

      Comment by Norah — February 15, 2012 @ 4:41 am | Reply

    • That inability to get someone out of my mind for long periods is just not something I’ve ever encountered! Well, actually–okay, for people I’m very close to I do think about them a lot in the sense that they’re a big part of my life, or if I’m brooding about a relationship that isn’t working and trying to think how to fix it, sometimes I fixate on that. But not being able to get someone I’m not already close to out of my head? That’s not even an issue! Occasionally I’ll meet someone and go “oh, I’d like to be friends with you!” and it’s very common for me to privately go “is this a crush? oh my god is this what crushes feel like?!” but then if I’m even in the same room as they are but given a different task to focus on, say I’m sitting in class with them, it’s not even slightly difficult to focus on the other task and ignore them. Usually they just fly straight out of my mind, because I have something else to think about, and my interest in talking to them comes back later when I’m not doing something else and can be social again. So I found the fixation aspect of things pretty interesting from that perspective.

      Yeah, that “love is exactly the same feeling for 25 years!” thing that was going on in the TED talk actually stood out to me because it does not square with other things I’ve heard from people or read about in other models. It’s much more common for me to hear something along the lines of “love starts out as an obsession but then it mellows out into something different and more like friendship over time.” (Which has always made me wonder if I’m just missing the obsession bits, but that’s neither here nor there.) As you say, the limerence doesn’t last!

      Comment by Sciatrix — February 15, 2012 @ 8:15 am | Reply

      • I do think the initial feelings are largely “chemical”, and that the relationship doesn’t last if that’s all there was, and nothing else developed over time or was already there before. I actually liked my current partner as friendship material before I fell in love with him. The one before that, I just felt the limerence, and after a month or 3 things just got more and more awkward, and after 6 months I broke it off. I didn’t actually like spending time with him at all, and I never even got to the point where I actually didn’t really mind touching him (which also meant I pushed myself into… unpleasant territory physically for that relationship).

        In the limerence stage, it is kind of hard not to focus at least a little bit on the other person if they are in the same room with me, though it’s never interfered with my schoolwork or whatever, that you hear sometimes. If they’re not, then I usually just incorporate them into the stories that I run in my head, or make new ones for them. If I don’t come within a certain physical distance from them for more than, I dunno, over a month, it just fades away again. It doesn’t always come back if I do meet them again either. So in that aspect it is kind of like certain medications, where stuff builds up over time if you take it and also takes some time to completely disappear again if you stop taking it. It’s both pleasant and unpleasant at the same time, for me, even when it’s reciprocated. After it faded away with my current partner, I was really, really relieved. I guess it’s pleasant like a high, but it’s a state I also find very stressful. It also makes me more easily very intensely emotional in all kinds of ways, which can be positive or negative emotions, but even if it’s positive, it can just be a very unpleasant way to be. I have no idea why anyone would want to feel that way for years at a time.

        As for talking about someone a lot, I do that for every new person in my life after I discover I like them (and they like me back, like, making a new friend). I imagine that I have in the past been just as annoying about new friends I made, to my already existing friends, as about new relationships. I also find that I can sometimes get that feeling of wanting to be friends with someone over the internet, but limerence requires physical proximity. I decided to try hooking up with a guy I met over the internet one time (and only one time), because I *really* liked him and I thought that would work out great. I felt nothing at all. So that’s also the last time I tried that. Now, if I was looking for a romantic relationship (or if it looked like one could just happen without looking), I would require both that I really liked the person and that I feel limerence for a while. It seems the combination results in something different than what I feel for people that I’m in other types of relationships with.

        As for Valentine’s in general, I never felt like it was about romantic love at all, more about an intense focus on a certain kind of couple-dom, and traditional romance (which I’m not using in the same way as romantic love here), and also pushing those things on other people. I’ve never felt any affinity with it, despite all the chocolate. I don’t know why I should be happier with my partner on that day. But then again I don’t understand most celebrations. I’ve only ever been able to get into birthdays and Sinterklaas (which has its own issues).

        Comment by Norah — February 15, 2012 @ 9:37 am | Reply

  3. … I can’t really call myself romantic, neither do I know much about romance, but I have to say that this kind of obsession is actually a thing that has happened to me. I don’t know how much of it actually was romantic, since, well, I don’t really understand what exactly is called actual ‘romantic’ feelings, but I’ll be speaking from my experience with feeling attracted to people. I’ve had numerous what I’d call crushes (that never really worked out because I realized that I was terrified by the thought of actually being in a relationship), most of them on my friends, and I have to say that yes, a certain degree of obsession did take place. That didn’t feel wrong, though – it felt completely okay to literally spend days thinking about someone, about what would they say about this or that, what would they do in this situation, what I would talk to them about if I got the chance. That never got completely out of hand, though, like that ‘mad love’ portrayed in movies and books: I wouldn’t forget about my duties and responsibilities, or despair over my crush not reciprocating or myself not being able to tell them how I feel.

    I remember my latest ‘crush’: it was on my best friend (so perhaps in this case it might’ve been a squish?), and I literally spent days thinking about her, chatting with her in the evenings and sometimes even staying up at night to talk to her, texting her at school and thinking about her during the classes. So yes, I would say romantic (and platonic as well, probably) feelings do heavily rely on obsession with one person. Which I suppose isn’t surprising for romantic individuals, since most of the time romantic relationships are seen as ‘devoting oneself to one person’. I guess it’s one of those things that actually are A Thing about relationships, not something people come up with/believe it’s true. Not saying that it’s true for everyone, though, but you get my point.

    Though well, as I’ve already said I’m not very knowledgeable about relationships, and I still can’t say all of those crushes actually were romantic: I think it might’ve been just me trying to fit in, because I’ve thought that I am supposed to be both romantic and sexual for quite a while, despite being uncomfortable with both being in a romantic relationship and a sexual one (not that I’ve ever been in a sexual relationship, but I know for sure that this is one thing I don’t want).

    Comment by O — February 15, 2012 @ 4:56 am | Reply

    • Hey, these things are terribly confusing, I am not going to yell at you for not being sure about things! (For one thing, I would be a terrible giant flaming hypocrite if I did that.)

      I had figured that you’d have to be able to remain functional in the midst of something like this, or else someone in the midst of a new romantic attraction would be way more obvious than is the case and people would need leaves of absences for new crushes and things. Which seems terribly impractical and absolutely not how people are expected to behave outside of stories (particularly not adults!), so it’s probably a good thing life’s not like movies!

      And yeah, it is sounding like this element is really a thing for most people who are pretty sure about it, which I find fascinating. Maybe not all of them, but then see my comment upthread about people experiencing related but different things that fall under the same banner. Either way, I feel like I figured something new out today!

      Comment by Sciatrix — February 15, 2012 @ 8:26 am | Reply

  4. Strangely enough! The closest way I can describe my intense squashes is that they’re as though my oh-autistic-interest-patterns-obsession has decided to switch to a person temporarily. Like, I am thinking about them constantly. I want to spend every minute of every day with them. Luckily this alleviates over time because DISTURBING, but… it feels kind of as though the way I experience wtfromanticism is closer to what other people call romance than many, if that makes sense (making the fact that people insist and insist and insist on telling me it’s friendship, really!! kind of ironic, but that’s neither here nor there) so I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that was a part of it for romantic people.

    Comment by Kaz — February 15, 2012 @ 6:39 am | Reply

    • I think you’ve mentioned that before! Which always makes me laugh, because for me it’s the opposite problem–people will tell me it’s totally romance, why am I confused, and for me I think that my wtfromanticism may be closer to what other people call friendship. Possibly. It’s hard to tell because baselines are difficult to achieve. But yeah, that kind of all-encompassing interest in another human being just does not happen to me ever–which is not to say I don’t go “oooooh, this person is really really cool!” and suddenly decide I want to know them better, just that I can then start class or go do work on something and shift my attention to that without a blink.

      Comment by Sciatrix — February 15, 2012 @ 8:19 am | Reply

  5. Okay I definitely do not relate to obsession as thing of romance. My secondary partner I have yet to meet in meatspace, and I don’t get to talk (well, text) with her much because she’s really sick. I have out of sight out of mind things becase my brain is generally useless at hanging onto things. But the fact that I can go for a week without thinking of her doesn’t mean I don’t love her. It’s… definitely different from friendship but I can’t quantify how except in useless things like “I want to kiss her and tell her I love her”. I think my things there might be even more recursive than most people’s, because if I am in love with someone I’m sexually attracted to them, neither comes without the other, so there’s some disentangling that I don’t know how to do. (Do I want to kiss people I love because I love them, or because I’m sexually attracted to them? I HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA!)

    Comment by Shiyiya — February 17, 2012 @ 1:47 am | Reply

  6. Uh. No, I wouldn’t agree with that? I get a strong interest in people I’m romantically attracted to, and do spend a significant amount of time considering how to get to know them better and how to build a friendship with them (because I’m sort of hopeless about people), and thinking about how much I like them and how nice it would be to be friends with them, but (speaking as someone who CAN sometimes be a bit obsessive) it’s definitely not at obsessive level.

    Comment by Ace — February 24, 2012 @ 2:20 am | Reply

    • Sorry for the late moderation; I’ve been out of town.

      It’s interesting to get multiple perspectives on the topic!

      Comment by Sciatrix — February 25, 2012 @ 5:58 pm | Reply

  7. Quick off-topic question for you as I get the next Carnival of Aces call for submissions ready – I don’t want to host guest posts on my blog, but I know you’ve done that in the past. Would you be willing to host guest posts for my theme if someone wants to go that route?

    Comment by pip — February 29, 2012 @ 7:12 pm | Reply

    • Totally fine! Anyone who wants to do a guest post here can get in touch with me at sciatrix [at] gmail.com.

      Comment by Sciatrix — February 29, 2012 @ 7:14 pm | Reply

      • Fast reply! Thanks, I’ll add that in before I post tomorrow.

        Comment by pip — February 29, 2012 @ 7:16 pm | Reply

  8. […] shit like “why we all hate Valentine’s except for the cheap chocolate afterwards” is a little hard to really get into unless I want to fudge a […]

    Pingback by Why You Should Care | The Asexual Agenda — March 3, 2015 @ 4:40 pm | Reply


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