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?

July 3, 2011

Wherein I Babble About My Romantic Orientation

I’ve been thinking about my romantic orientation lately. I’ve mentioned it a lot in a bunch of different spaces, but I’ve never written a post specifically about what I actually am and why I identify the way I do, and I think now might be a good time to do that.

The trouble for me is that… well, as far as I can tell I just love people, full stop. The quantity might differ, but I don’t seem to experience qualitatively different forms of affection for people.

(I have considered this to be amazingly ironic in light of the stereotypes about aromantics being sociopathic. Actually, my problem is not that I love no one, but that I don’t distinguish between different types of love.)

So the main issue I have about my romantic orientation is that I can’t really tell what romantic attraction is supposed to feel like. If romantic orientation is an orientation like sexual orientation is, romantic attraction ought to be a thing, right? But it’s very difficult to define it in a way that makes sense, and saying “wants to be in a romantic relationship with this person” is also difficult for me, because I’m not quite sure what makes a relationship specifically romantic, except for the acknowledgement by both parties that the relationship is romantic.

(I’ve also seen romantic orientation defined as “I would at least theoretically like to be in a romantic relationship with people of $gender,” which strikes me as odd–shouldn’t orientations be defined as patterns of attraction to specific people? I tend to be highly critical of this type of definition of romantic orientation.)

The thing that really made me start thinking about all this was one relationship I had with a friend about three years ago, which made me endlessly question my romantic orientation because I wanted… lots of things that were not happening. I wanted to hang out with her on a regular basis–more than I already did–and I wanted to be acknowledged as important and secretly I really wanted to be roommates, although I knew that wasn’t ever going to happen.

I was very confused by this and for about two years spent a fairly large chunk of my free time trying to figure out if I had a crush on her. The thing was, I was pretty sure I didn’t want to date her, and every time I imagined actually dating her I felt vaguely weird and discomfited. And every time I envisioned moving in with her, it was as roommates–that’s it. When she got a boyfriend, I was initially pleased that she was happy. And yet I was still feeling generally needy and wanting to spend more time with her and dealing with the insecurities and… well, the focus on what my friend was doing. It didn’t feel like friendships were theoretically supposed to, either.

As I’ve had more discussions about romantic orientation and queerplatonic relationships and the rest of it, I’ve realized that this isn’t just something I’ve done towards only this one person. It wasn’t even the first time I had those feelings–I can identify at least two friendships going back to age eleven that had similar components. It’s just that this was the first time I was experiencing these feelings and felt like there was a massive imbalance in the friendship, and so I spent a lot more time thinking about it.

The thing is, I don’t think this… infatuation thing, where I’d like the other person to be close friends and see me on a daily basis and maybe eat meals together regularly and possibly be roommates–I don’t think this thing is romantic in nature? Because aside from the living together thing, which is hard to coordinate among too many people anyway, most of it is can just be boiled down to wanting to connect with someone. Maybe wanting family out of it, in the friends-becoming-family sort of way.

Besides, I tend to make only a few friends at a time, but I also tend to try to make very close friendships. And the thing is, I’ve felt this wanting-to-see-daily feeling and even the wanting-to-move-in feeling at some point over a lot of my close friendships, including almost all the ones with other women. Sometimes after a while it goes away and sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s actually a pretty common feeling for me.

(There is a gender differential here–I tend to not move into the “want to live with you stage” in my friendships with men and I tend to relate to men in slightly different ways. The jury’s still out on how that applies to nonbinary people–both because I am still trying to root out internalized binarism and because my sample sizes are not big enough.)

It’s always possible that I am just intensely poly and romantic, of course, and I don’t think I’ll ever completely stop questioning that. For the moment, I’m satisfied with identifying alternately as aromantic (because I don’t think I’m experiencing romantic attraction) or wtfromantic (because I find the question intensely confusing).

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