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?

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).

May 22, 2011

Writhing in the Throes of Unrequited Like

I’ve been thinking a lot in terms of my romantic orientation lately. I keep seeing things that invite me to discuss them based on whether I identify as romantic or aromantic, for one thing.

The trouble is, I’m not always entirely sure what my romantic orientation is, or even how to define romantic attraction to begin with. I have asked a lot of people to explain how the difference in feeling is so I can tell, and I haven’t really gotten anywhere. I don’t actually expect to any more at this point, to be honest. I usually put myself in the category “aromantic” under the theory that if I was experiencing something that felt like romantic attraction which was qualitatively different from desire for friendship that I definitely experience I would almost certainly notice. Maybe.

It would probably help if I subscribed to a binary understanding of friendship/romance, wherein you have a bunch of friends who you’re rather fond of and like to hang out with sometimes and, basically, like, and then you have your romantic partners who get to cuddle with you and matter more than everyone else and whom you love. Except I don’t, because that trivializes friendships and also would mean that I am dating about ten people by now, some of whom are in monogamous romantic relationships with other people. And I don’t think I am anyone’s secret hidden love affair.

So okay, I tend to identify as aromantic when I’m feeling easily categorizable and wtfromantic when I’m feeling frustrated and cranky. (I don’t actually like greyromantic because it’s not a matter of experiencing romantic attraction rarely or only in certain situations or whatever, it’s a matter of not being sure I even know what romantic attraction or, for that matter, a romantic relationship even is. I can only rely on what other people tell me and a lot of it is contradictory or feels very, very weird.) I can live with that, even if it’s a little unusual. Besides, I know several other people who feel pretty similarly to me, and talking to them helps a lot. (Hi, guys!)

Except I keep running into things where people say they wish they were aromantic and asexual because that seems like it would be so much emotionally easier, and it must be really nice not to have to ever deal with unrequited love, and aromantic people are so lucky to be able to avoid that! And then I have to laugh, and laugh, and laugh, and then sometimes go hit something.

For those people who are allergic to tales of personal woe, you may wish to turn back now.

Background information: the kind of relationship I actually want involves a bunch of things, but it boils down to having a friend who is close enough to me that I get to see them all the time and either live very close to them indeed or live in the same home. I don’t really want to share a room or a bed, just live in close proximity and do things like cook dinner and bicker over terrible television and shove books at one another and, you know. Share my life with someone. In short, I would like to have a zucchini one day. I really don’t care if said zucchini dates anyone else or gets married or anything like that, as long as they don’t either leave or make me leave. Most of what I want can be found under the TV Trope Nakama, which makes it really awesome that the trope description includes this sentence:

This sort of group dynamic appeals to younger audiences who are unfamiliar with romance, and appeals to older audiences who live in a world of complex relationships and convenience masqueraded as false friendship, who are feeling nostalgic about the times when friendship meant a lifelong bond.

Yeah, either I’m an immature child who doesn’t know what real romance is yet or else I’m… nostalgic for oversimplified, easy relationships from a time in my life I haven’t actually experienced. Ever. It really gets you coming and going–either you love this trope because you’re too naive to understand it’s not real, or you love it because you’re too cynical and embittered to like romance the way it is! Wow, I love reading that sentence, it makes me feel invisible and insulted all over again every time I see it. That’s quality erasure right there.

Anyway, I am unfortunately no more logical and in control of my emotions than any romantic person is, and I have been fixating on a friend of mine and wanting her to be my zucchini for a depressingly long time. (Because I like puns and neither “crush” or “squish” seem to work–I don’t want to date her and we’re already friends–I think of this as an unrequited squash.) This is almost certainly not going to happen, which does not prevent my friend from giving me the mother of all mixed signals every time we have a discussion about our relationship. It is very painful.

In a lot of ways, I actually would rather that I had an unrequited crush on my friend, because then (assuming I could get the courage up), I could say “I have a crush on you, and I need you to know this so that I can take some time to avoid you for a little while until I get over it.” And then I could flee until the waves of embarrassment subsided and eventually we might have been able to be friends again properly. At the very least, in that situation I could say that sentence and the mixed signals would probably go away.

In the situation I have now, before I could say that sentence I would need to have a protracted and extremely painful discussion of romantic orientation in general, mine in particular, several months’ worth of conversation with other like minds, my own personal dreams for the future and depressing certainty that they are unlikely to come to pass, and also my complicated and apparently one-sided feelings for her. And then I would need to gamble that she a) understood and b) believed me and also c) did not take this as an opportunity to send me even more mixed signals and then not actually follow up on them.

Things are not exactly going well. So, you know, if I hear one more romantic person say they want to be in my shoes because my emotional life must be so much easier than theirs I might have to scream. After all, from where I’m standing at least romantic people can expect everyone to understand what they’re talking about when they complain about their personal problems.

March 13, 2011

On Romance in the Media

This week, I’m going on a road trip. I actually finished it yesterday and am on vacation now, but preparing for the road trip reminded me of an incident that happened on a similar trip I made some years ago. I was driving down south at the time with a couple of friends and one of them joked “If this was a spring break summer flick, who would be the hero?” And I thought immediately, “Not me. There couldn’t be a romantic subplot.”

There’s something wrong with storytelling when you can’t tell a story without your main character falling in love. Movies are hands down the worst genre about this, but it’s pervasive in all media: it seems like a story isn’t deemed complete if there’s no Designated Love Interest for the main character.

Especially if you’re not male. Women are often tokenized and thrown into these stories specifically so that the (invariably male) main character has someone to fall in love with. So if you’re ace and male, you might be able to find a hero who isn’t displaying interest within the story–but women in fiction? Almost always the love interest for somebody, even when they’re meant to be the hero in their own right, and often as not there will be only one. (If you’re nonbinary, you’re shit out of luck; generally media is pretty sure you don’t exist.)

This state of affairs actually sucks for a whole lot of people. It sucks for queer people because this focus on romance is usually intensely heteronormative, meaning that same-gender relationships are generally conspicuously absent while romance is lionized. It sucks for women because it reinforces the message that dating and theoretically marrying someone is the highest possible goal for a woman, one that every woman must aspire to. It sucks for romantic asexuals because romantic relationships are usually constructed in these narratives as specifically sexual. It sucks for anyone who is currently single because it constructs anyone who is single for any reason as essentially incomplete. The whole thing sucks for polyamorous people, it sucks for kinky people, and frankly there are a whole lot of reasons why the mass media focus on one specific type of opposite-gender relationship leaves a whole lot of different people out in the cold.

But it really sucks to be sitting here and thinking “awesome. No story without a romance is important, and I don’t do romances.” What does that say about my stories? About how important I am as a person? Can someone like me ever be a hero in my own right?

I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that every confirmed asexual main character so far is romantic. Romantic relationships are constructed as a way to humanize characters–or rather, their absence is constructed as dehumanizing, because romantic is the default. Characters who don’t experience romantic relationships in fiction are almost uniformly portrayed as sociopaths, and in some cases even have their sociopathy mitigated by falling in love with the right person. There are some nasty tropes here, guys.

The desexualizing and arguably deromanticizing influence applied to several minority groups in fiction–other types of queer people, people of color, disabled people–reinforces this tendency to equate lack of romantic relationships with dehumanization, because in the shorthand conventions of fiction you can’t be a fully realized center of a story without a significant other. Unfortunately, while going “fully realize characters like us by giving us more screen time of them dating!” is a pretty natural response to that, it’s also pretty upsetting when you don’t fit into that paradigm of discussing who matters. If I never run across another person talking about poor media representation of minority characters by decrying the “asexual” nature of these characters, it will be too soon.

Even characters we can initially read as aromantic get significant others as they get a bit more authorial limelight. As soon as the narrative cares about you, the burgeoning love interest lurks in the background. The Big Bang Theory in particular has been a shining example of this: as the Sheldon character gets more and more focus within the narrative, the show introduced a “girlfriend” for him. It’s not enough to exist on your own; you have to have a “significant” other to complete you properly.

So what do we do about it? Frankly, I have no idea. I’m not a writer of fiction. I try to support works that don’t do this by buying them, but I’m a college kid and my wallet is generally pretty lean.

I just want to talk about it, because remembering that knee-jerk reaction hurt. And I’d like a world in which other aces’ response to that question–“we’re in a movie? Who’s the hero?” wasn’t immediately “Not me.”

February 12, 2011

It’s Not About You

So Dan Savage has been showing his ass in public again. Apparently we’re not supposed to “inflict ourselves on normal people” or something. And the thing is, this isn’t the first time Savage has been hateful towards asexuals and it won’t be the last. But I wanted to comment on it anyway, because I think it showcases a reaction that’s all too common when the discussion of asexuals dating comes up.

Every time I have seen asexuality discussed in a space that is not heavily frequented by asexuals, someone pops up and feels the need to say that they could never date an asexual, even when the original context has nothing to do with asexuals dating. (That’s the best-case scenario. The worst-case scenario is that same person then going on to discuss how asexuals who date nonasexuals must be horrible people who are deliberately entrapping nonasexual people in manipulative, painfully sexless relationships against said nonasexuals’ will. Apparently the concept of breaking up never occurs to these people.)

Every damn time. I don’t know why these people think this is a useful and valid insight. I don’t know what they think they’re contributing to the conversation. I don’t know if they seriously think they’re saying anything new or useful. I don’t know if the people doing it know just how hurtful it is to always see that. And I’m not sure they care if they do. Because the impact of seeing that over and over and over again hurts.

I don’t even want to date anyone! My relationships are strange and painful, all the more so for being rather outside the monogamous romance situation. And I still get upset at seeing this, because it’s a tangible remainder that the most important relationships in my culture are set up to exclude asexuals. I can’t imagine what a romantic asexual must feel at seeing these responses every time asexual discussion comes up.

After all, it’s not like other romantic asexuals are easy to find. Say you’re a heteroromantic asexual woman and you want to date only other asexuals. Assume that the often-cited figure claiming asexuals make up 1% of the population is correct. Pretend that half of these are men*–well, that leaves you with 0.5% of the population who might possibly be in your dating pool. Now take out all the ones who are aromantic or homoromantic–according to the 2008 AVEN census, about 17.5% of the asexual population identifies as aromantic and 6.5% identify as homoromantic, so that’s 24% of the community which is off limits because of romantic orientation, meaning that 76% are theoretically available**.

So that’s 1% of the population at large x 50 % of these being an acceptable gender x 76% having a compatible romantic attraction, which comes to a whole 0.38% of the population you might be compatible with on the basis of romantic and sexual attraction alone. Forget the vagaries of personality and whether you can even get along with any of these people–that’s what you have to work with. Oh, and just to make the picture a little more bleak, the invisibility of asexuality means that it’s likely that a large chunk of your possible dating pool have no idea what asexuality is or what they are, making them impossible to find. As an extra-special bonus, the fact that so much of the asexual community is online means that if you do manage to meet someone you’re compatible with and have enough in common with him to fall in love with him, it’s likely that he’ll live nowhere near you.

That’s if you’re heteroromantic–the pool gets even smaller if you’re homoromantic asexual, for instance. Or if you’re transgender and have to deal with cissexism from potential partners. Or if you’re non-binary identified in terms of gender. Or disabled, or anything else that often counts as a “dealbreaker” in the dating pool–my point is, the asexual romantic dating pool is tiny and, as everything dealing with asexuals tends to be, isolated. (Invisibility rears its see-through head again!)

So it is not unprecedented that asexual people might try to date nonasexual people now and again. Of course, this brings its own nasty problems along for the ride–to “compromise” on sex or not? Is compromising enough for the sexual partner? Is the asexual partner okay with the sex even long term? Can compromising be a free choice at all, given the odds on finding another asexual partner and the pressure not to end up alone? Is a choice between having so few dating options and having sex you don’t want still an entirely uncoerced, free choice?

And the options for asexuals are further constricted by the way that intimacy and long-term commitment are assumed to be a feature of romantic relationships only, nothing else. What this means is that if an asexual person decides that romantic relationships are unworkable, either through not experiencing romantic attraction or through not being able or interested in “compromising” on sex and not being able to find an asexual partner, you’re almost-but-not-quite Shit Out Of Luck. One of the things this does is place much more pressure on asexuals to try to make romantic relationships that do work, because this is one of the only societally-approved ways to find long-term emotional intimacy.

I’m not criticizing the personal decisions made by anyone; far from it. In general, honesty is the best policy at all times, particularly when considering matters of relationships with other people. But in a conversation about the possibility of asexuals dating nonasexuals? My sympathy is not with the poor nonasexual person, who after all always has the choice of saying “I can’t handle this” and moving on. It’s with the asexual partner, who has so many fewer options.

I’m not even going to discuss the Othering of asexuals (how strange, how broken these people must be) that often occurs alongside these responses. I’m not going to discuss how hateful they are, how they presume maliciousness to asexual people, how they often assume that asexual people are trying to entrap or trick their partners. I’m not even going to bring up the fact that I often see assumptions that asexual people magically know they’re asexual from puberty or something, despite the fact that invisibility conspires to leave us without the words to describe ourselves and the bravery to speak them aloud.

I’m only going to say this: You, the nonasexual person, have many more options than asexual people do. Kindly do not rub that in the face of the people who are most acutely cognizant of that fact.

*Not that that “half” number is likely to be accurate, since for one thing there are a ton of people who don’t identify within the gender binary within the asexual community, but we’re being as broad and generous with our data as possible.

**In fact, that same census details several types of responses that are uncategorizable as heteroromantic, homoromantic, bi- or panromantic, or aromantic, so the numbers may actually be less comforting than this. In order to be as generous as possible, I assumed that answers like “unsure of romantic orientation” and “do not believe in a distinction between romantic and nonromantic attraction” might possibly count and so I excluded only “homoromantic” and “aromantic” answers from the original analysis.

November 27, 2010

On the Importance of Lyrics

So I’m going to talk about music now. Which is funny, because usually I would rather pull teeth than talk music. I often suspect that I’m one of the very few people out there who really does not do the music-as-tribal-identity thing. More, when people around me start talking music, I quickly tune out of the conversation. Ordinarily, there are few things I like less than talking about the bands I like.

And it’s not because I don’t like music, or that I don’t think it’s important, or anything like that. Admittedly, I’m crap at doing it myself, but I enjoy listening to music just fine. I have firm opinions on what I do and don’t like and specific genre tastes, so it’s also not like I’m not interested in what I’m listening to.

This actually rather unusual for me, because my standard approach to anything I enjoy even peripherally is to run out and find out as much as I can about it. For better or for worse, I am a notoriously enthusiastic person; there are very few things that I find irredeemably boring, and most of the time I simply ignore those altogether.

I wonder sometimes if that’s simply because I’ve never engaged with music on a deeper level. There is a lot of music about sex and romance out there. And lyrics are important to me when I listen to music; I want to know what the song is about, and because I’m often not good at actually parsing lyrics on a first go-round, I tend to listen very closely to what my music is saying. And you notice when 90% of what you’re hearing is either about romantic love in some form or about the actual act of fucking.

It wears on you. And it’s not exactly welcoming to the wide world of lyrical music, either, not when it’s being made so clear that the stories these songs tell aren’t meant for you, aren’t meant as something you can nod along with.

In fact, the first really angry “really, world?” rage I had, growing up, was about music. Because there was so much about sex and romance, and there was so very little about friendship or anything that I could see myself in, and music is ever-present in my culture. It felt very much as if there was no escaping.

I thought, then, about the songs I actually do seek out to listen to. So I brought up my iTunes “most played” list and I sorted through the songs therein. I eventually came up with only about 25 % of the songs I listen to being about either sex or romance at all, and of those the romances tended to end badly. There’s a lot of tragedies there.

Apparently this influences my taste in music much more than I thought it did.

So. I have a question, meant particularly for other aromantics but also for people in general: is this a me thing, or do others experience it, too?

September 27, 2010

What Is This Thing You Call… Love?

I identify as an aromantic asexual. But only because it’s the closest possible term that makes even a bit of sense.

See, I don’t quite understand romantic attraction, exactly. I find the concept rather confusing. I assume I would notice if I was experiencing romantic attraction or a desire to be in a romantic relationship with a specific person, but how would I know? As is my wont when attempting to understand a concept, I tried to comprise an operational definition of “romantic relationship.” (Yes, that is actually my process. Science, it worms its way into your brains.)

What differentiates a romantic relationship from a friendship, even a very close friendship? The “is it sexual?” criterion is the most obvious and appears to be the most societally sanctioned, but the existence of asexual romantic relationships indicates that something else is probably going on here. And even ignoring that, the existences of concepts like “friends with benefits” tends to show that you can have the sex without the romance, so that fails as a litmus test. The other obvious possible criterion is the presence of “romantic trappings,” like presenting one’s lovers with flowers and candy or celebrating Valentine’s Day. However, the multitude of romantic couples I have encountered who profess disdain for most of the trappings associated with romance tells me that the trappings aren’t what distinguishes romantic relationships from others.

Most of the people I saw post on AVEN about what made romantic relationships special were talking about things like being willing to die for the person you cared about and wanting the person to be happy and generally, Caring A Lot about someone. But every time I read statements in that classification, I was confused further. Because mostly, I could have written the same things about people I considered good friends. And hey, myself I might have written off as a weird anomaly, since I care a lot about my people, and generally have a knack for that sort of thing. But there were other AVENites posting about how they cared lots about people but didn’t want to date them, and anyway I have enough very close nonasexual friends for me to think that level of caring is probably not the best litmus test either. After all, if all it took to make a romantic relationship was to care about someone lots, even use the “love” word, then I’m dating about a dozen people and none of us have even noticed.

Then I thought maybe romantic relationships were defined through starting with infatuation. After all, the experience of crushing on someone is also almost entirely foreign to me. I’ve had only one experience of (dimly-remembered) all-consuming infatuation in my life. I was about five years old and it ended when the boy in question turned out to be terrified of my pet terrier, thus filling me with disdain for him and embarrassment about the whole affair. And I think I’m getting closer there, but this aspect of an operational definition of romance has its problems, too. For one thing, the existence of what people call “squishes”–infatuations with people while only wanting to be friends with them–indicates that infatuation can kick-start non-romantic relationships, too. And even aside from that, the mainstream cultural conception of “hero-worship” (or between straight men, a “mancrush”) seem to back up the idea that infatuation isn’t the whole story.

What about exclusivity? Again, looking at mainstream conceptualizations of romantic love, I see a lot of mentions of exclusivity. A lot of people talk about sexual exclusivity (“you can’t have sex with anyone else when you’re dating someone”). There also seems to be a feeling that I have observed which indicates that people in a romantic relationships ought to be each other’s primary source of affection and emotional intimacy. Some people even seem to think that one’s significant other ought to be one’s only source of strong emotional intimacy. I know my mother seems to view my very close relationships with friends as somewhat confusing; she doesn’t have friends that she sees on a regular basis outside of work acquaintances or my family. There definitely seems to be an undercurrent of “these feelings and activities are reserved for my significant other only” under running the whole concept.

The existence of polyamorous people would seem to imply that pure exclusivity doesn’t characterize a romantic relationship, though. I have done some limited research into polyamorous writing, and while some of the relationship models I have encountered seem to have the exclusivity thing (like permanent three-person closed relationships), some, like open relationships, do not. But I do get the impression that even in polyamorous romantic relationships some degree of exclusivity is involved, and at the very least the fact that you do need to notify your parter(s) when you start seeing someone else indicates that there’s a degree of exclusivity involved in romantic relationships which just doesn’t seem to be present in friendships.

The conclusion I eventually came to was that a romantic relationship is characterized by a period of infatuation on the part of at least one person and that it involves at least some degree of exclusivity or agreement to allow the other person to control one’s actions. But hey, I don’t identify as romantic. I’d love it if someone who does identify that way weighs in to explain how they conceptualize a romantic relationships differently from a non-romantic one.

September 24, 2010

Breaking the Chain

So right now I’m taking a Human Sexuality class. I signed up for it in large part because I wanted to learn a bit more about the mainstream conceptualizations of sexuality within psychology. I like psychology, you see (it’s one of my majors), and I wanted to know what the training of the sex therapists you always see on asexual interviews was like. I wanted to see how those conceptualizations differ from the conceptualizations of sex and romance I largely grew up with, which are heavily influenced by the asexuality community. I started lurking when I was fourteen, you see, and I’ve been identifying as asexual free of self-doubt since sixteen, and in a very real way the asexuality community has been my primary source of discussion about how sexuality works. So I signed up for this course, thinking to see how “everyone else” thinks about the whole thing.

Well. In some ways, I’m not impressed. There seems to be this assumption that a lot of things associated with sexuality and romance are always or usually linked together on some basic chain, and that removing one link takes off most of the rest of them as well. The most obvious ones are what asexuals categorize as sexual and romantic attraction, but there even appeared to be an assumption that behavior factors in. Which, no–if you’re studying patterns of sexual attraction, that’s one thing, and if you’re studying types of sexual behavior, that’s quite another. Using the same term for both is just confusing. Moreover, it ignores the fact that while the population of people with a particular attraction pattern and the population of people who actually engage in sexual behavior along those patterns overlap, they are not actually the same thing. Studying behavior is worthy on its own, yes, but I’m confused as to why the terminology seems to confuse these two related but separate concepts.

Asexuals also tend to unlink many different things which mainstream conceptualizations assume always go together: sexual behavior, desire for romantic relationships, desire for emotional intimacy, desire for children, ability to love, experience of infatuation–there’s a lot of it, and I think a lot of nonasexual people could benefit from the understanding that sometimes these things do go together neatly, and sometimes they don’t. The Queersecrets tumblr has been seeing a fair amount of asexual action lately, and after a while of this I noticed that several people had begun posting and identifying in their secrets as homoromantic heterosexual or vice versa. Even in this Human Sexuality class, my professor described a friend of hers who sounded very much like a heteroromantic homosexual, or at least a heteroromantic bisexual-leaning-heavily-towards-women. As she was discussing how unusual and boundaries-blurring such a case study seems, I thought to myself: no, it isn’t. I feel like people with mismatched orientations in general would benefit greatly from discussion of that, just as we who are asexual benefit from discussing asexuality. And I would love to see such conceptualizations of a broken chain become more common in the mainstream.

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