Engineering a relationship

This is a submission to the Carnival of Aces, whose theme this month is “Dating and Significant Others as Ace”.

Years ago, I used to feel a lot of undue anxiety about how to ask people out.  I think this gives a lot of people undue anxiety, and that anxiety plays out in countless cultural narratives: People who are too nervous to go up to an attractive stranger in the bar, because they’re afraid they’ll make a poor first impression.  Guys who pine after girls, but are afraid of rejection, so they try to be friends instead.  Girls who are conditioned not to initiate, so instead they merely hope their crush will notice them.

Despite the sheer number of such narratives, I couldn’t relate to any of them.  They all start with a particular person, and the problem is a fear of rejection or fear of overstepping social bounds.  My problem was that I didn’t have any particular person to begin with.  I wasn’t attracted to anyone.  But I was never able to explain this problem to my friends, so I felt I was being silly somehow and I tried not to think about it.

Identifying as asexual forced me to think about it, but it didn’t immediately solve the problem.  I felt essentially aromantic, but I still wanted a romantic relationship.  I had many theories and models to explain this, and I can never say whether they’re true or false.  One theory is that I’ve been socially conditioned to value romantic relationships even though I have no intrinsic desire for one.  But I’m partial to the idea that I’m just missing the “passion” component of love, or that I don’t experience limerence.

Given that limerence is mostly useful at the beginning of a relationship, I felt like I just needed some way to cross through.  Quantum tunneling into a relationship state!  If I didn’t have an object of affection, I’d just pick a person who seemed compatible and ask them out regardless.  I’d engineer a relationship, replacing what comes naturally to most people with an artificial process of careful consideration and strategizing.  Or something like that.

It sounds crazy when I put it into words, but maybe it’s not so crazy.  Being attracted to someone isn’t always a requirement to ask them out on a date.  Blind dates are an extreme example.  You can also have casual or low-stakes dates, where neither party needs to be immediately “passionate” about the other in order for it to be a success.  Low-stakes dating took me a while to understand, because I didn’t date very often, so dating was automatically a big deal to me.

Anyway, this strategy didn’t actually work.  In practice, I didn’t ask anyone out, because that was the path of least resistance.  I dated people occasionally, but only when it the opportunity fell in my lap.  That’s how I got into my current relationship.  And now I don’t date at all.  I’m quite relieved about that.

About Siggy

Siggy is an ace activist based in the U.S. He is gay gray-A, and has a Ph.D. in physics. He has another blog where he also talks about math, philosophy, godlessness, and social criticism. His other hobbies include board games and origami.
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6 Responses to Engineering a relationship

  1. Jo says:

    This is a lovely post, Siggy. The part about not fitting any of the narratives because they all seem to start with a particular person is something that resonates with me strongly.

    The bit about being conditioned to see romantic relationships as somehow essential and above all others is something I’ve felt too. When I first found out about asexuality, I kind of assumed I’d be a romantic ace, because I liked the general idea of a romantic partner, and because it still seemed more ‘normal’. Now I realise that there is nothing romantic about the way I feel about people, and have started to re-work the ‘romantic relationships are the height of everything’ model. The concept of dating still sounds weird to me. But now I know that other relationships are just as important and valuable!

    • Siggy says:

      In my case, the idea that I was only socially conditioned to want romantic relationships was something I considered but rejected. No, I really do want them. But I also think I overvalued them at first, which could have been socially conditioned.

      • Jo says:

        Oh, I misunderstood. 🙂 In my case, I do think that in the past, I was conditioned to expect that one day I would also have a romantic relationship. Like in every TV show, in every young adult novel, every movie, you know? I was happy to not be in one at that moment because I was more interested in school and stuff, but I fully accepted the whole ‘one day everyone will find someone special’ narrative.

  2. queenieofaces says:

    It’s interesting that you felt aromantic and wanted a romantic relationship–I’m romantic but am totally uninterested in romantic relationships 99% of the time! If there isn’t someone specific I’m interested in, I’m just kind of like, “…eh…dating…whatever…” But once someone I’m actually interested in enters the scene, I am like, “YES, YOU. LET US DATE, YES?” It was kind of awful during my early teenage years, because all my lady friends were FILLED WITH BURNING DESIRE TO DATE SOMEONE, ANYONE and I was mostly filled with burning desire to find a nice tree to finish reading my book under. I was actually bullied for not having crushes, which seems really ridiculous now, but was pretty devastating at the time.

    • Seth says:

      And here I am floating somewhere in between. The couple times I have experienced something akin to limerence, I absolutely did not want to date the person who triggered it. I sometimes think I could enjoy a romantic relationship, but only if it were limerence-free, and I’m not especially motivated to seek one out, so I’m pretty much stuck with the serendipitous approach that Siggy took,

  3. Sciatrix says:

    If it makes you feel better, this is exactly how I would have gone about getting into a romantic relationship if I had decided that it was something I wanted. (At one point it was something I was considering, but eventually I decided it wasn’t worth going after.) So at least you’re not the only person who has had that thought process?

    Being really analytical is great for work, but maybe not so much in terms of personal relationships. (Or is it? I bet I could design an experiment to test that idea, maybe a survey model with measures of relationship satisfaction combined with a scale to measure preference for analytic styles of approaching sample problems…)

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