Scripts Are a Bug, Not a Feature

A few days ago, a post calling for scripts for queerplatonic/aromantic relationships popped up on Tumblr and into my feeds. The first time I saw it, my visceral, immediate reaction was to be uncomfortable and unhappy with it. I didn’t particularly want to rain on anyone’s parade, so I ignored it.

The second time I saw it, I passed it around to my partners and see what they thought, and I got unhappy responses from them, too. So I started trying to pin down why.

The thing is, this bothers me because it’s trying to get around actually communicating with your friend or your partner*. It’s trying to use actions to imply your feelings without putting them into words, and in trying to set up widely accepted scripts it’s trying to achieve a context in which your partner will know what you want without having to ask for it.

And I get why. Words are scary! Having a conversation that outlines where things are going is scary! It seems like it would be great if we didn’t have to talk about our emotions all the time, if we could just act in a prescribed set of ways and “know” that the person we’re trying to communicate with would get it without us having to say a word. Because the thing is, when you put your feelings into words and get them explicitly out there, you run the risk of rejection or of the other person not feeling the same way.

But the other problem is that scripts fail all the time, and they fail BECAUSE nonverbal communication is always going to be more ambiguous than verbal communication. For one thing, it’s really vulnerable to wishful thinking, where you read things that aren’t really there into someone’s actions because you want them to be there. You’re not directly asking for what you want, so if the other person really isn’t interested, they’re more likely to misinterpret what you’re doing because they’re not paying attention, and they’re not giving your actions nearly as much emotional significance as you are.

If they do notice what you’re doing and correctly figure out what you want, and they’re still not interested, that puts them in a hell of a bind–they have to deal with the awkward situation of you saying over and over again “I’d like to be in a Relationship with you!” without being able to stop it. Think about it–if they say “I’m so sorry but I’m not interested” when you haven’t actually declared an interest, they look kind of crazy, right? Which is what is so attractive about relying on scripts without verbalizing what you want, after all–you’re trying to avoid rejection, and this lets you do that. But it’s really fucking unkind and awful to the object of your affections to do that, because it puts them into a really nasty situation. You don’t want to be that kind of an asshole, do you? No? Then use your words about what you want and get the emotion out in the air, so you can both decide what’s best for each of you.

The other reason that the post makes me uncomfortable is that I don’t want scripts to tell my partners how much they mean to me with actions. I can do that perfectly well already, because I know what they like and what makes them happy, and that is specific to each of them. One of my partners would really love it if I took them hiking or if I came home with an awesome new dog toy to show off and mess with. The other one loves science fiction shows and knitting really complicated patterns, so I might buy her a cool Ravelry pattern or sit down for a Babylon 5 marathon with her.

Having scripts would make no sense because if I had to show my affection within a prescribed set of actions and gifts, I wouldn’t be able to modify them to the specific people I’m trying to be affectionate to in the first place! And in fact this is true of all relationships, romantic or not–gifts that acknowledge the interests and desires of the person receiving the gift are much more romantic than ones that don’t understand a partner’s tastes, for example. Removing specificity from the system seems like a bad way to show my partners that I care.

And finally, this bothers me because hell, I’m uncomfortable with the entire society-mandated cultural complex surrounding romance. The whole reason I don’t identify as romantic, full stop, is that the process by which I attach to someone is slow and a bit complicated and a little different, not that I think attachment and affection really differ between established romantic relationships and mine. One of the thing I love about my relationships is that they’ve progressed in a manner that lets both me and my partners check in with our own comfort levels and modify things to suit us, without having to worry whether this is working according to the “rules.” There are no rules or pressures except what makes all of us happy, and that’s awesome! So given all that, given that the lack of “rules” is what I really love about this and what has made it work for me…

….why in the hell would I want to introduce a new set of scripts to either align to or move in opposition to in the first place?

*I’m here using “partner” as a shorthand for “friend” or “person I would like to be my partner” because those are long and unwieldy, but I mean all of them. You can also read “in a relationship” as “closer friends” if you like. 

About Sciatrix

Sciatrix is an American graduate student studying ecology, evolution and behavior. She identifies as asexual and has mostly given up trying to sort out the whole romance thing for now. She has previously blogged about asexuality at Writing From Factor X. In her free time, she trains in canine agility and knits oddly cabled hats.
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8 Responses to Scripts Are a Bug, Not a Feature

  1. Norah says:

    The set scripts for romantic relationships or showing interest are boring and inaccurate and prone to be misunderstood. I don’t know why you’d want a set for other relationships too. Even then I think there already are a few at least.

    In the beginning stages of showing interest I just find them awkward and later on, unnecessary. In any stage, I generally find them uninteresting. Scripts assume ‘everyone likes this’, it’s insulting.

    People are unlikely to buy me the kind of candy or whatever I like when they don’t know me, I’m allergic to flowers (badly), and I don’t talk well so dinners are generally fairly quiet anyway, and that’s rarely comfortable with someone I don’t know well. Also I don’t see well in candlelight and I like to see my food. Also, when I go to dinner I usually mostly go for the food (as does my partner). I happen to like food. The kind of dinners in the script are rarely meant to be about the food.

    There’s also the aspect where a lot of people think if they perform the right kind of actions enough number of times, or escalate them, x will happen. A lot of the time that might be sex, but there can be other goals too. Like there’s a meter somewhere counting the points and if it gets to 100, a reward comes out. It’s too much like the RPGs and sim games that handle relationships (of any kind) the way I don’t like them (looking at the Sims and especially the Fable series here, among others). In games of that kind I often just forego relationships (including friendships).
    If I do something for someone I like I don’t want that to be taken like I want something from them because it’s also part of some script. I want it to be understood that it’s simply something I wanted to do, because I know them and I know they’d like it and I felt like doing something for them I know they’d like, no obligations attached. If they got all awkward and uncomfortable because they thought I was performing some script and they didn’t like where it was going, I’d be pretty embarrassed and disappointed.

  2. I basically agree with everything here and what Norah said.

    But reading this reminded me of one time where I actually did say “I’m so sorry but I’m not interested” roughly 5 seconds after meeting someone, based on their body language (I also burst out laughing at the situation, and felt kinda bad about that). Of course, 1) I was really drunk so I didn’t politely hide my usual laughter at flirting gestures, and 2) She was someone who I had never met (but goes to school with me) who just came up to me and started playing with my hair (I would assume she was also drunk?). I’m pretty sure she was flirting, although she immediately denied that when I said I wasn’t interested.

    Now it makes for a funny story about how when I’m drunk I find flirting hilarious, which is probably the best way that the “are they flirting with me and afraid to say it?” stories end.

  3. salmelo says:

    I’ve actually been guilty of wanting there to be scripts for non-romantic relationships. But not for the reasons you suggest, so I thought it might be helpful to share.
    The thing is, I really want a close, committed, non-romantic relationship (or a few of them, really.) And for a while, and to a certain extent even now, although I am working on it, I was really, I guess jealous is a word, of romantic relationships as a concept. For having all of these things that non-romantic ones don’t. Things like being viewed as legitimate by society, and representation in media. One of those was that you can look almost anywhere and find guides and advice about romance. It’s almost impossible to find that about other relationships.
    I was trying desperately to make work relationships that just weren’t, and oh what I would have given for a guide on what to do. Of course, the more I look at things without the cloud of emotional desperation looming immediately overhead, the more I realize that those guides romantic relationships have, don’t work. At best they’re a crutch that might keep a stumbling relationship around a little bit longer, but you have to be able to go without them to have a healthy relationship. And that goes for any variety.

  4. Hollis says:

    It might be nice to have scripts if only so there is a general recognition that you can have relationships that are significant and intimate without being romantic and/or sexual. Because currently, it can be a struggle because many of the actions that I’d want to do would be read as “romantic” by the people that would be recipients of said actions. There is no way that they would be read as anything other than romantic (or sexual) because romantic/sexual scripts are so prevalent in our society.

  5. Cleander says:

    I don’t know if they’d really be considered scripts per se, but one thing that I would like is things like…idk “tropes” or something for things like platonic relationships. Things like giving chocolates on valentines’s day, or wedding or engagement rings (or weddings for that matter), or getting champaign on anniversaries or kissing under the mistletoe or anything – little celebrations like that. I feel like romance and sexuality are conflated enough that most of the tropes work for both, but there just isn’t anything like that for platonic partnerships like the kind I someday want to have.

    And I get that for some people those are restrictions, but for other people (including people like me) things like scripts and tropes can function more as a support than a restriction. They provide a starting structure that you can then build on to find what suits your needs – having a script doesn’t mean you can’t improvise to suit your particular situation. But some of us prefer some kind of script to even get started in the first place.

    And the thing is, for romance and sexuality, you can choose to eschew the mainstream scripts and do your own thing if you so choose, or you can stick to tradition if that’s more comfortable for you. But when you’re attempting a platonic relationship you don’t even get that choice.

    plus, scripts don’t always impede communication – having shared scripts is actually helpful for navigating society. Being able to introduce someone as “my girlfriend”, for example, instantly tells the audience a lot of information about them and their relationship with you – but how do you do that for a platonic partner?

    • Cleander says:

      Also, after re-reading the post that inspired this, I think there’s also another angle to this: that even if you don’t like to use scripts yourself, other people will still have them. And when you try to enact any kind of [queer]platonic overtures or to mention anything about queerplatonic relationships, etc. they will respond using either their script that says you are looking for/being romantic (which is not what you wanted) or their “just friends” script that says it’s meaningless (also not what you wanted). So part of wanting scripts is wanting recognition from outside parties that your relationships and desires can exist and be legitimated.

  6. Pingback: Use your words | The Asexual Agenda

  7. ettinacat says:

    I would like scripts, not as a replacement for open communication, but to reinforce it.

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