A social failure

[Content note: mention of sexual assault]

“It’s not because I’m too nervous to ask anyone.”  That’s what I told everybody.  Actually, I hardly told anyone, because I didn’t like to talk about it.  But I told a couple friends, and imagined that I was telling it to everyone.

It was my explanation for why I’m not a social failure.  Lots of guys were.  I had a roommate who was like that.  He lamented that he never had a relationship.  He didn’t even know where to start.  He said he was too anxious to ask anyone out.  How did other guys do it?  Even me, I had this one relationship in middle school, how did I do it?  He felt like a loser relative to me.

But I felt like the middle-school relationship hardly counted.  I was, by all accounts, yet another social failure.  By all accounts, except for one: I was not too nervous to ask anyone out.  I didn’t have any relationships, but anxiety was not my reason.

Back up a bit.  I am a man.  Men are expected to ask people out, to initiate the relationships.  This is probably the single stupidest thing about straight dating.  I can’t tell you how many guys I’ve met who are plainly unsuited to this role, and are greatly anguished by this fact.  This is the kind of thing that drives men to PUA madness.*  On the flipside, I’ve heard women complain that they’re interested in some guy, but they can’t do anything about it until the guy initiates.  Ugh, straight people, I feel so sorry for you.

Anyway, because I was a straight-identifying man, relationships would never come to me.  I would have to come to the relationship.  And I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.  It wasn’t because I was too nervous to ask anyone.  I just… who would I even ask?  Who was there to even be nervous about?

I struggled to articulate this to my two friends.  I had a problem but it wasn’t the typical problem.  It was… I don’t know.  Nobody seems to really understand.  My friends responded to my atypical problem with the typical response: “You’ll find someone eventually.”

The normativity did not magically dissolve away when I started identifying as asexual.  I was sort of identifying as aromantic at the time, but I still wanted a romantic relationship.  I had finally identified the problem, the reason I couldn’t find any relationships: I was aromantic-ish.  So how do people like me get romantic relationships?  Silence.  The asexual community has never been very good with relationship advice.

Instead, people asked why I was interested in a relationship in the first place.  Or they suggested that maybe I wasn’t quite so aromantic if I wanted this so badly.  (Back then, people didn’t talk so much about aromantics who want close relationships, whereas people do now.)

I did eventually get into relationship, and it was such a disaster.  This is the one relationship I don’t like to talk about, because I felt so ashamed and embarrassed.  Where did the problems even begin?  Was it the way I completely overestimated the seriousness of the relationship?  Was it the way I was blind to his lies?  Or perhaps, most definitely, it was the way I rushed into a relationship with the wrong person, and ignored all the red flags.  When we first met, I explained asexuality to him, and he sexually assaulted me.  That was how we met.  I… don’t want to talk about it anymore.

During the relationship, that’s not what I thought about.  I thought about how inexperienced I was.  I was only starting to have relationships at age 21.  Everyone else had started out in high school, and learned from their mistakes then.  I was afraid I’d have to go through the terrible high school relationship in college.  In retrospect, these fears were mostly justified.  One of the rookie mistakes people make about romantic relationships is that they think it’s so urgent to find a relationship.

I no longer identify as aromantic.  I am in a rather conventional long-term monogamous relationship, and I prefer it that way.  And I was hurt by amatonormativity, as I suspect most of us are.


*PUA is pickup artistry.  It’s a community of men who exchange extremely questionable and creepy tips on how to get sex from women.  You can look it up, but I don’t recommend it.

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.
This entry was posted in aromanticism, personal experience, Relationships and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to A social failure

  1. I remember when I was younger I basically thought “this person is a woman and I’m friends with her, so clearly that means I’m supposed to ask her out!”. That was basically how I resolved this issue, but of course that lead to “I’m dating this woman and I’m a heterosexual man, so therefore I should want to have sex with her!”, which in turn lead to terrible cognitive dissonance. I assumed my emotions were simply what everyone else told me they should be. This lead to years of trying to act out the role of heterosexual man, determined to keep trying until it fit. Obviously, it never did.

    Amusingly, the whole “men are supposed to initiate” thing is one reason why I suspect most of my relationships now end up being with people who tend not to put much of an emphasis on gender roles- because the only people I’m going to end up in a relationship with are those who are willing to ask me. On the other hand, at this point in my life I consider selecting for people who don’t care a lot about gender roles a good thing, so it’s almost handy that straight people care so much about that. It saves me a lot of time.

    • Siggy says:

      Yeah, it’s handy. I often feel like I got the better deal over heteroromantics because I don’t have to deal with straight dating culture.

      • Yeah, the few times men have been interested in me it’s generally been fun and didn’t have all the same baggage that I have to deal with from straight people. Unfortunately, that just doesn’t come up much (this may be related to the fact that I’m out to all the gay men I know, and they assume I am sex averse- which is another way I filter potential partners- not to mention the fact that I tend not to go looking for relationships and most of the people that initiate towards me are women).

  2. Emerson says:

    Captain Heartless, I feel like you’re speaking directly from my own mind. Except that I was a woman. The idea that men and women can’t be friends without wanting ‘more’ is SO toxic.

    • Yeah, it’s funny to realize how many of these toxic gender ideas interact to make it hard to realize we are asexual (or just aren’t straight, or even just not what all the stereotypes/gender roles say). Sometimes I’m amazed anyone ever figures it out.

      Oddly enough, I think the first step to me becoming comfortable with my asexuality (years before I had the word though) was when I became close friends with a woman and wasn’t interested in dating or sleeping with her. I remember acquaintances back then literally trying to convince me that *I* must want to “bone” her because *they* found her attractive and I was friends with her. It was kind of mind boggling. I guess I had to break through all the strict gender expectations first before questioning my sexuality.

  3. Victrix says:

    The men are supposed to initiate has always irritated me. However it’s also probably allowed me to avoid awkward situations without requiring much effort.
    That rookie mistake about needing a relationship urgently caused me many issues for a while and was what pretty much formed the start of me questioning my sexuality.

    • Siggy says:

      You mean, it’s allowed you to avoid relationships, since women generally won’t ask you out? (I don’t know whether you’re male-presenting.)

      Yeah, the whole thing about men initiating is stupid, but it accidentally benefited me. The experience of not having any relationships before I identified as ace… there were problems with it, sure, but it was better than the alternative.

      • Victrix says:

        Yeah probably should have made it clear that I’m male for perspective, was replying from my phone though so hard to even proof read the response.
        I was lucky I had just enough experience with relationships to allow me to come to a conclusion though niether really had anything happen.

  4. luvtheheaven says:

    I am a girl who thought I was straight for a long time. Even so, I was the one to ask a guy to my high school’s junior prom (and he turned me down, which I now realize was probably for the best). I ended up never… ever… getting asked out in my life and I didn’t stress too much about it, but the fact that I was a 22-year-old before I ever went on my first date or experienced so much as a first kiss did bother me. I felt like a “social failure” for getting to age 23 and still being a virgin, and even watching videos like Laci Green’s didn’t reassure me: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yHAGvcStVxE

    and I actually did online dating in order to solve my problem when I was 22 and 23. My problem wasn’t so much “I’m desperate to be in a romantic relationship” (and certainly wasn’t “I’m desperate to have sex”) as much as the problem was “I’m desperate to stop being such a social failure. I can’t be a college graduate who still hasn’t even kissed a guy. I need to fix this problem.”

    So I joined OkCupid and later Plenty of Fish (POF). And as a girl who has never cared much about gender roles, I messaged guys and got messaged and replied to let the guys know I wasn’t interested when that was the case. My brother joined OkCupid too for his own needs at one point and after both some conversations with guys on the sites and taking to my brother in real life, I found out that girls never do the messaging (the asking out/the expressing of interest) on these sites, and that I was actually majorly breaking the norms. But that seemed silly to me, when I signed up I never once thought I’d be expected to sit around and wait for a guy to message me, and any guy who had a problem with me messaging them wasn’t the type of guy I wanted to go out with anyway.

    I probably would have been the first to message a LOT more guys if I *had* actually been heterosexual, like I had thought I was. But rather all along I had been a sex-averse, kissing-averse, touch-indifferent asexual. So my motivation to look for guys I was interested in dwindled after pretty much the day I signed up to join, lol… but guys still messaged me on the sites.

    I found it unsettling when the only thing they’d say in their initial message was “Hi, you’re beautiful”, and I was so insecure I thought they might be joking/making fun of me, because really, I never wear make-up and am a bit overweight, so while I did try to pick out a few pictures of myself where I think I look relatively good, beautiful isn’t the word that comes to mind when I think of myself, and the prospect that a guy would be asking me out only because I was beautiful made me feel weird. I think, in retrospect, that’s mainly because how the guys looked was literally the last thing in my mind. I messaged guys when we had a lot in common. When the text of their profiles or their answers to the compatibility questions intrigued me. When they seemed like cool people in the right age range and in my area of the country. I didn’t care at all about what they looked like, and I couldn’t relate, at all, to people who *only* cared about what I looked like. (I also didn’t really want participate in any form of sex with them, at least not very soon into us “dating”… so… that added to my discomfort with them potentially finding me “sexy”.)

    Being a social failure was a big deal for me. It’s what eventually led me to try dating, which, when it was a colossal failure (because I didn’t enjoy kissing, hand-holding, or anything sexual), led to me finally researching asexual people’s experiences enough for me to adopt the label for myself.

    So that chain of events meant that I wouldn’t be identifying as asexual today if it wasn’t for me trying so hard to stop being a social failure. I’d just be a self-identifying heterosexual girl who didn’t really care that I was single and in public social situations rarely enough to never get asked out. And who never was motivated enough to do the asking out, just like you were.

    • Siggy says:

      The Laci Green video reminds me of all the cultural messages we get about how it’s actually okay to be a virgin. I wonder if those messages were simply ineffective in the face of opposing messages, or if they were somehow unsuited to an asexual audience.

      Actually, it’s funny, in retrospect, how much those messages focused on sex, rather than relationships. Lots of people told me it was okay not to have sex until you were older, but nobody said much about not having any relationships.

      • luvtheheaven says:

        I think it’s partially because the message isn’t “it’s okay to be a virgin forever”. The message is “don’t stress, you’ll have the sex you’re dying to have eventually”. Usually that’s what I hear, and yes that is very unsuited to any audience who isn’t dying to have it. Such as most of the asexual population. No one even thinks to say, “if you decide you never want to have sex, ever, in your life, that’s okay”.

        • luvtheheaven says:

          I mean in that Laci Green she mentioned that what the 23-year-old virgin is probably concerned about is that the cultural expectation is that “by now” you should’ve had it, that you might be worried about being inexperienced once you’re having your “first time”, #2 is about other people judging you which does apply to everyone, but then reasons #3 and #4 is back to the expectation that you really want to be in a relationship and really want sex and you’re worried you’ll be alone/be a virgin forever. It’s not suited to people who, deep down, actually want a way out from the romantic relationship expectation because they are aromantic, it’s not even suited for aromantic allosexuals the way she worded her advice – she didn’t act like hook-ups/one-night-stands were even an option. And Laci Green’s advice also was not suited for any type of asexual who is not-sex-favorable. It was geared toward people who planned to be having enjoyable sex one day, or dreaded the idea of never getting to have it.

      • luvtheheaven says:

        And yeah I think amanormativity can be even stronger than compulsory sexuality, because there is at least an acknowledgement that certain people (like young people) can be “not ready” for sex, that there is “pressure to have sex”, in certain circles “rape culture” isn’t a foreign concept, etc. But when it comes to things people on the aromantic spectrum have to deal with, most people haven’t even begun to consider the possibility that some people don’t fit romance narratives. That some people don’t have crushes or their crushes are “different”. That some people don’t want romantic relationships, and don’t need them. That being “in love” maybe isn’t necessarily something everyone can and will experience. Etc.

  5. Yoey says:

    I am so relieved to read these replies. I am a 32 year old biofemale who lies somewhere between being aromantic and homoomantic. In the past, I tried to make myself want a heteronormative experience, but deep down that is not what I wanted.
    There is also the false and often unchallenged idea that if one has not dated or had sex by a certain age, then they have “arrested development.” The media has sent that message loud and clear with the film “Arrested Development” and “The 40 Year Old Virgin.”
    This conversation needs more voices so that amatonormative assumptions do not drown out the truth about how complex humanity really is.

  6. Pingback: I’ve been here all along | The Asexual Agenda

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s