[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.