This post is for the November Carnival of Aces.
Expectations in relationships? It turns out it’s all about expectations. Not my expectations about what a relationship should be like, but the expectations that others might have of me.
I’m sex-averse and aromantic.
Of these two characteristics, my sex aversion is the more significant. Even in its mildest form, my sex aversion appears as an inner conviction that sexual activity is not for me, even that it would be a betrayal of self to try to change that. In its strongest form, it is a strong sense of repulsion and dread at the thought of myself having sex, especially penetrative sex. Taken altogether, my sex aversion means that any scenario involving sex would mean I was not myself or not in my right mind, or that it involved coercion or rape.
So any relationship where there is any expectation of sex is out of the question, and that’s non-negotiable.
Another aspect of my sex aversion is a kind of wariness of situations where I might be expected to have sexual feelings or motivations, because then people might want something from me that I can’t give.
Similarly, I experience an aversion related to conventional romantic relationships partly because they’re usually expected to lead to sex and partly because if someone is in love with me, they might expect me to reciprocate and as an aromantic I’m not able to do that.
Because of the pressure I would feel from these expectations on the part of others, I have strenuously avoided any type of romantic or sexual relationship throughout my life – even long before I had heard of asexuality or aromanticism, I knew these things about myself – and intend to keep doing so.
Before reading asexual discourse, I didn’t realize there were other types of relationships that went beyond friendship or family. Then I learned about queerplatonic relationships and realized that this was something that might actually work for me. In a relationship structured to be non-sexual and non-romantic, there wouldn’t be these expectations on me. Moreover, once I discovered there was an asexual community, I realized that there was, at least in theory, a pool of potential partners who might be looking for the same type of relationship that I am.
As I began to explore the idea of a queerplatonic relationship, I came to realize that although I have no positive gender preference (being asexual, aromantic, and (gray) bi-aesthetic), I do seem to have a kind of negative preference. Specifically, the social (rather than physical) aspects of my sex aversion often relate to male power in society and in relationships and even when I imagine a specifically non-romantic and non-sexual relationship with a hypothetical aromantic asexual man, it just doesn’t compute, and I feel like I still don’t know how to navigate it. Trying to construct a relationship by what I don’t want rather than what I do want is confusing! But when I imagine a same-sex queerplatonic relationship, it doesn’t trip off any aversion or WTF-reaction and so even though I don’t fully understand what this part of it is about, I feel that this (the same-sex QP relationship) is what would be best for me to go with. (Side note: is it clear yet just how completely non-normative my experience is? How non-straight being aromantic and asexual can be? I literally do not know how to function in a heterosexual relationship.)
By this point, I’ve narrowed down my pool of potential partners to what seems like microscopic size (other fish in the puddle? a puddle would be huge!) and I haven’t even gotten to my own expectations yet.
I do in fact have some expectations of my own, even though part of me is loath to narrow down the pool even further. The thing is, though, that I’ve lived alone for 21 years and I like it. Although it comes with costs, the single, solitary life works well for me. For it to be worth it for me to enter into a primary relationship, it would need to offer me something I can’t get on my own or from family or friendships (and that something is going to be other than romance or sex).
I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from Sarah and Lindsey’s Defining Celibacy, which seeks to develop a concept of celibacy as a vocation that goes beyond just abstaining from sex. Although their religious tradition is very different from my own, their post provided a good place for me to start in thinking about my own ideal relationship.
My faith is very important to me and since my limitations (discussed in the “costs” post linked above) make it difficult for me to take full part in mosque communities, my ideal partner would be an observant Muslim whom I can pray, fast, read Quran, study, and otherwise explore Islam with as a community of two. (This is where my potential pool drops to a mere handful of individuals.)
I have a few other expectations as well. As an introvert, I need time and space for myself to “recharge” after interacting with people, so I want to balance commitment and nurturing with freedom and independence. I have rather eclectic intellectual interests so I would need someone who really got that (not just “tolerated” it) and ideally was bookish too. And I would like somebody with broadly similar political and social justice views, especially who shared my pragmatic approach. These are not as high priority as the “observant Muslim” criteria but would really go a long way toward making the relationship fulfilling and happy.
Will I ever find such a partner? Only God knows at this time. But it’s done me a lot of good to be able to think about what my own expectations are, not just how challenging other people’s expectations are for me.