While in university, I’ve come across people that haven’t understood or have made assumptions about asexuality that have been extremely difficult for me to deal with. In part one, I discussed an incident that occurred while I was participating in a project with Spectrum’s activism committee.
A lot of the time when people think about university they think about going to parties and bars and the general hook-up culture that seems to permeate the air. A lot of people make assumptions about what a university student is supposed to be like and do, especially when it comes to sex and relationships. There’s not “right” way to be a university student, and listening to generalizations doesn’t exactly build a person’s confidence, especially when you are a bit different from everyone else. For part 2, I’d like to talk about the one, brief romantic relationship I was in during my university years.
Dating is a really weird topic for me. Most of the time I would consider myself a very romantic person. I love being in relationships and experiencing the world with someone else. I love getting to the point where I feel comfortable enough to share all of my thoughts and feeling with another person. I love knowing that there is a person in my life that will supposedly accept all of me. I even love a lot of the physical aspects of relationships. When it comes to making myself vulnerable, however, my asexuality is something that has always been very hard for me to move past. I always feel like I’m hitting a roadblock.
There will always be the question of when is “the right time” to bring up my sexuality to someone I’m interested in. Even after seven years of identifying as asexual, I’m still unsure of the answer to that question. Do I bring it up when I first start having a crush on someone? In that case I’d be able to see their reaction to the news right away, and maybe that would help me move on from them or grow to like them more. Do I bring it up when they start showing interest in me? Maybe my sexuality would turn them off of the idea of an us, and they’d move on themselves. What if I tell someone I have feelings for them and what if the feeling is mutual… but then what if they change their mind the second I bring up asexuality? It’s a very weird field to be playing on.
On the other hand, I’m not exactly shy about my asexuality. I own shirts that declare my asexuality to the world, I don’t lie if someone flat-out asks my about my sexual orientation, and I definitely didn’t blend into the background my last two years at university. I’ve made my mark as someone who’s out and proud, so if someone decides they don’t like me because of my sexuality, why would I even want to be hanging out with them in the first place? I definitely shouldn’t be worrying about whether or not that person has a crush on me. Right? If only life were that simple.
During my third year at university, I started dating someone I worked with- sort of by accident. For the sake of this article we’ll call them Charlotte. I had been working at the same office with Charlotte for a little over a year and we had become really good friends. When I started introducing myself to Spectrum and going to events, I invited Charlotte along so I’d know at least one person. It seemed like a pretty safe decision to make, too. She knew about my sexuality and always seemed tolerable when we talked about those sorts of things. It even seemed like a good choice, because she ended up being a nice buffer for the first few events since she’s a lot more outgoing than I am. Over time we ended up becoming friends with a bunch of Spectrum people, and Charlotte came out as bisexual.
At one Spectrum event, I was talking to Charlotte about how much I wished there were more asexuals around. In my head, I always assumed it would be a whole lot easier to date another asexual than trying to come out to an allosexual person and work out the details along the way. After all, every relationship is a learning and teaching experience, and when two people with mismatched sexualities begin dating it can be even more so. Charlotte shot back something like, “We should just date each other.” I thought she was joking and laughed it off, “Yeah, sure.” That was pretty much how we ended up dating- once I realized she wasn’t kidding.
It started out fine. Charlotte and I were alike in many ways. Neither of us liked to party or go out to bars, so we were content staying in to watch movies and play video games. We both liked listening to stand-up comedy specials and had similar taste in music. Both of us also seemed to have the same views and passions when it came to things like social justice and pride. And most importantly, to me anyway, we both agreed that in-person quality time was the best way to get to know a person. On the surface, it seemed like we would’ve worked out well together.
Charlotte and I dated for almost six months, but in that time it became wildly clear that things weren’t going to work out. It seemed that there had been some miscommunication along the way, and Charlotte had assumed that I wasn’t a physically affectionate person. I’m not sure if the mistake occurred before we started dating each other, or if I had done something afterwards to make that assumption seem true, but it became a huge deal throughout the course of our relationship.
I definitely like to cuddle and hold hands and kiss, but Charlotte never showed any interest in those sorts of things… with me. I think what happened was she presumed that because I wasn’t interested in sex, I never wanted to do any of the romantic or sensual things that went along with dating. I tried to set that issue straight multiple times, tried to talk to her about it, but nothing seemed to get through to her. Over time my frustration with the whole thing began to grow because I couldn’t understand why it was a problem or why that wall existed. She had told me that she had done all of those things with boyfriends before and that she enjoyed those things, but she kept putting it off by saying I was her first girlfriend and she wasn’t “used to it” yet.
None of this was really a problem, in the end. I can understand not being ready to do something, and I’m certainly not the type of person to push an issue if it makes someone uncomfortable. All of it could have been explained by simple incompatibility in that area, and I figured it was easily overlooked. I can put that sort of thing aside if the person I’m with doesn’t want it. I simply stopped bringing it up and figured that if it was going to happen, it would in its own time.
Our biggest problem arose when a mutual friend asked Charlotte about our relationship. He said, “If D.C. is asexual and you guys are dating what is it that you do?” Charlotte had reiterated their conversation to me a few days after it happened. She had been so excited because she felt like she “knew how to handle the question.”
I, on the other hand, believed that she hadn’t. If I had answered the question I would have turned it back around and asked this person why they felt that question deserved an answer. Why did I need to validate my relationship to them? Why did they imagine that we were doing something out of the ordinary? Why did this person, who was so well-respected in our area’s LGBT community, think that this question was in any way appropriate? How would they have felt if someone randomly started asking about the things they “did” in their relationship, which- and let’s be real here- would be a thinly veiled question of their sex-life.
I was so angry because Charlotte had given him a list of things we “did” and thought that it was somehow acceptable. I was upset because she wasn’t indignant for me at a time when I wasn’t there to be indignant for myself. In all of the time we spent together or tried to talk things out, she had never tried to understand why our relationship mattered in its own way. After all the conversations we had about asexuality, she hadn’t seemed to absorb any of the things I had explained or tried to teach. We were on different wave-lengths in the worst sort of way, and I definitely think my being asexual played the biggest role in why we fell apart.
In the end, I felt like Charlotte had been using me as training wheels. I felt like she thought I was a safe way to experiment with dating a girl. Maybe that seems like a bit of a stretch to some people, but it was the reality of the situation. It didn’t seem like she had gotten to know any of the things that were important to me. It didn’t seem like she wanted to know what I thought about relationships or why relationships were important to me. She didn’t care to learn why or how ours was different or similar to other relationships. In the end, I honestly just feel like she wanted to be able to say she was dating a girl and chose me because she didn’t think the same sort of romantic expectations or implications would play a role. I know that is a crappy thing to think about a person and their intentions… but it’s also a crappy way to feel coming out of a relationship.
If I could go back and have a do-over, I don’t think I’d never agree to the relationship. I think I’ve learned too much from this experience to take it back. But I would probably call up our mutual friend and have a long talk with him about the question he asked. At the time I had thought, “It’s too late to fix. The question’s been answered and now there is no going back. It would look weird if I randomly called him up now and brought it up.” Now, though, I feel like it would’ve been in my best interest to call him.
My main question I had asked myself after that conversation with Charlotte was, “Why did he ask her and not me?” Why not get the answer from the person who the question directly affected? If my name was a part of the question, shouldn’t he have come directly to me? If my sexuality and my relationship was being called into question, shouldn’t I have been a part of that conversation in some way? Maybe to him the question didn’t seem like second-hand information. Charlotte was a part of the relationship, after all. He probably assumed that she was an expert in our relationship. Or maybe he was doing it to somehow spare my feelings. Maybe he thought asking me would be too touchy of a conversation. Maybe he realized I might get upset about the question and considered Charlotte the unbiased party.
I can’t really know what he was thinking, and in all honesty I can’t know what Charlotte was thinking either. I know what I’ve been thinking, though, and mostly I’m still just wondering if things would’ve gone differently had I brought up my asexuality at a different point in time in our relationship. But when is “the right time”? If there even is one.