What’s Important

20 Jul

During my last semester of undergrad, my roommate had the habit of bringing five or six people over to our room and having very loud conversations about … stuff. Eventually she stopped that because I kept getting annoyed and asking them to move somewhere else so I didn’t have to step over people to get to my printer or books (i.e. literally two feet to the left in our suite’s private living room).

There was one particular person who was over all the time who had a wide array of offensive opinions — and who I found out later, even my roommate didn’t actually like. Since she lived in our suite, though, it was kind of hard to get rid of her. Most of the time I just tried to ignore her. Especially since she rarely talked to me. But it’s hard, when someone is sitting three feet from you on the other side of our room, to ignore everything they’re saying.

Warning for questioning the validity of relationships, specifically relationships without sex.

One of the times that made me the most uncomfortable was when there were, again, five or six people in the room besides me. A couple of people were on the bed, someone had my roommate’s chair, and everybody else was on the floor. (Our room was literally too small to pull an extra chair in there.) One of these people was a guy, I’ll call him Guy. The person who liked to talk, I’ll call Speaker.

Speaker was waxing lyrical about Guy’s long-distance romantic relationship. From what I gathered, Guy was not very close friends with Speaker. Not, then, someone who would confide in her and ask her advice. He had just been talking about his girlfriend when Speaker had to jut in and tell him how she didn’t think this person was really his girlfriend.

Basically her speech boiled down to (with interjections from Guy along the way):

“I know you’ve met offline and then she had to go off to school. But all you’re doing now is writing, talking on video, and talking on the phone. You aren’t touching! You aren’t having sex! It’s not a real relationship. You can’t expect me to treat you like you have a real girlfriend. You can’t have a real relationship if you’re not touching or having sex. That’s just being friends. I can’t believe you’re satisfied with that.”

I’m pretty sure Guy is straight, not asexual, but he was understandably upset. He kept trying to talk to her about how he felt about his girlfriend, and she was just ignoring him. And I was sitting in the corner seething and feeling dizzy and sick and a little scared of Speaker.

This is an assumption that everybody who isn’t in a “normal” romantic relationship has to face. If you’re not having sex, it’s less genuine. Speaker even worked off the assumption that distance and the inability to touch (in any way) dissolved a romantic relationship. I wonder whether a certain type of sex would also be considered necessary for a “real” romantic relationship.

This assumption is also just one of the reasons that I feel like ace continuum people could really contribute to the overall discussion about relationships, and I don’t just mean romantic relationships. While the ace romantic perspective could make people reassess what they count as “real” romantic relationships, I think the aromantic/demiromantic/grey-romantic and just overall ace continuum perspective could make people reassess what kinds of relationships they allow to be counted as important.

What asexuality, demisexuality, and grey-asexuality do is not take sex out of the equation — it’s that they make people think of relationships in terms other than “is there sex(ual attraction) involved?” I use “sex(ual attraction)” because I think the question relates both to the act of sex, which may or may not be present, and more directly to sexual attraction, because people who don’t experience sexual attraction, or only experience it sometimes, may still have sex.

Once people have said that a relationship of any kind can be extremely important to the people involved even though there’s no sex(ual attraction) going on, it starts a questioning of what relationships are allowed to be, and deserve to be, important.

If there isn’t sex(ual attraction) in a romantic relationship, all of a sudden people start to question what makes a romantic relationship. And believe me, I’ve been trying to write about romantic attraction for months and it’s very slow going. It’s not an easy thing to try to explain. And I’m beginning to think it may be something like gender — maybe it’s not as easy to explain. I don’t know how to explain that I don’t feel connected to male or female gender. But that’s another topic.

I think that once you get into questioning what makes a romantic relationship, which is the “ideal” relationship put forth by society and the one we’re all supposed to strive for, it’s really hard to avoid the reality that many of the things people put down for determining that a relationship is romantic are also on the lists that other people are compiling for relationships that they are sure are not romantic. Intensity of emotion? Durability of emotion? Wanting to live with a person? Equally likely, from what I’ve seen, to appear on both the romantic and non-romantic lists.

Part of me wonders if this is a perception issue. Because not all romantic relationships are the same, and not all non-romantic relationships are the same. I’m beginning to wonder if it comes down to whether or not a person experiences romantic attraction. And attraction is a lot harder to define than a relationship. The ace community has been going strong for a while, there’s lots of writing out there, and I have a sexual girlfriend who’s discussed it with me, and I still don’t really understand what sexual attraction is like. I’m even, as I said, having trouble describing romantic attraction, which I experience.

Which, of course, is supremely unhelpful for anyone wondering if what they’re feeling is romantic attraction or non-romantic attraction (I’m not as good as inventing words as other people are). And is something that could’ve even helped me, because it took months of wondering and puzzling and agonizing to figure out if what I was feeling for Girlfriend was romantic or not. I don’t think attraction of any kind is just something that “you know when you feel it.” Otherwise, there’d be no Q for Questioning.

I’ll keep trying to describe what romantic attraction feels like for me. And I think that attraction questions are important ones. But what I’ve taken away from my overall experience of being in the ace continuum is that the discussions we tend to have lead to discussions not just about how attraction or relationships work, but about what we value.

Once you start talking about how people experience romantic attraction without sexual attraction, it becomes harder to question the “validity” of romantic relationships that don’t involve sex(ual attraction). And once you start talking about how people experience strong emotions outside of romantic relationships, it becomes harder (in my opinion) to deny the importance of non-romantic relationships.

What the discussions people have in the ace continuum contribute is to make people reassess what’s allowed to be important. When you have more people questioning that, I think there will be more people willing to recognize romantic relationships without sex(ual attraction) as important, and non-romantic relationships as important. Also, if more people are willing to recognize non-romantic relationships, that might open up the pool of people who are interested in building strong non-romantic relationships, or make people who are already interested in that aware that they’re not alone.

And while it could be said that outside recognition isn’t required for a relationship to be important, I think anyone who’s had a relationship questioned is going to say that it’s pretty damn hurtful when people don’t recognize the importance of one of their relationships.

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9 Responses to “What’s Important”

  1. Emily August 2, 2011 at 4:52 PM #

    “What the discussions people have in the ace continuum contribute is to make people reassess what’s allowed to be important.”

    I love how you phrased this, it so accurately sums up why anyone, no matter what their sexual/romantic orientation, is willing to get into a heated discussion about relationships if something they think is important is being either invalidated or threatened. Great post.

    • ace eccentric August 6, 2011 at 9:23 PM #

      Thank you! That may have been why Guy was willing to talk about it for so long, now that I think of it, rather than walk away from the conversation. Glad you liked the post :) (Sorry it took so long to reply, I was away for a few days.)

  2. Another Emily August 3, 2011 at 10:00 AM #

    Geez, I probably would have been sitting in a corner and seething too, if I had been in the room with Speaker. When people say things that are so obviously inconsiderate or prejudiced, I get the almost irrepressible urge to make them realize they’re wrong. I almost got into a fight one time with a man in my Race and Ethnic Relations class because he expressed some VERY offensive opinions about women. I’m still trying to come to terms with the fact that I can’t change everyone’s mind, and that sometimes it’s not worth the energy.

    Also:
    “Once you start talking about how people experience romantic attraction without sexual attraction, it becomes harder to question the “validity” of romantic relationships that don’t involve sex(ual attraction). And once you start talking about how people experience strong emotions outside of romantic relationships, it becomes harder (in my opinion) to deny the importance of non-romantic relationships.”
    This. I agree with this one hundred percent.

    • ace eccentric August 6, 2011 at 11:23 PM #

      I’m so non-confrontational that it’s really hard for me to speak up when I hear someone saying things I hate, but then I end up chewing over the incident for a long time and making myself half-ill with it. Some people just aren’t willing to change their minds about things … I think it is important for people to be confronted, sometimes, partly because it shows other people that similar behavior won’t be tolerated. But it’s still exhausting and hard and, I would suspect, sometimes dangerous.

      Thank you. :) (And sorry it took so long to get back to you, I was away for a few days.)

  3. Justa Notha August 14, 2011 at 12:00 PM #

    Thank you for sharing your story.

    What I now see as my longest, most “successful” relationship was completely asexual and non-romantic, but in every other way resembled marraige. I worked/went to school & paid the bills and he cooked/cleaned & took care of my kids.
    We conversed/argued like a married couple, and everyone thought we were together, but we just didn’t have those feelings for eachother. I think not having sex(ual attraction) made our relationship better.

    It’s hard to talk about it. I feel like society says he had to be either my boyfriend or my nanny. But neither was true.

    • ace eccentric August 14, 2011 at 10:28 PM #

      There really isn’t a vocabulary for relationships that aren’t traditional romantic relationships or friendships… Have you heard people using the word zucchini or queerplatonic before? I’m not an expert but I’ve seen them used in reference to relationships that don’t fit into the traditional romantic partner vs. friend dynamic. Used to describe people or relationships that have a particular significance but aren’t necessarily romantic. Probably not easy words to introduce in casual conversation though.

      I hope that in the future people will listen to you about your relationship. It sounds like it was a good one.

  4. Jaclyn Pellerin August 31, 2011 at 12:02 AM #

    I love the insight you show. It’s very similar to the thoughts I have lying in bed at night.

    “Once you start talking about how people experience romantic attraction without sexual attraction, it becomes harder to question the “validity” of romantic relationships that don’t involve sex(ual attraction). And once you start talking about how people experience strong emotions outside of romantic relationships, it becomes harder (in my opinion) to deny the importance of non-romantic relationships.”

    This was mentioned in an above comment, but I just wanted to touch base again. This really moved me; it really made me start to think. I have a terrible fear that I’ll never find someone compassionate enough to accept my ace status and I’ll merely be ‘that’ girl, the one that has fifty cats –the only things that’ll love me unconditional(with the help of food).
    But you’ve helped, with the words above, open my eyes to maybe the non-romantic relationships are really just as important as the romantic ones.

    Thank you.

    • ace eccentric August 31, 2011 at 6:34 PM #

      Thank you! Now if only I could transcribe the thoughts I have lying in bed at night… it seems like that’s a good time for thinking.

      I’m really glad that this post was able to help you in some way. I used to think that I would never find anyone to be in a romantic relationship with, either. Remembering that I could form strong non-romantic relationships comforted me a lot, even though I still avoided picturing the future — I had a couple of family members and some friends that I knew I wanted to keep in my life regardless, and I worked on those relationships to keep them in my life and keep them healthy as I could.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Carnival of Aces: Relationships « Neutrois Nonsense - August 2, 2011

    […] Eccentric (from an Asexual Space) questions what’s important and what’s not about sex(ual attraction) in a […]

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