DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: Am I asexual, aromantic, or am I trying to label myself to provide an excuse for my inexperience?
I’m a dude in my 20’s and I’ve never been in a relationship, on a date, or even watched porn. But I don’t think I’m asexual because I masturbate weekly using my imagination or softcore erotic literature, but anything with genitals or sexual acts really turns me off. I’ve gone months without masturbating because I don’t usually derive pleasure from it, only a sensation of release. I do mentally notice attractive woman, but I also haven’t had a crush on anyone since high school. I’ve tried dating apps, but never met anyone from one and I’ve never come close to asking out anyone in person.
Every week, when I call my parents and grandparents, they ask if I’ve “met” anyone, and frankly I’m ambivalent if I want to. I have what I consider a happy life: hobbies I enjoy, my dream job as a scientist, and friends that I appreciate. I do often feel lonely, exacerbated since I’ve moved halfway across the country, but I don’t think its lonely because I’m loveless, more of an existential we are all alone on a darkling plain. I’ve never been in a romantic relationship so maybe I just don’t know what I’m talking about?
There are a lot of reasons I justify to myself not trying to get in a relationship: I hate being touched, months usually go by between physical contact more substantial than a handshake. I’m very introverted; I’m outgoing at parties and gatherings, but I then feel drained. I’m also very private. I don’t talk about myself at all if I can help it, and hate confiding anything to anyone, but will happily chat about movies or politics or whatever.
Additionally, I’m a member of a small ancient religious community that is quite endogenous and I’m very committed to my faith. Even worse from a number’s perspective, I’m a member of a caste that can only marry co-religionists, even converts don’t make the cut. And I know dating doesn’t equal marriage, but it still feels wrong.
From an outsider’s perspective a relationship seems to be more of a burden than a boon. One of my worst flaws is a tendency to get annoyed with other people quickly. When I spend extended periods of time with anyone, even the people I’m closest to: my siblings, good friends, etc., I have a great time initially, but friction builds up over little things and I stop having fun. I don’t see why a romantic relationship would be any different. Finally, I’m just so accustomed to doing everything alone that it would require major disruptive changes to a routine I like.
But everyone else I know seems to enjoy their relationships! And as a good scientist I’m all about testing hypotheses. I know that if I wanted a relationship I’d have to expend serious effort, but there lies the crux of the problem: Would I actually enjoy a relationship but haven’t experienced one yet because of inexperience and laziness OR am I not temperamentally suited for relationships because I’m asexual or aromantic and I should just stop worrying about familial and societal judgement? More succinctly: Should I at least give romance a try before determining it’s not for me?
-Ace or Joker
DEAR ACE OR JOKER: Here’s the thing about sexuality, AoJ: it doesn’t come on a spectrum so much as a multi-axis graph. Over time, we as a society have refined our ideas of sex, sexuality and sexual identity and orientation. We started off with a relatively rigid binary – gay or straight – before we began to realize that there was a third option with bisexuality. But even then, we started to discover that it wasn’t really a case of binaries but a spectrum. Some people preferred partners of one gender but very occasionally would be attracted to someone of a different gender. Some folks tended to date one gender but would frequently have casual sex with another gender and so forth and so on.
But even then, we started to recognize that this wasn’t strictly the truth. There were folks who were sexually attracted to people of various genders but only fell in love with people of one gender. And of course, as our understanding of gender started to broaden so did our definition of who was attracted to whom and pansexuality became more of an understood and accepted sexual identity. So now what seemed like a case of two points and then a line turned out, in fact, to be a plane.
With the way our understanding of sexuality and gender advances it’s like not too much longer before we recognize that it’s… I dunno, like, Mandelbrot sexuality fractals or something.
But the way our ideas and understanding of sexuality has broadened from a binary to a graph alsoapplies to asexuality. We used to assume that asexuality was an aberration, a medical issue. Then we began to understand it as a sexual orientation for many… but even then, there were ace people and allosexual people. But… there were folks who were in the middle, people who did feel sexual attraction but rarely or only in specific contexts and so our understanding broadened. But then there were also folks who masturbate but not out of a sense of libido or arousal, folks who are ok on their own but find sexual contact to be unpleasant or unwelcome, folks who have sex with their partners because their partners enjoy it but they don’t…
Just as with other forms of sexuality, we’re discovering that asexuality is wider and more varied than we suspected before. This, of course, leads lots of folks to wonder just… what exactly are they? Are they sure they’re ace? Because what if they’re wrong? Does this thing they do disqualify them from being asexual?
Now, your lack of interest in sex with other people – even if you masturbate and use softcore porn – sounds to me like you fall on the ace graph… but that’s more for you to decide. So the first thing I would suggest is that you visit the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network; they have a number of resources, FAQs and forums that can help you start to find answers to some of your questions about your sexuality.
However, it sounds to me like you have a couple of things going on, many of which don’t have anything to do with asexuality at all. The issues you have surrounding relationships, for example, are separate from your sexual identity. Whether someone’s asexual doesn’t mean, for example, that they’re alsouninterested in relationships. Plenty of ace folks want love and intimacy and companionship, even cuddling and kissing. They just don’t want the “mash your genitals together” bits. Similarly, there’re folks who are sexual but just don’t like relationships. And of course, there’re folks who don’t mind them but find it all to be a massive pain in the ass that they don’t want to bother with.
It sounds to me like you’re one of the latter – at least in terms of relationships, AoJ. You’ve got a lot of complications in your life that make them difficult, but it also sounds like temperamentally, you’re not feeling like it’s worth the effort to try to work around or through them. And if you’re content living that way… well, shit, man, you do you. I get that the pressure from your folks and society can be immense, but it sounds to me like you feel like you should try a relationship out of a sense of obligation, rather than a genuine desire. That’s, in all honesty, a pretty bad reason to get into a relationship. There really aren’t any epic love stories that start with “Well I guess I have to do this”, after all. Trying to force yourself into a relationship with someone isn’t fair to them – especially if they’re entering into one with the expectation that their feelings will be returned – and it’s unfair to you.
If you were feeling like something was missing or that you longed for love, companionship or intimacy greater than you get with you friends, then I’d say give it a try. Date casually with folks who know that you’re not looking for anything right now and see if anything develops. If you want to try to address those flaws you mentioned or want to find out how you can work around your routines so that friendships and romantic relationships wouldn’t be so disruptive, then it may be worth talking to a therapist. But to be perfectly blunt, it doesn’t sound like you want that. You may not be ‘typical’ but you ain’t broken either and if it ain’t broke, then it doesn’t need “fixing”. If you’re satisfied with your life – even if it’s not the typical life society says you should have – then there’s really no reason not to keep on keeping on.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I was wondering if you could maybe help me. You see, what has happened is I’ve fallen for a woman (who, for the record, lives in my country) who I had become penpals with.
We started off chatting on an online penpals site and really hit it off. We were laughing, joking and generally having fun writing and sending photos to each other. In fact, we were having so much fun that our letters became unwieldy long. As a result, we decided to move it on to social media to make keeping in touch easier. The last one I sent took over 3 hours to write, so as you can tell we were talking a lot!
A few weeks passed, and I slowly started to feel as though that she might be someone I could maybe date. She had started opening up and sending love hearts and what have you and I genuinely thought she was interested in me too. Especially since she was the only person to say Happy Valentine’s Day to me and vice versa, and we had a bit of flirty banter here and there. Plus she was pretty much my ideal woman, smart, artistic, shared interests, funny.
So I took a shot and said that I found her fun and that I would like to know if I could maybe take her out on a date sometime. She said it was sweet of me to say but we should meet up first before dating properly. I agreed and said that was fine. I had a free weekend from work coming up and thought I’d mention it. When I said I was free the next weekend I then got ignored for about 3/4 hours… And I thought “Oh no, you’ve blown it”.
I sent what I thought would be the last message saying something on the lines of “look, I don’t think you’re thinking the same as me, I was wondering if you were still ok to talk to each other.” She replied back, but only to the talking part, to which she said yes we are ok.
Another week passes and I try again by bringing up maybe meeting up to hang out. At this point, it’s been a month. She is still being nice (sending love hearts and stuff) and I’m still not too sure if she’s interested in me as a potential date or not so I thought I’d ask if she wanted to meet up for coffee. Something nice and simple nothing too flashy or formal. To which she said she’d love to but she was too busy, and she didn’t have another date which was free that she could think of.
So I start to think that maybe I’ve been miss reading signals. I have been known to do that in the past, and with this all being via text, I had not a lot to go on anyway. She had mentioned about maybe Skype or talking on the phone, but when I asked if she wanted to talk on the phone the only time she said she was too busy.
About another week later, in a sort of bumbling way, I finally find out that she’s not looking for a relationship with anyone yet, she’s happy as she is with no boyfriend and enjoying life. Something she probably could have told me weeks earlier, but didn’t for reasons I’m still not sure about. She still wants to be friends, she knows I like her, and she still wants to meet up and hang out at some point when she’s not as busy.
I mean I like her alot and would love to date her but if we can only be friends then that’s ok too.
However I’m getting mixed advice from friends and family. On one side I have the “You’re just friends, find someone else to have a relationship with” camp, on the other side I have “Your friends, she’s not ready to date… YET! She may change her mind”. Meanwhile I’m stuck in the middle not sure what to do.
I mean she hasn’t said that dating me would be off the cards or I’m not her type or anything… But if she’s not looking then there isn’t much I can do dating wise is there? And is she really bothered about meeting up anyway? She says she does but is she just trying to be nice and let me down gently or is she genuinely too busy because I’m really not sure.
Wait A Minute Mr. Postman
DEAR WAIT A MINUTE MR. POSTMAN: Hoo boy. You don’t give an age, WAMMP but man you sound really young. So let me give you some advice now that will help you over the course of your life.
She’s already given you an answer. Her answer was “no”. All of those barriers she set up between you and the idea of dating? The “we should meet in person first,” the “I’m just so busy I don’t have any time,” and the just plain ignoring the question? All of those are what’s known as “soft no’s”, ways of turning somebody down gently without directly saying “No, I don’t want to date you”. Even in 2019, women are taught that being direct with men is rude – and potentially dangerous – and they’re supposed to consider his feelings before their own. As a result, instead of directly turning someone down, women will give a socially plausible reason why they can’t see someone or go on a date with them. It’s a way of declining the invitation without it being anybody’s fault; oh such bad luck that we couldn’t make this happen, it’s not you, it’s not me, it’s the universe, nothing to be done about it.
This is what your pen pal has been doing; she’s been giving you soft no after soft no in hopes that you’d pick up on what she was actually saying and drop the subject. Since you didn’t get the message, she told you that she wasn’t interested in dating anyone yet – more direct, but still a soft no. Because what she’s saying isn’t “I’m not ready for you, but I will be in the future,” what she’s saying is “I’m not interested in dating you.” That “yet” doesn’t mean “But stay on the line and you’ll get the next available opening”, it means “at some point in the future I will be dating someone else.”
Your friends and family in that first camp are correct: you and she are friends, not potential romantic partners. And that’s fine. Friendship isn’t the consolation prize of relationships; it’s friendship. But if you want to maintain that friendship, you’re going to have to accept that this is all you have. You’re going to be better off to find someone else to date. And, preferably, someone who you’ve actually met in person.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)