DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m a 31 year old woman. Ten years ago I was diagnosed as autistic, which explained a lot about my social life (or lack thereof). About five years ago, I discovered what asexuality was, and that also answered a lot of questions. On the one hand, I thought “oh, so I’m not broken! There’s a reason I’ve never wanted to kiss anyone.” On the other hand, I thought “oh, I was *very* in love with that person in high school, wasn’t I? And I just didn’t realize because I thought you had to want to kiss someone to be in love with them.”
To make a decade-long story short, I’ve finally graduated from college this year. Emotionally, mentally, academically – in every conceivable way I’m doing the best I ever have. I’m really proud of what I’ve accomplished.
And, I would like to date. But I’m honestly not sure how. My social circle consists of classmates all at least a decade my junior. I’ve tried online dating before, but if I wasn’t getting just the worst unicorn hunters in my DMs I was trying and failing to find an app that worked for asexuals. I’m not even kidding that if you google “asexual dating app” the response is “did you mean *sexual* dating app?”
As far as romantic orientation, I have no clue what I am. I guess I’m theoretically panromantic – in hindsight I definitely had pretty intense crushes on people of multiple genders in high school. But hormones do funny things. I haven’t really had a crush since, but until very recently I also haven’t been around people enough that I could have developed a crush, I think.
I’d like to get out there! I’ve done the work, I’ve grown a ton in the past decade, I’m living my best life, and I’m finally in a place where I know and understand my sexual orientation and I’d like to explore dating. But I have no clue where to start. I feel like I’m at a crossroads composed entirely of dead ends.
Sincerely,�Ready to Launch
DEAR READY TO LAUNCH: I’m glad that you’ve been doing the work and getting to a place where you’re feeling confident and ready to give something new a try, RTL! That’s an exciting time, and it’s going to be an interesting adventure for sure.
But of course, there’s the complication of just how to get started when you’re not even sure about… almost anything about your sexual and romantic orientation. And to be sure: those can be different – some people are bi (or pan)sexual but primarily heteroromantic (that is, they mostly form romantic connections with someone who’s a different gender from them), while some may feel sexual attraction for one gender, but form romantic connections with people across the gender spectrum, or almost any combination thereof. And as you’ve discovered: just because you’re asexual doesn’t mean that you don’t also feel romantic love for people, and you can be aromantic without being asexual.
Now, it sounds like what you’re most interested in is figuring out more about who you are and what (and who) you want from a relationship – which is entirely valid! In practice, what you’re going to want to prioritize are potential partners who are going to be patient, giving and understanding that you’re still in a discovery phase. How do you go about finding them?
There’re a few options. One thing I would suggest is that, as someone who is at least potentially panromantic, to look into LGBTQ social groups in your area. If you’re in a college town or one of the larger, more liberal cities, you’re much more likely to find groups that are specifically for helping local queer people meet each other and connect. These are often based around activities – an LGBTQ amateur sports league, pub quiz teams, hiking and biking orgs and so on – that allow for people to get to know each other in low-key, low-pressure environments that don’t feel like meat markets. Taking the chance to get to know people, build connections and relationships with them and see who – if anyone – floats your boat without feeling the need to make things happen will be a good start.
That low-pressure environment is going to be important. You’re still figuring things out. The last thing you’re going to feel like you’re somehow obligated to hook up or declare someone your new one and only, especially if you’re not sure how you feel yet.
Another option is to get back on the apps, but with a different outlook than you had last time. I know I’m the guy telling people to let online dating be a supplement to how you meet people, not the primary method. But for someone in a situation like yours, it’s going to be one of the more reliable ways of finding a larger number of people who are a) the most likely to understand what you’re looking for and b) have more of an understanding of what dating you would be like.
One of the benefit of dating apps is that you have more opportunities to fine-tune what you’re looking for and give people a heads up in advance to what dating you would mean.
Of course, the tricky aspect of this is that – as with allosexual people – part of having success on a dating app is finding the one where you’re going to find the people who are most compatible with you. Since most folks are going to be allosexual, that can make things challenging.
But challenging isn’t the same thing as impossible.
Now, there are some ace-oriented dating apps out there, like Taimi or HER. The biggest drawback to specialized apps is that they may not have the critical mass of users that make them a viable option. I’d certainly recommend checking those out and see if they work for you, but I would also suggest that you are going to want to be a little creative.
Some apps that focus on less traditional, less heteronormative relationship models, like #Feeld may be one way for you to go. #Feeld is aimed at people looking for non-traditional relationships, like polyamory or kink. These tend to be communities where you will find people who are more versed in the wide array of human sexuality and the importance of open and clear communication. While nothing’s guaranteed, and you can find assholes anywhere, the people in these communities are much more likely to understand asexuality and be more prepared to date someone who’s ace.
I’d also suggest trying OKCupid. While OKC isn’t what it was back in its glory days before Tinder, it’s still very much the 500lb gorilla of dating apps, and one that has more options than something like Hinge or Bumble. It has options that allow you to list yourself as asexual, gray-ace, demisexual and in-flux, as well as to search for people who are similar to you. You also have opportunities to use the prompts to discuss what you’re looking for and what you’re not open to. While this isn’t going to rule out the time-wasters who don’t read your profile, it does mean that you’re going to signal to people who are worth your time that you’re here, you’re single and ready to mingle. The wrong people will self-select out, one way or another. You want to make sure the right people can find you.
One thing to keep in mind is that, if you’re not sure precisely what or who you’re looking for, then be open to giving things a shot. If someone seems like you’d get along well with them, chat a bit, make a pre-date date and see how you get along in person. If you dig them then hey, great! Propose a proper date and see how things go. Just make sure that they understand what ace means and what you’re open to at that time. If not, or you realize that they’re not of the gender you’re attracted to? Wish them well in their search and move on.
Now in all cases, it’ll be important to be clear about what you want, what you’re open to and what’s a hard “no” for you. If you’re open to trying sex with someone, make sure that they’re someone who you can trust and who understands what this will mean – how you do or don’t experience desire, and so on. If that’s a hard no, then that should be something they should know as well, so that you and they don’t frustrate one another.
However, whichever way you decide to go, remember that strong boundaries are what keep the time-wasters and wanna-be predators away. When the unicorn hunters show up – and if you list yourself as any flavor of bi or pan, they likely will – don’t bother even responding to their emails. That’s just a waste of your time, and interacting with them only f--ks with your algorithm. Swipe left, delete or block if need be.
Similarly, if you do go on dates with folks, don’t let other people try to dictate to you what you should or shouldn’t be doing or what your orientation “means”; you know yourself better than anyone else, and only you get to define those aspects of yourself. Don’t listen to “well if you were REALLY bi/pan/whatever you’d do X, Y or Z”; that’s just someone trying to manipulate you into doing what they want, without a care for your feelings or needs. If someone makes you feel pressured or uncomfortable, you are well within your rights to speak up and say so. If they don’t respect and prioritize your comfort, you have the right to deny them access to you and you can leave them behind with neither guilt nor shame nor worry.
Most of all: take things at a pace that you’re comfortable with. This isn’t a race, you don’t need to make up for lost time and you don’t need to play catch-up. You are on a journey of self-discovery, and it will take exactly as long or as short as you need. If you’re interested in trying a sexual experience with someone who you think is worth it, then by all means. But if you feel like you need time to decide if that’s something you want to try or to bother with at all? That’s up to you, and someone who’s worth dating will understand and respect that.
This is an exciting time for you, RTL, and I hope you’re going to have an amazing adventure while you learn about yourself.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org