Thursday, August 11, 2011

On asexual relationships

Did you know? XKCD once had a comic about asexuality.

Okay, not really.  But it's relevant.  As most sexual people know, sexual relationships create all sorts of drama.  So if you're asexual, you get to avoid all that, right?  No such luck.

Asexual relationships fall into two categories: the conventional and unconventional.

Conventional relationships include romantic relationships, friendships, family relationships, coworker relationships, and so forth.  Some asexuals--I call them "classic" aromantic asexuals--have entirely conventional relationships, except for romantic relationships, which they avoid entirely.  There are other asexuals who have entirely conventional relationships including sexual romantic relationships.  They may do this as a compromise with a partner, or because they're only borderline asexual, or because they just want to do it, or because they don't know they're asexual, or any other number of reasons.

Unconventional relationships fit in none of the above categories, and may come with entirely different social rules.  In theory, an unconventional relationship can be anything at all.  In practice, only a small range of unconventional relationships actually get discussed.  The simplest is the nonsexual romantic relationship, which is pursued by "classic" romantic asexuals.  It's basically a conventional romantic relationship only without sex.*  The man on the street asks, "But isn't romance just friendship plus sex?" It would seem that classic romantic asexuals are empirical evidence to the contrary!

*This might not even be considered unconventional.

But the man on the street may be right about some people.  Lots of asexuals--let's call them WTFromantics--really do feel confused about the difference between friendship and romance.  Well, not confused exactly.  It's more like, they want friends with more commitment and cuddles, or they want romantic partners with more independence and space.  They want a relationship which fits neither the friendship nor relationship category.  They want an unconventional relationship.

Some non-asexuals tell me that these ideas resonate with them too.  Feel free to borrow them.

I come from the perspective of forming only conventional relationships, including romantic relationships.  I don't feel comfortable with unconventional relationships, just as some WTFromantics don't feel comfortable with conventional relationships.  But I have it easier, because I already have this set of rules made out for me, and WTFromantics have to make it up as they go along.  I'm betting this results in drama drama drama, as if conventional relationships didn't already have enough drama.

Discussion of unconventional relationships is very common in asexual communities.  It's kind of frustrating for me, because I feel like an outsider to this discussion.  But why should I be frustrated at a discussion that helps other people?  So I suck it up.

But it still frustrates me when asexuals imply that we should all want unconventional relationships.  It's a pretty easy mistake to make.  First you're complaining about people who think there's no middle ground between romance and friendship.  Next you're complaining about people who refuse to be in the middle ground.  I feel this is akin to a bisexual complaining that not everyone is bisexual.  Or more aptly, a polyamorous person complaining that some people are monogamous, or a monogamous person complaining that some people are polyamorous.  It sucks, I know, and you want to complain.  But I don't feel comfortable with complaining about other people's sexualities when that's just a part of who they are.

I should provide a specific example for my asexual readers so they know what I'm talking about.  Two words: "relationship hierarchy".  The relationship hierarchy is the idea that romantic relationships are somehow "more" than friendships.  This is decidedly untrue for aromantics, and for some other asexuals.  So asexuals complain about it a lot.  The problem begins when they complain about other people's relationships.  Here's one example:
I believe with absolute conviction that there are far more human beings on this earth who have a capacity to experience romantic and platonic emotions on a spectrum, rather than in two regimented boxes that never intersect.
See also: "Everyone is really bisexual."
They try to explain that a romantic partner you aren’t fucking is different from a friend because your romantic partner is The Most Important Person in your life and The Only One that you have formal expectations of, want to live with, feel possessive of, spend all your time thinking about, want to be with all the time, etc. And this annoys me because I’m trying to GET AWAY from the Relationship Hierarchy, I think the world would greatly benefit if most people got away from it too...
It's hard not to feel slighted by this characterization (especially when it got wide approval in the asexual tumblr community).  I do feel like my romantic partner is more important than any of my platonic relationships.  This is because I prefer wide circles of relatively distant friends.  In fact, this is what I like about friendships, that they are low commitment.  My boyfriend is different; he prefers a small group of much closer friends.  Diversity is pretty fascinating that way.

Suddenly, I feel bad that this post started out as an exposition to the wonders of asexual relationships, and turned into a rant on the ugly side of asexual discourse.


GENETICS said...

Each person is different, I guess. As you said, I prefer conventional relationships myself, and so does my partner. The sex is awesome, too. :3 I can see the appeal of nonconventional relationships especially if you have special circumstances like you're really old or something. Good read, man. Keep it up!

Captain Heartless said...

I'm a little annoyed at how the term "relationship hierarchy" has been used on occasion (the only author that comes to mind is the one you linked to, who tends to say "sex-based relationship hierarchy" which is a name I also dislike). When I first started using the term, it was supposed to be an extension of Gayle Rubin's "Hierarchical Valuation of Sex Acts", which is (roughly) just about how society values and respects certain sex acts over others. I saw it as more of a polyamorous idea than an ace thing. The response to a concept like that shouldn't be "Oh let's replace the valuation that doesn't favor me with one that does!". It should be "Let's stop assuming and telling other people what to value in their life". Sadly, I think that point gets missed sometimes. Hopefully I get a chance to write this out more on tumblr, although I'm debating about how to frame it and what to say exactly.

Larry, The Barefoot Bum said...

Interesting stuff. I'm coming from a different place personally — I'm male and heterosexual — but in that space I've had a fairly wide variety of relationship models, from actual legal marriage (I don't recommend it), monogamy (intentionally listed separately), polyfidelity, polyamory, FWB, voluntary and involuntary celibacy, etc. And I have friends with almost every imaginable sexuality and relationship model. (One of my oldest friends has a PhD in human sexuality.)

I suppose there's a lot of relationship normativity, but at this point in my life I guess just tune it out, because I don't even remember hearing it, much less having to counter it. Dunno.

Not giving any advice, of course, just sharing my personal experience.

miller said...

I'm gonna link to Captain Heartless' response, which I like: A clarification about Relationship Hierarchies

african girl said...

I can relate that one to the "friends with benefits" movie wherein both of them agreed that they will have sex and no strings attached.

Back to the topic I'm really in favor of the conventional relationships because this includes friendship,family and etc.

For the meantime whatever relationships your dealing with right now it doesn't matter what matters most that you're happy and contented of what you have.