With much hemming and hawing I’m edging into the world of dating, mostly because dammit, I want to try thing thing out and not just sit on the sidelines talking. Can’t say much’s happened yet, aside from me feeling a little more at home tentatively saying I might like someone… just full of confidence, me.
Here’s what did happen: I stopped worrying I needed sexual, or at least romantic, attraction to even start dating.
It just doesn’t happen, with a few stats and a photograph in a profile. And I’m learning that that’s fine.
All I need is a ‘huh, something in common, may want to chat, might want to meet.’ A spark of general interest. Doable.
A few of those developed into chats, with either lacklustre response or none at all. I’m starting to suspect the folks on the other end are good at liking, not at chatting, and I’m not the best in keeping my phone to hand either.
But. But. It feels like a big fear’s been put to rest, the first of a few big hurdles that made me feel I couldn’t cross into this dating thing without being somehow fake.
I do not need to be attracted, at least in this initial stage. It’s fine just getting to know people.
That’s a relief.
It likely won’t stay smooth sailing, but at least I’m getting out of the harbour.
This post was written for the May Carnival of Aces hosted at Prismatic Entanglements, on Nuance and Complexity…
For months I’ve been at this point, dipping my toe into dating sites only to pull it back out quickly.
Drift across the kitchen, cooking, my mind still there, browser window still open.
Oh, god, to do something mostly new, where I feel too old. Where others start as kids, teens, adolescents.
Can I be small again? Bumbling?
Can I take the rejection, when it comes, again and again and again?
Can I allow it not to matter? How do others even do this? Where is the manual?
Not tonight, I decide. Wooden spoon clenched between ring and middle finger, I swipe the window away with my thumb. Cheeks burning, I stir the pasta.
Hungry coward, though.
“Dinner!” I smile at the people I do have, try to focus, to forget a longing for family I carry in my heart.
“Verlangen” is the more visceral desire, craving and the more cerebral longing, missing.
“Koesteren” is to cradle or hold carefully, used figuratively, speaking of tenderness and cherishing.
“Houden van” is literally “(have) hold of” and is the most common translation of “to love” but I like “liefhebben” better, which is more properly “to hold dear”.
“Verkeren” is oldfashioned as a verb, “verkering” is the relationship between the acknowledgement that there is anything more than a meeting or a hook-up, and (optional) the engagement.
Centuries of “verkering”: 13th, to turn around, a change. 15th, to associate with, 17th, to associate with a person with the intention to get engaged, 20th century, to be in a romantic relationship.
These are the words in my head, when I think and lurk and procrastinate.
These words are absent:
“Begeren” to desire, usually sexually. The noun: lust.
“Vrijen” is both being glued together in public and having sex.
To say you wish without taking action is to make the dream a wistful lie instead of a hopeful truth.
I have trawled through calendars of events.
I have made known to a dozen people how hard it is to start on something.
I have nitpicked dating sites and types of events to find objections, based in pop culture, based in insecurity.
I have yet to start.
Finally I sit down and write and write until I’ve peeled the onion to the core.
I do not have dating friends I can ask to tag along.
I do not have places I go out regularly.
I do not have a time in my week where romantic interest is likely to happen.
I do not have the experience I would wish even to say what is normal and what is not.
I do not have clever words or social smoothness to make flirting come easily or at all.
I am so dreadfully scared of all the firsts, the immediacy of emotion that comes with new experiences combining with going into a foreign domain alone where the contact is personal.
“Eelt op je ziel” translates to calluses on the soul, a buffer between you and the world, being inured.
I go into this nearly new.
Bare. Naked. Tender.
I sit with my phone in my hands. I appear as the rest do, just waiting for my bus, spending time.
In truth, I am staring at a black screen, suspenseful soundtrack thumping in my head.
I put my head in my hands and scold myself.
“Just do it.”
“You have to start somewhere.”
“It starts with simply meeting people.”
“Don’t give it so much weight.”
“Be less harsh with yourself.”
Mercy, not elegance.
Letting go and being alright with feeling foolish.
Let’s start with one, just one.
I download the app.
I find out about the wonderful world that is verifying through Facebook you exist.
I delete the app.
Facebook and privacy. Speak of antonyms.
I have an old account with which I did a lot. I learned, through others’ bad experiences, not to let apps access such information.
I’m in luck. An acquaintance suggests a solution over coffee.
I make an empty facebook account with just my name and picture. Only needs an alternate email address.
I download the app again.
Filling out the profile goes smoothly.
Months’ hesitation means I already have a profile picture.
I fill out the questions like it’s a psychology test, just go with the first impulse.
First drafts can be edited.
I hit the questions about my preferred partner and pause, thumbs hovering over the keyboard on my screen.
I sit down and sigh.
I am demisexual.
I have no idea what my romantic orientation is.
I have a post half drafted entitled “An Elusive Romantic Orientation”. I love the title. I dislike the post. Too whiny, too incoherent.
I have been able to figure out I see relationships as growing, organic. Trees and perennials and bulbs that flower for a month and seeds that may never come up.
I have been able to figure out I wish for a romantic or platonic context, so I know what to cultivate about relationships that are otherwise very diverse.
I have been able to figure out I regard platonic as the default, easiest and safest and most known.
I have been able to figure out that defining something as romantic is like installing extra features and permissions, to my mind. Go for the thrill of flirting. Exercise a greater measure of territoriality and physical affection. Dropping more masks and showing more weak spots and thinking more tender thoughts.
In secret, tend a little flame which burns with hopes for a year from now, sharing time, sharing lives, sharing homes, sharing needs, sharing families and friends, sharing nights and days.
Just a small flame, that appears in idle thoughts before falling asleep and in a belly full of mellow warmth when watching a romantic movie or another couple walking down the street.
“Waakvlam” is a pilot light, the single flame that keeps watch, always on in case something needs to be heated.
I have figured out that, yes, I am romantic. Even that I lean strongly towards monogamy.
I still haven’t figured out the prefix.
The prefix to romantic – when it is something other than “a” – is tied to the partner.
The gender of the prospective partner I need to fill out.
If asked, I would say I primarily, even perhaps only, want to interact on the romantic level. Well, and intellectual and emotional and social and… but.
So much else about a partner is more in the foreground, when I try to think of it, in memory or fantasy.
What do you put before -romantic if partner gender is simply less relevant?
The lack of a word for the thing my brain’s settled on drives me to distraction for a few days.
However, this time the quandary cannot be left to languish unresolved.
I have a profile to complete.
I consider all the gender-neutral words I’ve been using and decide follow the same line here. Simply leave the option for gender open to all of it, and scroll on.
When it comes to personal information, I have another decision to make. Do I say I’m asexual up front?
I do not even consider demisexual. That is a word for the in-group.
I struggled with disclosure when it came to my new church, feeling I had to represent asexuality because of the potential for controversy.
Yet the fact that I feel compelled to be public about such a personal fact makes me want to keep it private all the more.
“Be open if you have nothing to hide” is an attitude that makes me want to close off.
If I am not trusted for what is hidden about me, I am not trusted.
If I am not free to keep myself hidden, I am not free to entrust myself to others.
I do not put my sexuality on my profile.
I click to complete it.
I consider taking the initiative in getting in touch and chicken out.
It’s alright, I tell myself. Let’s see what happens.
“Laat het over me heenkomen” feels to me like stepping into the surf to let the waves play around my legs or drown me, depending on how rough the sea is.
After the first day I stuff my face into my pillow and laugh until I cry.
I have plenty experience with online communities.
The non-commital likes.
The awkwardness of having a chat conversation with a complete stranger.
The sudden absence of the other person.
I have feared this so much and yet it feels so familiar, so easy.
I decide to set a time to check it, like other communities, and put my phone down.
Time to write about this.
Much dawdling and a harrowing ride ended in an anticlimactic stop.
This is only the beginning, but I hope the end of the emotional rollercoaster.
Time for some unhealthy snacking and people watching at this fair.
I was going to write “ man person”, but no strikethroughs in titles allowed on wordpress. So, scholarly brackets it is. I’ll worry about being inclusive to aliens when we meet some. This is my contribution for the April – Carnival of Aces.
My friend tells her unlikely love story, and concludes, “I had a list, so I knew who to date. He just fulfilled every item on it. I knew he was the one.”
“I… can’t even imagine.”
“What’s on your list?”
“I don’t have one. I suppose I’d like to just… see what develops when I meet someone.”
“No list? C’mon, what’s your type, what’d you put on there?”
I’m quiet for a few minutes. Her sharing at least obligates me to give it serious thought. “Really wouldn’t know what to put on it,” I admit in the end.
There’s a list in my head. It’s for me, not any partner:
- Be at peace with loneliness, so company is joy, not necessity
- Have a good circle of friends, then worry about romance
- Have a stable income, so you can support a household
- Meet in real life for dates, online contact hurts too much
“D’you want me to set you up?”
“Er… are they nice?”
“Yeah.” How else do I ever meet anyone?
A month later, I’ve still heard nothing.
What I want: a list of ways asexual people identify partners in life, so I can try things, and support from friends when I admit to seeking a partner.
What I have: a list of expectations people have for how a good, normal, healthy woman finds a partner, and all the ways they joke about helping, and won’t, because it’s too unusual.
“God, I hate being single.”
“We all deal with some level of loneliness, in or outside a relationship.” The later in the evening, the more philosophical, though not necessarily wiser, my brain.
“I guess, but, I’d really like some company, y’know?”
“Depends on the company,” I mutter.
I forget my own advice, gradually.
Out of my own fantasy, the things I did like about being in a relationship, pop culture and idle conversations I build a new, false image I wish to chase.
I start living in fantasy land.
It’s an excellent image to fall asleep with, but a bad thing to believe in the waking world.
“Well, it’s a blessing, really, for your life, if you don’t desire anyone.”
“So you can focus on other things. On God.”
“What do you mean?”
Well, like Paul said, if you lust after others, you must marry. If you don’t, you’re more blessed because you can focus on serving the Lord, like him. Feel happy.”
Even as someone who actually does ministry, this made me balk.
I feel this is going to become the asexual equivalent of the scenario where gay people are accenpted so long as they are celibate and “they focus on God’s love.”
Sex is for heterosexual people, right? Bleh.
Oh, I desire another. Just very, very rarely sexually.
I don’t know how, but I know I do.
“I can’t seem to actually start. I remain this… armchair philosopher.”
“Scared? Lazy? Ignorant?”
I tell her of all my insecurities.
“Stop thinking so far into the future. Meet people. Give them space to become your acquaintance or friend or significant other, whatever develops. All you can do is create the opportunities and invest the time to grow new relationships. The rest is not yours to control.
Okay, helpful list.
- Meet people
- Stop worrying
- Enjoy the meeting of minds
- Be conscious of but not stopped by my sexuality.
I am spending a lot of time with someone in a relationship that is… not going well. Mostly, I’m in charge of making sure she eats and has enough fun, someone else is playing the part of confidant.
They pose for a picture. “Wait. I need to unlock my phone for you. It’s secured with my thumbprint. No one else can access it.”
“Oh wow, that seems handy, in case it gets stolen.”
I get one of those glances, one of the heavy, unsmiling ones. “Yeah, well, I got tired of his spying, y’know? My messages are none of his business.”
He messages her daily. He reads her email. He upsets her, over and over.
Yet, she loves him, he loves her. They’re trying.
The realisation comes gradually that I have been idealising realtionships.
Living in fantasy land is safe and easy.
There are things, being single, that I’ve been taking for granted.
My own space, respected.
Being on an even keel with others.
I realise I do have a list.
List (to be specified):
- Adult of similar age
- High integrity
- Similar ideals
- Compatible life goals
- Equally affectionate
- Does not discriminate
- Comfortable with who I am
Seeking: a person of good character.
My contribution to the March Carnival of Aces, about physical health and bodies. Go check out all the contributions.
Explicit language about sex, though I try not to be graphic.
For twenty-five years all the landmarks of developing sexuality and romantic relationships pass me by.
I blame my impopularity, my insecurity, my anxiety, my depression.
I have a few crushes. I think those feelings are attraction.
I look at a man I have known for several years.
In disbelief I feel my lower stomach roil with heat and my groin clench. I flush.
I flee to the hallway and slide down a wall.
That was sexual attraction. Out of nowhere. Already waning.
I realise I have never, ever felt it before.
My mind explodes.
I find the word “asexual” online. I read, ferociously.
I am demisexual, I decide.
I feel highly relieved.
The general practicioner looks at me. “Are you sexually active?”
I tick the box for single on the document, on every document.
I am in Amsterdam during Pride week.
I buy a purple dress and paint flags on my hands.
No one recognises asexuality as a thing. I comfort myself with forum hopping.
Weaving through the crowds I realise the most important thing about Pride is intangible: lack of expectations.
People bring their kids to experience a place and time when anyone’s sexuality and gender can be anything and it is okay.
It is festive, but I am alone and unknown. I leave early.
On the way home I buy a black ring and put it on my right middle finger.
There, I am out.
I take a photo.
I fill out another form. Yes, I’m single, dammit.
For the first time, I want there to be a question about sexuality.
“I’ve been flirting with you for ages!”
“I honestly didn’t notice.”
“Oh my God.” Skype makes his laugh a muffled thing. “Do you like me? I mean, you were not responding, so.”
“…yeah. But. I wasn’t gonna say anything. This is online.”
“You were just gonna pine. Pathetically.”
“Well, yeah. I’m… kinda glad to be having this conversation, though.”
I discover that being in love comes with heightened awareness, especially of my body in the world.
Flirting, once I’m aware, is an addictive adrenaline rush.
I feel tender, vulnerable.
I stop blogging. This is for me.
“Your vagina’s kind of narrow.”
I glare at my doctor. What part of ‘never sexually active’ was unclear?
“You never masturbate?”
I shrug. “Yeah.”
She grimaces. “This may hurt.”
She slides in the I.U.D. Aside from a dull ache, it’s fine.
Five years’ worth of birth control, installed.
Our flirting, our conversations continue.
I am shameless. I grew up in a culture open about sexuality. I see no reason to hold back.
I find my imagination has the greatest influence over my body.
Anticipation can buzz for an entire day beneath skin.
I want touch, I crave it.
The flip side, he lives in another country.
I love the attention, the banter.
I want company. I want another body, close.
The calls become explicit too, sometimes.
I delight in the celebration of body, it is so new.
I am, perhaps for the first time, interested in manly bits.
I love the touch, even imagined, even removed. Giving and taking.
I love the gaze. I love the sounds. I love the play of talk and touch and exploration and affection.
However, as it becomes more… focused, it becomes less interesting.
Reality is less without imagination fully engaged.
The more it is about just the genitals, the less my body and mind are into it.
The popping, crackling full-body fizz as we suggested, flirted, started, settles down into a low, steady buzz in my belly, depressingly familiar from masturbating.
Now, as then, orgasm is simply an end. A sudden stop to pleasant sensation, like stepping in a cold shower.
I have learned not to let that buzz culminate and tip over, but now it does.
“Did you finish?” he asks and I answer in the affirmative.
I do not fake that, but I fake how it makes me feel.
I fear he notices.
We end that call and I curl up wanting to cry.
Orgasms do not work as advertised and I want an afterglow badly.
The foreplay is not supposed to be the highlight, dammit.
When I start counting in months, I feel his physical absence acutely.
The difference with friendship turns out to be the level of preoccupation and the territoriality that comes with it.
He is a missing limb, in my thoughts but never under my hands.
We drift apart. His disinterest grows and I become stiffer the longer I want more than I can have.
I start babysitting, for some money.
Children, I discover, like touch, especially when they can dictate it.
Since touch has always equaled affection in my family, it is very, very easy to love the kids.
I also discover babysitting can stop from one day to the next.
The first time it ends I cry for several days on the couch, I simply think I am sad.
The second time was longer, much worse, and I realise how much more territorial I was over kids than even a romantic partner. Even when I knew they were not mine.
I am preternaturally aware of my womb for several months.
After the third time is bad, so bad, I swear off babysitting.
I fill out another form. I tick single, and no, for sexually active.
A year in my new town, I finally feel comfortable to start touching the people I have come to know.
A hug, a supporting hand.
I do not realise just how much it relaxes me until I am asked what’s made me so cheerful.
I meet my new doctor.
“I am not sexually active, no. I am on the asexual spectrum.”
She gives me a weird look at my wide, wide smile.
Two years seems to be the mark for me to be settled enough to start feeling attracted to people.
A grinning woman, oozing charisma and feminity, makes me weirdly cheerful and want to stare like a creepy stalker.
At the coffeestore, to make it more cliche.
No flush, no buzz, though. No desire to touch.
Oh, oh. Aesthetic attraction, I realise. For a real, live person.
I meet a young woman, single.
She is going to be a foster parent.
It is a revelation. Many ways lead to Rome. I need not take the most common one.
My anxiety hits me over the head again, out of nowhere.
My sex drive remains. I still feel the occasional attraction, mostly aesthetic or romantic, once even the flush of sexual.
I blamed all the wrong things when I was young.
I am demisexual, and it is simply my nature, not a symptom.
I have tried to cover all the feelings that relate to my body and are encompassed by my demisexuality.
This is not a complete account, I have chosen to include the first (or only) time I felt or acted on certain attractions.
I decided to leave out times when that attraction was not directed at a real person but a fictional character, especially since sexuality seems to function very differently in imagined and real scenarios.
Got Valentine on the brain.
I do not want your naughty bits
I don’t want any sex
I do not want your dirty talk
No beast with the two backs
I do not want your nakedness
I do not want you bare
Unless you wish to sunbathe too
Unless you wish to share
I do not want your fondling
I do not want your touch
Unless you lack attraction too
Want cuddles just as much
I really want your loving, though
I really want your heart
I really want to love you too
I really want to start
I really want to share a life
I really want your mind
I want to know just what you think
Return that trust in kind
I really want to know the joy
I really want to court
To buy the roses down the street
Cook food that you adore
I want your love and no regrets
Society can fuck off
To love you, honestly myself
True love, so help me God
Another multiparter for a Carnival of Aces, this one for the September edition, about living asexuality and experience… so I wanted to share a little of my current experiences as a demisexual, and in the next two posts, about how my Christian faith and avid reading have affected my experience of my sexuality.
I identify comfortably as demisexual, as belonging to the “rarely to never sexually attracted to another person” part of the population. I have constructed a foundation. On it, I can build an understanding of my interest and behaviour towards potential significant others. I can see the consequences of my deviating desires on a personal, social, moral, intellectual and spiritual level.
Building that understanding will continue during my lifetime and beyond, since it happens within a community and orientation only now defining its vocabulary and parameters. Nevertheless, it’s boon to my mind, which demands to know itself, and to my soul, which is relieved to love itself a little more. Most though to my conscience and curiosity, pleased to understand the human condition a little better and thus improved its capacity to act and explore and dream.
I have spoken of my demisexuality to my closest family. I have spoken of asexuality to some open-minded strangers. Living life as demisexual has affected me, even in the span of a few months. I want to look at the changes it’s wrought.
Atypical – I’ve always conceived of myself as part of a formless crowd, where sexuality is concerned. The post-modern open-minded heterosexual, or something. I’m really not, now. I feel I’ve wandered out into a far field, overgrown and only crossed by a few. It’s made my exploration of my sexuality relevant beyond personal discovery, which helps to keep me writing. It’s also scary, to be other, even in a small way, which keeps me quiet for now, but also researching.
Shameless – I’ve shed the need to feel anything when presented with a sexual cue. I may or may not feel something and that’s okay. It means I feel free to act in a sexualised context as I do in any other, which will probably make me a bit weird but mostly makes me more comfortable. It also means I’m leaning more towards indifference about sex than I thought I was. At the same time, it’s allowing me to discover what I actually do like.
Aware – I haven’t felt the need to educate myself as acutely in years. Here were aspects of identity and experience essential to people’s sense of self, and I had no idea. I’m still learning and I’m loving it. All of the new words, all of the new concepts!
Lonely – The largest and most recent discovery, or more an articulation of a formerly indistinct and un-articulated desire: I want. Not sex, but I have a longing for connection and company and intimacy usually associated with sex and relationships with a sexual component. I’m still discovering how I want to fill that gap exactly.
“In five years, when we all have families, with or without kids…”
I’ve fallen out of touch with secondary school friends, as you do when you move to other cities and choose different universities and majors. Still, we’ve managed to see each other for some big life events, one of which happened this month.
After the initial stiff how-do-you-dos and overviews of the recent past, we reminisced. About the past, but mostly about the future, now that we’d all reached that limbo of adulthood between being a student and a respectable member of society.
The subject of choice this evening, an imaginary point five years in the future, when we’d see each other again, our early thirties. We’d have partners, from our gender of choice, and some of us would have kids. We’d catch up, have fun, let the kids run around. Be set for life.
But… we’d all have families, was the assumption.
Will I? I thought. I don’t know.
So far, I’ve been single and rarely bothered by that fact in itself.
What I don’t want is to live alone and thinking about it, I rarely have. All told, less than a year out of my life.
I moved out early. Then, like most people with small purses and studies to complete, I lived in rooms with family members or land ladies or room mates. Every time under the assumption it was necessary and temporary. Interspersed with regular visits to the parents to relax.
The dream always being that I’d someday reach nirvana, a salary big enough to buy my own house and a little later, support a family together with my partner. A dream dreamt by society.
I’m not sure it’s my dream.
I want to explore relationships, yes, I know that much, but I’m not sure I need or want one for the rest of my life, if I don’t meet a person I fall in love with. I do know I love company.
My thoughts turn to old stories about spinsters living together. To Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. To the many ads for room mates nowadays and how many friends end up living together for a few years after college.
What if I lived like that the next few decades, rather than starting a family?
I honestly wouldn’t mind. I’d love to find someone, preferably a family member or a good friend with whom I can share my living space.
I could be single, but not alone, not a single-person household. Not if I can help it.