My first thought on reading this month’s theme for the Carnival of Aces – dating and significant others – was that is was rubbish.
Surely, the one thing that discovering my own asexuality has taught me is that there is something else to the model of finding that special someone and dating and progressing to romance and sex and partnered living in the way that society tells us is socially acceptable and required. I felt a little peeved that here, among the asexual blogging community, we were still somehow being required to position these things as central to the narrative – finding that significant other, affirming their existence, talking about relationships and romance. I know that there are asexual people out there who have romantic relationships like non-asexual people, but wasn’t the choice of theme being a bit insensitive to those people who were aromantic?
Inevitably, it didn’t take me a long time to see the problem with my reaction. Or at least, start to query it. Obviously, talking about relationships (be they romantic, sexual or platonic) still makes up a lot of the discussion in the ace community, because it’s something that asexuality by definition challenges. It subverts the standard, expected narrative of life as a sexual person, it challenges the centrality of romance and sex and the concept of a ‘significant other’ in turn. A lot of that talk about relationship is how we look at typical, non-asexual relationships and how we deal with not fitting into those structures – how we re-imagine the scripts we’re presented with and fashion it into something that works for us. Or, in some cases, how we abandon those scripts all together. And that’s important, because it creates community, and it helps us figure out who we are and how we love, rather than what person or what gender we love.
So while I at first felt annoyed at the the carnival’s theme this month, I think it’s an interesting starting point to look at my own relationship with the concepts of dating and significant others. I’ve already posted on dating before, and why it’s not something I understand or particularly desire, and a lot of the carnival posts I’ve seen so far have also focused more on the dating part of the theme. So I’m going to deal more with the other side, the significant others side.
As an aromantic ace, I find the idea of significant others a little problematic. Funnily enough though, I don’t find it nearly as problematic as I could. It’s not so much the idea of having a significant other that irks me than the quite narrow expectations that seem to come attached to it.
The first is that there should be a significant other at any point in your life, and that that person will be the person you are in a romantic and sexual relationship with, as per the standard formula. They will be the person that comes first in your life, the person whom you are closest too, the person on whom you can depend more than anyone else.
The second is the assumption that there will only be on person who fulfills this role; one person who will be the significant other,. At least, one person at any given time. I find that this assumption still gets played out quite bit in the romantic ace community.
Neither of those expectations sit well with me, for reasons of compulsory sexuality as well as exclusion of the idea that you can love people differently and that you can love more than one person. Unfortunately, the idea of a significant other gets caught up with ll those other ideas about love and romance and ends up just re-iterating the same narrow definition and pedestalling of love – that is, romantic-sexual love for one person that forms the be-all and end-all of your existence.
Despite that – I understand the concept of significant others.
There are people in my life that I consider significant others. They aren’t romantic partners, nor are they what people generally understand as ‘just friends.’ One person in particular, whom I have not known for a particularly long time, but whom I would probably consider the person I feel closest to, at least at this point of my life. I can’t put a name to what exactly our relationship is, because it doesn’t fall into any category I’ve ever come across. It’s based mainly on intuition and instinct and a lot of mutual respect. But I know that it’s significant to me.
What’s the definition of a significant other? Someone who goes out of their way to be there for you? Someone who you can’t imagine your life without anymore? Someone you love? I know those things are all involved in romantic relationships – well, ideally. But they can also exist outside of romance and the whole framework of expectation that comes with it, even though many people don’t ever stop to think about it.
Sometimes I feel sad that I can’t talk about the relationships I have with other people for fear of said relationships being misinterpreted. People tend to push the simplistic, narrow narrative of romance and love onto anything they see, and then are shocked at the implications of their misinterpretation. Sometimes I’m lucky and someone will take the time to listen instead of making up their mind based on what they assume is happening. But I can’t know that that will be he outcome, because the whole script is so engrained in our culture.
If someone asks, I won’t say that I have a significant other. But I have many people of significance, whom I love deeply. Even though there’s not much difference between the two designations for me, even the ace community sometimes makes me feel that I can’t use the same vocabulary as other people, and that’s something I think we need to address as a group. Outside the ace community, it’s more challenging still – but the more I start to talk about it with people, the more I realise how much other people also struggle with arbitrary definitions. And that makes me hopeful, because the more we talk, the more we can change.