Defining Significant Others

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.

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6 thoughts on “Defining Significant Others

  1. This is great Jo! I totally agree. I believe that I have significant relationships with quite a few people. For these few, I would do anything for them, I miss them and I love them deeply, they’re the people that I want to share everything with, the ones that know me the best, and I cannot imagine not having them in my life and I know that they feel the same way about me even if they don’t ever say it. It’s basically how I would feel about a boyfriend, but minus the sexual relationship. I don’t understand why that should be so wrong to have, don’t most people feel that way about someone?

    1. Thanks, Em! It’s so annoying the way that there seems to be this value system of ‘boyfriend/girlfriend/significant other’ and then somewhere far down the scale ‘all other friend people.’ I think most people probably would feel the way you describe about people, but it just doesn’t seem to be something actually acknowledged. ‘Cos that would so so weird, right? *sigh*

  2. Jo! I love this post! For sure my favourite of all your blogs. You would think that someone like me who is so consumed with the idea of finding to perfect man to marry for whom to be the perfect wife would wholeheartedly believe in the concept of significant others but alas I don’t. For the first time Cleo can’t help me! Ever since I was 14 I considered my best friends Allison, Caroline, Amy and Duke to be my significant others and my soul mates (and now little Cami who is my soul mate for sure). I take ‘plus ones welcome’ on party invites to mean I can invite one of these girls and consider non sexual themed love songs to be about them. Even when I’ve been in relationships with men, I still consider these girls to be more important to me. I have no doubt that when I find the man I marry that he will also become a significant other to me and I have no doubt that all of my children will too. Each to their own I suppose but I just couldn’t ever place a man alone and above my girlfriends as my significant other.

    1. Thank you for the lovely comment, Kate! It makes me really happy to hear that I’m not the only one who thinks of close friends and significant others (who aren’t romantic/sexual partners) when hearing love songs. 😛 And it’s awesome to see people valuing close friendships, and not just brushing them off as somehow less significant to someone you’ll want to marry and start a family with one day. A lot of my thinking about relationships has obviously been to figure out what relationships work for me and which ones don’t, and while I can’t see myself in some sort of exclusive romantic-sexual relationship in my future, there’s certainly no limit to the types of significant, meaningful relationships I do have.

  3. Interesting post – examining the idea of ‘significant other’ is important, not just for people in ace communities, but for anyone who engages in various relationships in their lives, for the reason that… significant is just that, significant and infers directly that it must be significant to the person identifying.

    I do not like the assumption of sexuality for relationships of significance, despite being a highly sexual and polyamorous person, because as many of my relationships that are significant, are platonic, or romantic, but not sexual, and are relationships with my best friends, my chosen family and in some cases, platonic life partners.

    These relationships are no less valued or important to me than those where there is sexual engagement involved and it always irks me that I’m supposed to rate or rank them differently. As far as I can see, I put in similar amounts of attention, empathy, commitment, care, love, affection and respect for *all* these relationships and thus they are *all* significant to me.

    Society disadvantages people who don’t have a kind of significant other to engage with – friends of mine have solved this by buying a house together, 4 women, not involved with one another but invested in ongoing support and benefit that comes from cohabitation, but also with people that will respect their right to be intensely private as well. It works well for them and they get the benefits of being in a co-habiting significant relationship, without having to buy into the notion that such relationships are only/always sexual and romantic.

    With regard to significance, personally the most frequent issue I face when I am honest, is that I am denied that it is possible for me to have the number of significant people in my life that I do, openly acknowledged. However, that issue while relevant to significant others, is a bit far afield for this discussion.

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