This post is for the January Carnival of Aces, whose theme this month is non-traditional relationship structures: experienced, or wishing for, or theorising about.
I have a confession to make.
When I found out about asexuality, it felt like I’d been freed. I wasn’t strange and broken anymore; I could finally stop stressing about why I wasn’t feeling all these things I felt I was meant to.
But there was also a small part of me that wondered if this meant that I’d never be able to be in a relationship with anyone. That I’d never get to be close to someone, to share in their life in a really substantial way. When I inadvertently came out to my mum a few months ago, I think it was one of the things that crossed her mind as well. After all, we’re taught over and over again from childhood to adulthood that romantic relationships are both inevitable and the thing that we’re all searching for. The only thing worth searching for.
When I first started identifying as ace, I included homoromantic in my identity. In hindsight, it was because it felt easier. Not being sexually attracted to anyone was easy enough – but I still felt like I was looking for some sort of romance. Since then, I’ve realised that I don’t have romantic feelings either, and I’ve gotten more comfortable with calling myself aromantic. At almost 21, I feel like I have a good idea of that now.
I’ve posted a bit about relationships and love lately. That’s because in the last six months, I’ve really had a lot to think about on those topics. I’ve been figuring out things about myself, about my relationships, about love, as an aromantic asexual person. It’s been rather exhilarating.
And as such, I have an announcement to make as well as that confession.
I’m in a relationship.
It’s new and not like anything that I’ve been in before. Sometimes I’m not quite sure how it happened, to be honest. All I know is that somehow, what’s between me and J has turned into something different to my relationships with other people, something more.
I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what is it. I do know that it doesn’t fall into the traditional mould of a ‘relationship.’ Our relationship isn’t sexual – I’m ace, and although J’s not, he’s happily married. There’s nothing really romantic about our relationship either, though I confess to not understanding completely what makes something romantic, other than the somewhat arbitrary kissing thing.
What is there? Connection. Respect. A hell of a lot of mutual admiration. Understanding. Adoration. Openness. Something that is talked through and negotiated and discovered. The feeling of sadness when they’re sad, elation when they’re happy. The desire to go out of your way to make the other person happy. The feeling that you can trust them, utterly and completely. Knowing that you’re standing on exactly the same page. Lying on the floor in each other’s arms and feeling absolutely safe. Missing them after a day apart.
Love. The feeling of being in love – just not in the way that most people automatically think of. And committment – the conscious decision that we are so important to each other that we will move heaven and hell to keep it going.
My relationship with J is overwhelming and amazing at the same time. Sometimes it makes me feel horribly young and inexperienced. Sometimes I feel like I don’t know where it’s come from, because it all happened so incredibly quickly and intuitively. Most of the time it makes me feel on top of the world. I feel that since I’ve met J, I’ve learned so much more about myself and started to see things from a new perspective, to think about things in a new way. I’ve started to feel comfortable saying ‘I love you.’
Like I wrote in my last post on significant others, all those things can be found in romantic relationships. But a romantic relationship isn’t the only space in which those things can thrive.
It’s unfortunate that there are only really three options for naming relationships you have outside your family: sex, romance, friendship. Neither of those words captures the complete spectrum of relationships. I resent the way that friendship is commonly fobbed off as ‘just’ something, as inexorably of less value than a ‘proper’ (romantic-sexual) relationship. I want to reclaim friendship as valuable, but I feel like I need to differentiate between what I feel for my close friends and what I feel for J because society just doesn’t see friendship as special enough. And that’s a frustrating task, because there’s just no decent vocabulary to express those feelings, and too often they end up forming some sort of hierarchy of relationships that I don’t ever want to force on anyone else.
In the asexual community, some people have come up with ‘queerplatonic’ to describe committed, deep, but non-sexual relationships. It’s a contested term, and it doesn’t really speak to me in a special way. I guess if I had to choose a word already in use, the one that comes closest is ‘platonic’ itself. A platonic relationship, outside the bounds of conventional relationship structures. One where we get to negotiate the boundaries ourselves, where we get to feel what we feel, not what we think we should feel.
So: I’m in a relationship. A platonic one, but one that means the world to me. One that I feel strongly enough to tell the world about, even though I know I risk alienating people who don’t see things the same way I do, or inviting attack.
I guess it’s worth that risk to me.