There’s been a really interesting conversation developing in the asexual blogging community recently, about commitment, and what it means in ace relationships, and how to find it. It started here with a post by Ace Admiral, which was picked up on by The Thinking Asexual and the notes which do not fit. Ace Admiral also had a follow-up post of their own here. I thought I’d jump in with some thoughts of my own, and some reflections on commitment in my own relationships.
I have never found commitment that problematic a thing to find. This perhaps has to do with the fact that as an aromantic asexual, I never really expected or felt the need to find relationships that fall into the standard pattern of exclusive primary relationships. Exclusive sexual relationships, marriage, co-habitation, raising children have never been on my radar so much. That said, of course, I often feel that I still operate on very little experience with relationships, seeing as I’m only twenty-one and still have a lot of growing up to do.
In the absence of any experience with romantic relationships, most of my experiences of commitment in relationships come from my family and my close friendships. The notes which do not fit has this to say on family:
When I stop liking my friends, or when we simply stop spending time together/stop contacting each other, our friendship fades away. My family relationships do not do that, regardless of how much we don’t like each other or don’t contact each other.
My own family is very much like this, except for the not-liking-each-other bit. Although my family has been through a lot and there were many times growing up where I couldn’t see one part or another, I managed to stay close to the people in my family (those there from the beginning and those members who came later). I’ve been living out of home for three years now, and even though I don’t see my parents and sisters much anymore, it doesn’t compromise that closeness. If something happened to one of my family members I would help in any way I could, even if it meant moving back home to look after someone and putting uni on hold (and that would be a big thing for me). The sort of commitment I have to my family isn’t really able to be a practical commitment of time or energy or money. But it’s definitely still there, because like the quote above, our relationship doesn’t just fade away. (I know this is what family ideally should be like. But sometimes it just doesn’t work that way for people, and I feel lucky that it does for me.)
I’ve also experienced some level of commitment from the friendships in my life. From about thirteen onwards, I found myself in a small group of good friends, and those friendships are still largely intact today. It’s definitely easier to maintain closer friendships with the three of them who live in my city as well. But it does happen that we go for months without really seeing each other or spending much time together, because we all lead busy lives. But when I see them again, we’re still close underneath all the surface changes. If any of them turned up on my doorstep and needed a place to stay, or money to pay their rent, or just someone to rant to or cry on, I would do my very damndest to be there for them. I try to put as much effort as I can into my friendships, perhaps unusually so. Perhaps not pursuing romantic relationships means that I can free up a bit more of myself for my friends.
That said, I’ve also recently found myself in a platonic relationship that surpasses the level or type of commitment I’ve felt towards most relationships in my life. In fact, commitment is one of the words I use to define our relationship, because if I have to put it into some sort of terminology, I would use ‘committed platonic relationship’ to describe what we have. I’ll admit, one of the reasons why I include the word ‘committed’ is to show that I’m serious about it, because that doesn’t seem to be a given for many people when they think about non-romantic and non-sexual relationships and how they can work. I’d like to think that the commitment I have to my platonic relationship is on par with that of any standard romantic relationship.
As with my family and friendships, that commitment doesn’t quite pan out in the same way as the expected norm (i.e. cohabitation, exclusivity, children, etc). I am not a primary partner in terms of the practical things, and we don’t live together (or even close enough to just duck round for tea). But if I’m upset or excited, I know that he will take me seriously and cheer me up, or be excited with me. If he needs me I will be there for him, no matter what is going on in my own life at that moment. The emotional commitment we have to each other is powerful.
I think the first time I realised how committed I was to my partner was when I was sitting on a train to visit him and his family for the first time, because I had decided that I wanted his family to be my family as well. That was a pretty terrifying thought to start off with, especially because I didn’t consider myself very good with children, and was worried that my partner’s children wouldn’t like me and that I wouldn’t know how to interact with them. (It turned out that I was better than I expected, and I now have two adorable nephews, so to speak, who seem to like me a lot.) But the fact that I was determined to make them my family as well highlighted how committed I was to my relationship, even though it doesn’t fit into any standard perception of relationships.
In their second post, Ace Admiral talked about the ‘unless’ – the thing that makes you realise that you or your partner are not as committed as you thought you were before. The example they gave was of a partner who had to move across the country, which ended up breaking the relationship. For me, that really highlights that people have different levels of commitment and different types of commitment, because if the same happened to me and my platonic partner, I don’t think our relationship would end. That probably has to do with what our relationship is built on: not so much the variables of time spent together or physical proximity to each other, but more of emotional closeness.
If there’s something that has been missing for me in this inter-blog discussion for me so far, it’s the idea of multiple forms of commitment, of different variables in commitment, of recognising that there are as many perceptions of commitment as there are relationships – especially in an ace context! So I can’t say I agree with The Thinking Asexual’s idea that ace/sexual relationships will never get to the level of commitment both people want, because their argument doesn’t consider that commitment means different things for different people. I don’t need to be someone’s primary partner in order to feel commitment to them, and to know that they are committed to me in return. Cohabitation might be the most important indicator of commitment for some people, but not for others. And so on.
Sometimes people have different ideas and things don’t work out. When I watched (A)sexual for the first time, I felt largely the same way Ace Admiral did about the time-jump bits towards the end. The difficulty David Jay found in maintaining long-term committed relationships and the way he felt he had to somehow fit into the standard pattern more to get what he wanted was really quite sad to watch. As a whole, I do think it can be a lot harder for aces to find commitment in relationships, especially because we can’t control who we love. But hopefully, conversations such as these will reach a greater number of people – ace and otherwise – so that people can start rethinking the scripts we have for commitment. Because if there’s one thing that talking to non-ace people about relationships has shown me, it’s that non-ace people can find those sorts of scripts incredibly limiting as well.