This is my post for the September Carnival of Aces, which I am hosting this month.
Last month, Queenie posted to The Asexual Agenda on how hard it is facing the future without some sort of map. Her post really resonated with me. (It was also one of the reasons why I chose the theme of ‘living asexuality’ for this month’s carnival.) One of the things she wrote was this:
In the past few months, I’ve kept coming back to Laura’s piece on growing old alone. In some ways, it’s a very real worry–while I do have a lovely partner and a wonderful found family, there’s always the concern that my found family won’t prioritize me because I’m not a romantic partner (or a blood relation) and if my girlfriend and I ever break up there’s my super tiny dating puddle hanging over my head… The loneliness I connect to in that piece is a different sort of loneliness–it’s not having role models, not having other people who’ve already navigated the same territory and can point the way.
Like Queenie, I have been thinking a lot about what my future is going to look like as well. It’s something I’ve written a bit about before: how there’s not really many different options for living arrangements if you don’t want to live with a partner or start your own family. But that was quite a while ago now, and things have changed in the three years since I wrote that post. Or perhaps they haven’t. Either way, it’s a topic that’s been on my mind a lot.
At the moment, I share a flat with my very good friend and housemate, E. We’ve been living together in our flat for almost three years now, and at least as far as I’m concerned, we couldn’t really have a better thing going on. Unlike some of the share houses I lived in previously, living with E feels like home. We rant at each other about our days, finish each other’s sentences, and can communicate without actually needing to say anything, which my sister finds amusing and endlessly confusing at the same time. Our perfect weekend consists of going to IKEA for breakfast and then spending the afternoon putting together furniture we weren’t actually looking for. We’re pretty sure the guy at the checkouts at Aldi thinks we’re a couple. Both of us are kind of terrified of the idea of having to live with anyone else.
The thing is though, that despite my jokes that one day she will come to her senses and realise that we should just get married and live together as spinsters with many cats and rooms full of bookshelves, I know that one day she will find a partner and want to move in with him and start a family of her own. And I’m going to assume that she’s not going to want me around crashing in her bed and ranting at the universe all the time — even if that is exactly what Meredith (aka her) and Cristina (aka me) from Grey’s Anatomy end up doing.
Because that is simply the way adult life works for the vast majority of people. Regardless of their gender or sexual orientation or background, most people will find themselves living with a partner (or more, if they’re so inclined). And a large number will probably also end up having children and raising a family together. It’s what is expected, but it’s also simply what most people will end up doing, even if it takes them a while to get there.
But none of those things are things I see happening in my own future. And sometimes, especially recently, I just get hit by this huge wave of realisation about just how profoundly different to the rest of the world that makes me feel. Perhaps it’s been especially apparent in light of recently ending a relationship, and coming to the conclusion that I am really, honestly not looking for another one – even if there were things about it that were wonderful, too. But when I look back at things I wrote years ago, before I’d even entered into a relationship with someone, it also strikes me that maybe I have always known this.
Sometimes that feeling of difference is so profound even in the ace community itself. When I browse through some of the bigger asexual communities, like the AVEN forums or tumblr, I sometimes feel like I’m being flooded by stories of people who are saying ‘I’m asexual, but I still want to be in a romantic/platonic/significant-other relationship.’ Or ‘I’m asexual, but that doesn’t mean I want to live alone.’ Or ‘I’m asexual, but I still want to raise a family of my own.’ And there are many different people on the ace spectrum who are in relationships, or want to be in relationships. But sometimes there is a real tendency even in the ace community to try to normalise our own identity by saying ‘look, we want relationships just like everyone else does, but without the sex.’
I know that there are older aces out there who live un-partnered, like Laura and Swankivy and redbeardace, and probably others too. But I still sometimes feel like I’m part of a tiny minority in an already tiny minority. It’s not that my dating pool is tiny, it’s that it’s literally non-existent, because I am not even looking for someone to be in a relationship with and share a future with.
But to get back to what this post is actually about: because I’m aromantic, and asexual, and not looking for a relationship, my life is going to work out very differently to other people’s lives. At the moment, I’m at an age where living with housemates and not being in a relationship are still relatively acceptable situations. But as I get older, the people around me are going to start living with partners, and maybe getting married, and maybe having children. And because I can’t see myself wanting to live in share houses forever, I’m probably going to end up living on my own.
I think what people sometimes overlook is that living with a partner does have a lot of tangible, practical benefits as well as emotional ones. It’s having someone to take you to the doctor when you’re sick. It’s someone to split your rent and bills with, or buy a house together with. It’s someone who can feed that cat if you’re getting home late. It’s someone who, as you get older, can help you look after your house and be there if something happens to you.
Those are all things that other people who are not partners can do too. Friends and family can frequently fill those roles in your life, and I don’t expect to be growing up and growing old without a good circle of close friends around me. But a partner is usually someone you can rely on without question. And as Queenie points out in the quote above, there’s a very real concern that friends and found family might not want to, or be able to prioritise you the way they would blood family or partners. At the moment, I can rely on my own blood family because I’m young and my parents and sisters are still alive, and I know I will always be able to rely on them in an emotional sense. But in a practical sense, my family might not always be around, and I won’t have children to look out for me either. My family does, after all, have a history of being split across continents: who knows where they might end up.
And it’s much the same for me. I may have just accepted a job in my current city of residence for the next two years, but I have no idea where in the world my career will take me after that. It’s very likely that like many of the postgraduate students I’ve known, I’ll end up moving to the UK to do further study – and I won’t have a partner to go with me like they did.
Not having a partner and not wanting to be in a relationship has very real implications for what I see my life looking like in the future. It’s certainly not all bad – I know that I already have friends now that I will keep for life, and I’ll probably never have to compromise on things I want to do or pursue in my career. But being un-partnered does also make the future seem very uncertain sometimes. Especially when you don’t have a map you can refer to.