Trickle-down effects of asexuality, or why I’m a bitch sometimes
More specifically, I’m talking about “effects from having been asexual and trying to have relationships before I knew asexuality was a thing.” If I’d read a book at age 15 with an asexual main character and immediately recognized myself, or something, I suspect I would interact with relationships very differently in the present.
Relationships are awfully Guess Culture. And this means that there are things that are communicated without being said–or even communicated when you’re saying the opposite out loud.
I think that up until age nineteen, my emotional development was pretty close to median, for an introverted, nerdy girl who didn’t think of herself as attractive. I had unrequited crushes, which is a close-to-universal human experience. I watched romantic comedies, and although they weren’t very interesting, they seemed realistic and plausible.
Then I had my first serious long-term relationship–the first time any person had really really cared how I felt about them, how I treated them, how I acted around them. And I probably cared less, but I cared enough to have a stake in it, and I cared about my own ability to play the right role, too.
We talked a lot. I thought we had great communication, at the time. I was saying how I felt, he was saying how he felt, and we were overcoming obstacles and making things work like pros. Except that there was a subtext that I hadn’t even really noticed until now. The subtext was about what was normal, and therefore correct and right and good. The desires he expressed–for more affection, more attention, more making out, and of course sex–were ‘normal’ and ‘healthy’. And the desires I expressed–to be touched less, to have more time to myself, and most of all not to have sex–were wrong and broken. I was the problem, and I needed fixing–hell, it was for my sake that we ought to ‘work on it’, because of course I would be happier if I were normal.
As a result of this, the conclusion of nearly every ‘we need to talk’ was for me to change and mould myself to be able to provide the thing he wanted. And of course a lot of this was my personality, the same framework of motivations-desires-values that makes me love nursing. Relationship meta seemed like a cooperative endeavour, and I thought it was win-win; but in actual fact, I lost.
I think that this is why I hate having “relationship talks”, and why I sometimes get all avoid-y when I feel like someone cares too much about me, and why I’m basically only comfortable dating people who already have primary partners or people who live in other countries who I’ll only see occasionally, and why I catch myself always trying not to care that much. Because if my stakes are lower, and if their stakes are lower, then I can’t lose as badly. And I’ve treated some people kind of terribly, according to what I knew they wanted, which is a much better standard than “what society thinks girlfriends owe their partners.”
I don’t think that this is anything fundamental about who I am; I think it was an adaptive mechanism that is now pretty broken and maladaptive, because things are different now that basically the entire rationality community knows I’m asexual, and so does everyone I’m friends with on Facebook.
First of all, Ask/Tell Culture. People in this community and related communities don’t think it’s weird to try to be specific about how your brain works. Secondly, different incentives for social validation by my friends; if I’m dating someone and we’re having problems and I go to a mutual friend, and all of our friend group knows that I’m asexual, I’m much less likely to hear things like “well, of course they want sex, that’s normal, you’re being unreasonable about it.”
So I’d like it if all these aversions and habits and learned patterns of behaviour just kind of went away, but brains don’t work like that. So it’s likely to be a slow process of feeling safer, and letting go of the habits that used to protect me, and letting myself care more and open up more of myself. And of course being more luminous and actually listening and being curious about my sub-agents that are screaming incoherent things at me.
In the meantime… If you catch me doing something bitchy, please do tell me in the gentlest way possible.