Dear Captain and co.
This is a not-quite problem that’s separated into two parts.
I’m not interested in sex or dating/relationships. I’m not comfortable at the moment categorising myself as asexual/aromantic, although maybe at some point in the future if I find it’s convenient. Essentially I’m happy with the ‘’it happens if it happens’’ mentality, but would also be happy if it never happened. I’ve been left cold by the few encounters I’ve had in the past, and would rather focus my social attention on platonic friendships.
Basically, I suppose I’d like some reassurance that this is ok. I feel like I’m so used to hearing about being single in terms of a problem that needs fixing, a personal failure or just a transitory period, without so much of the ‘’relationships aren’t for everyone, and that’s cool too.’’ (Possibly doesn’t help that I’m female and like cats, which is another stereotype that annoys the hell out of me.) Also, any advice on how I could convince people that it’s not a problem would be appreciated.
I think partly because of this, I have trouble comforting/offering advice to single friends who want relationships. I don’t want to sound dismissive and say something like ‘’but really, you don’t need to be with someone’’, but also don’t want to fall back on determinist cliches of the ‘’it’ll happen for you eventually if you want it to!’’ sort, and because I have no first-hand experience of seeking relationships, I can’t offer up anything in that score.
Cool cat lady.
Dear Cool Cat Lady:
In answer to your first question, it is totally cool to not be obsessed with finding a romantic or sexual other. You are definitely pushing back against a culture that wants to ‘ship everyone and has “falling in love” as one of its most popular and prevalent narratives, so it’s understandable that it would be isolating or draining to feel like you have to defend or justify yourself. If it gets to be a bummer, think about the way the narratives & expectations have changed throughout history. If you jump back a few centuries, there was an extensive infrastructure and support in the cultural narrative for European men & women who didn’t want to take the gamble that their families would marry them off to someone non-repulsive. I think Reddit Island will not be a good place to live (it will smell like dude in there), but there’s nothing that says that people can’t band together into social networks or even communal living experiments that will provide long-term stability and community in the absence of pair-bonding. I often wish that single women would pool their resources help places like the Three Arts Club became common again.
My advice for convincing other people of the coolness of your disinterest in all things romantic is to put zero effort into convincing other people. Let them think whatever they want about your choices. Don’t explain or try to justify them. Don’t worry about categorizing exactly what you are or “coming out” about that identity. Cool doesn’t need to prove cool.
Easier said than done, but I’ve got scripts:
- “Huh, I haven’t really thought about it.”
- “I don’t really think about it.”
- “It’s not something I think about.”
- “It’s not a priority right now.”
- “If it’s meant to happen, I’m sure it will happen. I don’t really worry about it one way or the other.”
Example: “Don’t you want to meet someone and fall in love?” “Huh. I haven’t really thought about it.” + Change subject or ask them a question in return.
If someone’s trying to convince you to be romantic because they want to get with you, you’d use the same script that anyone would use. “That’s very flattering, but I am not interested.”
A lot of asexual (+ child-free!) folks get the smug “You’ll change your mind someday” treatment. Remember how you’re putting zero effort into convincing people or arguing with them? “Maybe I will. Life is long and full of surprises! But it’s not a priority just now.” + Change subject. I hate when people assume that you’ll change your mind about things you’ve said are important to you, and I hate it even more when the same people berate you for changing your mind about things and whip out the “I told you so” stick to beat you with. Consider this one more argument for not wasting effort on convincing people who would talk to you this way in the first place.
And then of course there is concern trolling. “But what if you DIE ALONE and your face is EATEN BY CATS?” “I’ll just have to risk it!”
With true, close friends you should be able to talk about your feelings about dating/not dating in depth. With people who are not inside the circle of trust, if you can be chill (or at least act like you are) and not really give people anything to latch on to, most people will drop the subject. Anyone who tries to push that boundary past where you’ve set it is asking for a firm, direct correction. “Sorry, maybe it wasn’t obvious, but it’s not actually up for debate. Let’s talk about (subject change).”
In the meantime, what does interest you? What do you enjoy doing and talking about? Do that thing with all your heart.
Your second question is “I have trouble comforting/offering advice to single friends who want relationships…I can’t offer up anything in that score.”
People sure do like to talk about their love lives and the ups and downs of dating with their friends! If these are people you like, and you are interested in their well-being and find their company and conversation pleasing, you have plenty to offer just by being present. You can listen. You can be excited for them when they are excited. You can lend them cool things to wear on dates. You can empathize with them when things aren’t going so well. You can be the person they check in with for safety when meeting up with internet strangers. And please don’t sell yourself short. You many not know much about dating-relationships, you know plenty about human relationships, as you have many of those. You know something about what green flags and happiness look like, and you will almost certainly be able to sense when your friend seems diminished and unhappy around a particular person.
I suggest that you mentally reclassify dating from “A thing that everyone is supposed to do and know about and talk about in order to fit in” to “A nifty hobby that your friends have that you don’t necessarily share.”
For example, I know jack shit about knitting and have zero desire to create the kind of lumpen abominations I am sure I would fashion if I took it up. But when my skilled friends bring knitting to a get-together or post a photo, I can admire what they make. I can delight in the skill that it took or the softness of the yarn or the beautiful color. I can ask questions about how they chose the pattern. If my friends only talked about knitting or expected me to be some kind of knitting consigliere things would quickly fall apart. But I can be somewhat interested in my friends’ knitting because it interests them and because, bottom line, they interest me.
Some friends work on the particle collider, some are activists, some like cosplay, some are really into gardening, others are into board games, some love languages, others like martial arts, or biking, or paleontology, or cooking, or travel, or writing fanfic, or directing a production of Hamlet, or inventing video games, or singing opera, or playing guitar. I don’t have to share all of someone’s interests to like them and find something to talk about. “What’s that thing you love doing? Tell me about it!” is an endlessly interesting way to have conversations.
This has broader applications. Back in the New Parents Open Thread and the Baby Shower RSVP Thread, there was a lot of discussion about friendships changing when people became parents.Obviously taking up parenting is more intense than taking up knitting, and it will surely have a ripple effect on things like free time and money management and changing priorities and topics of conversation and where you hang out. But if your friends become parents, it would probably be pretty cool if you didn’t automatically write off all their interests as boring and assume that because you aren’t an expert on parenting that you have nothing to say to them. I say this as a non-parent: Epic poop stories are hilarious! Little milestones* of watching a baby blob transform into more of a person are fascinating! If you like the people, you will probably like their babies okay, and you will probably find their ups and downs to be pretty interesting storytelling. Give it a chance.
But it only works if you a) take pressure off yourself to be an expert, b) let go of the expectation that you have to have everything in common with people in order to empathize, and c) completely divorce yourself from the idea that people making a different choice from you are somehow judging you.
C) works both ways, especially for someone like you, Cool Cat Lady. By going against the dominant “pair up or else!” narrative, you are not criticizing other people’s relationships or desire for a relationship, and your friends aren’t dating AT you. If you can keep that in mind (and gently remind people if they overstep- “Hey, I’m happy with how my life is, you’re happy with yours, why are we arguing?”), it will go a long way toward finding a comfortable equilibrium in your friendships. You have the power to change subjects to things that interest you and to answer requests for advice with “Wow, I really have no idea! What do you think you’ll do?” You will mesh well with people when there is mutual acceptance, mutual respect, and mutual interest in the stories of each other’s lives.
That two-way street of respect entails:
- Your friends believing you when you say you’re not that into finding a relationship and not pressuring you about that.
- You believing them when they say they feel lonely or wish that they had a partner in their life. I think there is WAY too much emphasis on romantic love in our culture, and I definitely think that if dating feels like work and is making you unhappy it’s good to take a break from it and focus on other stuff, but I also think we should believe people when they say they want a partner. When you say “But really, you don’t need to be with someone!” to someone who is hurting from a rejection or healing from a breakup, it has the exact same helpfulness quotient of someone worrying aloud about cats taking chunks out of your dead and lonely face someday, i.e, it’s unhelpful and patronizing. I’ve fallen into that trap sometimes, and the people on the receiving end are never comforted.
Any time we treat one version of sexuality, attraction, gender, identity or orientation as the default, neutral choice and classify everything else as the “other”, we put unfair pressure on people like you and make it harder for people to speak up and claim their rightful space in the world. The scripts I gave you were all designed to get through conversations with minimal friction, but if you ever feel like pushing back against assumptions a little more strongly, keep “But not every person even wants that” in your back pocket, okay? Pushing back against assumptions when you can will definitely give you some power back. Warning: Speaking up for your desires can be habit-forming.
I hope this was the reassurance you needed. Here’s a poem about friendship.
The Seven Friendships – Erica Funkhouser
They were friends from the first look
the first day of work and friends
they would remain. Not lovers.
Never, though they thought of things
to whisper about all day.
At night, when they sat at home
hunting for something to say
to their actual lovers,
they longed to be back at work,
where the home life they described
to each other seemed larger,
funnier, more colorful.
They were playful as gods and,
at the same time, serious.
Once, in a car, on the way
to a conference, they worked out
the seven possible forms
of friendship between people
who aren’t related by blood.
First: the fortunate friendship
of two who feel equally
attached but not attracted
to each other. No desire.
a reliable membrane,
keeps them wholly separate
while holding them together.
You can always tell these two
in the kitchen: they can share
a cutting board — two different
sharp knives chopping two different
vegetables, and no one gets
in anyone else’s way.
Second: the friendship founded
on suppressed desire. All
the accessorizing takes
the place of real nakedness.
The servant’s invocations
to his master; the master’s
adulation of the slave.
Michael Jackson / Liz Taylor —
yes — Regis and Kathie Lee.
Letter writers are the third,
their correspondence floating
safely above and beyond
their problematic bodies
like a vial of scented oil.
They use each other without
apology — an excuse
to shape the simplest moment
into something memorable
ending with “Write soon, write back,”
that frank plea for affection.
Then there is the electric
communion that’s awakened
between two people vastly
different in age, like the
dowager one of them knew
who’d had to wait ’til she reached
ninety to meet a young child
she recognized as herself,
the adventuress she’d been.
At long last, the right playmate!
Fifth: the fireproof friendship
that has survived desire.
This includes all the ex-wives
and ex-husbands whose shared grief
unites them as love could not.
They drift back to each other,
grateful for a cup of tea,
for someone who remembers
that their first dentist in Troy
collected brass hose nozzles.
Next, a love of argument —
not bickering or nagging,
but the brainy brakes-without-
pads kind of arguing, no
attachment to conclusions,
no transparent right and wrong,
just the delirious pleasure
of competing for airspace
with someone you trust never
to take you personally.
And the seventh form? Friendship
based on the exchange of gifts,
Someone would get the idea
to buy odd salt and pepper
shakers, and once he’d purchased
the first set, a whole history
of silliness could begin.
That was when they stopped counting
and pulled off the interstate
on the way to the conference.
They found a small antique store,
Junkian Analysis —
really! — and in the windows
pairs of perfectly ugly
salt and pepper shakers shaped
like airplanes and bowling balls,
Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.
They liked the ceramic clams,
the Taj Mahal in Bakelite;
they loved the milkglass cabbage,
the jaguars, the shooting stars,
the stainless state of Vermont
side by side with New Hampshire.
*BabyLogic can smile now! It’s incredibly pleasing and addictive.