Today, the awesome regular commenter known as “k”has been promoted to Ensign Perception in the Army of Awkward. She will help this letter writer explore the universe of people he would like to sleep with.
Dear Captain Awkward,
I have a problem when it comes to being attracted to people. I suppose colloquially this problem would be called “low standards,” but I don’t like to think about it that way, because I don’t feel like it entails any disrespect on my part toward the people I’m attracted to. The many, many people.
The best way I can describe my feelings about intimacy is this: I basically have no friend zone. If I have a lot in common with a person and I’m reasonably certain that they won’t turn my skin into a lampshade, I find myself wanting to be intimate with them. I try to be discerning about who I actually try to initiate anything with – if I feel like they have no interest in me whatsoever, I don’t bother. But still, this results in a lot of rejection for me. The rejection itself isn’t so much the issue. I respect their right to not be attracted to me and all that. But more than being hurtful – although it is, as I imagine rejection is for anyone, always at least a little hurtful – these rejections just confuse me. Not because I think I’m awesome, but because my barriers to desiring intimacy with another person seem to be just way, way lower than they are for everybody around me. I’m just not certain what’s stopping them unless they find me physically repulsive (and in most cases, I’m pretty sure people don’t).
It all ends up feeling very lopsided, like I’m just taking whoever will have me, since in principle I’d probably sleep with just about anyone I like even a little bit (I’m in a polyamorous relationship, so monogamy isn’t an issue for me). And in a way that feels unfair to both me and to the people I try (and sometimes succeed) to sleep with. My question – and I’m sure you understand this, but I just want to state it clearly here at the end of the letter – isn’t, “How do I get all these people to sleep with me?” It’s more, “Why do I insist on making myself vulnerable to everyone I have anything in common with?” and “Is this indeed a bad perspective on sex?” and also “If so, how do I stop feeling this way?” Thanks for your advice.
-No Friend Zone
OK, so just to get this out of the way, your answer to this question is coming from Monogamy Central. Like, if this were a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, your planet and my planet would be having some silly diplomatic tiff based upon their diametrically opposed sexual philosophies, and Capt. Picard would have to intervene and remind our planets that they could coexist. However, I kind of think this could be helpful to you? So bear with me.
First of all, I want to congratulate you on the stuff you’re doing really well at. You seem really self-aware as to what works for you in terms of your (primary?) poly relationship, and that’s great. A lot of people who share your perspective on sex – which is not, by the way, a bad perspective on sex, just a somewhat unusual and not very societally accepted one – get stuck in a pattern of attempting monogamy and making themselves and others miserable. So good work, not doing that! You’re working through your personal perspective on sex and starting to figure out the answer to the immortal question of, “I’m allowed to sleep with anyone… so who don’t I sleep with?” That’s awesome.
However, while you seem to have a pretty good handle on your own preferences and forms of sexual agency, it sounds to me like you are having a hard time figuring out how to deal with others’ agency and just how much your decision-making processes diverge from those of other people. This isn’t an uncommon issue, you know? I’ve always thought that this is one of the central mysteries of being human: the basic fact that other people actually are other people, with totally different desires, ideas, inhibitions and thoughts than me. This isn’t some cheesy Star Trek episode where everyone on the planet dresses, talks and thinks exactly the same. In our world you rub shoulders with people from Another Planet every single day, in many ways.
So let’s take a moment to talk about some of those people who are, for you, from a different planet – Planet Not Going To Have Casual Sex With You Even Though You Are Totally Up For It.
As it sounds like you’ve figured out, residents of Planet NGTHCSWYETYATUFI have a different set of standards for sexual encounters than you do. (And by the way, it’s really time to try and get over the idea that their standards are “high” and yours are “low”. They’re just different from you. Trying to make a value comparison is exhausting and it really won’t get you anywhere.) There are going to be a variety of reasons for this, and actually, few of them are likely to have to do with you being particularly undesirable. Some of these NGTHCSWYETYATUFI-ians are on the search for someone who could turn out to be a prospect for a long-term monogamous or primary relationship – so for them you are already “taken” by your primary partner. Monogamy may not be an issue for you, but it is for the monogamous. Some just don’t do the casual sex thing, for reasons of preference or worries about safety (after all, people who fail to disclose STDs, who kiss and tell, who are a bad lay, or who even commit sexual violence don’t necessarily come across like Buffalo Bill in public). Some of them just aren’t into your gender, or maybe into any gender at all. Some prefer not to sleep with coworkers, or people they consider friends or acquaintances – such as you. Some don’t hop right into bed with strangers. Some know that they’re way too drunk to get aroused, or to consent to sex, at the moment you happen to hit on them.
Are any of those reasons really that confusing? They might not be barriers to you, but on PlanetNGTHCSWYETYATUFI, they totally are, and this is something you’ve got to understand before proceeding with your awesome free-love agenda. I know you aren’t the sort of person who would be gauche enough to demand some kind of explanation from someone who rejects you, but this isn’t about “respect[ing] their right to not be attracted to me and all that”. That’s basic stuff; it’s the price of admission for entering the adult world of dating. To get unconfused about why NGTHCSWYETYATUFI-ians are not going to have sex with you, you’ve got to develop some real empathy with those who are just plain different from you. Honestly, once you get that instinct deep into your bones, I think it will clear up the vast majority of your questions. You might find some ways to figure out who’s actually a good prospect as a secondary partner or a casual fuck without having to deal with quite as much blunt rejection as you do now. I suspect it will also help you figure out what might be unfair about the way you treat some of your casual partners, and pay more attention to what they need from you as a sex partner, whether your encounter is just a single night long or a longer-term FWB thing, or whatever.
There are just two things that I hope you’ll examine more deeply in terms of your own boundaries and attitudes toward sex, though. For example, after reading all about how confused you are by rejection, and how monogamy’s not an issue for you, I was really surprised that you asked “Why do I insist on making myself vulnerable to everyone I have anything in common with?” What’s that word “vulnerable”all about? Is it the act of putting yourself out there and asking, “Will you have sex with me?” that makes you feel like this? Is the sex itself not always as effortless, zipless, and emotionally un-fraught as you expected it to be? If I were you I’d explore this further. There’s something here about how your expectations of what it’s like to be poly, or the story you’ve always told yourself about how your sex life ought to be, might not quite be conforming to the actual lived experiences you’ve been having lately. Pay very close attention to your body and to the emotional part of your mind, the parts of you that might be tossing out clues like “I’m making myself vulnerable to people who I like even a little bit.” Is a little bit really enough to have a satisfying experience? This might be something to talk about with your primary partner or other poly friends of yours, too.
And lastly, there’s something I’m wondering about the way you tend to fall in lust with anyone you like (and keep in mind, these observations are coming from someone who hails from Planet NGTHCSWYETYATUFI, so take them with a grain of salt). Are there degrees of desire involved here? Different types? Like, are there people who you find physically stunning, and other people whose minds are sexier to you than anything else about them? I think you might have an easier time figuring out who belongs in your friend zone if you are able to turn down the volume on your sexual interest in them for a second, and just listen to the subtler melodies that are playing under that overwhelming “bow-chicka-wow-wowwwww” beat. Some of the people you like would certainly make better jogging buddies, dance partners, board game opponents or artistic collaborators than sex partners for you. What if you tried to create a teensy tiny friend zone just for them, just for now?
So, basically: do your best to get unconfused about rejection, work on differentiating the people around you in terms of other characteristics than “fuckable”, and consider the ways in which you might be more vulnerable than you think. Keep that in mind on your sexy adventures, and I think you’ll avoid having to call in Captain Picard. Even if you do know a lot of people who are clearly from another planet.