Saturday, January 09, 2010

A Nonsexual Intimacy Playbook

I'm on winter break, and am trying to get back into blogging. This past semester has been fantastic, both in terms of my connection with the Presidio community and in terms of the development of my ongoing ranting about relationships and intimacy. I'm entering the new year a lot more focused on partnered relationships than I have been in the past, and before gearing up and heading into romance land (wish me luck!) I'd like to review some of the tricks of the trade that I've picked up over the years.

I've already discussed in depth a lot of the underlying theory behind my approach to relationships, here are some of the ways that I've applied that theory to do things in relationships that most people at least don't talk about doing.

Sometimes I'm in a relationship with someone that has great energy but feels like it's not going anywhere. We want to spend more time together but it doesn't quite happen, and things feel like they're stagnating before the relationship's full potential can be realized.

When that happens I focus on two things:
  1. Being more emotionally expressive about the relationship, and subtly pushing the other person to do the same.
  2. After emotions are out there, being aggressive about proposing new directions for the relationship based on those emotions.

Emotion doesn't just mean "I like you," it means an honest assessment of how I feel about them, what I respect, what I want to challenge and how I feel about what we spend our time doing together. When done right this pushes relationships into the "Grey Area" between friendship and romance, which is a fun but sometimes disorienting place.

Sometimes I'm spending time with people and enjoying it, but I feel like I've lost perspective. I don't really know what I'm getting out of my relationships and I feel like I'm responding to the things that are getting thrown my way rather than making things happen on my terms.

When that happens I like to take a step back mentally and really assess what the major relationships in my life are, what I'm getting out of them, where I want them to go and what the major gaps are. For me this literally involves drawing a web, labeling the main relationships and looking at how and why I'm spending time on them. I come out with a clear decision of how the pieces fit together and where I want to go with each relationship.

Sometimes I have great chemistry with someone but they're already in a committed monogamous relationship. I honestly don't understand why this is such an issue for sexual people. If you like one person, then they're significant other is probably cool too right? Extra person! Bonus!

When this happens I'll do a couple things:
  1. Emotionally engage the person I'm into without hesitation. I'll be open, smiley, and even slightly flirty (though I'll suppress physical affection if it begins to develop a lot.) I'll be very clear about the fact that I'm asexual as I do this.
  2. Emotionally engage their partner just as much. Even if I don't know my friends' BF/GF as well I'll assume a high level of respect for them (after all, someone I respect loves them a lot) and extend them the same level of friendliness and excitement that I extend their significant other. This helps to temper feelings of jealousy a bit, though the relationship will still start out lopsided towards the partner I know better.
  3. Listen for things that the relationship is struggling with, and try to add something that soothes those struggles over. This can mean serving as a soundboard for one or both parties, but it often is about introducing something that lets the two partners get to emotionally and intellectually engage with another in a way that they wouldn't otherwise. Once I'm integrated enough to do this I begin to form a relationship with the couple, rather than two relationships with the two people in the couple. It's this relationship with the couple- a contribution to the bond that keeps them together- that ultimately keeps things in balance and is most rewarding.

Breaking out
I've written before about how my breakups are never as showy and dramatic as they seem to be on TV or in the stories of my friends. For me breakups are sad but rarely heated.

That's because on a fundamental level I don't believe that a relationship can stop working. The expectations that underpin that relationship can stop making sense, but the relationship itself probably formed because the people involved have business in one another's lives, and it's always worth seeing whether there's still some of that business to be done.

When expectations stop making sense it can be hurtful, and that makes expectations hard to get rid of. The important thing is to see how the relationship can evolve in new and interesting directions without old clunky expectations bogging it down. It's hard to stomach "breaking up" to be "just friends" if your romantic relationship is worth a lot and friendship is worth a pittance, but if you have faith that that friendship can evolve (or grey) in totally new and fascinating directions than the drama of a breakup is less pronounced. It becomes easier to shed a tear for the old expectations while keeping focused on the future.

Sometimes relationships develop sexual tension, or at least what reads as sexual tension. Even though I'm Ace I'm not immune to it. I'll click with someone, and the sparks will be pronounced enough that we'll begin to express them physically, and as soon as we're expressing them physically the question of whether SOME SORT of sexuality will enter the relationship looms large. This can be toxic. Tension about sexuality can overshadow the good things that give the relationship its energy in the first place, and while it's fun sexual tension can begin to detract from the relationship's larger and more interesting purpose.

When this happens I try not to let the tension linger to long. I'll introduce some light sexuality into the relationship (usually kissing), and see how things fall out around it. On occasion the sexuality fits in seamlessly with what makes the relationship click and it becomes a more common occurrence, but it's far more often for both of us to realize that sexuality isn't really what we wanted. We come out of the experienced focused on what really works about the relationship and are usually much closer as a result.

This seems counterintuitive- introducing sexuality as a way to (3/4 of the time) DEsexualize a relationship, but it works surprisingly well. It's only once sexuality is no longer a question mark that you can see the nonsexual intimacy in a relationship clearly.

Listening to the Ground
Sometimes I like someone a lot but can't get access to their time. They may be a mentor or someone I have a crush on, but when I hang out with them I wind up feeling pathetic and small and questioning why they would want to spend time with me.

When this happens I start by realizing that my own insecurities are blaring a lot more than their actual opinion of me. I'm a person deserving of their respect, though not necessarily someone worth a lot of their time. In order to make a bid for their time I need to know that I have something to offer, so I do a little research and a little thinking and try to figure out what major transitions the other person is going through. When people go through transitions (new job, new city, retirement, applying to grad school, etc) they tend to have a whole host of issues and no existing support network to deal with them. If I can make myself part of that new support network then I can approach them confident that I have a good reason to be in their life, and that confidence and focus makes all the difference.

Sometimes I love people, but the things that they ask of me are more then I can offer.

When that happens I think about how my community and the other person's community can fulfill that need. I'll very directly and honestly tell them that I can't provide what they're looking for and take some step to connect them with a resource that can. These connections often pay off in the long run- my friend is more integrated into her community and we both reap the benefits of that integration.


Ily said...

Yay, your blog is back! Partnered relationships sound like a big change for you-- am I off base? Anyway, I've been thinking about what you're calling "triangulating" lately...I guess most asexuals do. I was realizing that all my friendships with coupled people begin when one of the people is single. I can only think of one exception to this, leading me to believe that I have cupid-like powers :-). I think being "there first" definitely gives an advantage, although I've had the problem of a good friend having a partner who doesn't like me and who I have a hard time dealing with. I tend to think that some people still value their friends when they're in a romantic relationship, and others don't as much. The trick for me has been being able to identify the former.

Yep, I would have assumed that asexuals are immune to sexual tension...but that might just be because I am...

Kiran said...

Hi, what's up? I found your blog through wikipedia. I'm asexual too (well pretty much, I have sexual feelings like a couple of days per year)and people around me are making me feel like such a freak because of it. When I tell people about being asexual they look at me with this Oh-your-poor-thing-look. Personaly I think asexuality is way cool.

Unknown said...

I heard about this asexual term maybe about ten years ago and though I understood the definition. I didn't understand the emotional factors involved. Your post help me understand not only my own feeling about it but also my new husbands, which is also asexual or I believe he is. I'm not sure he even understand what it means and because he doesn't like the term he denies it... It's okay. We love each other and though sexual tension arises, I focus on what does work with our relationship until the mood hits him. Thanks again for this breakdown and look forward to any other topics you may feel like expressing.

Gloria said...

Hey! i'm spanish and i have discovered recently that what happened to me, was that i was asexual. I've heard about AVEN and i would like to take part on your comunity but, is there any comunity linked to AVEN here in Madrid, or i'd have to go USA to attend asexuals meetings? more thing.
what i have experienced is being in love with boys but, not being able to have phisical contact with them because i dont feel anything.
just like sucking a spoon. Not a feeling at all. i´ve tried a lot of times, even with
i supose..has that happened to asexuals?

Andeora said...

Thank you for the ideas! The majority of the situations you mentioned are very familiar, and I think this is the first time I've seen someone describe potential solutions so clearly and concisely. Glad to see you're still around, been following your blog for a while and always great to read new thoughts from you. :)