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Archive for the ‘A/romance’ Category

On Barney Stinson

Major exams finished, and I promised myself I would write a happy-go-lucky post with lots of pictures of Neil Patrick Harris, claiming my vague theories about his character’s aromance (this won’t make much sense if you’ve not seen How I Met Your Mother)

Yesterday night, my housemate laughed and laughed as she read out sections of one of the books his character is meant to have published. With each quote, I fell quieter and quieter, trying to ignore it, hoping it would stop.

Today, when I finally got round to checking the blogs, I found that a man very like Barney Stinson, a man who Barney is a parody of, recently shot a woman in the face.

I’m all out of happy-go-lucky.

So Barney is aromantic.

I’ve been trying to supress my queerification of Barney, because I knew that the show is a parable of romantic privilege, held up as moral behaviour. I know that Barney is the freak in a group of decent people, decent people who do decent people things like moan constantly about the one, ditch their friends for the new strangers they’ve decided to pine after.

I know that I’m the freak in a group of decent people. And I always will be.

Barney’s relationship with Robin reminded me stiflingly of my own conceptions of what it would be like to date. At first, they resisted all roles, those of boyfriend and girlfriend, those of man and woman. With each other, they were freer than they were without each other. And he was so, achingly, happy. I’ve never seen him smile like that.

And then convention set in. Relationship convention, gender convention. They became trapped in what had been such a promising relationship. He became the most miserable I have seen him.

Barney’s book is a parody of pick-up artists, a group of people who started with evopsych and made it more mysogynist and less scientific. It is called the Bro Code. And no pick-up artist would ever write this. The first rule is Bros before Hos. The entire system is evident of that delusion Barney labours under- that he can say something and make it true. That he can have the power of words in a world which keeps him ignorant. And the code which he tries to lock everyone into is, dispite its overlay of mysogyny, is very basic. Underneath all the bluster, all the self-assurance, it is a simple cry for help- “don’t leave me”. “Don’t let this mean so much less to everyone around me than it does to me.”

Of the few episodes I can currently remember, one strikes me. The others are content to live in their romantic fabricated worlds, constructed by a constantly renewing act of denial. Barney realises that the group is drifting apart and his desperation, childish tantrums and attempts to communicate what he feels without the language to do so drive the episode. And, at the end, the voice of Ted, arch-romantic and Barney’s main ‘bro’, begins the closing narrative with “Of course, the group did drift apart…” I mean, it’s true to character- Ted is a jerk (not like I’m biased or anything). But that inevitability with which he cruelly dismisses Barney’s fears, marks them with that ‘not wanting what you’re supposed to want- not grown up enough- invalid’, the way he doesn’t consider how every single one of them has something to move onto, something to look forward to, except Barney, who has darkness and loneliness and a hunger with no name.

Somewhere in the world, a woman lies in a critical condition, having been shot in the face. Somewhere in the world, thousands of men consume the poison of the man who shot her. Somewhere in the world, right now, someone who thought they had something special but didn’t have the words, who needed that connection, is getting rejected in favour of that sick dream. They can’t even express their loneliness. Somewhere in the world, presumably, are the millions of people who find it funny. And the world is shit.

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Update: Aromantic sexuals- still evil

What’s this? An asexuality test? Now we can pinpoint with precise accuracy whether someone is a/romantic or a/sexual. Like, HALF the bandwidth of AVEN could be saved by this simple test! If only there weren’t these minor flaws in just a few of the questions:

1. Confuses sexual attraction and sexual activity.

2. Gives two options- finding sex a ‘biological necessity’ and ‘not caring’ about sex. Also, ‘liking to date’ and liking casual sex, and ‘not caring for a partner’ is kinda a restrictive spectrum. In fact, I’d personally agree with ALL FIVE of those things (admittedly, the first one only from a species-wide viewpoint). It makes ticking one box kinda hard…

3. How would you describe your libedo? Erm… irrelevant to my sexuality? We’ve kinda discussed this one. To death.

4. And this is where my WTFromance gets the better of me. I want EVERY SINGLE kind of relationship they propose. The rub being- I want them with different people, possibly at the same time. Because I’m fickle like that.

5. Do you think you are asexual?  Finally, the question is right! But every single answer is wrong:

‘Yes. I do not desire, want or care about sex’ -Not the definition of asexual

‘Maybe. I am a bit indifferent to sex, so it would be interesting to see the results’ -I’m not sure where to start with the wrongness of this one.

‘No. I am a sexual being.’ -A relatively trivial and arguable point, but I think that everyone with some sort of reproductive organs or piping is a sexual being. My definition of ‘sexual being’ is based in biology, not in sexuality. Of course, you can make a word have two meanings.

Ok, so badly written quiz, you say. Wait! There’s more! Here’s what I got:

Aromantic sexual

You are basically out to fulfil your sexual desires without buying into romance or love. On a purely honest level, you are admirable, but as an exemplar of social standards, you are dispicable.

Erm… thanks? This quiz just called me dispicable- I’m sure gonna give it a high rating. I mean, luckily, I wasn’t the only one it stereotyped. “American society is alien to you (asexual aromantics) and you are alien to it.” I mean, they’re TECHNICALLY correct- I’m not American, nor have I ever been to America, so, by the traditional meaning of ‘alien’ as ‘foreign person’, I am definately alien to America. God, this quiz is insightful. Or I could have been a Romanic Asexual!  Which means ‘of or relating to Rome or Latin’. So, you know- TOGA PARTY (do any of those people know how heavy togas are? They are definately not party gear, unless you have lots of chaise longues to be pinned to). Anyway, as well as all that lead poisoning, and the discomfort of living in a society that seems to socialise mostly through orgies, I would also ‘seek a prince or princess’, ‘suffer agonising loneliness’ and ‘be burned by my partner’s groinal needs’. No, serously.



Why am I spending all this time taking the piss out of a quiz which probably took 5 minutes and isn’t even spelt correctly? Well, I’m not gonna lie, it’s partly because when I took the quiz and got “Oh, hi! You’re dispicable! (dictionary definition: worthy of hatred and contempt)”, that really, really hurt. BUT! It’s also partly because very, very shortly after I took that quiz- this guy showed up.

It feels rather great to have someone else who has some stake in the label ‘sexual aromantic’ to be blogging. Because now I have someone to justify how dispicable I am. Because he has lots of awesome ideas about intimacy, and the way romantic monogamy as a culture creates and uses artificial intimacy scarcity. Let’s pull out some quotes from his two non-101 posts:

[On possible definitions of aromantic] saying that aromantics can form deep emotional connections, but they aren’t a “purposely initiated monogamous separation as found in romantic couples”. This definition seems little better, as it puts the essential difference in external, culturally defined relationship practices. This definition would include all polyamorous people in the definition of aromantic, which seems to miss the point….

…I think we’re onto something here. According to J, this natural high is much stronger with people she would consider herself romantically attracted to, doesn’t require touch but is amplified by it, doesn’t require symbolic gestures like flowers but is enhanced by them, and is not necessarily connected to sexuality, conversation, or “good company” (though it can and often should be combined with those things)….

…So here’s a preliminary definition, that I’d love to get some comments on:

“Aromantics are people who do not experience the feeling of romance. Romance is a natural high that occurs in the presence of certain people, without obvious connection to sexuality, ‘good company’, or emotional intimacy.”…

…Looking back at my life, a lot of the things I’ve done have been an attempt to squeeze a little more intimacy out of the world around me.

There is, however, a socially sanctioned way of getting more intimacy: a “relationship”. In a (sexual, romantic, monogamous) relationship, you have a lot more freedom and power to gain intimacy. You are supposed to be a scheduling priority, and you can expect a certain amount of regular alone-time. You have some say into where your partner lives, and if the relationship goes long-distance you’re assured of constant communication and visits as frequently as possible. You have both the time and societal permission to really let down your barriers and be emotionally vulnerable. All of this is wonderful. There’s a reason I don’t spend much time single…

…No one negotiates with their platonic best friend about how their relationship will progress… but why not? Platonic relationships can be just as meaningful as the best sexual/romantic relationship, why not give them the same time and energy and communication skills? Why do we assume we have to only be “partners” with people we’re attracted to? If we decouple intimacy, sex, and romance, then we have so many more ways we can make our relationships work for us. Why not have a straight guy and an asexual guy as primary partners, with the straight guy having sex with women on the side? Why not have a triad where only one of the relationships is sexual? If we break down the assumption that we have to sleep with people we’re intimate with, we can start to solve our intimacy problem.

I think the (whateverwe’regoingtocallourselves)romantic scene needs this. I suspect a lot of the exciting discourse around romance, intimacy, relationship models, is going to happen around Intimacy Cartography. I’m happy because I finally have a second go-to blog for this stuff, now Asexual Underground doesn’t update regularly. I’m also happy because a (possibly) aromantic sexual is contributing to society. Is honest and emotionally mature and non-deceitful. Is, essentially, not wearing an opera cape and a twirly moustache. On a purely social level, we’re dispicable. We’re worth hating. Which shows we’re onto something good…

Monogamy and power

(Still deep in exam time. A five-minute jotting down of thoughts:)

There’s a term in the poly community called ‘compersion’. It means being happy that your partner is happy with someone else, like the opposite of jealousy.

I think, had I queerplatonic relationships, I would comperse VERY easily. To the point of barely caring what my partner got up to. The way I see it, as long as I’m happy in our relationship, it wouldn’t bother me what else they’re doing. If I’m not, it’s probably a fault of our relationship, not other relationships they’re having.

With friends, however, compersion tends to be more difficult.

I think the reason for this- the reason I would find it easier to be in a poly arrangement than a person who started out monogamous, is to do with power. Monogamous people are used to a lot of power. In some cases, enough to say things like “I don’t care if she’s the best receptionist you’ve ever had, I don’t want you employing attractive women!” and have that be seen as reasonable or in some way founded in rationality. Aromantic people have so depressingly little power. Often, not enough to say “It’s great that you’re connecting with her! Now, maybe we could go grab a coffee sometime and talk about it… oh, ok. See you around…” without being unreasonable, irrational.

I think that’s why I’d have an easier time dealing with jealousy than previously monogamous people. I’m so used to having no power at all, to the idea that, throughout my life, I might only get a tiny handful of relationships where my wants are respected enough to keep me on as a friend in some vague capacity after pair-bonding, that the idea of any power at all, any statement of “You’re special to me. Don’t leave,” any hint that I’m worth basic respect, that my love is worth prizing, would mean the world to me. As an aromantic person, that basic level of satisfaction, that major poverty of power, would be a state beyond a dream.

A privilege check: ‘Missing: Presumed Primary’

We interrupt the scheduled blogging to bring you a post entitled ‘Missing: Presumed Primary’. Regular readers will recognise the comforting themes of me being mopey about aromance, also, making up words. We at Asexual Curiosities are sorry for any inconvenience caused.

There’s a lot of very cool stuff going on in the blogosphere, about community and detoxing and the autistic spectrum. Right from when I first found Dreki’s post, I knew that there was something incredibly potent in the message, and I’m glad it’s gripped everyone else the same way.

However, every way I try to get involved, I experience massive privilege-crash, from my original post, as a sex-positive person not recognising how much sex-positivity hurts the exact group of people I’m meant to be caring about and a non-repulsed person who probaby tends to lean too much on the side of ‘would you mind hiding that bit of your identity that I don’t think anyone should see?’, to a neuro-typical person getting involved in the first non-101 nuanced autism-spectrum conversations we as a community have had, and feeling like I’m getting it wrong, to an essentially cis person trying to write a post about my trans ‘inspirations’ for questioning my gender without sounding like a massive jerk.

The annoying thing is that I now understand the theory of privilege in a much more practical way. Before, I had seen it cheifly as a tool to try and attatch judgement to human behaviour, which may or may not fit in with common sense. Now, I see it as a tool for allies, that allows you to, as I’m doing now, not say “But how can you disagree with me?! I’m a neutral observer!” and just say “Damn, this feeling that I’m not as neutral or respectful as I thought REALLY HURTS. Can’t come out to play today, guys. Am doing a privilege check.”

So for that reason, I’m going to share some brief thoughts about romantic attraction and how much I feel isolated by it (deja vous?). Also, this has completely nothing to do with the fact that I ran into my squish (Squish: An asexual term, kinda like a crush but non-sexual and often non-romantic) and his impossibly cute boyfriend randomly the other day and they were all like *eskimo kiss* “Sweetie, why don’t you tell him that anecdote about this morning” “Oh, that was adorable. You’re so cute when you wake up” and I was all like “Hahahaha i want to die.”

Completely nothing. Definately the noble intentions, privilege-check thing.

So one of the (many) ways in which I’ve described the lack of sense which the romantic kiboodle makes to me is this idea that you pick someone, often almost at random, and then you presume that you’re each other’s primary relationship (Primary Relationship/Partner: A polyamorous term that basically means the same as ‘significant other’). If I could encapsulate my feelings on dating (note: it’s usually dating I get irrationally angry about, not romantic attraction in general), I’d like it to be a pithier version of “Dating is hoping you can lie to yourself long enough that the lie becomes true.” The lie being that this random person is the soulmate, the One.

But my ideas of the presumed primary phenomenon have been loosening recently. It’s likely I’m going through an aromantic version of that detoxing stage (detoxing: a still-contentious asexual term where asexuals go through strong negative emotions about sex when first finding the community), and “BUT NONE OF IT MAKES SENSE!!” is, through being able to talk and find people who empathise, becoming “Well, I want no part in it, but I have nothing against it.”

Firstly, I don’t now think that presumed primary is some antiquated law of monogamy that’s been retranslated and retranslated and never rethought since back when women were objects. Well, I do, but that’s not the point. I think the presumed primary rule actually has grounds in common sense. When you start having a relationship with someone that’s really exciting, people in general will monopolise that relationship, often over their previous but less committed relationships, something that I as the aromantic friend tend to be paranoid about. When that relationship involves emotional intimacy, the two people will very quickly find themselves knowing more about each other than their existing circles. When it involves sexual intimacy, there’s firstly a natural Pavlovian reaction to go back to them and get more, but there’s also a clear placing above the rest of their relationships because there’s only so many people you can have sexual relationships with at once, due to time and safety constraints. And then the final part of my important relationships triangle comes into play, and there will naturally be wild esculation of commitment. When you have someone who you’ve poured your heart and soul out to, who is also starting to know how to get you going in bed, essentially, a relationship that you prize as ‘special’, then it’s natural to put in concrete plans for seeing them more often, to pine when they’re away, and, once all that’s happened, to actually start living together, basing your life choices around each other, essentially becoming fully primary.

The thought-test I used to get to this point was this: Imagine that tomorrow, all the crap from romantic monogamy disappears- the idea of soulmates, compulsary monogamy, this binary between friendship and romance, the presumed primary rule. Everyone is suddenly single again and gets another chance, playing by the new rules.

Now come back in 50 years. What stuff did you kick away which stayed out? Unlearned, unneeded. Of that list, the idea of soulmates has disappeared completely. There is still exclusivity of various forms (and much richer and more useful forms), but compulsary monogamy is out. People are categorising their relationships, probably in a binary, but a much vaguer one. Meanwhile, I was surprised to discover that, in the hypothetical simulation in my head, the presumed primary rule is almost as strong as ever. A lot of the sting has been taken out of it because there is no longer a binary between relationship and friendship, so the things which used to be called friendships are seen as valid relationships which need maintainance.

But this whole thought experiment lead, as they inexorably do, to the big question: How do I, as an aromantic person, use this?
I think the key point is seperating the presumed primary rule from its couching in the relationship binary. When you succesfully manage to do that, what you end up with is NRE (New Relationship Energy: A polyamorous term meaning the flood of excitement one gets at the start of a new relationship) leading to a monopolising of time. Which is perfect for our evil plans of binary subversion!
Because NRE can totally be cultivated in friendships as well as romantic relationships. Unless I’ve misunderstood all sexuals, and only asexuals get the “Wheeeeee, an amazing new friend!” However, from how people have talked about their friends, I’m going to say that’s not true.
And I refer you to the story above, where NRE, through the magic of something that works exactly like presumed primary, leads to monopolisation of a relationship. Leads to a relationship fulfilling some or several vital needs, be they emotional or sexual intimacy, or others I’ve not thought of. And if you can hang on through that phase where you begin to see what needs each other can meet without it becoming a romantic relationship, you then reach the point where you have (fanfare): A highly significant but non-romantic relationship!!

Then, from significance comes commitment, and from commitment comes not dying alone and being eaten by your cats before anyone finds you (which I wish wasn’t implied to be part of the natural life-cycle of the aromantic).

I’m very excited now. If I wasn’t still snowed in, I’d rush out and find one of the 5 or so people with whom I’m sure I can kindle some NRE and try it out.

Witness the awesome power of synoyms!

In primary school (dunno what non-UK equivalents are. Kindergarten?), they told us never to use the word said. Or nice. We had a big list of synonyms up on the wall, and we were told synonyms had power. Synonyms were strong and had specificity (my new favourite word).
So we, as asexuals, have the generic word ‘friend’, which we’re trying to extract highly varied, nuanced and specificitised (sorry) meanings from. And we’re having as much luck as juicing a stone. Time to turn, as my teachers would be glad to hear me say, to the awesome power of synonyms.

As a thought exercise, inspired by a comment from WritingFromFactorX, I’m going to list a variety of synonyms and the meanings we might have a chance of getting them to have:

Someone I know- Less formal-sounding than acquaintance, without the commitment of friend.

Acquaintance- A fairly simple one. It’d be nice if we used this more. If you ‘Acquainted’ someone on facebook. It would remove a lot of the extreme end of the devaluation of friend. However, it sounds rather frosty. It’d be tricky to use often in real life without people thinking you were standoffish. Which you especially don’t want to do when you’re forming your Awesome Circle of Asexy Intimacy.

Associate- Someone you associate with. Someone you work as a team with? Would be useful, if it didn’t sound as if you were threatening corporate takeover every time you used it.

Mate- Still fairly casual. To me implies someone you spend time with, but it doesn’t run that deep. Banter and paintball, not soul-searching and commitment. Alternatively pal, buddy, etc.

Confidant- A nice word, indicating a relationship very deep but not romantic or necessarily committed. I think this could be one of the more useable ones on this list, especially if you find yourself with an inner circle who you tell everything to.

Companion- You could get it to imply some sort of faithful commitment outside of sexual/romantic relationships. There’d be a bit of the romantic idea brought it. I think this word would only really be useful if you had a few strong, primary relationships, romantic friendships, binary-blurring stuff, and decided together that you would actively use the word ‘companion’ instead of ‘partner’, to indicate the different nature of your relationship.

Partner- A good fallback for a primary relationship that’s still not best described by standard labels. However, it’s a bit too monogamous.

Darling, dear, treasure, honey, pet, duck- Said with a bit of humour, I think meaning could underlie the joke. If there’s someone with whom you’re very intimate in some way, constantly referring to them as ‘my darling’ (both in first and third person) could show a little more flexibility in the status of the relationship than just ‘friend’. Definitely that you see your relationship as important enough to give them their own unique title.

What do you think? What words do you want in your vocabulary?

PS. The online thesaurus has girlfriend as the antonym for boyfriend. How peculiar.

Gender: Oh yeah, forgot about that

So, in this utopian world with ultra-flexible relationship models that we’re going to create (we being me and the Imaginary Brotherhood of Aromantics that I’m increasingly talking to. All you other guys are just eavesdropping), what do we do about orientation? By which I mean sexual and romantic attraction along gender lines.

It seems to me that those sexualities which disregard gender, asexual aromantics and bi/pansexuals, get to smoosh around with the definitions a bit, play loose and easy with the rules. Which is fun and all (except for, you know, when it’s not), but it leaves the monos playing catch-up a bit. How does a mono-sexual person implement a non-binary approach to relationships? When you clearly don’t have infinite possibilities with fifty percent of the population, do you deal with them the same as the others?

My point isn’t that monosexual people are incompatible with this hypothetical universe, simply that it’s going to seriously change the validity of orientation in everyday life.
Imagine, for example, two straight people of the same gender becoming committed life partners, living together, raising children, sharing hobbies, talking about everything and looking outside their relationship for more ‘casual’ ones, focussed on romance and kissing and sex, and those few things which they aren’t getting from their committed friend. How often would this type of arrangement occur in our hypothetical universe? Theoretically, not that rarely, I think a lot of people have the ability to share incredibly strong bonds with people they’re not sexually attracted to. In fact, I think the idea that the person who really gets you going in bed is the same as the one you can share amazing conversations and commitments with is getting kinda strained. I think a system where sexual intimacy comes relatively detached from everything else would be a pretty useful one for a lot of people.

And this ties in a little with a point I threw hurriedly into my last post– the mechanics of jealousy rely on the idea that you only have to be worried about one gender. The idea that only opposite-sex interactions are threatening. This is convenient because it allows an awful lot of control through wielding jealousy, but it still allows your partner to have someone in their life other than you. And this myth and the myth of the romantic binary prop each other up in loads of other subtle ways. If a relationship with people you’re not sexually attracted to is completely unthreatening, but any relationship with the slightest hint of sexuality is suddenly a massive deal, does that tell us anything important about our culture’s relative valuations of sex and emotional intimacy?

I’d argue, nothing we don’t already know.

Aromance and polyamory

Mage has just posted something about the intersection between polyamory and aromance, which, coincidentally, is what I was gearing myself up to write.

They talk about why friendship can have the same sorts of intimacy as an emotional affair, but without the judgement. It’s like a get-out clause in conventional monogamy, the poly-style steam vent without which the whole thing would certainly blow.
(It’s also, as a side-thought, often routed in heteronormativity. “My boyfriend can go out with his guy friends because men don’t form threatening relationships with other men”, “My girlfriend can do likewise, because even when girls do form relationships, they’re sexy and controllable.” Hence the gay best friend. Hence one of the reasons many people don’t want to date bisexuals (because they know they’d have to be jealous of everyone, thus allowing them no friends). It doesn’t work when you start to consider the real gender-sexuality smoosh.)

I don’t want to be one of those non-monogamous people who then decides monogamy is terrible and should be destroyed (but I’m allowed my tactless venting period, right? Like snotty new AVENites?). However, I don’t think I’m stretching my luck when I say- It’s impossible to get all your intimacy from one person.

Monogamy is going to have to struggle with that fact. Doesn’t mean it can’t survive (as Mage calls it, ‘monoamory’), but it can’t pretend otherwise. When it comes to intimacy, humans will always be sluts.

I think polyamory and aromance have a lot to offer each other. And not in a theoretical, we can both learn things, kinda way. In a practical, “Hey, Poly, wanna hook up?” “Sure, Asexy, prepare to be cuddled harder than ever before” kinda way.

It seemed weird to me, first pondering this, that the answer to ‘I can’t have one romantic relationship’ would be ‘have several’. But there’s two very important points about polyamorous people.

Firstly, as a group, they’ve spent a lot of time thinking about relationships, figuring out why the relationship structure they saw around them didn’t work for them. They’re going to sympathise, if you can spin it right.

Secondly, they’re less keen on this idea that intimacy has to look a certain way, and all come from the same person. That means you’re more likely to get a tailor-made relationship with exactly the kind of intimacies you both want, and both of you having the freedom to look elsewhere to fulfil your remaining intimacies.

At the end of the day, a monogamous person who hopes to find the one and have a traditional relationship with them can never be more than ‘just friends’ with poor old Asexy. You can break the occasional small friendship boundary, you can commit to each other and look after each other more than normal, but they’re always going to be holding a little bundle of intimacies out ready for Mr. Right.

What you need, my dear, (he says, giving out fake advice to an imaginary person who is clearly actually himself, somewhere in the depths of the internet) is something queerer. Someone who won’t bind you up with ‘just friends’.

Another awesome plus is the visibility. If you reject the relationship binary and then hang out with people who haven’t, then you’re never going to be read as anything but friends. In the same way that asexuals aren’t assumed to be asexual, they’re just assumed to be single. Whereas if you create interesting relationships, that gives you the ability to subtly indicate to your corner of the world that stepping outside the binary is possible. And, as David Jay would say, it also gives you something to gossip about.

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