It has been a ridiculously long time since I updated my blog because wave upon wave of covid variants tanked my mental health. As a frontline healthcare worker I needed time and help to recover from burnout. Recently I’ve been doing a lot better oddly enough because of my class load. Working on my master’s degree gives me something outside of work to focus on and the coursework is challenging, enlightening, and restorative. I really lucked out with my program and I’m excited to change careers. Anywho! We’re not here today to talk about my identity as a student (or are we??? oooo foreshadowing). We’re here to see if I understood the assignment. I didn’t have the time to look through scholarly articles to see if someone’s already thought about this take or something similar (they probably have), but I at the very least wanted to get a new post up and actually finish a CoA. For the past few months I’d start a post and then give up after a paragraph because, honestly, if I’m staring blankly at an open word doc, it might as well be my class writing assignment. So without further ado-
This month’s Carnival of Aces is being hosted by sildarmillion on the topic of “Can you conceptualize your identity and/or orientation in terms other than attraction?”
The half thought that’s been cooking in my head for a while now is, “No, seriously, what if gender attraction wasn’t a main factor in forming and maintaining interpersonal relationships?” As an aroace this is easy to imagine because that is the reality that I live with 24/7. Since I’m not actually sexually or romantically attracted to any gender, it is now an even more level playing field than if I was pansexual. Now that the possibilities are virtually endless, what are the determining factors I’m paying attention to when I form and maintain interpersonal relationships?
Firstly, I’m romanced repulsed. There are specific behaviors and western cultural norms in specific contexts that trigger my flight/freeze response. Someone giving me a rose and asking if I have any weekend plans is a totally different experience than a coworker giving me a bouquet of sunflowers saying, “thank you for all your hard work and being a team player”. One of those things is more culturally normalized than the other. Secondly, the first step to forming any interpersonal relationship is actually going out and meeting people. Whooo boy, that is a struggle. I could totally blame covid, but this is a major barrier that already existed for me because there have been very few points in my life where I haven’t been working full-time and in school. I am a cat person and liking cats is pretty much nonnegotiable. I have a bucket list vacation that would require putting my life on hold for a month and I would be specifically looking for someone willing to share that with me. The popular narrative is that even if a person is perfect for you in every way -willing to meet you where you’re at, similar life goals, similar tastes in pets, and so on- if the relationship doesn’t have “that spark” it’s not going to work out. However, whenever you ask, they can’t tell you what “that spark” actually is.
Here’s my hot take: The only reason I even describe my identity/orientation in terms of attraction in the first place is because that’s the only way to get other people to conceptualize my experience as an aroace. It’s actually kind of weird if you think about it because I’m basically using someone else’s reality to describe my experiences.
I see all relationships as an emotional energy exchange. You put time and energy into the relationship and get an emotional boost out of it. It’s not tit-for-tat, it’s more like the algebra formulas you had to do for math class because every person is running on a different emotional exchange rate. I like that metaphor more than the “love languages”.
My two favorite examples of relationships that deserve more press are the favorite teacher and reliable coworker. Hopefully everyone has had a favorite teacher who acted as a pivotal point in their life. What effort did you have to put in to maintain that relationship vs the emotional satisfaction that you got out of it? Is there a coworker that you know you can always count on? How did you maintain that relationship? Sometimes it’s as simple as the “Harvest Moon” method.
In the Harvest Moon games in order to build friendship points with the towns people you have to talk to them everyday and for extra points you can give them gifts. Failing to consistently talk to the town’s folk drops their friendship score into the negative and they dislike you. It’s shocking how real that is. If you fail to greet a coworker everyday they will notice and people will call you out on it. I have a “lunch buddy” who works a different department but we somehow manage to regularly see each other in the breakroom and say “hi”. I can just imagine the friendship meter going up one point everyday xD. In contrast on Saturday mornings the pharmacy intern walks in 30 minutes after me as I’m putting orders away with my headphones on blasting my angsty pirate music and so I end up “ignoring” her when she says “good morning”. It takes her a minute to realize I’m not intentionally being rude. Zero friendship points there.
Alright, so in a perfect world where I don’t have to whip out the Asexuality 101 PowerPoint every five minutes, how would I actually describe my orientation? I’d describe it by the relationships where I get the maximum emotional payout. For me specifically my biggest emotional payout has come from teacher/student relationships. The emotional high I get from learning is comparable to the feeling (I assume) people get from a blossoming romance. The second biggest emotional payout has come from family. Our family game nights are just pure energy and chaos, I love it. The third biggest emotional payout comes from myself. When I was in middle school I got really lucky and made serious effort to have a positive internal monologue through daily practice. The meanest thing my internal monologue has said all year was “fun fact, the KJV is still a bestseller and has never been out of print unlike your favorite Steven Chow film” Ouch, xD. Other than that my internal monologue is as fluffy as I need it to be or is the voice of reason that I need it to be. From what little I’ve seen about internal monologues, it’s apparently really rare to have a fully positive one and most are a string of negative thoughts and put downs.
So, to the rest of the ace community: When you map out all the interpersonal relationships in your life, which ones stand out as giving you the biggest emotional payout? What if it was normal not to define ourselves by what genders we’re most attracted to, but instead by the relationships we find the most emotionally fulfilling? What if we found ways to talk about and celebrate those relationships with the same energy that we talk about and celebrate romantic relationships? How pissed off would the “behavior = orientation” crowd be?