Tuesday, January 22, 2013

My Relationship Anarchy

The theme for this month's Carnival of Aces is non-traditional relationships and polyamory. This is something I've been meaning to blog about for a while, but never quite knew where to start, because my own theories on this are still a bit of a work in progress.

I should probably start by explaining my actual history with this...

Early Beginnings

It all started a couple of years ago (before I knew anything about asexuality) when I finally realised that my attractions to women are never immediately sexual - and do not (necessarily) fit the typical sexual pair-bonding paradigm. Indeed, my immediate pattern of attraction to a new girl is virtually indistinguishable from something like...simply wanting a kind of "close friendship with cuddle benefits".

(The term "romantic friendship" sounds about right - although this often refers to a particular form of this which was common in the 19th century, so I'm sometimes hesitant to use it because of the historical baggage confusion. But it seems to be getting reclaimed these days as a more broad term for these types of relationships, so I'll use it here).

When I discovered asexuality (and my own demisexuality), and that it is indeed quite possible for relationships not to be based on the standard sexual pair bonding script, a huge light bulb went off in my head. There wasn't any particular epiphany moment per se, but at some point in early 2012 I just knew that I'd never look at relationships the same way again.

This article in "The Atlantic" is what really sealed it for me. Especially the following passage:
"If we stop defining our significant relationships only as those that are romantic or sexual, being single will take on a whole new meaning. If we broaden our emotional focus from the person we share bodily fluids with to the sum of our friendships, acquaintances, and colleagues, our communities will grow stronger. If we stop treating penetrative sex as the be all and end all of physical intimacy, we will experience greater heights of pleasure. And if we can accept that although sex can be ecstatic and affirming and fulfilling, it is not all those things to all people all of the time, we will relieve it of some of its cultural baggage."
It was!!...this is exactly how I've felt about sex and relationships all my life - and suddenly here is a community of people who seem to be wired the same as me, and making conclusions regarding love, sex and relationships which seem completely obvious to me in hindsight.

So that got me thinking - how do I apply all this?

Dating, Romance and Sex

Probably the single most confusing thing about all this was coming to terms with the idea that "romance" and sex are totally separate things to me. They always were separate for me, but the idea that they run together was so deeply socially conditioned into my thinking that I simply didn't consciously see it. But I did, however, always feel like something was slightly "off" about how the dating world works.

This is what makes demisexuality (as well as being sexually non-repulsed) so tricky. It's not like an immediate and obvious case of Does Not Compute regarding sex, the way repulsed asexuality is. It's more that sex just seems like a totally random and unnecessary thing to (immediately at least) combine with romance - because romance is something that grows on its own for me, almost entirely from intellectual and emotional connecting. And indeed, non-sexual affectionate contact is all that I can desire (and handle!) upfront anyway.

But even more to the point, I was now being haunted by the above line from that article - "If we stop defining our significant relationships only as those that are romantic or sexual, being single will take on a whole new meaning." - Indeed. 

How do you define "single"? Are you still single if you have an ongoing romantic friendship with someone? Multiple romantic friendships? Or is it only a sexual relationship that counts? Or does it all come down to sitting down, having The Talk, and agreeing that you are in a relationship?


A few things happened which made me question the idea of traditional monogamy in the past few years - needless to say, none of them had anything to do with wanting to "sleep around"! 

It all basically gelled around this idea of how we can have different types of significant relationships with different people - which may conventionally qualify as "'just' friendship", "romance", or perhaps something in-between - say "romantic friendship". Then it suddenly started looking very petty and arbitrary to me to throw an exclusive bubble around just one such relationship, to the exclusion of others. When sex is in the picture, I can actually understand the value of exclusivity. After all, historically-speaking, birth control and protection were either extremely ineffective or essentially non-existent, so it did make some sense to reign in promiscuous sex. But this begs the question - why do we still have to apply this rule to non-sexual-yet-romantic ways of connecting? Which is 99% of what I'm about.

In a word - it is not sex that defines polyamory for me - it's emotional connecting. It's the idea of having close, tender emotional connections with people which have no fixed boundaries, as opposed to the traditional monogamous model - where there is a vast emotional exclusion zone around the Romantic Couple - and everybody else is "just" a friend, and has to keep a wide berth to avoid the contact from being seen as inappropriate. 

But alas, since 99% of the world is sexual, polyamory will probably always carry the "just an excuse to sleep around" cultural baggage. Hence I've sometimes been hesitant to use it, especially to identify publicly as such...

"Relationship Anarchy"

My thinking these days is probably best described by the term "relationship anarchy", and a heavily asexual-influenced version of it at that. 

As mentioned briefly in a previous post about labels, I like the idea of doing away with restrictive categories altogether - what really matters is that the people involved in relationships are open and honest with each other, and agree to their own tailored specifics. And I think that broad categories (eg. Friend vs Lover) actually get in the way of happiness here - because people end up having to accept pre-packaged things which might not be entirely suitable for a particular given connection - but are nevertheless so deeply ingrained in the culture that they never truly questioned how connecting with people could be done differently. 

This might be less true of sexuals than people on the asexual spectrum though, which I believe may be the main reason why these theories are quite controversial out in the mainstream world. 

For sexuals, it seems to run like this: You either find someone sexually attractive, in which case you'll want to sleep with them - or else you don't find them sexually attractive, in which case you'll never want to sleep with them. But more to the point - any kind of "romantic" context with them will probably seem awkward and pointless. Why? Because sexuals generally don't experience this disconnect between romance and sex that we do. Attraction is either both romantic and sexual as a package deal, or else it is purely platonic. There seems to not be much possibility of anything in-between.

I'm not entirely sure this theory is correct. I've seen some evidence of sexuals being capable of relationships which can exist in that fuzzy area between purely platonic and romance, but it seems to be incredibly rare. Whereas with people on the asexual spectrum, it seems to be quite common to at least understand the point of this - even if many still subscribe to a more traditional monogamous outlook on actually forming serious relationships.

What I'd like to explore

I currently have a kind of online version of a "romantic friendship", with an asexual girl overseas who's in a polyamorous relationship. It's actually incredibly liberating to be able to share with someone intellectually and emotionally without second-guessing whether it's "appropriate" or not - because everything has been discussed upfront and everybody has agreed that it's okay.

What would be interesting to explore is how this kind of relationship would work out in real life. Given that I'm not one for "serious relationships" in terms of wanting a permanent domestic life partnership and suchlike, I'm actually quite attracted to the idea of simply having romantic friendships while basically remaining "single" - in the practical everyday independent living sense. While I won't set out absolutes such as "living separately is mandatory", this is so close to the truth that it might as well be the case.

So yes, romantic friendships is where it's at for me at the moment. If anyone does inspire me for something "more" involved, it'll be a small miracle I think. But even then, there's no going back to traditional monogamous thinking. Although, being demisexual, I have to say that I'd have no problem with sexual exclusivity - the real impossibility is to not think of multiple relationships as emotionally significant any more. And of course, that the existence of multiple deep emotional connections is okay. Correction: Not just okay, but celebrated as a beautiful thing!


  1. Because sexuals generally don't experience this disconnect between romance and sex that we do. Attraction is either both romantic and sexual as a package deal, or else it is purely platonic. There seems to not be much possibility of anything in-between.

    I've read about sexual people whose are sexually attracted and romantically attracted to different sexes, which naturally made all of thier relationships complicated.

  2. This matter is down to earth, hats off buds out there.
    Advice by Yukio Hatoyama