Freya Petterson writes at the crossroads of clarity and romance, navigating a path full of teen prejudices, misconceptions, and self-assurance, blooming with important questions.
I’ve always been a romantic person. As far back as I can remember, I was in love with love. I’m the type of person who loves writing sappy letters, happy endings, and who really is a sucker for the “power of love saves the day” trope in cartoons. I had a lot going on when I was younger, and a lot I had yet to figure out about myself. But I at least felt certain I’d fall in love someday. I didn’t think to question it as an inevitability.
I’m also asexual. This was a realisation I only fully came to in my later teen years, but it’s no less a part of who I am.
In primary school, romance was only an abstract concept, suitable for whispered conversations interspersed with bouts of giggling. “Dating” meant hanging out with a boy at lunchtime and holding hands on the school bus. I felt that I understood the concept well enough. I also read stories where people would fall in love and enter relationships – late night phone calls, heartfelt promises, and unwavering adoration.
High school was different. Dating was something people took seriously, and there were sex-education classes which stressed the importance of sex in any healthy adult relationship. This period also marked the advent of my introduction to the world of non-straightness. I positioned myself firmly in the role of “supportive ally” for the first two years of high school. At the time, the breadth of my knowledge extended only to the big four labels (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) and since I didn’t feel particularly drawn to any I chose the safer route of keeping on the same.
I don’t remember the first time I saw the word “asexual” written online, but I’m certain it was in the context of a medical diagnosis or trauma state. Frankly, this was terrifying. I was fifteen at the time, though, and it was too overwhelming a thing to consider. I decided I must be bisexual since I felt equal attraction to all genders (none).
I think it took me so long to realise I was asexual at that age because I was reading so much, and relationships in PG13+ books never really mention sex anyway. I didn’t realise there was anything missing in these fictional depictions of love.
I remember very vividly the moment I realised there was a disconnect for me somewhere.
It was in year nine, during lunch, and I was sitting with a group of kids who unofficially were known as “the queer kids.” A friend of mine dared everyone to list five fictional characters of our same gender who we’d have sex with given the chance (all hypothetical of course, no one was ready yet to outright identify as anything other than straight). So, I took a mental catalogue of all my favourite female characters in the media and narrowed that down by looks and age to come up with a list of five girls whose names I could present confidently.
I remember my friend asking me shocked, “Wait you’d actually have sex with (character)?”
My immediate answer was, “No, of course not,” because my list was all hypothetical and not at all real. I was told that I’d misunderstood the assignment and everyone had a good laugh about it.
I started thinking more about it later on though, about whether or not I’d ever felt anything but admiration and fondness for anyone (fictional or otherwise). After settling on a definitive No, I rationalised that I was still too young to be worrying about this stuff. And again, I decided to ignore it.
I liked being close with people, sharing food and holding hands, borrowing someone’s shoulder for a mid-class nap. I liked writing poetry, and I would craft letters for my friends full of poetry and pencil-line hearts, because I liked to remind the people I loved that I loved them. This translated pretty well for most of my male friends into “flirting” which left me even more confused. I started to feel that I should be extra careful about not giving anyone the wrong idea. One time a boy asked me out because I’d shared some strawberries with him.
At seventeen I was becoming more comfortable with the label “asexual” and more ready to accept that maybe my life was going to be different to the life I’d always pictured. I remember a friend of mine cautioning me against deciding too quickly, because how could I know if I never tried? This felt kind of ridiculous given that the only semi-romantic feelings I’d ever felt before had been strictly fictional. What was the point in basing my identity around some far-off hypothetical that I could not picture if I tried? I’d never had a crush before. I’d even started to wonder (resignedly) if maybe asexual-aromantic was the appropriate term for someone like me.
Then I moved schools – to a performing arts specialised establishment – and I fell hard and fast for a girl.
Then, for a moment, it all seemed to make sense.
In actuality, it had become even more confusing. Now that I know what romantic feelings feel like, and I’m certain I am capable of them, I have to face the possibility that such a thing might be out of reach for someone like me.
I tried online dating recently. I put the label “asexual” on the top of my profile and made sure to mention it again at least once in conversation. I went on two or three dates with a girl who seemed to understand, but later said she worried she was “giving me the wrong idea” because I’d invited her to hang out at my place. We fell out of touch after that.
I genuinely don’t know how to be any more straight-forward than this.
What I actually want is to ask upfront and straight away: “How much does sex matter to you? Could you be happy without it?” Unfortunately, these make for pretty shit icebreakers.
Every piece of supportive guidance I’ve seen or read, online or within my own social sphere, is geared towards a single-minded suggestion that “you’ll find another asexual person.” This is the answer given as opposed to an otherwise understood truth that I will not be accepted by anyone “normal.”
I don’t mean to imply I would be unhappy to find someone who is also asexual and with whom a romantic attraction could be fostered, just that the way this suggestion is often posed to me is in a deflective way, not a helpful way. It feels dismissive and like a bleak reminder that I won’t ever be enough. As does the suggestion that I give more importance to friendships because surely that’s what I’m actually looking for?
I would be happy if my family was made up of friendships and platonic bonds, but friendship is so often sidelined in the face of romance and I want someone I can trust to stay. I don’t want to force anyone to give up something they feel is necessary in a romantic relationship. But is it really so completely black and white? Maybe it’s my fault because I love the idea of romance as it is presented in PG13+ fiction, but if love is so powerful then why is it rendered dead in the face of something as inconsequential as sex?
If sex is a requirement for some people, then fine, but how do I know for whom this is true? (Is it the majority?) I don’t know how to put myself out there living with a fucking sword over my head, knowing that love will not be enough for some. I am so scared to give all of myself to someone and have them see me as incomplete and therefore incompatible in return.
If someone saw me, and before learning of my orientation, felt that I was ideal in every other way… Doesn’t it say painfully too much about my worth as a person that after learning they might just as easily toss me aside?
A year or so ago, I read a book called Loveless by Alice Oseman. In it, an asexual aromantic girl is propositioned by a boy who includes in his confession a promise that he wouldn’t need sex to be happy if he could be happy with her. I had to take a break from reading at that point because I was crying too much.
How many people are like that? How many people aren’t asexual but consider love to be the more important factor in a relationship over sex? Are there any?
I guess what I’m saying is… I wish people could understand the way I feel. I wish more people talked about dating and asexuality.
ASEXUAL: A person who experiences little or no sexual feelings or desires, or who is not sexually attracted to anyone.
AROMANTIC: A person who experiences little or no romantic attraction to anyone, who does not have romantic feelings.
ASEXUAL AROMANTIC: A person who experiences little or no sexual or romantic attraction to anyone.