Aromantic and asexual-spectrum people often get left of out of the popular theories and conveniently neatly-packaged graphs about love, lust, and romance. The Triangular Theory of Love is no exception. Theories evolve over time as new information is uncovered. It would be nice one day to have more widespread knowledge out there about all of the possibilities and not merely those open to the chosen few. Aromantics and asexuals tend to get swept under the rug. Experiences that fall outside the romantic norm aren’t well understood and I doubt they’re well-documented. And the largest problem starts with the conflation of passion with limerance/infatuation, or what people most often refer to as New Relationship Energy.
The idea that someone can love or feel for someone intensely without feeling romantic or sexual, that someone can remain unbelievably excited about someone for longer than a few months, or that the passion can even grow over time is pretty much unheard of – except when it’s actually obsession and not passion.
Many people are familiar with romantic, emotional, and sexual attraction but may not be familiar with sensual attraction, aesthetic attraction (as opposed to mere aesthetic appreciation), erotic attraction, and mental attraction. I’ve mentioned before that I’m both asexual and aromantic. I’m also noetisexual, which adds its own unique dimension to the ways I experience attraction, love, and passion. I don’t experience NRE and never have. Perhaps some of my long-lasting sexual openness and sensual attraction is bound up with my extremely high sex drive and my highly sensual nature. I can only be affectionate, sensual, and sexual with people that I trust, with people that I have some level of emotional intimacy with.
Notably, none of these necessarily follow the other. Nor do any of these types of love and connection require attraction to feel them. I can connect with or feel deeply emotionally attached to people regardless of any attraction between us or lack thereof. Just as action doesn’t follow from attraction, neither does one sort of love, emotion, or attraction automatically follow from any other. There are as many ways to connect and feel desire as there are people on the planet.
I want to go over three types of love or attachment aromantic or asexual people (and some romantic and sexual people) may experience but that they may never have had a name for. The point is to expand our understanding about love, attraction, boundaries, and desire so that truly informed consent becomes the norm and not the assumption.
Many asexuals may tend to avoid relationships with sexual people and many aromantics may avoid hanging around romantic people because of overly simplified explanations of love, lust, and the built-in assumptions of an end goal along the touch and relationship escalators (the seemingly inevitable escalation in a series of “steps” of either touch towards sex, or “steps” of a relationship toward marriage/life partnership). Until our experiences are made visible, romantic and sexual people will have problems creating consensual relationships (of any form) with aromantic and asexual people.
As I’ve written before, there are no defaults in relationships! Well, save friendship being inherently non-monogamous, but hopefully you catch my drift.
While these new terms are intended to be living terms, and others’ experiences may be different, I’d like to share three terms that explain the sorts of passion or attachment I experience and what that’s like.
The first type of affection/connection is what I’d like to call ecstatic love/attachment. It’s like the opposite of existential terror. It’s like a deep, permeating existential joy that this person(s) exists. It’s deeper than typical friendship yet it’s not romantic and not sexual. It feels like being tickled by the notion of this person being alive right then and there. It may or may not fade with time. Often, there’s no accompanying outward sign, though the thought of them may bring smiles to your face. It’s just a feeling that underlies all of your interactions with others. It’s like the fierce love you feel for your child but it can be felt for those who aren’t (and without the parental or protective or instinctive elements accompanying it). As with anything else, it also does not require you be attracted to this person(s) in some way.
The second I’d refer to as rapturous love/attachment. It’s like a slow-building wave. Whereas infatuation is often accompanied by extreme highs and lows and dissipates after a while, and obsession is characterized by need and control, rapturous love simply grows and grows and grows without the desire to restrict the person(s). The more time that passes, the more overwhelmed you may feel. It’s a joy that keeps building on itself with time, a fullness and excitement that only increases as time passes. For me it makes me want to touch and/or fuck (if applicable) the person more and more, not less and less. The more time we spend together and the more I know you, the more I want you and enjoy you physically and emotionally. As stated previously, attraction of any sort is not required to feel like this. It can be felt for any kind of friend.
That overlaps a bit with resonant love/in resonance. This one is extremely intimate. It goes down to the core. It is the full recognition of another person as they truly are, with no assumptions, judgments, or deceptions. It is the Holy Moment (re Waking Life); it can last for a glance or a lifetime. You are both deeply aware of one another; it’s as if your souls are naked and revealed, when two or more points of the same universal soul meet. I know that might sound a bit religious or spiritual but that’s not what I’m talking about. It can also simply be a meeting of minds: that special rhythm you get into when you both or all understand an idea or each other completely and entirely. If this were Doctor Who, it would be one of the fixed points in time, an absolute. If you’re Black, it’s the obligatory head nod to another Black person. The term brain orgasms also work for shorter holy moments, though it can last much longer.
Many people might only feel this for a moment here or there but it can actually be felt and experienced quite often, if not all of the time. But as the two men in the conversation in the movie Waking Life say, it is not considered polite to have Holy Moments, and especially not with people who aren’t our romantic or sexual partners (or to whom we are not attracted in those or other ways). We tend to shy away from them because they’re too raw, too honest, too revealing.
So what exactly am I passionate about if I don’t like romance and don’t follow the script?
Let me introduce you to the naughtier selves of my multifaceted being: the Sinister Sadist, the “My Logic is Undeniable” Dragon, and the Insatiable Lust. And then I’ll tell you how I tame them.
The Sinister Sadist:
I’m a very compassionate person. Part of this is the fact that I’m left-handed. Science (which is hella problematic with a long and extremely racist history but is still reliable for a few things) also shows that lefties are more likely to be mirror-touch synesthetes. Watching movies is a uniquely painful experience for us because we literally feel what’s happening to the people on screen (while simultaneously having a running commentary/breakdown of all the fallacies and assumptions and seeing the ending coming a mile away). Real life is full of this automatic empathizing as well. We’re more emotional, too, so there’s that. On top of the higher likelihood of us understanding exactly what you’re feeling, there’s also the fact that our brains are wired differently to all you normies. There’s a reason the notion sinister (meaning left-handed) is associated with evil. Some of the worst killers were left-handed, though it really depends on who we’re defining as murderers. And there’s a whole host of other oddities about us that I won’t get into right now.
The important thing is to understand how a person that feels so deeply and cares so much can derive such pleasure out of purposely hurting someone. Contrary to popular belief, sadists are actually pretty well-adjusted. I’m speaking of those in the BDSM community, of course. We want to hurt people and overpower them, but only if they want us to hurt them. Consent and safety are an absolute must. We don’t just want to hurt anyone for no reason and in random, damaging ways. It delights me to make people uncomfortable, to piss them off, to punish them, to torture them, to cause them pain knowing that it’s what they love, what they crave, what they want. I get high off of it.
Because I love to see those veins in your temple throb.
Whether my Dom/me side comes out (with or without the sadist; BDSM is not all about making someone your bitch and kink is a whole lot more than BDSM, but of course that’s what everyone focuses on when they have an underdeveloped imagination) as the little girl, Mx. Godde, the Violent Vixen, or Zack (my most masculine side) depends on who I’m with. I’m not sadistic with everyone
I meet and obviously never without their permission or desire. And though I do enjoy some pain I’m not very masochistic, despite my high pain threshold. I’m also not big on humiliation. There’s some degradation I’m okay with dishing out but mostly it comes down to a very particular type of pain I want to inflict. My penchant for causing others pain in this way leads me right to –
The “My Logic is Undeniable” Dragon:
I’m incredibly cerebral. For me the best forms of sadism involve psychological torture or anguish. I want to destroy minds and break spirits. Not literally…come on, give me some credit. No, no, for me it is more about breaking down the arbitrary barriers they’ve accepted by default. I seek to dig through the bullshit that people have accepted for themselves and their lives and get to the root of their very being. The Dragon is ultra-rational and super logical.
And realizes, “You know nothing, John Sn-”, er, I mean, that you know nothing.
With that Vulcan-like calm, I can cut through fat and hit right to the heart of a matter. Many people have been subject to the Neal rant – we never yell; instead in clinical, sometimes impassioned (but not quite angry) terms we systematically lay out the facts and logical conclusions of our own or someone else’s thoughts, actions, or words. It’s not intended to make us right; it’s our process to understand exactly what we’re dealing with and to see if the other person understands what their ideas actually entail.
It’s a rather uncomfortable experience but luckily I’ve had partners who welcomes the challenge. Through such a brutal and straightforward method we can clarify our positions and figure out what is actually right (or rather suitable; right and wrong is so black and white in all the worst ways) instead of what’s merely convenient. The Dragon twinges at anything that doesn’t add up and burns away anything less than the absolute truth. Anyway, for most people getting to the truth means burning away all of the surface gunk and dirt they’ve picked up on their journey. The Dragon purifies and sharpens. It leaves nothing unexamined or unexplored. It brings a person face to face with their reality as they’ve made it. And then the real work (or punishment) begins.
For those that can withstand the Dragon’s fire, they often get to meet –
The Insatiable Lust:
This is my hunter. This is my core. This is my hunger. The black hole forever yawning open for more, more, more! I think it’s safe to assume I have the kind of libido normally associated with the stereotype of gay men (which is funny, because even though I am one, I’m not widely recognized as such. Yay, biological essentialism and hypermedicalization of transness). It takes a lot of discipline to channel that amount of lust into appropriate channels. My noetisexuality and asexuality are thankfully some of the checks I have in place that protect my integrity and my sanity. I also started writing fairly young and poured most of my sexual energy into my books and dancing rather than trying to make someone else meet my needs. So while I’m literally walking around feeling like Mark Blue (who’s nearly constantly aroused), that lust often has no particular subject. I don’t lust after random people or people I know (unless they want me to). I don’t project it onto another person and expect them to satisfy it. Hence, I can direct it into my stories when I don’t have a suitable, safe, compatible partner around.
Though I want it much more often than most people I refuse to cave in and be with just anyone. First, in general most people suck at sex or simply aren’t that educated about it. Second, it’s hard to find others with compatible sex drives and interests (or those who won’t run away from mine). There’s also the issues of fucked up desirability politics and racism. I enjoy fetishes, but to be fetishized is to be dehumanized. Also, I don’t need the sex to be kinky in order to enjoy it but I do have a voracious appetite for both knowledge and sex. My addiction to integrating information might be the only thing greater than my drive, though they both arise from the same source: my sense of life.
Cue the ankh, the source of life and sexuality!
I’m extremely curious and I love discovering novelty and new perspectives. I love life. One of my favorite forms of worship is doing beautiful things with beautiful souls in beautiful bodies. The lust is as much noetisexual, aesthetic, and sensual as it is erotic and sexual, even though these aren’t always paired together. And when someone taps into my noetisexual-loving self, oh my, why I never let them escape!
Having strong boundaries around these strong aspects of my personality protects myself and others from the damage they could cause. Left unchecked, I could have let these things rule my life or twist my soul. I could have chosen to use them destructively. But I’ve found a way to integrate them in order to enrich my life. And I absolutely fucking love it.
In a way, I’m more excited thinking about sex than ever actually doing it.
How much of that is a factor of my noetisexuality and how much of it is just my kinkiness I can’t be sure. Because the cerebral is the sexual to me; it’s one and the same. A good lover not only gives me bodily orgasms but also gives me brain or mind orgasms. And of course, there are my sadistic and kinky desires (if you don’t know, BDSM is simply one tiny little subset of kink, even though it gets the most recognition).
There are things that absolutely turn me on and get me going. But those things tend to be information, beauty, the way things move, integration, sensations, certain acts, and certain sounds. My sexual desire isn’t so much directional as it is an omnipresent sensual extension of my thoughts and experiences.
In that sense, I’m not turned on by other people, per se. I do find certain people and particular acts visually stimulating and aesthetically pleasing, but I don’t feel any pull towards those people. When I masturbate, I use what I’m familiar with and find beautiful or think of people I know, people from whom I have permission to use their image in that way. And it’s great because I can pull from actual memories of deliciously sexy times and it makes me feel that much closer to them.
I know, what kind of weirdo actually masturbates to their own partners…
But for me, I can’t just watch any porn or imagine any celebrity because I won’t feel anything for them. Unless I can connect to what it is, unless I have a personal context with it, it doesn’t affect me. Actually, most of it I find visually and emotionally repulsive. It’s not beautiful bodies doing beautiful things; it’s more like a car crash composed entirely of clowns.
Not even the sexy ones. I mean the ones that haunt your nightmares. Like “It”.
And if the characters or people aren’t lustful or connected to one another or themselves then it’s just empty and devoid of meaning.
Mm, ok, so that’s an important discovery. Yes, for me the sexual must be meaningful. Not magical, not romantic, not even for a lifetime. It simply has to have some actual purpose other than masturbating with someone else’s body or image (as in literally using them as a sex toy).
And my passion, my ecstatic, rapturous, and resonant love is hardly ever sexual in nature. Even when I find a body delightful and beautiful it’s more connected to finding the form and function fascinating rather than “sexy”. Hm, or rather, sexy isn’t something static. Sexy is a living embodiment, not ever something to be acted upon.
I love feeling sexual. I revel in how my body feels and responds along with my mind when I’m excited, when my partner does that thing that drives me crazy. I love how it changes and grows. I love letting Zack out to play. I love seeing their bodies change colors, how they thicken and inflate, how they breathe and dance. I love the fire in their eyes and that hint of fear as they see my beast come out, ready to devour them. It’s incredible.
And all without a drop of sexual attraction in most cases.
Of all my voluntary partners, pretty much all of them have yet to meet anyone as into it and delightful as me. Maybe that’s because my focus isn’t the sex or the game but the moment. And they have to be present with me.