Mental Health and Brain-Scrambling Animal Magnetism
In novels you’ll see it sometimes, this phenomenon where romance appears like a shape-changing trickster. It’s a trope, often a prelude to a disastrous liaison; a character gets completely carried away by lust and mistakes uncontrollable desire for genuine emotional attraction. I use the word “genuine” here a little prudishly — there’s nothing ingenuine about lust, except for when it’s treated as interchangeable with love, and that’s a ground-level dilemma like insecurity or bed-hogging. On a broader social level, lust and love are not treated as equivalent but as inextricably linked, which contributes to people mistaking sheer desire for a developing bond.
Asexual people ought to be exempt from this kind of problem. Arguably, most of us understand that you can love someone passionately without feeling any sexual attraction to them. If I see an incredibly hot person, I register that they are hot, but I’m not going to swoon. Not because I’m too cool, but because I don’t have a Swoon Button.
Or, I do have a Swoon Button, but it’s in a place hotness can’t reach.
Here is my dilemma, and the inspiration for this article: I am ace, proudly fostering a total and lifelong disinterest in boinking, and I fear I may have fallen under the spell of another ace’s Brain-Scrambling Animal Magnetism.
So here’s my beef (speaking as a vegetarian) — I met this girl and she’s cool and smart and I like her a lot. I first met her several months before developing any interest, and only started feeling a bit scrambled after having more than two conversations with her. Despite not having been in a relationship for over two years and very much enjoying my personal freedom, I have now officially fantasized about co-habiting, like, twice. To the point where I’ve felt mild anxiety about the fact that I like my house and my housemates, and she likes her house and her housemates, so how would that even work? Would we move into our own place? How would we afford it? And what are the chances of our landlord letting us have a cat?
Let me explain why this kind of attraction is a problem. I don’t think this person is bad for me; as a matter of fact, she’s very supportive and friendly. But pedestals cause problems. Unreasonable expectations inevitably end in unreasonable feelings of disappointment, not because the person isn’t perfect, but because “perfect” is an unsustainable standard. We are all stinky, forgetful, and thoughtless sometimes, and it should be expected (within reason).
In the end it comes down to fairness. Your crush is owed the same expectations that you would place upon yourself, otherwise you’re setting them up to let you down. And that’s where I’m trying to rein myself in. This self-control is a potential issue for anyone who, like me, struggles with emotional dysregulation. Emotional dysregulation is what happens when your prefrontal cortex is a little lackadaisical and responds to perfectly normal situations with a flood of inappropriate chemicals. For some of us that means crying whenever we get angry or becoming instantly enraged when our jacket pocket gets caught on a doorknob. Sometimes it means meeting someone, feeling on that instinctive level that they are special, and instantly losing the ability to treat them like a normal human being.
There are plenty of resources out there designed to help people on their path of emotional development toward healthy adulthood, but most of these resources are designed for people whose emotional landscape a) includes lust and b) is neurotypical. And many of the media sources which we use to assemble the norms and expectations of relationships, such as film and TV, often fall short in their representation of healthy and responsible partnerships. For those of us who are queer beyond identifying as asexual, that’s additional baggage we have to unpack, and with less help. There’s a lot we have to learn the hard way.
I grew up in relationships where I was taught that if I really loved someone, I would crave them too, and if I didn’t, then either I was sick or failing to meet my sacred obligation to make my partner feel desired. Or both. I have met too many asexual people who have the same story. It took so many of us, too many of us, years to figure out that nobody has a right to our bodies but us, and that includes if and with whom we choose to share those bodies.
It is possible to treat people like that without the sexual facet. When we desire an emotional bond with someone we admire, it can be hard to accept that they don’t feel the same. But desire isn’t a license to guilt or push someone.
I don’t know if my crush is aro as well as ace, and I’m not going to assume either way. I’ve learned a lot about relationships since those disasters of my early twenties, and the most important thing I’ve learned is this: love is a bird. If you want it to come to you, you sit still and quiet, and leave out seeds that you know it will like. And if it wants to, it will come to you. And if it doesn’t, you leave it alone.
I guess I’m trying to give advice to my younger self, and to the partners of my younger self before I could put a language to the claim that there is nothing wrong with me. The more voices there are out there asserting that you can feel absolutely silly over someone without venturing beyond a PG rating, the easier it will be for the aces that come after us. That’s the goal, for me at least. I love a good snuggle, hand-holding, and there’s a place in my life for kissing. But it’s only going to happen when it happens. And if that bird flies away, good for it — freedom is the most elementary, and often the most needed, show of respect you can give someone special.