Friday, October 9, 2009

Another Country

As I've mentioned in the past, I have an obscure little learning disorder called Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NLD). Like all "disorders", it comprises a bunch of things I'm supposed to be bad and good at, not all of which apply to me. However one of the main facets of NLD is a difficulty understanding nonverbal communication, which people will gleefully tell you is 90% of all communication. I don't know if someone who does understand nonverbal cues can really understand what it's like to not understand them. The best analogy I can come up with is that I constantly feel like I'm in a different culture. It's very interesting, but can be tiring as well. When I was prepping to study abroad, everyone was telling me about how much culture shock I'd experience-- and I was only going to England, at that. However, I experienced no culture shock whatsoever that was attributable to English vs. American culture. It's not that I felt more comfortable in England than I did in America, but that I feel equally uncomfortable anywhere that nonverbal communication makes up 90% of communication.

I'm not saying this to make you think I'm really unusual or anything, just to point out that none of us are "just" our orientations, and we all have other traits and experiences that inform how we go about relationships. Hopefully among friends, we can be honest about the way we see the world without having people yell at us about what "causes" our orientations. Anyhoodle...

I've been trying to articulate this post for awhile, but was inspired to get 'er done by today's post from Shades of Gray. In that post, she talks about the issues surrounding initiating sexual activity when you're an asexual (or gray-asexual) in a relationship with a sexual person. Of course, I wouldn't know how to initiate sexual activity. But in my case, that's like worrying about calculus when you can't do arithmetic. What's baffled me ever since my friends started dating en masse was how people initiate romantic relationships. My wonderment about this seems to come from an unlimited wellspring. I could chalk it up to being asexual-- how the hell do you know who to date when you're not attracted to anyone-- but it seems like plenty of asexual people date. I could also chalk it up to NLD somehow-- but it doesn't follow that I can figure out how to make friends but not how to date people. I can sort of understand how online dating works, probably because in its early stages, it takes place in writing, my preferred mode of communication. I read a statistic somewhere that one in eight people who get married met their partner online. That's a pretty big number, but still, most people are finding love through more organic means. So the initiation of dating, as well as its importance in our culture, do feel like entries in a rulebook that I never got.

Maybe that's not a terrible thing. But, I've got to be honest, I'm not one of those "asexuals who could get sex if they wanted". I've always had some degree of interest in dating, but could never figure out a way to get it to work for me. While I've felt some degree of romantic attraction in the past, I haven't had a real crush (as opposed to a fake crush, thank you) in years, and my crushes never accompanied feelings that I wanted to be in relationships with those people. I seem to be getting more aromantic with age, if such a thing is possible. Other asexuals seem to "fall in love" with people, something I can't understand (unless we're talking about Felt's "Penelope Tree" or some such). Maybe I'm just trying to fit myself into a mold where I really don't fit. I'd think it would follow that my romantic feelings about Felt songs could translate to another person, but perhaps not. Maybe part of my lack of understanding stems from the fact that it's hard to understand couple relationships as one person sitting and thinking. Half of the energy of the hypothetical relationship (one would hope) would be brought by the other person. So maybe it's a futile thing to ponder as an individual. Andrea Dworkin would probably hit me over the head for saying such a thing-- to the plumbers of the depths of (a)sexuality, no line of inquiry is too pointless, no question too random, no train of thought too convoluted. Well, I promised articulation and didn't deliver it. But, I'd love to hear any experiences that people have, asexual or not, with initiating romantic relationships. Or is anyone else like me about this stuff?

19 comments:

.::STELLA*DELLA::. said...

I dont have a problem ever initiating it and im capable of being sexual in them, but I cant unless I know the person very well. And even then I may not ever do much. Most people think Im anti-sexual because I cringe at the lack of respect people have for their bodies. Anywho, most men find me attractive but, then again....it all fades once they see im not a guy that puts out so easily or may not ever. Many of them began to get shady and short with me and very mean and dont want to talk to me anymore after that.

Isaac said...

I think your issue is plainly for being aromantic, if you know how to start friendship but not how to start dating. Reconciling to one's aromanticism is something important, and you has probably been aromantic forever, but then you confused it whilst now you realize. I'm aromantic and it happened to me.

Sea said...

I, too, have no idea how to initiate romantic relationships, but it's not because I can't read nonverbal cues. I'm actually pretty okay with nonverbal communication; I just don't understand dating. It feels like being stuck in childhood. Everyone else figured out all this dating stuff, even sex stuff, in middle school and high school, while I was doing my homework. Left me far behind. When I had some friend drama that had a dash of romance involved, it felt like I was going through the high school experiences I never had. And that was probably the truth. So I suppose my lack of understanding is probably due to lack of experience.

Ily said...

Well, I don't see how I can be aromantic if I DO experience romantic attraction to people, albeit rarely. Good try though, Isaac. :-) The whole aromantic/romantic divide has never made much sense to me, honestly.

Ily said...

(I spent most of my time in high school doing homework also...sigh)

paz-kid said...

I've only learned the basics of dating and starting relationships through hearsay from other people and pop culture (namely movies, books and manga), sadly enough. But I do understand a bit of the fundamentals. It took me forever to figure out what people considered flirting though, and then how people asked others out, and then how it rolled out from there. I also wasn't interested in it as a kid/early teen (homework in HS ftw), so I was clueless as I got older. It doesn't confuse me though, once I sort of soaked in what it is; it's just pretty much courting and getting to know one another better, to me. Romance, on the other hand, completely boggles me. I don't understand the concept, how it happens or why. I'm a "romantic" asexual so i have romantic/emotional bonds, but I'm certainly not a romantic in any other sense of the word. That entire concept of romance is lost on me, apparently.

Isaac said...

If your crushes don’t imply seeking a romantic relationship, they are squishes (I know that you hate the word) and hence you aromantic. I think that we should develop a terminology for the romantic side as fine as for the sexual side. How do you define romantic attraction? And romantic drive? Might you be an aromantic (or hiporomantic) with a romantic drive. If all these questions make sense in the sexual side, why not in the romantic side? Breaking the dichotomy between romantics and aromantics must pass thru these distinctions, in my opinion. And you may take advantage of the aromantic toolbox for dealing with your aromantic side.

Carolyn said...

I'm kind of curious about this statistic of words being 10% of communication, the way I'm reading what you're saying is that in a conversation there is somehow a statistic to how a message is being relayed and only 10% of that message is through words. That sounds silly to me, although maybe that statistic can't be applied to a conversation, but then how else would they have tested it?

Anyway, I thought it was the subject of many sad songs (and therefore a cornerstone of our collective beliefs) that romance is a great mystery. Many people who have fallen in love still swear this bizarre miracle will never happen to them again, so I agree there is little hope for understanding while sitting around pondering it. Even as our society gets more and more scientific about dating(through online dating and hiring matchmakers) we still haven't figured out how romance works, it's only more effiecient ways to bump into possibly compatible people in hopes that magic connections will happen. As for a a personal acecdote, I'm in a relationship (sexual one) but look around every day and wonder how I got here.

Ily said...

Isaac, sigh...I REALLY don't appreciate being told "what I am", especially when the definitions of things like "romantic" and "aromantic" vary from person to person. Honestly, it makes me very uncomfortable that you would insist on me calling myself aromantic, when I have spent so much time telling people that I identify as asexual and that is it. No, that's not going to change-- I have no desire to break down my asexuality into further, more ethereal bits. While I appreciate your breaking the asexual taboo of not telling other people how to identify themselves, and I think you mean well, I also think that it is taboo for a reason-- these concepts and words aren't written-in-stone facts, they are subjective experiences. If you can relate to what I'm saying, great. But that doesn't mean my experiences, my interpretations of them, or the words I use to describe them will be identical to yours. I hope this makes some sense-- I agree with you that romantic attraction is extremely hard to define. All we have are self-definitions, which makes me confused as to why you're insisting on this. Anyway...

I only realized what flirting was pretty recently, too. Apparently, you can flirt with people in a nonsexual way, which only makes it more confusing. But I feel like most people don't understand flirting that well, or else it would be more welcome and not devolve into corny pickup lines and stuff.

I don't know where the 10% statistic comes from, although people have mentioned it to me throughout my life. It's not true for me, because when I talk to someone, I'm mostly paying attention to the words I say. But I don't know to what extent people focus on the nonverbal things I do that aren't as thought out. I think your (Carolyn's) comment on the mystery of love relates to what Isaac was saying, that no has really had any success defining romantic attraction. I guess I've never thought about romance as a great mystery, since we're so inundated with the idea of it all the time. But I could buy that concept. When I think about romantic feelings that I've had, they don't make sense at all. It's funny that our culture holds such mysterious things to be so important. God immediately comes to mind as another example of this. In some way, the mystery is a beautiful thing, but it can also be a sort of setup for frustration. Food for thought!

Isaac said...

Sorry, Ily, I think I was waving the flag of aromantics and claiming our space further than the extreme stereotypes. If you look at my Apositive introduction, you may find that I’m in the converse case of yours: I’m aromantic for sure, but my asexuality could depend on the definition. But I’m interested in knowing where in the spectrum I fall and I appreciate experienced people’s opinions. I usually break this taboo in Spanish language forum, with references where the AVENite could feel identified.

Noway I mean that all the aromantics asexuals fit the same model. Precisely I claim our space for this. If instability of definitions were a reason for not getting labels, nobody should identify as asexual. And I think that identifying as aromantic is as useful as identifying as asexual. The contrast is not romantic vs. aromantic, but hetroromanic, homoromantic, biromantic, panromantic, aromantic and so on. And, for personal history reasons, I appreciate too much the distinction of sexual and romantic orientation of the asexual community.

Ily said...

Thanks for the explanation. It's interesting that you find romantic orientations so useful to you whereas I don't find them very useful.
I agree that personal history greatly influences which labels help us best.

What would you call the experience of romance described here:

http://theonepercentclub.blogspot.com/2008/12/dancing-in-dark.html

Autoromantic?

Isaac said...

A question that always arise when parallelism sexual/romantic is considered is the romantic analogous of masturbation. Is this what it's described in your link? I'm too tired to read it carefully enough.

Lanafactrix said...

Uh well . . . I'm sexual* and I have NO idea how to date and all that. So I don't think it's you!

*The description doesn't bother me, but it seems less and less apropos the longer I'm single!

Ily said...

Lanafactrix, yeah, "sexual" isn't a perfect term, although I would like to think "your membership in the heterosexual club will not expire due to lack of use". Mine did, but, well, I guess I wasn't heterosexual to begin with. :-) I sort of see dating and the relationships that come from dating to be two different things-- you can easily have one without the other. I think dating does confuse a lot of people; I think it's good that dating is less rule-bound but that doesn't make it any easier.

Isaac, it's funny how you say "a question that always arises"...because how many times has anyone really asked that question? Well, I guess I can't speak for the non-English boards...I don't think sex and romance can be laid one on top of the other and perfectly match up. Maybe romance can have some terms that sexuality lacks, and vice versa.

gatto said...

I figure the "90% of communication is nonverbal" is just one of those aphorisms like "a picture is worth a thousand words". Probably most people don't give much thought to it, but I don't see how such a claim could be tested or verified; I can't imagine what kind of data you could get. Certainly, a lot of communication is nonverbal, but the type of information that is communicated verbally and nonverbally are not the same kinds of information.

Personally, nonverbal communication is great for interacting with my cats. They can't talk, and I'm not sure they understand much English. However, they seem to be pretty easy to understand. They don't lie, they don't dissemble. We understand each other pretty well.

Humans have language, though, and when it comes to dealing with them, I prefer words. Writing is really ideal, at least for literate people.

When I have to speak, I can pay attention to my voice or my words, but I'm not very good at doing both at the same time. It doesn't really bother me when I'm dealing with people I know well, but I don't particularly like talking to strangers. But writing for various strangers on the internet is easy.

Isaac said...

At least it arose in this AVEN thread, but it's hard to find more.

Siggy said...

As usual, I'm late to the comments...

I feel the same way as you, I can't figure out how to initiate a relationship. A month ago, I declared on AVEN that I wanted to try dating, but it doesn't look like it will happen any time soon. I can't even get past the first step: pick a person. Obviously, my instinct isn't going to help me pick anyone, so I was wondering if I could somehow "engineer" it. But that takes so much more initiative than I have.

But unlike you, I do consider myself aromantic, in the sense that I don't ever experience romantic attraction. I find the concept to be extremely useful for me. For one thing, if I ever hope to explain asexuality to people, I need to talk about romantic orientation, lest I make out all asexuals to be aromantic.

For another, I find it useful to parallel it with sexual orientation. I did not choose to be aromantic. It is probably stable. It is neither intrinsically good nor bad. My behavior need not match my orientation. However, there are difficulties which will occur if I try behaviors which are counter to my orientation, ie I can't get past the first step of initiating a relationship.

I'd like to think that these difficulties would completely disappear if I started getting romantic attraction to people, but from what you say, it doesn't necessarily help, does it? If the romantic attraction is too infrequent, chances are it it will never be on someone who is actually a good match.

Ily said...

Better late than never, for sure! I can totally relate to your trouble with "picking a person". Even if I was heterosexual, it wouldn't be easy-- I'd have to be out there constantly meeting new people in order to find someone suitable to date--I can count the straight, single men that I know on one hand and not even use up all my fingers. So I think the initiative definitely needs to be present no matter what your orientation. Maybe the difference is that to a lot of asexuals, the work isn't worth it.

Tomatl said...

"the work isn't worth it" That pretty much sums it up! well said. (or in my case in lesboland, the drama just isn't worth it.)

Also, totally unrelated, I'm curious why you hate the term "squish"? I mean it sounds just as vague and silly as crush.

And am I the only one dying to know what happens next with Gerald on Shortland Street? This month of waiting for updates seems so long!