"You coming back to me is against the odds, and that's what I've got to face."(Note before we get rolling: I'm using the term "marriage" a lot in this post, but for my purposes here, it could refer to any romantic relationship where you're no longer single. A lot of people aren't too keen on marriage these days, but that doesn't mean that the tyranny of coupledom has dissipated much. Anyway...) I can't begin to count the amount of times I've read or heard a romantically frustrated asexual be told:
--Phil Collins...hee, hee
--Phil Collins...hee, hee
"There are asexual couples who've gotten married! Don't give up hope!"
I briefly touched on this topic in this long-ago post, but I'm hoping to take the idea a little further now. That yes, asexuals marry is not an incorrect answer. There are, indeed, asexual couples who've gotten married, although you can count the number that we know of on your hands. There are also, of course, asexuals in "mixed" relationships and asexuals in romantic relationships that aren't marriage. But is this answer a productive one? Does it really make the person feel any better? Maybe in the short term. But in the long term, I think that the prevalence of this response takes our focus away from unique matters that the asexual community could be pursuing. Personally, when I get told that others have found "the one", so "don't give up!", it just makes me think, "Well, I can't find a partner, so what's wrong with me?" People tend to not blame systems, but blame themselves.
There's this insidious assumption, possibly an American one, that if it's humanly possible for something to be accomplished, then you can do it, too. These are usually the "bootstraps" stories-- if one poor kids can get out of the ghetto and become a CEO, then you can, too. Of course, these stories ignore the panoply of social factors and issues that affect people. That said, this "bootstraps" type of assumption often plays out when people talk about relationships. The problem with "bootstraps" is that if ours malfunction, we feel worse than we did before. Yes, it's possible for asexuals to marry. But holding up romantic relationships as objects of eternal hope (to everyone but especially to asexuals) puts us in a place where it's too easy to feel like we're inadequate if we can't achieve what others have done.
In our culture, there is always hope that a single person will marry, regardless of the situation. "Don't worry, you'll find someone." But will we? Asking that question can feel like staring into a cultural abyss. If I was "holding out hope" for doing anything else that has the same odds of two asexuals marrying, I'd be called crazy. But when it comes to romance, it seems, no odds are too small. Most of our entertainments and forms of media support this idea, or rather, sell it with an intensity that is almost nonsensical. Maybe other single asexuals feel more confident about their romantic prospects than I do, but that doesn't change the fact that a lot of us are likely to stay single...if we're holding out for true love, that is. And let's not leave our aromantic brethren (of all orientations) out of this, either. Going back to our old friend The New Single Woman, E. Kay Trimberger writes:
Feminists in the vanguard of changing norms in the 1970s did not connect their commitment to finding idealized love--their belief that they did not have to settle-- to an increase in the probability that they would remain single. Today, young women may be just as unaware of the connection. But any attachment to this cultural ideal also means that women who are well into midlife may continue to search for a soulmate, with harmful results, I believe, for their well-being. Psychologist Karen Lewis, who is single, articulates some of the personal costs of a culture that values the couple above all other intimate connections: "At no point do single women know for sure that they will never marry. The ambiguity always leaves room for hope: Maybe the right man will come along during the next week or next month, on the next vacation, at the next business meeting, during the next walk with the dog. And as long as there is hope, there is the pain of ambiguity." (16-17, emphasis mine)
I know that single women deal with this; I would imagine that men might deal with something similar, although I can't speak for the guys on this one. The solution, to Trimberger (and to me) is to allow people to "envision or find support for a long-term single life" (4) and to "develop...an alternative vision" (17) to the eternal soulmate quest. And these alternative visions, to me, are something that the asexual community could really help to develop. I've always thought that as asexuals, we could use our differences for the greater good. Of course, some asexuals will marry, but I think it behooves everyone in our society to have more choices than either to be married or to be always seeking a mate. The asexual community, full of people who might remain single for long periods of time, is the perfect group to take on that project. As it is now, if you imply that another person will remain single for any length of time, it sounds like you're cursing them with a fate worse than death. I think that mindset is something we need to change.