Monday, February 28, 2011

The Date...That Wasn't

This was originally intended as a possible Spectral Amoebas contribution...that's why it's so long. Also, I was paranoid that "Sam" would somehow see it...but hey, if he does, at least it will explain my actions a lot better than I ever did at the time.

Everyone else was doing it, so I joined an online dating site.
While I was browsing, I saw the profile of a man I would want to be friends with. We sent a few e-mails and decided to meet in person. It remained clear in my mind that I wanted to be friends with this man (let's call him Sam) rather than date him. Our first meeting was decidedly un-datelike, as we were meeting on a weekday afternoon in a place that was not at all romantic. I would see Sam three or four more times. I wondered if he thought we were going on dates, but quickly put it out of my mind. If these were dates, then why weren't we doing typical "date" things like dinner and a movie? If he thought we were dating, he would flirt with me, or try to touch me in some way, and I would do the same. Neither of us did. If we were dating, surely Sam would ask some question relating to romantic relationships. He never did, nor did I ever ask him.

Then one night, I went with Sam to a performance. While we were waiting for the show to start, suddenly Sam started complimenting me and looking into my eyes. It occurred to me that whatever he'd thought in the past, Sam was now considering this a date. But I didn't know how to handle the situation, so I kept my concerns to myself. Sam drove me home and asked if he could walk me to my door. I saw no reason for him to do so, but agreed. As we stood in front of my door, Sam said that he liked me a lot, and then something strange happened to his face. His eyes started shimmering. Actually, his whole face seemed a bit wavy, but maybe that was just my panic expressing itself as it quickly became obvious that Sam wanted to kiss me. How did I extricate myself? I'm not proud to say that I chirped, "I'M ASEXUAL! I DON'T DATE! SORRY!" before running upstairs, leaving Sam extremely confused.

This is an embarrassing story, one that I don't think portrays me in a very positive light. But I bring it up because I think it addresses some larger issues about consent. Consent is usually discussed in a sexual context, so it might seem trivial to mention it here. But sex doesn't occur in a vacuum, nor do our attitudes about consent. So I decided to probe my own psychology and figure out why I didn't assert myself sooner. As a lifelong feminist, you might think I'd be comfortable speaking up about these things, but such is not always the case. I like a good numbered list, so let me outline what I now realize was my reasoning. I hope it'll be somewhat obvious that all of these points can be extrapolated out to sexual encounters as well.

1. I thought that if I'd laid out my expectations earlier, Sam would have been angry or upset, or it would have made things more awkward. (Obviously, I hadn't taken the long view.) We all know about a seemingly good guy who's gone all Mr. Hyde when "rejected" by a woman. (I don't see friendship as "rejection", but I know some people do.) I didn't know Sam well enough to anticipate his response and I feared that uncertainty. Maybe he'd say, "Pffft, don't flatter yourself." That would've been bad...but not as bad as what ended up happening.

2. I didn't know how to say "no" without literally yelling "NO!" and running away. I didn't know how to question Sam without jeopardizing our friendship (which I ended up doing anyway). I didn't realize that if Sam was someone worthy of my time, I would have been able to speak honestly with him. While I'm now 26 years old, in "dating years" I'm around 12 or 13. I've only been on 2 dates (that I knew were dates) in my life. I didn't want to embarrass myself by displaying my lack of experience (which I ended up doing anyway).

3. A friend would later tell me that because I was on a dating site, my dating consent was implied. But of course, if you have to imply consent, then there's a definite chance that you don't have it at all. When Sam switched into date mode that night, I felt affronted. It seemed like he'd decided to take the evening in a certain direction without caring whether I wanted the same thing.

4. I wanted to like Sam "that way", even though I didn't. I wanted to be "normal", which luckily I have mostly gotten over by now. At the time, I didn't know why I'd only ever liked guys who ignored me. It made me feel pathetic. But on further thought, I realized that for me, it made sense. Guys who ignored me would never make me feel uncomfortable or pressure me into sexual situations. And this was more important to me than gaining their attention. Maybe it's a healthy defense, because I know I have so much trouble saying "no". Personally, I don't think I should attempt to date sexual people unless I can say "no" with confidence.

5. And here's where the autism comes in, although it was in the background all along. In familiar social situations, I can do decently, and probably not be differentiated from an eccentric neurotypical (NT). But in unfamiliar situations, my social skills fall apart. In those situations, I look to NTs for cues, and if no cues are forthcoming, then I'm much less likely to take action. Whether diagnosed or not, I'd wager that most people on the spectrum have been told over and over (explicitly or implicitly) that we're doing something "the wrong way". The implication always seemed to be that this was a terrible thing. My experience was no different, and so I tend not to trust my own judgment.

I suppose there are a lot of reasons why someone would be distrustful of their judgment. But for me, it seems like a sad casualty of the way that social norms are strictly enforced, especially in school settings. Lucky for me, my distrust of my judgment has led to so many awkward situations that it's something I'm sincerely working on now. I'm trying to identify "red flags" and avoid them, whether that means yelling "NO!" and sprinting away, or engaging in some calmer behavior. Now, if "the date that wasn't" started to happen again, would I be able to plunge through the awkwardness and make my feelings known? I'd like to think so, but in the moment, I get so nervous that I suppose anything could happen.


Eli said...

This is so great. I'll be 26 ina few months, and I too have been on only two or three dates-I-knew-were-dates in my life. My first kiss (in January of this year, we should have a dating-inexperience contest) the guy had to ANNOUNCE, "Eli, I'm going to kiss you now," because I just wasn't picking up on signals. And the actual kiss felt incredibly odd. I had a couple of sprint-away moments myself over the next few weeks of dating/kissing. But if I can turn it into a really good story like yours, it will have been worth it!

Ily said...

@Eli, I'm glad you liked the post! Telling someone you're going to kiss them...I don't think it's too strange. It could be really sweet, depending on how it's said. I might prefer it over someone just making faces at me (which, to be honest, sort of freak me out). Yay for dating inexperience! ;)

Anonymous said...

Now, this is very interesting.
Living in a small social circle, I only know friends and friends of friends, so it's not like I could easily find someone who'd like to date me and doesn't know I'm "weird like that". I'm not actually outed, people just think I'm a terrible prude, but since it has the same effect on casual suitors it's not that bothering.
However, once I start meeting new people, I'll be constantly wondering how to break the news to them without being awfully "in your face". I mean, if he starts to get all romantic on your porch it's too late and feelings will be hurt, but you can't start every conversation with "btw, I'm totally not into sex, nice meeting you."
Adding to your third point, I think most people usually assume a romantic subtext whenever a "boy meets girl" situation occurs. That's just like sexual society thinks. Still, I think it's quite rude to just "force" you into consent like that. Because of this, I'm terribly careful around guys ever since I reached a certain age - even though I would be totally okay with befriending them. It's just that I can feel the sexual subtext creeping in at every opportunity and it frustrates me.

Carolyn said...

I don't think you should be hard on yourself, or on this fellow either. I would consider myself experienced enough in dating and have still done very similar extremely akward things when trying to reject an advance. There was the time I said "maybe later" and then left the party, there was the time I snuck out while someone was sleeping and never talked to them again, there was time with the phone break-up, the time when someone tried to get me to sit on their lap and I jumped up like their lap was on fire, and of course the one where I did it extremely gracefully and told them their gift of a scuba snorkel seemed to imply we were more then friends and I wanted to keep our relationship platonic. There is just no right way to tell someone you're not into them, running away is just as good as any, I think. Dating, relationships, friends hanging out, basically all human interactions are constantly fraught with akwardness. Such is life.

Ily said...

@Miss Paramecium:

However, once I start meeting new people, I'll be constantly wondering how to break the news to them without being awfully "in your face". I mean, if he starts to get all romantic on your porch it's too late and feelings will be hurt, but you can't start every conversation with "btw, I'm totally not into sex, nice meeting you."

I meet new people (sometimes), but I can't say that I worry so much about this. No matter how awesome you are, not everyone is going to want to get with you romantically. And if it comes up a few times, you'll get better at handling it. I think there's definitely a middle ground between saying "I'm asexual!" too soon and waiting too long. But sometimes as asexuals, I feel like we may have no choice but to be a little "in your face", since asexuality is an option most people won't have considered. And sadly, sometimes hurting someone's feelings can't be helped.

Ily said...

@Carolyn: You're completely right, there is no right way to tell someone you're not into them (although I think you come pretty close with the snorkel story). I think it's so much better to just get the words out there, even if they're not perfect (because they probably never will be), but of course it's easier said than done.

Sciatrix said...

Oh, uh... actually I can relate to that, because I did pretty much the same thing the one and only time I've been asked out. Which was to be completely blindsided and panick because I had just thought, you know, I was talking to this guy as a friend and totally was not thinking about romance at all.

Learning how to politely say "no" and have that respected, without having to expect the person to react awkwardly or badly... well. That would be a really awesome thing to have.

Ily said...

@Sciatrix: I think it's probably happened to most people at one time or another. It almost happened to me a second time, but the guy asked, " you date?" and I was able to say, "You know what? Actually, no."

Anonymous said...

You're right. I guess I'm sounding way too dramatic sometimes.
And regarding the romance paranoia, I was mainly thinking about a certain guy (and the type he represents) in my class who's flirty by default, to anyone, and that causes me to be grumpy by default, and now we're some kind of running gag, as in, when will he get me to flirt back?
It's not all that dramatic, but I just know that, if I were sexual, I would probably handle it differently.
I'm not even talking about rejecting someone. It's more like, "it's okay, you can do this, but I will do that instead", and that is why no one really gets it, because I am responding in an alien language. Or something like that.

Whatever, live is awesome.

Woozle said...

I'm wondering if there is such a thing as a nondating/friendship site where individuals can choose what sorts of expressions-of-affection they are comfortable with (and under what circumstances) --
* kissing? (face? cheek? hand?)
* hugging?
* casual touching?
* nonsexual intimate touching (e.g. under the shirt but not in the pants)?
* holding hands? (in public, or just in private?)
...and so on. (Not to mention other questions like "are you looking for long-term companionship?" -- things that tend to be part of the dating package but aren't very well addressed outside of it.)

My first thought is that this would be truly awesome if there was such a thing, but I imagine the reality will turn out to be less ideal. (But still... if there is one, where is it?)

Ily said...

@ Miss Paramecium: That guy sounds kind of annoying. The whole point of flirting is that it's supposed to be fun and spontaneous, so if you're flirting under duress, doesn't it defeat the purpose?

@ Woozle: Not that I know of, although it could be a cool addition to some of the ace dating sites that already exist. It's something I'd have trouble filling out with no specific person in mind though, because it would all depend on how comfortable I was with the person. could always make a list yourself, and fill it out with people you're dating? I think that would be kind of fun, actually. There's a similar, extensive list on Scarleteen:

Some items are sexual; some aren't.

Southpaw said...

I can relate to this SO well. XD
The first time a (sexual) guy asked me out, I just panicked and made up some excuse about how I needed to focus on school & not dating- it was completely out of the blue- I was so unprepared!!

But I'm also ridiculously awkward with other asexuals. XD; Ah- it's so bad...I think I might be demi (pan)romantic because...I mean, I get crushes ("squishes") but I don't often want to DO anything about it. This girl who had a crush on me visited for the weekend and I really wanted to like her, but I was just....really awkward. She asked me out and I just- panicked. XD Except I was in a public place so I couldn't just run away so easily like you were able to. But anyway, yeah. Me an' dating....are really.....really awkward....

Ily said...

@Southpaw: Come to think of it...I don't think asexuals dating asexuals is inherently less awkward than asexuals dating non-aces. Because we still might have vastly different ideas of how quickly we'd want to jump into romantic stuff. And of course some of us can't live without cuddling/touching and others can't stand it, so that might have to be negotiated instead of sex.

In your situation it also seems like there was a lot of pressure-- here's someone who you know likes you, but you only have a very limited time to spend with them and to figure out your feelings. Personally I feel like pressure always leads to greater awkwardness.

Anonymous said...

Well. I'm 29 and I've only gone on 8 dates in my whole life. With 4 guys. All of whom I felt absolutely nothing for including the last guy who tried to pressure me into making out with him when I was clearly uncomfortable with doing so and when I had made it clear at the start that I was looking for someone who was interested in being friends first. There just doesn't seem to be an appropriate time to announce that you're really not interested in sex at all and just want to have a relationship without it but with the other romancey stuff. I think for the most part it wouldn't go over well.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like you're not caught up on the norms for dating sites. People who post on dating sites expect to date. If you meet someone on a dating website, it is fair to assume they are interested in finding someone to date.

It's common to go on non-date outings with somebody from a dating website before actually doing something that feels more like a date, just to see if you like them as a person before trying to date them. But when people meet on dating websites, it's usually understood that these more platonic activities are "warm-ups" to actual dates.

If you want to avoid awkward situations and/or hurting some guy's feelings, dating sites might not be a good fit. Have you thought of trying to find friends through an activity or something like that? Taking a class, forming a running group, or volunteering are great ways to find people who just want to be friends, and don't expect to date. Sometimes you can even find groups like this on sites like Craigslist. But if you keep going on dating websites, chances are that this will keep happening to you.

Ily said...

@2nd Anon: Hooyeah. I haven't been on a dating site in a few years, and don't plan on returning. Aside from Acebook :)