This topic is something I’ve been thinking about a lot. It was partially sparked by conversations I heard older ladies having at work. It’s also something I catch myself thinking of somewhere in my brain every time I hear my friends mourning or lamenting romance in a way that I don’t often feel. Do you ever have those days where you think “Why and how is my outlook on [insert issue here] so drastically different from most people around me? Has it always been? Am I the weird one, or are they?” That’s how I feel about romance and human contact.
To start things off and contextualize where my frame of reference lies, let me lay out my identity for you a little bit. No, this isn’t me coming out. No, I’ve never come out, mostly because I’m privileged enough that I’ve never felt the need to do so in order to live and love happily and freely. I’m primarily including this part because I get asked about it (often flat out) a lot. I’ve been told that my identity is hard to read by looking at me (which is accidental but something I adore) and I think we all know that some humans don’t like it when they can’t immediately box someone in order to understand them better. I’m also including it because I think it frames where my “weird” ideas about love, dating, and relationships come from (even if I don’t feel it explains why I’m viewed as “weird”).
I’m unequivocally female, both in my gender and my sex. That being said, I’m often mistaken for male. I’d say I’m mis-gendered, at least online if not in real life, about once a week. This has never bothered me and, because a lot of the mis-gendering happens when I’m in drag around drunk people who aren’t in the mood for listening or by Internet users I don’t know personally, I don’t always correct people. I actually quite enjoy being understood as slightly androgynous-looking because I’ve never felt that society’s stereotypical understandings of the “ideal female” represent me, my body, my style, or my personality.
My sexuality is slightly more complicated. Outwardly and publicly, I simply identify as straight. Some of my friends like to modify this to “mostly straight”. Based on my looks, however, strangers often make the assumption that I’m a lesbian because people like to make really strange links between my sexuality and my haircut. Once again, I don’t always correct people. In reality, I am only mostly straight, but straight nonetheless. I have only ever had romantic and sexual relationships with men, and when it comes to physical sex, I prefer biologically male individuals. When it comes to romantic feelings and attraction, however, I like everyone. I’m not opposed to relationships of a romantic or sexual nature with non-straight non-males… it’s just never happened. I don’t care if you’re male, female, both, neither, non-binary, gender non-conforming, or whatever else. If I think you’re cute, I think you’re cute. Technically, I guess this would perhaps classify me as being queer or maybe pansexual, but I know so many people with so many varying definitions of these words that I’ve never felt comfortable claiming one of them as my own. A friend once described me as hetero-queer in order to communicate how I’m primarily heterosexual but how I “do” queer or live my life as though queering the norm (whether this is a norm of gender, sexuality, or simply life-wide stereotypes) is something you can do rather than be. I do believe that “queer” can be used as a verb.
The reason I don’t always clarify when someone mis-genders me or wrongly assumes my sexuality is partially because I’m not picky about how I’m interpreted. I’m comfortable as I am, so it doesn’t matter to me how others view me. It’s not that I want to appear as though I’m a part of a community that isn’t “mine” for inclusion’s sake, and I acknowledge that it’s a point of privilege for me to be “passable” enough that I’m basically accepted into any camp I stand in (though this fluidity also often results in me not being accepted into any of the camps, leaving me standing on my own in a weird grey area). Mostly, I’m careful about when I correct people because I spend most of my time in GLBTQIA spaces where almost everyone I’m with identifies as non-heteronormative in some way. To me, it seems disrespectful to make the style choices I do, engage in the hobbies I do, and move within the spaces and circles I do, and then loudly shout that I am cis-straight in the middle of those spaces, protesting people’s misinterpretations about me as though there’s something wrong with being viewed as anything other than cis-straight. I don’t feel the need to wave my flag and I don’t think it would be right to do so in most contexts I’m misinterpreted within.
Spark’s Notes: I’m not picky and I don’t really care what people think I am.
Moving on. My gender and sexuality aren’t really what I want to talk about here. I want to talk about the romanticization of the very idea of romance.
I’ve never understood society’s obsessive glorification of romantic (especially monogamous) relationships. Maybe it’s especially because I’m understood as a primarily-straight woman, but I feel like I’m constantly bombarded with the idea that a relationship (with a man) is the number one thing I should be concentrating on and working towards. Maybe it’s my age; I just turned 27. Romantic relationships are literally constructed as the number one way of fulfilling oneself, the number one thing I should be prioritizing, and one of the very top landmarks of “success”. My happiness is questioned by people around me when I talk about not being in a relationship, even though I’m a happy-go-lucky person (unless you’ve said something oppressive that’s set me on an angry feminist rant, of course). I’m treated like a bullshitter when I say that (maybe just for right now or perhaps always) I’m actually happier not being in a relationship. People don’t believe me when I say that I feel totally fulfilled by other things and other people in my life.
IS EVERYONE INSANE? Or is it just me? Are y’all actually telling me I’m supposed to put all of my happiness and fulfillment into one person, especially some poor probably-straight dude who might not even understand my hobbies or comprehend my outlooks and the things I like to do? That seems so unfair to everyone involved.
When I say this, however, people look at me like I’ve lost my marbles. They read into my words as though I’m saying that I hate men and would rather be alone forever than touch one, or they jump to the conclusion that I’m secretly gay and just closeted (do you really think I’d spend every day of my life with drag queens and not come out if the inclination existed?). Ex-boyfriends or lovers who didn’t quite make it to boyfriend status have treated me like I’m a broken, cold hearted bitch who probably got really hurt somewhere along the way and has just chosen to take my poor dating history out on them.
That’s not the case. Most of my relationships have been fine. I find, however, that I don’t enjoy the idea of prioritizing a single person above all other things and people I love in life and, according to what some people believe, myself as well. Does this make me selfish? Maybe, but if so, then I’d rather be selfish. I work hard to be a strong person. I work hard for independence. I work hard to live fully and experience the things I’m passionate about. Traditional dating structures threaten my ability to do that because I cannot often find a person (particularly a straight man) who shares my outlook and also prefers to concentrate on the other things that fulfill him outside of our relationship (providing he even has any).
I get fulfillment from the things I like to do. I feel fulfilled by my jobs and I feel fulfilled by my artistic endeavours. I work hard at them and I have some level of success, which I deserve. Why is that weird?
I get fulfillment and love from my friends, family, and chosen family. I feel special when people who are not romantic contacts do nice things for me. I’m content when people who mean the world to me, but who I’m not in romantic relationships with, make time for me. I feel loved when people I care about in any capacity take the time to get to know me, remember little details about my life, or learn enough about my personality to be in tune with my feelings. I don’t see the need for a romantic connection in order to feel fulfilled by other people. Why is that weird?
Often when I have this conversation with people, they steer it towards the concept of physical contact, which is one of the many umbrella terms I’ve heard people use to try and discuss sex in a public forum, particularly with someone whose preferences or romantic values they don’t understand. First off, “physical contact” and “sex” are not the same and should not be conflated. I have a very small personal bubble when it comes to strangers. If I don’t know you, I do not want to be touched. If you touch me anyways, I get mean. Once we’ve formed a friendship, however, and I mean even a brand new one, then I actually prefer to touch people. I find it comforting and I feel it builds a better personal connection. If you want to be my close friend but we can’t touch each other in any way, how are we supposed to get to know one another beyond surface politeness? I’m a military brat, so I make friends hard and fast and I gauge whether I feel comfortable around someone very quickly. When you move every ten months or so, you have to be like that or you don’t make any friends that posting!
So, I’m a touchy friend, but I do not make physical contact with my friends because I want to have sex with them. In fact, because of my discomfort touching strangers, I’m a lot more likely to recoil and physically avoid you if I want to have sex with you. I’m not a very sexual person. I don’t have a big sexual appetite and I usually have some kind of health thing going on that makes sex uncomfortable (have you ever tried to have sex with a nausea-inducing migraine? It’s horrendous). I know that sex often just generally makes me uncomfortable because I did my field research for years. No, I don’t need sex therapy. No, it’s not a sad reality. No, I don’t just need a good lay. I’m not broken or scarred. It’s not that I don’t have enough experience or that I’ve just had the misfortune of getting stuck with really terrible lovers. I’m actually super sex-positive. I’ve been around the block twice and then turned around and come back the other way, and it turns out sex just isn’t always my thing. Sometimes I want it, but a lot of the time I don’t. Even if I’m insanely attracted to you or completely and utterly in love with you, I still probably don’t want to have sex as often as you’d like. Yes, I’ve experienced love. Yes, I’ve experienced good sex. No, I’m not asexual, and I know that firmly. I’m just not a very sexual person. Why is that weird?
When I talk about my lack of sexual voracity, people treat me like I’m deprived. They assume that I’m lacking in the human contact department, like a puppy that got kicked or a child whose mom never hugged me. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. I’m still physical even if I’m not always very sexual. I get happiness and physical comfort from platonically holding hands with, kissing, and hugging people who are my friends. I will cuddle you to until you’re roasting hot and ready to fight me off if you want me to. I’m that weird friend who has no problem letting people crash at my place, but will probably invite you to hop into my bed because I live in an apartment the size of a closet and am very comfortable sleeping (read: actually sleeping) with my friends. Why is that weird?
Because people find it all so weird, I don’t necessarily initiate physical contact with all of my friends. I know not everyone feels the same way as me about platonic touching. Some people I know feel vehemently that things like kissing and hand holding should be reserved solely for romantic significant others. Some people think that me snuggling up to them automatically means I want to fuck them. This is especially problematic if the person is a dear friend but someone I really, really don’t want to fuck, and they decide they’re open to the idea because they misread my touch. My gut reaction to greeting a friend that I love platonically is often to squeeze the hell out of them and plant a big kiss on their cheek, but I usually restrain that urge because people think it’s really weird.
I think society has built far too intense a connection between physical contact and stereotypical romantic love. Touch should come from any source of love, whether it’s romantic or based in friendship. As long as it’s consensual, I don’t see the problem with hugging, kissing, or holding the people you care about, regardless of how you care about them. Continually reinforcing the idea that the only type of touch we should enjoy or be fulfilled by is a sexual or “romantic” touch also reinforces the idea that we all need to strive for those stereotypically romantic relationships that often take over one’s self-identity, spare time, or other important human connections. I detest the idea that normative romance should be my biggest goal. I detest the idea that I cannot possibly be happy without a romantic relationship. I detest that idea that I can’t possibly feel physically fulfilled or loved if my relationships are solely friendships and not “dating” scenarios.
I do not need to have romantic relationship in order to feel physically, emotionally, or spiritually whole. I do not need to be dating or having sex with someone to feel close to them. We shouldn’t have to avoid warm embraces and each other’s comfort simply because normative ideals told us touching is only for boyfriends and girlfriends. I don’t like being told that my interpersonal values or the way I relate to people are weird simply because they don’t adhere to a particular guideline. I’m not opposed to romantic dating, but the next time I do it, I’d like it to be with someone who also has their own external goals and their own ways of fulfilling themselves without me. No one deserves the life sentence of being made responsible for my whole happiness. Humans shouldn’t have to live touch-less unless they can find someone who’s willing to sacrifice important aspects of their own identity and engage in weird, all-consuming, normative “love” rituals with them.
My “soulmate” is not some man who wants to date me in a stereotypical movie way. My soulmates are the friends I’ve found through the things I love doing (and my mom. I’m fully that mama’s girl). They fulfill me enough for now, and if “for now” turns into forever, then why is that weird? I’d be one lucky girl to have people, passions, and things in my life that fulfill me as much as a sexual romantic relationship fulfills the protagonist at the end of a cheesy chick flick. Finding romance is simply not my priority. I am my own priority. Why is that weird?