This entry is for the January 2016 Carnival of Aces: Relationship Stages.
(content note: brief mention of sexual harassment)
If there are any errors with proofreading or clunky sentences or anything I forgot to add in, it’s because I was in a hurry to post this before midnight.
This is a topic I almost didn’t write about, but decided to at the last minute. I used to think that committed relationships, romantic ones in particular, had a straightforward progression. Either a friendship built up and both people had romantic feelings for each other that progressed over time, or it was love at first sight.
I’m still not very sure whether I even experience romantic attraction at all, but I can say at least that I’m not a very romantic person, aromantic or not. This led me into a situation that doesn’t fit the expected relationship progression: One-sided relationships.
I’ve seen some people say one-sided relationships aren’t a problem if everyone involved agrees to it being one-sided, like if an aromantic person and alloromantic person are together and accept that the romantic attraction won’t be reciprocated.
However, back in college, I was in a romantic relationship I didn’t necessarily agree to. Whether it was romantic or not feels dubious, and whether it even counted as a committed relationship still feels dubious to me. Years ago, I knew I wasn’t interested in a romantic relationship, and felt repulsed by the idea with anyone, but one of my friends kept insisting that we were a couple, and his friends and family insisted it too. I cared for him as a person, but just didn’t feel that way towards anyone.
Other people I told about this told me it didn’t count because it was one-sided, but I couldn’t agree with that either. I understand why they said that, but it felt like they were ignoring what I had been going through, and I struggled with this feeling of being in “relationship limbo”. I couldn’t get a consensus from anyone, and I felt like I couldn’t trust my intuition.
He and I were never on the same wavelength about this “relationship”, through no fault of our own, but this issue led to a lot of arguments between us. I remember him saying that us becoming a couple happened gradually, when to me it felt so abrupt, since he one day declared I was his partner, when we hadn’t done anything noticeably different before, so I didn’t see any progression from a friendship to a romantic relationship, but he might have. Isn’t there supposed to be a clear transition from a friendship to a romantic relationship?
Apparently we were flirting at some point earlier on, but I didn’t recognize it? I thought sharing our interests was just sharing our interests without anything else being read into it. Was it because we saw each other outside of school for the first time, and went somewhere together that other people would consider a date? This frustrated me, and I couldn’t help but think why can’t two people just go somewhere together without anything sexual or romantic being read into it?
Or was I overthinking it, thinking that dates had to be serious events, and can’t be lighthearted like two friends hanging out can be? Was he right that dates don’t have to be serious, and not everything a couple does together has to be “serious”, but were us being seen outside of school together always considered going on a date?
I didn’t recognize anything he did or said, or anything I did or said as flirting, because what I recognized as flirting made me very uncomfortable. I’ve dealt with what I recognized as “flirting” back in high school and middle school by a few different classmates who wanted to date me, but their idea of trying to get me attracted to them were unwanted sexual remarks that only made me uncomfortable, and one of those classmates shamed me for not reciprocating. It took me years afterwards to realize that classmate’s advances were sexual harassment.
In my early years of college, I still had very flawed ideas of what a romantic relationship entails, which could’ve also complicated things. I remember telling him that I don’t think we’re a couple because I didn’t fall head over heels for him or anyone, and that I found the idea of being all “lovey dovey” with someone, wanting to kiss and cuddle them at nearly all times, obsessing over them, and making them the center of my life to be repulsive no matter how much I liked them as a person. He was right that a romantic relationship doesn’t have to be like that in hindsight, but his response frustrated me so much at the time, because it felt contradictory. I thought being in a romantic relationship inherently had the symptoms of a codependent relationship, but that unfortunately became a self-fulfilling prophecy later, especially near the end. It was the very thing I sought to fight against happening.
Early on in this “relationship”, I feared that it would inevitably escalate, following the “relationship escalator” model, even though I disagreed with the idea that a conventional romantic-sexual relationship is the most valid one or what all committed relationships should become, or will become over time. Yet I kept fearing that if I couldn’t stop it, and if he and his peers were correct that I’m not asexual, then it escalating to the top was inevitable.
I’m aware of the implication of that kind of statement “…if I couldn’t stop the brakes…”, which is the same kind of rhetoric in Purity Culture stating that unmarried men and women can’t be together without a chaperone, because it may lead to sex; the implication is that neither person has any agency and that sex is an unstoppable force. It’s weird that I didn’t grow up under Purity Culture, but still internalized that rhetoric to some extent, but was dealing with this all the while second-guessing myself and thinking I wasn’t asexual, which made it seem all the more inevitable that sex will happen unless I actively stop it.
Later, in 2014, our relationship became a lot more serious despite my rejection of sex, but this was the time frame we were the most committed to each other, yet also at our most strained, and yet at our most codependent. We both wanted to end it for months, but felt like we had to stay for one reason or another, but that was when it felt real, and felt fully mutual.
I still feel hesitant to write this, since this relationship has already ended, and both of us have changed a lot since then. It dragged on too long and hurt us both. I knew this would happen early on but felt powerless. I felt like I was lucky that I was able to stop it from escalating further on the “relationship escalator”, but that wasn’t enough.
What made me decide to write this is because whether a one-sided committed relationship of any kind counts as one or not, has been a burning question in my mind for a long time because of my experiences, and I’ve gotten conflicted answers. Same goes for a codependent relationship, because I don’t think I know what it’s like to feel a romantic relationship that isn’t affected by, or isn’t simply codependency.
Another burning question I’ve had, but haven’t been able to resolve is which came first: My lack of interest in romance and not having a clear idea of what it actually is leading to this relationship taking the turns, and falling apart the way it did, or these experiences came first and shaped my uncertain understanding of what romance is?