This is a response to Ace Admiral’s post on the issue of relationship commitment in the lives of asexuals, which I found via The Asexual Agenda’s linkspam. I think commitment in personal relationships, no matter what kind they are, is a very important subject in the asexual community and one that has not been discussed in a satisfactory way yet. So I’m going to add my two cents.
First, a disclaimer: I’m only personally concerned with seriously thinking about commitment in relationships between two asexuals, regardless of their romantic orientations and the nature of their relationship (traditional romance, friendship, romantic friendship, passionate friendship, queerplatonic relationship, etc).
Re: My Total Disbelief in Getting Commitment from Sexual People
Ace Admiral stated in their post that commitment is the one thing they haven’t been able to find in their personal relationships, which sound to be nonromantic as well as nonsexual. I have to assume most or all of Admiral’s friends are romantic-sexual people, simply because 99% of the human species is comprised of romantic-sexual people. Based on that assumption, it doesn’t surprise me for a nanosecond that commitment has been elusive in Admiral’s relationships so far. Frankly, it blows me away that any celibate asexual, romantic or aromantic, could expect commitment to happen in relationships with sexual people.
If you’re a celibate asexual looking for a primary nonsexual relationship, whether it’s romantic or nonromantic, the odds of you forming that kind of bond with someone who is a romantic-sexual person, particularly one who’s a relationship traditionalist, are as close to zero as possible. If you’re a romantic asexual who wants to live a celibate life and who has established a standard of celibacy in your romantic relationships, long-term commitment (i.e. 5+ years) with a sexual person is basically impossible because of the sex issue alone. If you’re an aromantic asexual or a romantic asexual who’s looking for a queerplatonic partner or some other kind of nonromantic primary partner, not only is the no sex thing a killer but now you have to convince the sexual person who is most likely also romantic, to engage with you in ways that are unconventional for a “friendship” and to also see that relationship as a candidate for formal commitment of some kind—which directly contradicts everything that romantic-sexual society teaches about relationships.
The reason why it’s so damn hard for an ace to find “commitment,” whatever that means per individual, with the average sexual person is because the way that sexual person perceives “commitment” in human relationships doesn’t even take nonromantic, let alone nonsexual, relationships into account as commitment-worthy connection. If you’re “just a friend,” then they don’t see what there is to commit to. “Commitment,” in romantic-sexual society, is a hallmark of traditional romantic-sexual couple relationships. Commitment means permanent cohabitation, it means legal marriage, it means raising children together, it means if one person in the relationship gets a job in another state then the other person has to go with them or the relationship is over, it means taking responsibility for a partner’s well-being if said partner gets sick or loses their job or whatever. All of that stuff, in the minds of romantic-sexual people, belongs exclusively to romantic-sexual relationships because those are the only relationships that can even be considered or pursued as primary life partnerships.
That’s what you’re coming up against when you’re a celibate ace looking for something more serious than common friendship with a romantic-sexual person. Sex is the most immediate and obvious barrier, but it’s not the only barrier. The relationship mindset that sexual people have, which is deeply, deeply embedded in them and their culture and their society’s dialogue about relationships (and even the WORD they exclusively reserve for romantic-sexual relationships!), is a hell of a lot more difficult to overcome. You can’t even have the conversation about commitment in a nonromantic and/or nonsexual relationship with one of them, if they don’t understand or accept on a basic level that commitment can exist in a nonsexual and/or nonromantic relationship.
Do I believe that a good chunk of the sexual population would benefit if they could form primary, long-term partnerships with nonsexual and/or nonromantic companions? Yes, I do.
Do I believe that a good chunk of them would find a deeper and more stable happiness in a lifestyle where nonsexual love is central and where they can build families on nonsexual/nonromantic love and relationships? Yes, I believe that.
Do I believe that these very same romantic-sexual people who have never before in their lives imagined that relationships such as romantic friendship or passionate friendship or queerplatonic relationships can exist, would benefit emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically from having those relationships? Yes. I think they would, and I think it would shock them just how beneficial those relationships would prove to be.
But whether they would benefit or not is irrelevant. Their culture, their society, their attitudes and outlook about relationships don’t allow them (or us, with them) to live life that way or have those kinds of nonsexual and/or nonromantic relationships in a consistent, stable, widespread fashion. And if they want to have a culture and society that does give them the freedom and opportunity and access to those nonsexual and/or nonromantic relationships, they’re the ones who have to change the way they think and what they believe.
It’s on them to change their own culture. I’m not holding my breath, waiting for them to do it.
But if it can be done, sexual people have to take the initiative to put that massive change into motion. They have to start deciding, one by one, that they’re going to think and act and form relationships differently than how they’ve been conditioned. That change in perspective is entirely internal—which means we, their asexual and aromantic would-be partners and committed friends—can’t make it happen. We can introduce the ideas of these nonsexual and/or nonromantic relationships to them, we can introduce the idea of choosing a nonsexual and/or nonromantic relationship as the committed partnership (or one of them) in life, but that’s about it.
Agree with me or disagree with me, about romantic-sexual people’s capacity for committed nonsexual love. That’s my piece, and I stand by it.
Asexual & Aromantic Commitments
I can tell you that for me, commitment is highly important in all of my emotional relationships. All of them. My kind of relationship anarchy, the way I’m emotionally wired, entails loving every person I love in a very deep, intense way, and because I truly don’t differentiate between “romantic” and “nonromantic” love or feel the need to draw behavioral differences between “romantic” relationships vs. “friendships,” there’s no particular kind of relationship in which commitment is more important to me than other kinds. If I love someone, I want commitment with them, and there’s not a cap on the number of people I can love at a time and be committed to.
Which is one of the many, many reasons that I’ll only consider other celibate asexuals and aromantics potential passionate friends, romantic friends, and queerplatonic partners. Commitment is important to me, to the point that if my chances of getting it from someone are 5%, I’m not going to bother emotionally investing in that person. I’ve just explained why I think getting a romantic-sexual person to commit to anything other than a traditional romantic-sexual relationship is next to impossible, so it logically follows that I look to my own people for love.
Ace Admiral mentioned that their heart’s true desire is for a group of 4-6 intimate relationships, then added they’re afraid that’s impossible and have lowered their expectation to just one. I can relate to this because my ultimate ideal is to have a relationship anarchist family consisting of an unknown number of passionate friendships, romantic friendships, and queerplatonic relationships. Call me an absurd optimist too stubborn for my own good, but I’m unwilling to give up on my desire. I’m also generally not worried about it. I acknowledge it might not happen, but I believe anything is possible, including what I want. You can’t take back a desire anyway, so you might as well surrender to the ones you’ve got.
**For those of us who are polyamorous and/or RA, remember this: you make a commitment to an individual, not a group. Even if your partners are involved with each other in addition to you, you have to treat each relationship as an its own organism. If you got 4 major relationships, three of them are going well, and one of them isn’t—you have to deal with the one that’s not doing so hot as a stand-alone relationship, not as a piece of a group relationship. You may have commitments with all four people at the same time and they may be committed to you and to each other, but any one of those individual commitments can dissolve, regardless of how the rest are faring.
I want two partners who I live with the rest of my life, ideally in two separate residences, so in those relationships, cohabitation would be a part of the commitment and the biggest indicator of commitment.
But otherwise, commitment in my relationships is basically just another word for loyalty. It means that we—my friend and I—are going to love each other and invest in the relationship and give each other attention consistently over a long period of time, ideally for the rest of our lives. It means we’re going to do whatever we can to keep our relationship alive and to meet each other’s needs and desires in the relationship, because we love each other. It means that our relationship is something we protect and support, regardless of anything or anyone else in our lives.
I guess in a nonsexual relationship that isn’t “monogamous” in any way and that doesn’t involve exclusive or long-term cohabitation, what you’re committing to is creating and maintaining quality in the relationship itself and ensuring the survival of that relationship. But if your relationship isn’t “monogamous” or if it isn’t on the Relationship Escalator, then it might feel weird or difficult to pin down how to express your commitment because the typical markers of it—all that stuff your average romantic-sexual monogamous couple does—aren’t relevant.
So what does commitment look like, for a nonsexual and/or nonromantic relationship—especially if it’s nonmonogamous? If I have a romantic friendship, passionate friendship, or a queerplatonic relationship with someone who I’m not living with and we’re committed to each other, that means that we do whatever we have to do to both stay in relationship with each other and to make each other feel loved and valued and important.
So we spend time together whenever we can, just the two of us. We protect that time. We schedule it, we plan it, we make sure it happens.
We talk as much as we want to, which I imagine would be pretty frequently.
We take each other into account when we’re making major life decisions that could affect our relationship, like moving to another state or escalating the involvement of another relationship one of us has. We discuss these things with each other. We care about each other’s feelings surrounding these decisions.
We decide that our relationship is important to us, that we want it to continue as long as possible, and that we want to interact with each other regularly, and if anyone else we know comes along and has a problem with it, we do not—under any circumstances—sacrifice or damage our relationship to appease that third party.
We stick up for each other. We protect each other, when needed. We support each other however we can: physically, emotionally, mentally, financially, etc., when that support is needed. If my friend needs me to take care of them physically, if my friend needs to live with me or needs me to live with them temporarily, if my friend needs me to show up for them somewhere to emotionally support them, if my friend needs me to loan them money and I can afford to do it, then I do it—and they do it for me.
If and when conflict arises, we do whatever we have to do resolve it, no matter how long it takes and no matter how much effort it takes. (Hint: this means more talking.)
Maybe that level of involvement and attention sounds exhausting, but that’s what commitment to a relationship means, as far as I’m concerned. Maybe it’s crazy of me to want to be that involved with multiple people at the same time, the rest of my life, but I believe it’s possible and that I’m capable.
You might think it’s unrealistic because one or both of my live-in partners will feel like my level of commitment to others conflicts with my commitment to them, and all I can say is that I am not a relationship traditionalist or monogamist and no one I love can be or will be either, unless they’re 100% cool with the way I do love and relationships. I’m very open and upfront about who I am, what I think, and what I’m looking for in relationships, and I’ll make it clear from the get-go what my partners are signing up for when they choose to be involved with me. There will have to be a discussion, of course, about what “commitment” means to us individually and what it will mean for our relationships, but there WILL be commitment, even if it doesn’t look like the rest of the world’s idea of commitment.
If celibate asexuality, both romantic and aromantic, can prove anything new about commitment in relationships, it’s that commitment and nonsexual love/nonromantic love are not mutually exclusive. The same goes for polyamory and relationship anarchy: commitment is not a property unique to conventional romantic monogamy but a possibility in all loving relationships.
How to get commitment?
Well, assuming you’re an ace involved with another ace, I figure it’s as simple as talking to your friend about it. I know more than one asexual currently in a loving relationship of some kind with a fellow ace, including one who’s aromantic, I’ve heard of other ace/ace couples in traditional romantic relationships (some of which have led to marriage and/or committed cohabitation), and I had a relationship with another ace in the past that at the time functioned as a standard romantic relationship and included intentions for a shared future. I feel like commitment works for us, whether our relationships are romantic or nonromantic, in much the same way it works for romantic-sexual people in traditional romantic relationships. You get to a point where it’s obvious that you and your friend have mutual feelings for each other of some nature and one of you broaches the subject of where your relationship might go.
Bottom Line: you have to ask. You have to be explicit about what you’re looking for. I know, that’s a pain in the ass, but it’s the only way. You have to get yourself some courage and sit the person you love down and say, “I love you, and this is what I want from our relationship. What do you think?” And if they answer affirmatively, you have to continue checking in periodically, to make sure you’re on the same page about the commitment.
I don’t think the question is how to establish commitment in a relationship but how to actually follow through with it. Being committed means being loyal even when it’s not easy to be loyal. Being committed means finding ways to stay plugged into your relationship no matter what your unpredictable life throws at you and your partner. In my opinion, being committed means that you choose to focus on the positive aspects of your partner and your relationship to such a degree that the flaws look trivial; you accept that your imperfect partner can screw up in your relationship and still be worth loving and giving your attention to.
There is, of course, a fine line separating healthy loyalty and commitment from unhealthy loyalty and commitment. Loving someone so much that you’re faithful to them for many years, no matter how many mistakes they make or your relationship being imperfect is a beautiful thing. A very desirable thing. That’s the best kind of loyalty there is. But we must also love ourselves and put ourselves first and be able to recognize when we’re in a relationship (of any kind) with someone who can’t or won’t meet our needs and desires, who is hurting us more than anything, who is a negative presence in our life despite our loving feelings for them. I’m not an expert on knowing the difference between breaking a commitment because you can’t handle imperfection vs. breaking a commitment because it’s actually a bad commitment, but I feel like a good way to approach is to work on a problematic relationship until you can’t anymore and then walk away if it’s clearly at a dead end.