The Boyfriend That Wasn’t and Other Tales of an Asexual GirlhoodPosted: June 10, 2015
I may be the only person whose sole venture into dating ended less than two weeks after it started because my boyfriend got bored and left.
I was 15 and we met at a casual school dance I attended with friends. He asked me out and I accepted because it seemed like what everybody was doing. We sat together at lunch at school a few times, exchanged notes.
One time he visited me at home and we went for a walk together. Standing on a trail path near the woods, with no one else around, he asked if he could kiss me and I said, OK.
It was a chaste kiss on the lips. My only thought was, “And the point of this was supposed to be what?”
At no time in the relationship did I have any thoughts or feelings for him that differed in any way from how I thought or felt about my friends. Looking back, I’m not sure I even really realized that “going out” was supposed to be more than having a special friend.
After that brief kiss on the trail, we looked awkwardly at each other then finished our walk and he left me at home. A few days later he broke up with me, and that was that. I still had no idea what the point of the whole thing was supposed to be.
I never did figure it out, either.
At the time, this didn’t strike me as unusual. I didn’t have a lot of close friends in high school, and neither of the girls I was closest to dated; one because her family was strict about it, and the other because she was a fervent born-again Christian and considered it inappropriate.
Outside of school, we would hang out, do homework, or go to the mall. Our conversations were usually about school, friends, and what we were reading, watching, or listening to, not about who we had crushes on. I knew that other girls talked a lot about that, and I never fit in with them, but in my little group of misfits and loners, I was normal.
Then I got to college. Living in the dorms introduced me to situations I simply hadn’t faced in high school, where I had interacted with my fellow students only in an academic setting, returning home to my family after class each day.
My freshman year in college, my roommate never went to class. Every day when I came back to our room, her boyfriend was there. And they weren’t just hanging out, either. Between the awkward hints from our suitemates, the “interesting” smells in the room sometimes, and the sneaky way the two of them acted, I came to realize they were having sex in our dorm room whenever I was gone. The only way to make sure I didn’t walk in on them in the middle of that was to announce my presence every time I wanted to enter the room.
It was awful. I took up hiding in the library to avoid having to go back there and deal with them. And I soon had another reason to hate the dorms. A nerdy guy who lived on our floor apparently had a crush on me and he kept pestering me to go out with him.
In high school, guys had mostly left me alone. I wasn’t interested in being approached and when I wasn’t in school, I wasn’t available to them. But in the dorms, there was no place to escape. And escape was what I sought. I had no interest in him, or in any other guy. I wasn’t even curious what it would be like to go out with him. His expectations – for a relationship, for love, for sex – were things I did not know how to deal with, could not fulfill, and which only triggered fear and aversion.
Between him and the roommate, I felt like I was under siege. Why did everybody have to make everything about sex all the time? Why were they trying to make me a part of it? Why wouldn’t they leave me alone?
Eventually, I was able to convince nerd guy to give up. I talked with the residential advisor about my roommate situation. Since the roommate never went to class, she was in danger of flunking out of college altogether. She eventually got her act together enough that I made it through the rest of the year without having to put up with her sex life again.
Back at home for summer break, I was eager to talk to my old best friend from high school. While I was starting college, she’d enlisted in the Army and gone off to boot camp. For a while, we’d exchanged letters, but eventually I stopped hearing from her. Turns out she had a secret that she hadn’t been able to tell me in writing. Now that we were face to face, I finally learned the truth.
While she was at boot camp, she had had sex with a lot of different guys. Away from home and from her strict family, she’d gotten caught up in a casual sex culture that was totally new to her. And she’d kind of liked it, even though it wasn’t something she’d do in other circumstances. Her parents were horrified.
I was completely at a loss. I’d just spent an entire school year fleeing from the way other people were trying to make sex a part of my life. I simply could not comprehend wanting to have sex, let alone having sex casually or with a large number of people. I didn’t know how to talk to her about what had happened because I had no frame of reference in my own experience that I could relate it to.
I’d also never learned how to talk with her, or with anyone else, about sex and relationships as a thing we did or might do. Instead of helping her deal with her family or decide on the direction she wanted to take in the future, all I could do was flail around. Our friendship never recovered.
During this whole time, I had no idea that asexuality existed. There was no asexual students group at my college (in fact, there still isn’t). The LGBTQ students group was about a completely different set of experiences and was of no help to me.
There was nobody who could help me understand why I was so different. Nobody who could help me navigate the sexualized situations that alienated me so much. People who heard various parts of the story (especially the roommate from hell) sympathized with me, but they didn’t understand the way I saw things or how these experiences felt from the inside.
I did the only thing I knew how to: I withdrew. My top priority became securing a space for myself where I could be my non-sexual self without interference. By my junior year of college, I had an apartment of my own and I’ve lived alone ever since.
As for friends, I found it safest to relate to people through shared activities and interests so that we had something to talk about other than sex or relationships. By and large, that’s meant not having a lot of people to share my personal life with. When the choice is between being true to myself and being with people – and all too often, I feel that that has been the choice – I’ve always chosen my own way even if it means being alone.
Twenty years after that eventful freshman year in college, I first discovered asexual communities. They’d actually been around for a while, but I’d never come across them, scattered online as they were. Although a few asexual student groups and other on-the-ground organizations exist today, most have been founded only in the last few years. The first online forums and communities date back to around 2001 – but in 2001 I was already six years out of college and trying to establish a stable career for myself.
I can’t bridge that gap. I can’t picture how my life might have been different if I’d been able to go through college and into adult life with a network of people who understood and shared my experiences. I can only go forward from where I am. There is, I believe, wisdom in where Allah has placed me.
Finding support for my asexuality in the last few years has helped me to finally start coming out of my fortress of solitude. Twenty years ago, I created a safe space and barricaded myself into it. It served me well. But the way that it has been isn’t the way that it always needs to be. Some things I thought were limitations still are, to be sure. But there’s more room to breathe, to move, to be myself more unencumbered than I thought possible then.
It’s time to stretch myself, to reach out. To live.
Laura P is a European-American convert to Islam, asexual, and queer. She is a contributor at The Asexual Agenda, a group blog for asexual spectrum individuals, and maintains a personal blog, Notes of an Asexual Muslim. You can also find her on Twitter at @muhajabah. She works in online tech support and volunteers with the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative.