17th of February
Dear no one
Some years ago a friend of mine tried to insist I find a romantic partner. The timing was awful. I had just finally pushed the man who had spend the last almost 7 years sexually abusing me out of my life. As in it was less than 24 hours ago that I made the phone call that made the decision final. And here was my friend telling me a romantic relationship would help me. And he knew about that. He was in the next room as I made the phonecall, he held me as I cried the rest of the evening. I am sure he had good intentions. He had just gotten out of a relationship himself and was heartbroken. I spend the next few months desperately saying no to that idea over and over. I remember crying on the floor, part sadness, part frustration, but mostly rage at how he refused to hear my no. I still get a visceral reaction in my whole body at the memory.
He wasn’t the first to push on the idea of me getting into a romantic relationship. But it was the worst timed and the worst argument for it. He managed to link the idea that romantic relationship and what he called “real sex” would somehow fix the damage my rapist had done to me, and the stupidity of it alone was enough to make me question the sanity of my friend.
I wasn’t even unreasonable with my no. I started with not right now. Maybe when I am not spending every minute of the day either having flashbacks, anxiety attacks, crying or having nightmares. Maybe on the other side of this. Maybe when I meet the right person. Maybe later. But definitely not now. Please not now. Please just stop talking about this. He didn’t. Well he did. When he found a girlfriend and was finally able to focus on something else.
I was in the midst of trying to survive the tidal wave of emotions that was the aftermath of what had been done to me during those years. So it wasn’t till a year later I was finally desperate enough to sit down and open google and try to find question that would help me. I can’t remember the words I finally used. But I do remember that the question wasn’t really the one I needed to ask. But I didn’t even know enough about anything to know what to ask. Asking intelligent questions is a skill. One I try desperately to master. I know I failed that day. I know that I wasn’t sure what I wanted to ask, but only knew I needed answers. I needed to know. And by luck more that anything else a word I had never seen before turned up somewhere in that search. Aromantic. I got curious and read. And though this was not what I had asked, it was the answer I had needed since I was 14. I was 27 when I made that search. 13 years of needing answers and here it was. Aromantic.
It means to not feel romantic attraction. The very thing I had struggled to explain to people for so many years.
At 15 when a friend got angry at me for not wanting a romantic partner, and told me to just get a boyfriend and if I didn’t like boys a girlfriend. Our friendship ended that day. But my lack of language to say I am not interested and have it respected didn’t.
My mom’s reaction was made it even worse. I was crying from rage at the disrespect of my no, and her answer was (not even knowing what the fight was about) to tell me that if I kissed him at it wasn’t really it that was totally find and no harm done.
To this day my parents still don’t accept my aromantisism and asexuality. My dad joking that I soul bring nice underwear when I go on vacation (on my own) in case I meet someone. My mom telling me she hasn’t given up on me giving her grandchildren.
At age 16 there was the boy in the library who spend 30 minutes starring at me (maybe at my breasts in am not sure, I remember looking at my t-shirt to figure out if he was starring because I spilled something on it, I hadn’t) before talking to me, asked if I was single (yes) and how long I had been (forever), and finally asked me to be his girlfriend and when I refused told me “why not sweety you finally have the chance” like I was just waiting around for someone who wanted to be my boyfriend. I am so happy I got out of there and never saw him again.
I assume I was considered attractive enough. I am not sure. I don’t understand the concept. I was called beautiful a lot growing up. But there was a number of boys interested in me during my teenage years. I always found it so weird and uncomfortable. Mostly they looked at me with these puppy eyes like I owed them something and I scared me. In my twenties I was assaulted a few times by men claiming to be in love or at least interested in me. In every one of those instances I wished I had the words to explain that I am just not interested in a way that would convey what I think the word aromantic does.
I know it isn’t that simple. I know women everywhere struggle to get their no heard no matter their orientation. I know that word would not have saved me from most of what happened. It still doesn’t. But I believed I would have felt like I had firmer ground to stand on when saying no. I believed I would have understood myself better. I have been able to come out to the people in my life and their reactions to that would have told me what kind of people that are. I never would have stayed friends with someone who had dismissed this part of me, but I was somehow easy to think that I just hadn’t said no well enough when the best reason I could give for saying no to the idea of romantic relationships was “because I am not interested”.
There is also an uncanny resemblance between the way my no to a romantic relationship is being overheard and followed with a pressure to conform and not listen to what is right for me, and the way my rapist followed my no to sex with pressure, gaslighting, emotional abuse or just straight up didn’t listen. The feeling I am left with in both scenarios are a feeling that I haven’t said no enough, or clearly, or maybe of I just explained it better. But no. It’s not my voice that is broken, or their ears. It’s their willingness to hear me.
It’s been so many years of people not listening. So times my no has not been heard or respected. And I am so exhausted.
The words made a difference. The words helped. I found so much joy in them. I feel like I have a home in using them to describe myself. And even when people tell me not to (which, yes, they do) I feel stronger than ever in telling them off. I rarely get to the same level of frustration and rage that I am reduced to tears. I don’t feel powerless and voiceless in the same way.
Aromantic. Asexual. It is that simple. I knew at 14. I don’t know how, but I just knew. If I could I would go back and give myself these words.
Today I learned that that friend (the one who told me to get a romantic partner only hours after I told my rapist he wasn’t welcome in my life anymore) was telling his next girlfriend about me being asexual almost a year before I found the definition of it. And it hurt so much. That he could only show that kind of understanding behind my back and that he never tried to gift me the word. I don’t want to hold him responsible. But when I came out to him, he told me I could never count on anyone I didn’t have sex with. Our friendship was already broken at the time. I was just trying to hold on to some idea that we meant something to each other. He made me feel like I had no value as a human being. That my only value would be as a thing to be fucked. And now I learn that he was using the word asexual a year before I found it. He didn’t even let me label myself, and when I did his reaction was the worst. And there was a lot of bad and not great reactions.
I am not ok right now. I am so angry. At him, at everybody else who decided me being aromantic wasn’t something worth respecting whether I had the word or not. I feel foolish because somewhere inside me it there isn’t much difference between saying no and not having people respect it whether it is no to sex or a relationship. Some difference of cause. But somewhere all I know is that I said this is not what I want and people I care about, people I trusted looked at me and told me what I want doesn’t matter.
Today, with the help of words like aromantic and asexual, I would roll my eyes and laugh it off when someone tells me to get a romantic partner. But there has been years of my life where I couldn’t. Where what I needed from friends, family and even strangers is respect and feeling heard. Where I was told I couldn’t decide how I wanted to shape my life in the most fundamental way, and where I wish me feeling ready and happy and having found the right person was more important to the people I care about than whether or not I have a romantic partner. I wish someone had told me I was enough, that I was loved and could love in ways that wasn’t romantic. It took a lot to claim the idea that I am a whole person, not someone else’s half. It took a lot to learn that “No” is a complete sentence and I don’t owe an explanation. It also helps to have words that weed out people who won’t respect me having different romantic and sexual orientations than most people.
And when I did finally find the word aromantic I open myself so much more up to love of all the other kinds. I am friendlier, kinder, happier, more loving and giving. Because I am no longer afraid to have my love misunderstood as romantic. I am more alive and hopeful and ready to connect with people. I am more in touch with my need for human connection, because I finally understand that human connection is the important part, not whether it takes the shape of romantic love and one romantic partner.
I needed to have a look at my wounds in order to understand where I still need to heal. I can’t really get the help and therapy I need to deal with the sexual abuse. But I can take a look at this thing and acknowledge my own hurt. I can realise I am in such a better place and what a gift the words are. I can see how far I have grown. I needed better conditions to grow, and I found them and made them. And it is ok to take some time to heal. It is ok if things that look small compound and end up feeling big and more hurtful than they would on their own. It is ok to be a sensitive person and it is ok to need respect, understanding, acknowledgements and to be heard. It is ok to have reactions to not having those needs met. I am giving myself better now. What I asked for wasn’t unreasonable, it was human. But I was asking it of people who for whatever reason didn’t have that to give.
I don’t expect anyone is reading this. But if someone is then thank you. Thank you for making me less alone in my sadness and my not-ok-ness. Thank you for your time and attention, the most valuable resource in your life. And just in case you need to be told it too: you are enough, you are complete, you are valuable for you. It’s ok to be imperfect and sensitive. I call it being a messy human, because that makes me feel it as being a more acceptable thing, and it is a thing I really need to learn to accept being. So here it is in case you need to learn to accept that too. It is ok to be a messy human. We all are from time to time. It’s just part of it.