AA: Ace/Non-Ace Relationship Ambiguity

[cw: sex, in specifics]

BD wrote in:

I’ve been wanting to share my story with someone who might understand, and I think perhaps that might be you.
Hope you don’t mind I’m sending you this?

Not at all.

I’m a sexual person, deeply invested in one of my best friends, who thinks he might be asexual. When it was only friendship he told me he thought he was, even though he’s very experienced and has had sex with many partners in the past. I didn’t quite understand, but accepted it as it was.

Something developed between us, however, and at first the whole asexuality thing didn’t come up. Our interaction was the same two sexual people might have: we flirted, we made out and we had a lot of sex (more than I used to have with my sexual ex bf!), which he often times initiated. He was very passionate in bed and didn’t seem to be at all uncomfortable. The only thing that was different was the fact he never had an orgasm. He told me that was the norm for him and that he was enjoying it so I didn’t mind, although I must admit some part of me wanted it, feeling only that would make him completely happy.

What we had ended very suddenly, one day he didn’t want me to touch him after sex at all. We always cuddled (he also initiated a lot of times!)and that day he completely rejected me and said a lot of things about how I was clingy and “too much”. He claimed I only “desired his body”, and that considering he had been the one to initiate sex that night. I felt awful. Afterwards, he took it back and admitted he had freaked out because things were getting too serious, but we both agreed we should probably stop.

I didn’t want it to stop, though. I really like him, in ways I’ve never liked another person. I would say I love him (I do love him), but it would be to simple to put it like that. What I feel for him is more than an infatuation, it’s deeper, more meaningful. What complicates is that I don’t think he feels quite the same way about me. I’m his friend and he enjoys my company, but I do not make him feel like he makes me feel.
One day I got drunk and tried to make a move on him. He rejected it and said I should move on with my life, that he was almost sure he was really asexual. I said I didn’t mind and that we didn’t have to have sex. He rejected me anyway.

Sometime after however, we ended up in my apartament after a party, just the two of us. We were behaving like normal friends, but somehow we ended up cuddling, just like we used to.

Since then we have spent a few nights together. We talk and watch TV and then cuddle, a lot. Sex is completely off the table. We also haven’t kissed. I’m okay with that, but it’s complicated because I don’t quite know where the limits are, particularly because we’ve had so much sex before. I caress his body and sometimes he’s completely okay with that, other times he very firmly tells me to stop. I think that’s when he get somewhat aroused. He sounds very frustrated with me then, as if I’m trying to seduce him against his will, and that annoys me. I’m not trying to seduce him. I want to respect him more than anything else in this world, but he doesn’t seem to understand that. He also complains about our cuddling, says I move too much and that I don’t give him space, but he is the one who comes to my house. If he didn’t want that, why would he come?

We haven’t really talked about what we have as well. I tried to bring it up and he said I “think too much” so I didn’t push. It annoys me because sometimes he acts like what we have is nothing, like we are merely friends. For someone who says he’s asexual he surely seems to put too much emphasys on the sex part of the relationship. Back then when we were doing we were together, and now that we aren’t we are just friends ? I don’t think that’s fair. The fact that I’m much more invested than him makes it all more complicated. It’s easy to start wondering if he does care about me at all, or if he only stays here because he’s lonely and has no one else.

I know it sounds like I’m complaining about him a lot, but that’s not why I came here. I’m really happy I get to have something with him, whatever it is that we have. I just wish things could be clearer between us and God, I hope I don’t mess up. I want to respect him SO MUCH, I’ve been reading a lot about the subject to try to make sure I don’t do anything wrong. I guess I’m afraid because no matter how much I read I won’t ever understand it fully.

Sorry to vent here, but I thought you and the readers of this blog might have some interesting thoughts. How do you guys perceive this entire thing? Have I done anything wrong? What should I do to make sure I’m respecting him and making him comfortable, at the same time we move forward in our relationship? (In the sense of getting to be more open and intimate, not in the sense of having sex again. I’m deeply aware that that will only happen again when he wants it, IF he wants it).

Thanks

Well, I have a few thoughts.  Feel free to reject anything that doesn’t apply, since I’m only working off what you’ve told me here, and there’s no way for me to know the whole situation.

First off, in one of the anecdotes you relayed — “I said I didn’t mind and that we didn’t have to have sex. He rejected me anyway” — something occurred to me there.  This is just speculation, but given the insecurity aces are encouraged to have about whether a non-ace partner would really be content in a nonsexual relationship, I could understand, hypothetically, an ace rejecting someone preemptively to spare them both the hassle.  That said, I don’t know if that’s necessarily what’s went on there.  It’s just one possibility you might not have thought of before.

So you say he objects to your cuddling style, but also “but he is the one who comes to my house. If he didn’t want that, why would he come?”  Well, I think the answer to that one is rather easy.  To see you, of course!  Or to pet your dog or something.  But the fact that he comes to your house isn’t proof that he’s lying about his cuddling preferences or anything like that.  It just means that there’s something that he finds worthwhile about being there (it’s not strange for friends to like coming over to see each other).  If he says he doesn’t like the way cuddles are happening, then all that is, is a cue to not do things that way.

You said that “sometimes he acts like what we have is nothing, like we are merely friends.”  I don’t know about you, but what me and my friends have is not “nothing.”  Friendship can mean a lot of different things.  So “merely” friends, to me, isn’t really a coherent idea.  I’m sure there was something valid you were getting at there, though — presumably, that sometimes he downplays the significance of the relationship between you?

From what you’ve said, it sounds like he doesn’t want to discuss the specifics of what your relationship is right now.  I can understand him finding some kind of value in that ambiguity — but it also sounds like you need clarity.  As in, clarity is a need for you.  That’s a valid thing to want, to be sure of where you stand with someone.  Theoretically, you might be able to find a balance between the two.  Instead of binary questions like “Are we dating or are we friends?” for instance, you could ask more open-ended questions like “What do you think of us?” and “How should I refer to you?” (like boyfriend, best friend, partner, etc.).  I’m not certain that will work, but it’s something I thought I’d bring up as an idea.

From the anecdotes you’ve described, I do get the sense that he’s yanking you around, unpredictably hot/cold, and from your end, it would make sense that that would feel very unfair.  I can’t necessarily be sure, from what you’ve said, what things are going on on his end.  But regardless of the reason, it definitely sounds stressful.

You talked about how you don’t know where the limits and boundaries are for physical touch (like cuddling) between the two of you.  That made me think of this physical boundaries checklist that I found through Queenie’s relationship linkspam.  Not knowing much about the guy, I can’t tell you what the best way to use this would be.  Here are some examples of things you could do: make your own version of the checklist with body parts/actions that you think he might like or that you might like.  If you think he’d be relieved to get to specify in this much detail, you might present him with the chart directly.  Or, if you think he’d get overwhelmed by the sight of it, you might start by trying to ask him — in open-ended questions — about a few of the items on the list.  If he’s not amenable to conversation about how to cuddle, then that means you can’t get permission for how to cuddle.  It may or may not help to assure him that it’s okay if his preferences change later and that you’re just trying to learn about what he’d like.  But you may also have to get comfortable with the idea of having permission for zero of the things on the list.

Life is unpredictable, and I can offer you no guarantee of “moving forward in your relationship,” in any sense of the phrase.  I can only hope that you might find something useful in all of this.

All readers are invited to comment.

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4 responses to “AA: Ace/Non-Ace Relationship Ambiguity

  • Siggy

    The lack of clarity could indicate a failure of communication, or it could reflect his own internal lack of clarity. Either way, if you need clarity, I do feel that lack of clarity can be sufficient reason to part ways. That was a major motivation for ending one my relationships some years ago.

    I would also point out that some people like sex, but don’t feel the romantic associations tied to it. Someone with those feelings might push people away for fear of stringing them along. I think this is more representative of an aromantic allosexual narrative, but could also be interpreted within the ace spectrum.

  • luvtheheaven

    “I caress his body and sometimes he’s completely okay with that, other times he very firmly tells me to stop.”

    Do you actually know he’s “completely okay” with it? Is that the kind of cuddling you want to be engaging in anyway, where maybe he isn’t actively enjoying it? But he “puts up with it” or is “okay with it” in the sense that he doesn’t, in those cases, tell you to stop? Maybe you should be checking in more often, letting him initiate, just… talking to him more about if he even wants all the touch at all?

    “He also complains about our cuddling, says I move too much and that I don’t give him space…”

    Well as someone who can kind of relate to your close friend there, having felt a bit stifled by cuddling with my boyfriend when I was still figuring out I was asexual, I can say from my POV that sometimes it’s as simple as liking being close to someone yet before long finding the position uncomfortable or too warm/I start sweating from too much body heat. Sometimes it’s complicated and you feel conflicting things at once. Handholding can be similarly bad, especially if it’s as part of cuddling. Who wants to sit with their hand locked in someone else’s for 2 hours while you watch a movie? Not me, that’s all I know. XD Sometimes in theory cuddling would be nice and you don’t hate it, you might even enjoy aspects of it, but because it means MORE to the other person than it does to you, either because they’re non-asexual and you are ace or because they are romantically interested in you and you have “only” platonic feelings for them… that context can make cuddling more uncomfortable.

    Coyote has written on being Arcflux before too: https://theacetheist.wordpress.com/2015/10/09/on-being-arcflux/ And this AA just makes me think that about sex, touching boundaries, etc, sometimes a checklist or a blanket “I’m always going to enjoy __” and “I’m never gonna want __” might not work for some people, maybe even narrowing it down to “most of the time” is too hard if your own feelings are too confusing, and instead you could start small and ask about “right now”/”today”, remembering that things can change, and consent once is only consent once, and that includes for things that people don’t usually frame in consent terms, like cuddling.

    I don’t know… just some thoughts. I can say you don’t have to be “stuck” in this current phase of your relationship if you don’t want to be. Consider what will make you happy long term, and like Coyote said, if “clarity” is something you need then don’t just ignore your own emotional needs. Try to be realistic about what the future of your relationship with this guy is likely to be. If you’re desperate for more openness and intimacy but when you try to get it he shuts you down, that’s a pretty important detail in what your relationship is currently like.

  • Klaaraa

    While I do agree that trying to resolve that lack of clarity through proactive communication is the way to go here, also consider that he may have atypical physical boundaries for sensory reasons.

    Like, I, for example, have certain areas on the surface of my body, that are neither usually considered particularly sexual, nor are very ticklish or pain-sensitive in most other people, yet I can not stand someone I don’t trust well touching them at all, or someone I do trust touching them in an uncareful way, nor can I always suppress wincing or reflexively moving even when I don’t mind being touched.
    And that is for me and probably for many other people a source of guilty feeling that is hard to talk about, because you “should” allow a sex partner to caress the length of your torso, and you “should” allow a non-bestfriend friend to place their arm around you in some situations.
    Actually, you really don’t have to, but people don’t always know that from the start, and sometimes pulling away without explanation is at the moment less complicated than explaining why you don’t want to be touched in [place A], when you tolerate or even like being touched in [place B, which is by most people considered more sexual and/or more invasive than place A].

    Also, someone who isn’t usually weird about where they can be touched, may have an invisible temporary injury that hurts when poked, such as a pulled muscle, that they either want to hide or not make a big deal about, or have mentioned but don’t want to make the other person guilty for hurting them.

  • R.

    The fact that the letter writer has attempted to clarify the relationship, only to be told that they “think too much,” makes me think this scenario isn’t entirely healthy. That’s a rude thing to say to just about anyone. From the information given, the whole thing sounds rather one-sided.

    I would suggest taking a break, go out with some other friends, not invite him over so often (or, if he’s the one who’s inviting himself to their house, tell him they’re not up for it). BD doesn’t need to keep feeling guilty for things he refuses to discuss, and dude needs to be honest with himself AND BD as to what he wants and/or is getting from the relationship as it stands now.

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