A post for the July Carnival of Aces, on the theme of “Home.”
In my culture, there’s two main categories of people you’re expected to live with, in the long run: family members and (romantic) partners. If you’re thinking about how asexuality affects who you live with, talking about romantic relationships is the most obvious connection to make—that’s one of the oldest topic in the community. If you wanted links on the subject, I wouldn’t even know where to start. There’s also plenty already out there on asexuality and family, usually in the vein of guides for parents or advice/reflections on coming out. There was even a previous Carnival of Aces on the subject.
But under the umbrella of “people you live with,” for many of us there’s actually a third category, and that’s the nebulous category roommates. There’s not nearly so much discussion of asexuality & roommates, presumably because the two are expected to have nothing to do with each other. Or, if an ace identity is relevant to a relationship with a roommate somehow, it’s expected that will occur only in the context of a friendship, meaning that any relevant reflections or advice will fall under the more general category of dealings with friends. Whether or not you live together is (ostensibly) supposed to have nothing to do with it. At least, that’s what I gather from the comparative silence on the subject. You can find a few AVEN threads and reddit threads about roommate issues, or the occasional comment thread, but it’s not anything people are writing big official guides about.
Which is unfortunate, from my perspective, because I could have used one.
When I moved out of my parents’ house to another city, I didn’t have much in the way of a social network: besides the local ace group, I practically knew no one else in the area and had little in the way of connections. Recognizing this as a problem, I started going to other events in town, deliberately trying to meet people and make friends. This is one of my least favorite things to ever try to do on purpose. It’s awkward, and it’s frequently unrewarding. At one of those events, though, I finally made a connection that showed some promise. For the purposes of this post, I’ll call that person L.
After a few good conversations, L and I exchanged contact info and started to spend more time with each other outside of the group. We started getting close. Later, events aligned for me to need a new place and L to need a roommate, so we wound up moving in together. It was… nice, for a while. We both had tough jobs at the time, but we had stability and each other. If I’d had my ‘druthers, of course, I’d have been able to expand my social circle a little further than the narrow holding pattern that I’d settled into. Little did I know that that was actually the high point of this whole affair.
A few months later, at another local event, we both met someone I’ll call M. Discussing the event later, we both agreed M seemed like a pretty cool person, but… L took an interest in M in a few additional ways. As it turned out, some of L’s interest in M was mutual. They really hit it off, and M began spending a lot of time at our place. A lot of time. I mean… a lot a lot of time. To the point where, when the two of them finally asked me if it was okay for M to move in with us, I could barely answer them, because it felt like she already had.
In some ways, this shouldn’t have been a problem. Again, if you had asked me at the time, I would have told you that M seemed like a pretty likeable person. I didn’t always entirely get along with her, though. She has a pretty strong personality, and her living habits didn’t really line up with mine (it wasn’t precisely the typical neat vs. messy dispute, but I’m trying to avoid some identifying details here). Long story short: I think the friendship between me and M would have been better off if I’d been able to keep more distance. But that wasn’t the real problem.
The real problem was something that I find difficult to put into words, because I have no blueprint for this kind of narrative, and I don’t know how to navigate some residual guilt over how I handled the situation and the conviction that there’s no way to tell this story without being the bad guy. It’s been difficult for me to even write about it like this. The real problem was happenstance. The real problem was nothing. The real problem was me.
Except the real problem was also that I lived there first. I can’t even completely blame myself for getting into this situation, because as much as I try to dig out some kind of lesson to learn in hindsight, I had no way to know that living with one friend would turn into living with a couple. I didn’t barge in on them. I didn’t intentionally insert myself into the situation. I was there first.
And if I was there first, why was I beginning to feel so unwelcome in my own living space? If I was there first, why did I have to feel anxious about passing through the common space on the way to my room? Why did I have to feel like I wasn’t supposed to be there? Why did I have to feel like I was getting in the way? Why did I have to feel like I was intruding on their space? I was there first.
I was there first and arguably I should have put my foot down, I should have done this, I should have done that—sure, whatever. But the reason that M moved in with us in the first place wasn’t just because of L. Not entirely. It was also because of landlord issues far too similar to mine, basically the kind of thing that had me turning to L for help in the first place. When it came to these matters, I didn’t feel capable of turning anyone away.
So socially, demanding M get her own place seemed unconscionable, and financially, I couldn’t afford to just jump ship and get my own place. Nor did I know anyone else I could move in with, either. I was stuck. Stuck coming home after a long exhausting day as a cog in the corporate machine to an apartment where my roommates seemed to view me as an obstacle and I could barely relax with them around. To be fair, they were in the privacy of their own home, after all. It’s not an outlandish place for a couple to want to get affectionate. It’s just that their home was also mine, and we were living in pretty close quarters, and I could tell that my mere physical presence was frequently being felt as a kind of awkward interference. And for someone like me, that takes a toll.
Later, when things got their worst for me psychologically, I didn’t even tell my therapist about the mental breakdown. Not just because it all just seemed so stupid, but because I hadn’t disclosed anything to my therapist yet about asexuality or sex-repulsion—not that feeling awkward with roommates is an ace-specific experience, but the full weight of the emotional baggage around the issue I felt was something I couldn’t have unpacked without getting into asexuality. And that’s something I felt I couldn’t do with this particular therapist, because based on a few other clues, I didn’t know if I could trust her with the subject. I’d previously thought I could just skirt around it and be fine. By then, it felt too late.
So I lived with it, this ambience of unease, my friendship with L withering away to nothing, feeling smothered and miserable and achingly lonely and telling absolutely no one. I don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t gotten out. But I did. I applied to grad school that fall, got in, and eventually I moved out of that apartment, taking myself halfway across the country to go live in a new state. I started living in shared houses again, rather than apartments, which meant a lot less of that living in close quarters and an easier time keeping to myself. I did grad school for two years. I finished my MA program. And then… then I was at a crossroads again. I couldn’t stay where I was, that was clear; it wasn’t a good area for me to get a job in. I had no reason to stay—but also nowhere to go.
I had to turn, again, to a friend, in need of a roommate and a new place to live. I uprooted myself again. I moved states, again, with the intent of once again trying to find a job and establish some kind of social network in an unfamiliar area, one that I’m even more unconnected to and unfamiliar with than was the case for my previous moves before. Due to the circumstances, I’m back to living in a close-quarters apartment again.
And I’m nervous.