Hello, Harpiness readers, and thanks for having me on board as a guest poster for August. For this, my first post, I’d like to offer up a discussion of my relationship with one of my fellow guest posters for August, Lola. This post was originally written for the Carnival of Aces blog carnival on relationships. As stated in the call for submissions, the topic was meant to be as wide-ranging as possible, including relationships with family, friends, groups, romantic partners, and any other iteration which denotes a strong interpersonal connection. Lola plans to write her own companion post to this one, so stay tuned. And finally, I’ve tried to include definitions for any language that may be lesser-known outside of the asexual (ace) community, but do sing out if anything is unclear.
This past September marked the tenth year Lola and I have known each other. We first met as entering first years at Smith College. We had been placed in the same house and wound up living on the same floor (although she got to live in Sylvia Plath’s room.) Lola and I took to each other like oil and water. Seriously, we mutually disliked each other for most, if not all, of our first year. I thought she was uncouth and volatile, and I seem to remember her saying she thought I was uptight and narrow-minded. Over our four years at Smith, we managed to work our way from antipathy to tolerance to genuine friendship. Wonders never cease.
After college, we actually became closer, despite living 2000 miles away from each other and only conversing via telephone. That’s another miracle, considering Lola can tell you many horror stories of my ineptitude with and antagonism towards the telephone. Then, three years after college, we moved into a flat together in Boston, and were flatmates until last summer. Now she lives all the way down in D.C., and I try to be ok with that distance until I finish graduate school and can move closer.I know I’ve gotten this far without expressly describing how I think of our relationship. Until recently, I would have described Lola and me as the best of best-friends, and while I still believe that is true, I find it doesn’t fully encapsulate the experience. I consider myself to be Lola’s platonic life partner, and Lola calls me her hetero life mate. She’s partial to her term, because the Jay and Silent Bob allusion is fun and useful. Actually, she stole it from a friend of hers who referred to his own friend as his hetero life mate. When I first heard it, I thought “Woah, what? Oh!” I had to sit down with it for at least two months before I felt sure it fit me.
In working through how and why my relationship with Lola is different than other friends, and thus is better described as a queerplatonic partnership, I came up with a way to understand how I feel people fit into my life in relationship terms. I was tempted to say “relationship spectrum” there, but that wouldn’t do, as I’ve begun to see it as a cube. Here’s a graphic to explain:
I’ll explain this graph in terms of Lola’s and my relationship, and alphabetically of course. The x-axis I’ve labeled “love,” and I think that’s pretty self-explanatory. I love Lola more than anyone else in my life, including family, that’s why that red dot is really far over on the right. I’m not going to pick apart how I know that I love Lola, but that I’m not in love with her. It’s an ineffable, subjective experience about which you’ll have to trust me. We don’t have a romantic relationship, and neither one of us wants that to change. Actually, Lola is a sexual person who wants a romantic/sexual life partner, and I want that for her as well. We just love each other very much.
I’ve made the y-axis “intimacy,” but I do admit that’s pretty vague. What I mean by intimacy here are all levels of non-sexual intimacy, including emotional, psychological, intellectual, and physical. As an aromantic asexual, sexual intimacy really isn’t going to make its way into my personal relationship vector diagram. As far as emotional and psychological and intellectual intimacy are concerned, Lola and I have few thoughts or feelings that we do not share with each other. We don’t tell each other everything, because everyone is entitled to the privacy of their minds and hearts. And besides, I don’t really want to know everything, not because I’d find anything unpalatable, but because one of the beautiful things about her is that she always keeps me guessing. She’s constantly in a gorgeous state of becoming. I don’t know what she’ll feel, think, be, or do next. If I did know everything, it would mean she’d stopped growing, and I would never want that for her.
I feel it’s important to note that implicit in my definition of intimacy is a strong sense of trust. Lola and I have a level of trust in each other that is unprecedented for me. I feel as though I can (and have) tell her anything, and she won’t stop loving me. I hope she knows the same is true of me. Yet, we don’t always agree. Our trust is not built of homogeneity in thought and feeling. Our trust is built of experience. We’ve seen each other in some amazingly good and remarkably bad lights over the last decade, and yet we’ve never turned away from each other.
Physical intimacy is also something that I think requires a tremendous amount of trust. I’ve written about being high on the “touch scale” and preferring physical intimacy, but I have not spoken of how I feel about unsolicited touch (which I mean as physical intimacy for which I have not expressly asked). I’m actually not comfortable with anyone casually touching me without prior (preferably) verbal or (less-preferably) non-verbal permission. Even then, I like a clear option to refuse. It is thus a sign of trust and progress in a relationship for me to accept casual, unsolicited touch from someone without incident. To date, Lola is only one of two people with whom I’ve felt comfortable in this way. Spontaneous hugs from her are something I cherish and relish greatly.
The last and z-axis, commitment, is possibly the most important to me, because it’s the one at which I work the hardest. I’m a natural loner and a sometimes commitment-phobe. I have to actively tamp down my knee-jerk negative reaction to interpersonal expectations at times. At the beginning of our friendship, this was the most problematic part. But I consider it part of my commitment to the relationship to stick around and work on it, to not run away when it gets tough. I’m in it for the long haul, because it’s worth it, and because she’s worth it.
As is probably obvious, I consider my relationship with Lola to be my primary relationship, with the commensurate priority and commitment that entails. Lola comes first, period. She’s the only one for whom I answer the (hated) telephone. If we make plans to talk, I make it a point to try to rearrange my schedule so I’m free. Lola gets first consideration for holiday plans. Barring impossibility, I’d fly down to her anytime she asked. I have diagnosed mental health issues, but I still make it a point to save some emotional reserves just in case Lola needs me for comfort or encouragement. And that’s the crux of the matter. I try to always give Lola the best of what I am capable in the moment.
I know that it might be hard for some people to read what I’ve said and believe my statement that I’m not in love with Lola and that I don’t want a romantic relationship with her. I understand that, but it’s true. Some have said that it will be different when Lola is in a romantic relationship. Honestly, it won’t be, except for the fact that time-management for visits and phone calls will be different. I’m not repressing a hidden desire for something more that will rear its ugly, jealous head when she’s in a relationship. Love and relationships are unique and varied things, not simply reducible to a hierarchy of friendship or romantic partnership.
Now that I’ve analyzed the living daylights out of our relationship, let me end on a decidedly gushy note, because I haven’t spoken about Lola enough yet. First of all, most days I just want to walk around with a “Lola’s Queerplatonic Life Partner” badge on. I want to announce to everyone how unexpectedly lucky I feel that I get to be in her life in the way I do. Shit, how cool is that!?! That is in no way an exercise in hyperbole. Lola is fucking amazing! (Don’t even try to argue with me. I will cut you!) She has an intellect that could peel paint off walls. I have sat down with her innumerable times to talk about something that is my expertise – genetics, theology, etc. – and inevitably she’ll have managed to completely revolutionize the way I think about the subject. If the majority of people can see four sides to an issue, you bet your ass Lola can see ten, and then articulate each beautifully.
Lola is also ridiculously funny. I never laugh so hard as when I’m with her. She has such a quick wit and sharp tongue. I never actually realized how much laughter she brings into my life until we stopped living together. I visited her for this past Christmas and after the first night, my stomach muscles were hurting from laughing so much. You see, they’d got out of practice in her absence. I’m glad she’s blogging more now, because that means I get much more of her hilarity on a regular basis. Got to keep those laugh muscles toned.
And finally, what has been a continual source of amazement and profound gratitude for me is how fiercely loving and kind Lola is. It’s a wonder by which I’m still surprised, not because it seems out of keeping with other aspects of her personality, but because it is so purely and breathtakingly unconditional. She has such an empathetic understanding of the beauty and tragedy and potential and disappointment inherent in every human life. I’ve actually never seen her categorically dismiss anyone as evil or unworthy. As I once said to her, knowing her helps me to understand what an entire lifetime in the church could not, the love of God – unreserved and irrespective of perceived worthiness.
[Note: If anyone is curious about asexuality or the asexual community, I would suggest starting out by visiting the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network (AVEN). If you’d like further resources and nifty blogs, just let me know.]