Asexual love has a right to Valentine’s Day too! Grace Singh, who runs Indian Aces for asexual couples writes.
Come Valentine’s Day and there’s a barrage of inescapable mushy messages and romantic imagery one must put up with everywhere, from malls to restaurants to the email inbox. But did you ever notice there’s a pattern to all of this? For example, what’s the image that comes to your mind immediately as I say the word ‘couple’? If it was not an attractive girl laughing with a tall handsome guy in beautiful sunlight on a park bench, you deserve a cookie.
Our understanding of ‘love’ itself is vastly heteronormative. A typical, ideal, or worse, ‘normal’ love story goes the exact same way for a majority of the population. A girl and a guy meet/see each other (online or offline). They feel attracted to each other and at least one of them decides to pursue it based on their attraction. They fall in love, eventually marry each other, and have children. This is the happy ending. In such a scenario, the love story typically commences with physical attraction between the guy and the girl, followed by romantic attraction and love. The culmination of romance is typically expected to be sex and the culmination of love, the marriage, with their children being the ‘pyar ki nishani’.
A lot of this mindset has to do with pop culture, where we see a man ‘falling in love’ with a woman at the first glance, and deciding to pursue her relentlessly based on it. Movie songs show the ‘hero’ serenading the ‘love of his life’ by extensively praising her appearance, writing poetry on the beauty of her hair, eyes, lips, and arms, and professing what her physical appearance does to him and his ‘heart’. He will then describe the manifestations of his sexual attraction to her in no subtle terms. Exhibit A: “Ye kaali kaali aankhein, ye gore gore gaal, dekha jo tujhe janam, hua hai bura haal.” Exhibit B: “ladki beautiful kar gayi chull”. You get the picture, right?
While India has only recently begun to accept homosexuality in the mainstream media, it still remains hugely ignorant to the many other kinds of sexualities and relationships that exist out there. Asexuality and asexual couples in a relationship are one such.
What if I told you that there are people out there who do not experience sexual attraction to anyone ever at all? What if I told you that a lot of them want and have romantic relationships despite that? And what if I told you that romantic orientation can work completely independently of the sexual orientation in some individuals? They might be heteroromantic, homoromantic, or panromantic, but they remain asexual. What if I told you that there are some who are asexual as well as aromantic, meaning they do not experience romantic attraction to anyone ever either? What if I told you they might still have long-term relationships with loving, genuine partners? Think these are not ‘real’ relationships? Think sex and romance form the basis of a strong relationship? Think that love without these components is ‘just friendship’? Think again.
Nonu Singh*, a 29 year old woman, identifies as a hetero-romantic demisexual. This orientation lies somewhere on the border of sexuality and asexuality. It refers to people who experience rare occurrences of sexual attraction exclusively to specific people only, who they likely have a strong emotional attraction/connection to.
Don’t confuse this with ‘refraining from sex before marriage’ or some such. Nonu recalls that as a young teenager, she would have crushes but would never want anything out of those crushes. She never felt the need for a boyfriend and didn’t start dating till the age of 23, when with her first boyfriend, it took her a few months to get comfortable enough to even kiss. “I thought it was because this was my first relationship and because I’m a shy person,” she explains. The more she dated the more she realized that her sexual attraction to a person wasn’t based on their physical attractiveness at all. “The man I’m seeing now isn’t the most good-looking man I’ve met, and yet, he’s the person I’ve been most sexually attracted to. I genuinely find him sexier than the Siddhartha Malhotra look-alike I once dated.”
It’s not like demisexuals just have different preferences, or are picky. An individual’s orientation is based on what they experience, and not how they behave. “Even this person I’m currently dating, wasn’t attractive to me AT ALL when we started. I remember I told him I wouldn’t have even noticed him had I ever bumped into him in real life.” Nonu met him at an online platform 7 years back and they continued talking on the phone for several years as they never lived in the same city. She found herself deeply attached to him in time, and found him increasingly attractive.
“Demisexuals aren’t prudes”, she clarifies, “It’s not like I ‘decide’ to not be sexually active in the initial courtship period. It’s just that I don’t FEEL any attraction to these people for a long time, if at all. Basically, it’s like my horniness is directed towards a very specific person and none else.” Between them, they have a very open communication channel and she mentions that though he is a sexual man, he understands her completely and accepts her fully.
“Honestly, it isn’t that hard for a demisexual out there as it is for an asexual. Of course the entire hook-up culture and tinder generation can be a little overwhelming for us, since we’re expected to be immediately attracted to anyone who ticks all our checkboxes, but we get by when we find someone who can understand a little.”
Dale, 22 and his boyfriend Tiaz, 25, are both from Chennai. Both are openly ‘gay’ to their families and have been together for over 6 months now. “I want to share with everyone out there that asexual relationships exist and are real.” Dale and Tiaz are one such couple themselves, with both of them identifying as homo-romantic asexual.
They met last year through a dating app for homosexuals called Grindr.
“We were just two guys on the app with no expectations”, he says. “He was the kindest, friendliest, most down to earth person I’d met, with a heart of gold”, Dale confesses. They soon fell in love. Disclosing his asexuality to Tiaz wasn’t difficult at all for Dale. “We both happened to mention it while getting to know each other right in the beginning. There was no element of shock or surprise there,” Dale says.
As any other couple, they like to spend their time exploring places, eating out, or staying back home listening to their favourite music together, cooking food, watching movies and television series, and holding hands. “When we’re apart, we text and talk frequently. We are best friends and soulmates, both. We’ve been with each other through thick and thin.” Dale calls Tiaz the Love of his Life. “It’s not just the 14th of Feb., he’s my valentine and I’m his valentine every day.”
By sharing his story, Dale hopes to be an inspiration to people and encourage them to own their orientation. He hopes to let the masses know that “love is love, regardless of gender and orientation.” He adds, “I wish people would understand that love without sex is as deep as any other and that we might not be sexually attracted to anyone but our feelings and emotions are enough to keep our relationship alive.”
21 year old Niyati* from Mumbai identifies as an aromantic asexual. She has been with Niket* for 1.5 years now. Niket is a romantic asexual but they have an understanding. He doesn’t expect her to be romantic, and she puts up with his romancing every once in a while. “It’s just a tad out of my understanding how romance works,” she says, “It’s not like I don’t love him, I do, and I care for him deeply. I just don’t think that love and affection and care are inherently romantic.”
Niyati met Niket in college, where they first got talking. Once he opened up, he would constantly talk about how the society and all the girls he met expected him to be some sex-crazed ever-horny maniac. According to her, he had managed to offend a number of girls by NOT trying to make a move on them to get them in his bed. “It made all these otherwise desirable girls feel unattractive,” she says he would say. He did not have an explanation for why he was the way he was, till he met Niyati, who introduced to him the concept of asexuality.
“I had been aware of my peculiarity since a year or so by that time. I had never had crushes, never fancied anyone, never felt romantic longing, never felt the need for a boyfriend, and most certainly never felt sexually towards anyone,” she explains. When she found similarities in Niket, she felt a combination of excitement and relief. “It was like finding home, like finally having a sense of belonging”. Niyati iterates that she did not feel any sense of ‘attraction’, just a feeling of soothing comfort. Niket on the other hand romanticized her increasingly as the days passed and he found refuge in their growing closeness, she adds.
Niyati and Niket have never had sex and don’t plan to either. “No-one can say what the future holds but it looks like we’re the best fit we can hope for in our largely closeted society.” Niyati and Niket have talked about adopting a child in the long-term. Their families are aware of their relationship but unaware of the dynamics of it. “No-one except my partner needs to know about my intimate life. We’re happy and content where we are.”
These stories might sound obscure, but they are happening right around you. These are your everyday people and couples who you might’ve eaten lunch with, or called your nephews and nieces. What happens when these people grow up in highly sexualized environments or orthodox cultures? They go through their life feeling abnormal about what’s a 100% natural to them. They might not have the term for their orientations, but they’ve struggled with it for long enough to know it’s beyond control. While a few are able to find a partner like them, most tend to force themselves in sexual relationships in an attempt to ‘normalize’ themselves, putting themselves in dangerous situations. Eventually, they end up getting pressurized into marriages with partners who expect them to be sexual and bear children with them.
In a humble attempt to change this, I started the Indian asexual community page called Indian Aces (Facebook.com/IndianAces), which is now getting converted into a website as well. The page (along with a secret group) works as a refuge for people who have been feeling broken and isolated all this while. On the page, I run a column called ‘Grace answers’ where I answer queries sent to me personally or on mail (firstname.lastname@example.org). Indian Aces can also be contacted on twitter at @IndianAces_.
Indian Aces have conducted multiple offline meetups in Delhi, Bombay and Bangalore where people mingle, chitchat and eat like any casual hang-out, except, they get to see physically that people just like them exist in the real world too. In order to help asexual people meet prospective asexual partners, I also came up with a matchmaking platform called Platonicity (facebook.com/Platonicity) which received such an unprecedented response that I had to halt the process for the time being. I am now making it into a full fledged match-making website and eventually an app. The matchmaking will double up and work for all people who want a sexless relationship too, whether it be due to biological, psychological or social reasons.
*Some names changed to protect the privacy of people.
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