Tuesday, July 5, 2016

More about love

As I've discussed before, some people think it's weird for an aromantic person like me to suggest she knows anything about love.

I think I know plenty. But today I'm gonna talk about shortcuts.

I love pretty easily. If I see someone is passionate, or open-minded, or engaged, or enthusiastic, or creative, or driven, I am attracted to them right away. I love seeing people in love, and watching them love what they do is wonderful for me, so I want to be around them while they love. When I get to watch other people get passionate about WHO they love, that's great too--in both fictional and real-life contexts, I am a big fan of seeing people develop their authentic relationships and love each other.

And I hate that love gets caught up in boxes that define and contain it. People who develop sexual attraction to the people they love, or romantic attraction to the people they love, or (as is very common) both, can sometimes be bowled over by its intensity and make claims about its status as the pinnacle of all human feeling.

Oh, and then they might point out that they feel sorry for me for not having it.

I'm not sure what it is about some people's interpretation of reality, but these folks really enjoy quantifying levels of love in their lives and then creating a scale of superiority that they then apply to everyone else. But not even everyone who does feel sexual and romantic attraction to partners experiences it in the same way, not to even mention those of us who feel some but not others and don't agree on how they rank. What's the point of these boxes? What's the point of telling me you don't believe I'm fully enjoying life because these types of attraction don't enhance the love I have?

Say you like cheese on your bagel, and have determined that cheesy bagels are The Best. And every time you see other people eating bagels that do not have cheese, you judge them inferior even though they seem to be enjoying their bagels as much as you enjoy yours. And you offer superior smiles to the lactose intolerant and vegan members of your breakfast circle, refusing to acknowledge that eating cheese does not bring them the pleasure that it brings you, concluding that no one in this room is really having an excellent breakfast except you. The person eating the poppy seed bagel and the person who's not even having a bagel for breakfast? They don't know what good is. They don't know what breakfast is. What's the point in them even claiming they've eaten food?

This is how it sounds to me when people point out their romantic or sexual attraction and insist that it's a shortcut to the Best Love There Is. You are allowed to enjoy it and I am 100% accepting of your claim that these attractions enhance your experience. But they are not the ESSENCE of it. Love isn't sex. Love isn't romance. Love is itself. It exists between people who have some kind of appreciation for each other. Their relationship is a celebration of it. The flavors that define it and the experiences you have together are not the actual juice of the feeling.

Of course I find an opportunity to sneak in cartoon images.

So here's the thing. I don't think expressing love cheapens it. I wish there was more of it, to be honest. I don't think it has to be rare to be precious. But there have been times when I knew--because of the shortcuts our society has programmed into it--that someone else meant something different by "love" than I did. And that if I reciprocated with ANY form of love, it would be misinterpreted.

And that's why a person like me has to be careful with her love.

I wish I didn't. I'm full of stuff to care about. I dump my love for people all over the place. I express it and celebrate it and let people know they're cared for. But giving gifts, paying attention, being enthusiastic, and spending time with people are all things people can interpret as signs of romantic or sexual interest, and I spent more than a decade of my life wrangling these incidents of mistaken intent. People, mostly men, have mistaken my interaction for romantic/sexual openings since forever. I've received a pretty big handful of "I love you, please date me" confessions, and they frustrate me because "date me" is not what I want to do when I love you back. I just want to love you. And when I love you how I love you, it isn't "enough" for you. Because you're looking for a very specific kind of bagel from someone who can't eat cheese without discomfort and concluding that my refusal to eat it constitutes no breakfast at all.

In high school I got a note from a guy I barely knew who told me he had dumped his girlfriend just for the chance to ask me out. In college a guy who was always calling me cute when we hung out wrote me a long e-mail about how he'd fallen in love with me and hoped that in my response I would not "break" him. In my early twenties I stopped associating with a guy who wouldn't respect my request not to touch me when we were together, and he wrote me an angry message scolding me for my "coldness" and blaming my "intimacy issues" for refusing to "get closer." I didn't even date any of those people, but of the couple of people I did date, there were "I love yous" there that didn't mean to them what theirs meant to me. And since then, I've had a few more nuanced relationships with friends who said they loved me, but seemed to think love had to lead somewhere I had no intention of going.

For me, loving is living, loving is being. It's complicated sometimes because human relationships are complicated, but it's also really simple, and for me it's very easy. I'm happy to field the complications my loving relationships cause; my lack of sexual or romantic love does not mean I never deal with frustration in my relationships or must be a symptom of wanting a simple life. It's just not that flavor of bagel. But I still want to eat breakfast with you. I just want you to stop claiming we're not having a REAL meal together unless we're eating the same thing, stop interpreting my food as less satisfying if it doesn't have cheese, and for shit's sake stop trying to sneak cheese onto my bagel.

I want you to have your love on your terms. I want you to accept that I should get to have mine on my terms. I do not owe you a compromise to prove it's love. And if you require such a thing, I think you're the one who doesn't actually know the proper ingredients.

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