Identification For Whose Sake

This is a (slightly late) submission to the October Carnival of Aros on “Prioritization

When it comes to the issue of whether I prioritize aromantic identity – or more concretely, whether I prioritize aromantic communities ties – on a quantitative level, it probably isn’t as high a priority as some of my other community identities, but rather than getting into a quantitative comparison, I think it’s more worthwhile for me to think about for whom I have chosen to prioritize this identity anyway – because it isn’t necessarily just about me.

In particular, my relationship with aromanticism is complicated by the fact that I prioritize my aromantic identity in community and activism work largely for the sake of others, and only secondarily for myself. 

When it comes to making sense of my own experiences, I find the entire concept of differentiated attraction – and associated labels like romantic and aromantic – quite useless, actually. After all, when my main takeway is “I don’t seem to experience this “attraction” thing other people keep talking about”, splitting hairs about what type of attraction I don’t feel is not particularly helpful. And in an earlier age and space where I found that most people actually assumed that the aro ace experience was the default ace experience, just saying “I’m asexual and not interested in anyone in any way” was all I needed.

I initially started using the term aromantic on online ace forums because it seemed like clarifying whether you were aromantic or romantic was just the thing to do, and it also wasn’t inconvenient as shorthand for signaling my (lack of) interests when it came to relationship and dating discussions. However, my use of the term mostly kept to that space, and for reasons discussed later, I never got as personally attached to it. 

On the other hand, my decision to start using the word “aromantic” more publicly started out as a more deliberate way: not so much to signal what I was, so much as what I wasn’t – which was a representative of all aces. More specifically, I started emphasizing my aromantic identity in things like ace workshops, panels, and coming out conversations in order to explain that when I talked about my lack of crushes and lack of interest in dating, people should not assume that those feelings applied to all aces – basically, visibly adopting an aromantic label was something I did in order to prioritize the needs of romantic aces, especially when I was one of the loudest (or often only) voices in the room.

Over time, some of that emphasis has shifted. On the one hand, as romantic experiences have become better known in ace communities, I feel less need for heavy lifting on that distinction. On the other hand, as non-asexuals have also started picking up the aromantic label and forming new aromantic communities, I increasingly feel that as someone who has built up more years of influence and connections, I should do my part to give some more visibility to aromantic experiences and identity, and to clarifying the fact that some aro communities also stand independent of ace ones.

Not a Personal Priority

In the first half of this post, I talked about the reasons that I prioritize my aromantic identity as a way to prioritize the needs of others. However, as a bit of a followup, I also wanted to expand a little bit on why it’s not necessarily a personal priority for myself (unlike some other identities and communities). There’s two main complicating factors, one social/structural and one more internal – the external factor is my bad timing and unsatisfying experiences with aro communities past (or lack thereof), and the internal factor is my own complicated relationship to the entire concepts of romance and in turn aromanticism.

Bad Timing

One of the biggest complicating factors is probably the simple fact that when I was “coming of age” in my late teens and early twenties, there wasn’t much of an independent aromantic community to speak of (at least, not one I felt worth spending time in), so during that especially vulnerable period I was getting all of my complicated orientation needs met with either with ace people in ace venues, or with queer communities more broadly, and therefore those are the labels and community that have the strongest gut connection for me on that deeper emotional level. While I am continuously keeping involved and in touch with the growing aro communities around me today, I’m just no longer in a place in life where they can have the same kind of impact on my identity formation and sense of community that early ace and LGBTQ+ communities did.

Grey, Fuzzy Borders

However, there is also another big consideration. When I said earlier that there weren’t really any separate aromantic communities to speak of during my formative years, that wasn’t completely true – there were a few that I was peripherally aware of, in the form of some early forum attempts like aroplane, and a few themed tumblr blogs here or there. But the thing is, they tended to be low in activity and usually didn’t have many of the conversations I was interested – at least not any more than I could find elsewhere.

Because, as it turns out, I did find the conversations about aromantic(ish) experiences I needed  – but it wasn’t so much from actual aromantic communities so much as adjacent conversations among groups with a more troubled relationships to the idea of aromantic identity, including people who would later come to identify using terms like “wtfromantic,” “quoiromantic,” and “greyromantic”.

Given the fact that the experiences of these people resonate more with me than many archetypal “aromantic” community narratives today, maybe they would be more “accurate”. But the thing is that when it comes to the labels I choose to use in public discussion, I also prioritize simplicity over accuracy – I find that using the most well known umbrella term that I can stand to be more functionally useful in my day to day life than the one that might be the most technically accurate. (I grew up around a few engineers who were a fan of the “Keep it Simple, Stupid” philosophy, and I guess it stuck as the only KISS I care for). In that sense, my attachment to the word is perhaps more pragmatic than sentimental, and that may also complicate my relationship with it.

Remembering Aro Blogging over the years

For this month’s Carnival of Aros on “Change”, I wanted to talk about some of the changes I’ve seen in the aro community (or as close as I could get to one) in my experience over the years. It is part history, part personal reflection. It’s not really a proper history, in that it has some large gaps as I drifted in and out of engagement with discussions of aromanticism (especially around ~2014-2019, and with regards to the growth of aro tumblr); it’s also very much just my experience rather than a more objective summary, and I’m writing this at the last minute and from my own imperfect memory rather than from primary sources. Instead, think of it as an example of just one person’s perspective on aromanticism over time. There are undoubtedly some large missing perspectivEs that I’m sure other users will point out, but I think that just reflects the ways that aro writing has historically been a bit disjointed and difficult for any one person to fully track.

I’m hoping that others may be willing to ask questions or join in the comments to share their own recollections in order to help expand the narrative.

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Half of my Heart / Can’t Love You Back

This is my entry for the July 2020 Carnival of Aros, on the topic of “Music”.

Way back in 2010/2011, when I was both first exploring asexuality/aromanticism, and also discovering the unrelated world of youtube music covers, I came across this song (specifically this cover), that got stuck in my head as an earworm for a couple months:

 

 

Part of the appeal was that it’s just a catchy tune, but on another level, I think that “half of my heart” chorus also stuck with me as a sort of reflection of my own troubled thoughts about love and attraction and relationships – or lack thereof.

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Maybe the Real Most Precious Thing was the Friends we Made Along the Way

This is my submission for the June 2020 Carnival of Aros, on the subject of “Most Precious“.

As an aromantic person who has never really been interested in dating or anything like it, I have never had – and may never have – anything that could be commonly be described as an “intimate partner”. Even though the concept of a queerplatonic relationship – or some other form of “platonic life partner” type arrangement – is appealing on a theoretical level, it’s also not something I’ve been very motivated to pursue at this stage of my life. As such, I’ve had to look elsewhere to fill what is often considered part of the role of a “partner”, whether it’s serious matters like finding an emergency contact or someone to help get me soup and medicine if I get sick, or lighter dilemmas like finding a plus one to a party.

For many years (and to some extent to this day), I’ve turned to family for many of these roles – my parents are still my main emergency contact in many places, my sister is one of my main targets for spontaneous gift-exchanging, and I’m fortunate in that we are all close enough (and similar enough in political views and social standards) that I’ve been able to get a lot of social support from them – not to mention financial support as well, especially when I was younger and still a student. (And indeed, that financial support – as well as the benefits of a well-paying white-collar job since – have also gone a long way in smoothing over the difficulties of being a person with unconventional relationships.

However, while having a supportive family is wonderful, it only goes so far – as my parents get older, they may eventually start needing my support, not to mention the fact that we live over 300 miles apart at the moment; and as my sister is currently pursuing a professional degree on the opposite side of the country, that physical distance limits our involvement when it comes to many practical things. And while money always makes everything easier, a $20 bill alone can’t open a can of soup and heat it up on the stove when you really need it.

Instead, this is where I turn to friendships.

What Friends are For

In general, I’ve been incredibly fortunate in that I’ve been able to get nearly all of my social, physical and emotional needs met through the various networks of friendships I’ve cultivated over the years, including:

  • Roommates/cohabitation with a couple of my old friends from my college student orgs, which makes for much more affordable living
  • Food and cookie deliveries from another old college friend who’s always down to make the drive to Costco or Safeway or a local clinic or pharmacy (esp. when I have no car)
  • Emotional support and sounding boards from friends online – both old friends who are now miles away, and new friends I may not even have met in person yet
  • Peer support from local ace/aro/queer folks when it comes to sexuality and gender discontentment
  • Well-off foodie friends who are happy to spot the check if I realize I forgot cash or card, or if finances were to ever get tight.
  • and more!

Over time, I’ve been fortunate enough to build up a very robust social and support circle – part of which I can attribute to deliberate strategies, like joining and getting heavily involved with various hobby/social organizations, but part of which also comes down to sheer luck (in happening to find people I can mesh with; in having the free time to spend on forging such social connections; in not having my life majorly disrupted by moves or health issues or drama that could also disrupt such friendships). Because of this, having a strong, active social and support network is something I’m incredibly aware of and always grateful for – definitely one of my “most precious” possessions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Praise of Pins

This is my submission for the May 2020 Carnival of Aros, on the topic of “DIY“.

A year or so ago, I was sitting at a transit stop, waiting for a train, when I caught a snippet of a quiet conversation behind me:

“Is that an…Oddish?”

“Yeah, you’re right, that’s Oddish!”

“What’s that one?”

“I think that one’s an ace flag”

“And what’s that one?”

“Hm, I don’t know that that one is”

Upon turning around, turns out that there was a dad and his kid (who couldn’t have been more than like, 10) who had been looking at the decorative pins that I currently have on my usual weekend bag:

AroPinsBody1

The dad mentioned something about liking my pins, I mentioned that the third pin (that they were having trouble identifying) was an aromantic flag, got a thanks and a smile, and then our train came and we went our separate ways.

It was a relatively small interaction, but a heartwarming one – both to see that bit of awareness in the wild, to see some great parenthood, to be able to work in such tiny snippets of education in an unexpected location.

This also isn’t the first time that that same set of aro and ace pins has been a conversation starter – I’ve also gotten quick “hey, I like your pins!” with knowing looks and a few “oh hey, I am too!”s and some other “hey, is that pin what I think it is?” –  in the audience at LGBT student conferences, in the elevator at anime conventions, from the next table over at a restaurant.

The exact pins have occasionally changed since I first added them on – the aro flag was a later addition after it started gaining more popularity, and the current sparkly one was a recent replacement for my old DIY standard one; the oddish one has been changed out a couple times when I found a new one or lost an old one.

And over the years, I’ve acquired more pins, and more bags, and then more pins to the point I now have an entire drawer of various fandom and sexuality and all sorts of other pins to the point I’m starting to look into different ways to display them (a corkboard or tapestry to hand on a wall maybe?)

While many of my original pins were sourced, surprisingly enough, from anime conventions of all places (turns out lots of artist alley fan artists also sell pride swag and make a point of including lesser known identities!), some of the others have come from a newer source: my own handy dandy button maker!

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A cautionary tale (with a hopeful message): Our shared pains may not be exclusively ours.

This post is for the February 2020 Carnival of Aros, on the subject of “Variation vs. Unity”

One of the things that communities of shared experience and identity often bond over is commiserating over our shared struggles, pains and frustrations. Whether we are looking for advice from someone has been throughout it, support in fighting to overcoming it together, or even just someone who understands that we can vent everything out to, shared pain is one of the big things that bring us together.

Another thing that drives us towards each other is the inability of many of those outside our group to understand or take seriously the problems we face, if they are not targeted by those same issues.

However, when dealing with our pain, we still have to be careful – because the fact that many people outside our group cannot relate to our problems, does not mean that all people outside our group are free from these problems – the forces of convention and normativity rarely restrict their pressures to one single group.

Therefore, we need to be careful when stating that “people who aren’t us can never understand this problem” or that “if a person claims this experience, they must be one of us – or its appropriation”. Because often, that’s not the case.

A Cautionary Tale: Is “Marriage Equality” really a uniquely gay issue?

As a common example of this fallacy, I want to refer to a sort of case example from a tumblr post I saw a few years ago (although unfortunately I no longer have a link to it). The post in question was responding to to a common statement from a lesbian or gay person that went something like this:

“Straight people will never understand what it’s like to be legally denied the right to marry the person you love”

At face value, this doesn’t seem that incorrect – after all, up until about 5 years ago, many same-sex lesbian, gay, and bi couples in the united states had no legal right to marry – and many couples abroad still do not have that right. And even now, it remains uncertain how strong this right is, and while the law now allows, the law often declines to protect people from being fired, harassed, evicted, denied service, or worse just because of that marriage.

And it’s true that straight people, as a general class, have not recently been denied that right solely for being straight.

However, as responses to the post in question pointed out, where this assumption falls apart is when you realize that straight vs. gay is not, in fact, the only axis of advantage and disadvantage along which society is divided, and that many straight people also have other identities that affect their experience, which may heavily affect how they have been treated with regards to the legal institution of marriage. For example”

  • First, and perhaps most immediate, is gender identity: many straight trans people (and many of their straight partners)were just as affected and just as involved in the struggle for marriage equality as cisgendered lesbian, gay, and bi people were, due to the way that judgements of who was “male and female” enough to marry were often based on cissexist assumptions and misgendering.
  • There is also the consideration of race: Many interracial couples weren’t allowed the right to marry in many US states until 1967 – and many of these couples (and especially their children) are still alive today. When my own grandparents got married, their relationship was still illegal in much of the country! And looking back a little further, there were centuries in the US where black slaves where not allowed access to any kind of legal marriage or relationship recognition, and would regularly be torn apart with no choice in the matter; a legacy that has left an impact on all their descendants.
  • While perhaps a less widespread, some states still disallow or even criminalize certain cousin marriages, no matter what the circumstances – some others require both participants to prove that they are sterile first.

Even in addition to de jure legal barriers, there are also many groups today who still face de facto barriers to marriage:

  • Many disabled people cannot marry without losing much of the limited financial support they already rely on just to stay alive – it doesn’t matter much whether you have the legal “right” to marriage if excercising it means immediately losing your ability to pay for the food and care and shelter you need to stay alive and enjoy it.
  • Widows or widowers  (often older) who are entirely reliant on social security spousal benefits (perhaps after years of being a stay-at-home parent to support their partners career) are similarly unable to access marriage without losing their sole source of income (although some of these laws are loosening), as are some low income people who rely on federal benefits that may be cut if they marry.
  • Also, because marriage in the US is restricted to binary couples, many poly people or others in relationships with 2 or more serious partners are denied the right to have their partners recognized and treated equally.

And that’s just in the United States, without going into the complications of international marriage situations – or in to the doubleor triple hurdles faced by people who face intersectional disadvantages and are affected by more than just one of these issues at once.

When people reduce the issue of marriage rights to “gay people face this struggle, straight people never have”, we erase all of these groups’s complex strugglies. And when we do that, we also lose the important chance to join forces is in coalition with them. Because that’s the flip side of all this – while acknowledging that the hurts that felt unique might be more common than you thought can be both difficult to work into your identity, and a bit depressing for our worldviews, the other side of it is that it also means there are many more potential allies out there who want to make the same changes we do.

Coalition Building: More people with shared pain means more allies in fighting to stop the pain.

The benefit of expanding our worldviews to recognize other groups that may face similar struggles, is recognizing that we can also connect with these groups in our fight to better our situations. Here again, the issue of marriage law has some relevant parallels:

Coalition building is important, because the more people you can find commonality with, the more allies you have who are deeply invested in your cause. And what several small groups fighting along may fail to achieve, a single unified coalition has a much better chance at.

What does this mean for Aromantic activists?

As aro people, when we are often surrounded by non-aros who do not seem to share our struggles, and when aro communities are the first places we find solace from those pressures, it’s easy to assume that we are the only ones in the world dealing with these problems – whether it’s the delegitimization or stigmatization  of relationships that don’t include the right amounts of romance, or pressure to engage in types of relationships that we don’t want, or people mocking us for having ‘unnatural’ desires/lacking the “proper” desires (or viewing us with pity and trying to “fix” us).

However, it’s important to realize that although it can seem like it we are alone in the world, we are not the only ones facing any of these problems – and we don’t need to be alone in fighting them.

Furthermore, while ace and aro allyship is one type of potential coalition building, we must not end there. We must also seek out parallels across all axes of identity, as the politics of love, sex, and romance and desire (and the lack thereof) are constantly affected by judgements based in sexism, cissexism, heterosexism/homophobia, racism, classism, and more. Just to get us started, here’s a few examples of areas where I see potential for reaching out to similarly affected groups:

  • Coalitions between aromantic people seeking to destigmatize non-romantic sexual relationships, and other sex-positive, queer, and feminist activists seeking to negate the stigma of sex outside of traditional romantic partnerships.
  • Coalitions between aros who like alternative living arrangements with non-married housemates, and other single, low income, queer, younger, and also senior housing advocates looking to promote alternative living styles, including better models and paths to co-ownership for non-married co-owners.
  • Coalitions between aro folks and POC in breaking down racist assumptions around desexualization, hypersexualization, being shut out of sex, dating or relationship consideration and more.
  • Coalitions between aros in nontraditional partnerships with poly folks looking for alternative ways to access legal rights and recognition for important people in your life even without traditional marriage.
  • Coalitions with poly and queer advocates to break up the assumption that everyone needs to be in a monogamous, romantic, sexual, long-term relationship, and that any other types of relationship is pointless and not worthy of legal recognition

And that’s just what I could come up with in the last 10 minutes.

Readers, do you have any other experiences of discovering shared points of struggle with other groups? Or do you have suggestions for additional coalition building?

 

Allyship: The Little Things Count a Lot

This is my very last minute response to the January 2020 Carnival of Aros, on the subject of “New“, in celebration of my shiny new aro/ace/queer pride swag from the holidays this year.

When it comes to allyship, there’s a lot of talk about the big asks that absolutely vital to being a good ally, like talking time to educate yourself about what it means to be aromantic (or ace, or queer, etc.), trusting people with their own evaluation of their identities and experiences, respecting their labels and chosen relationships, not being cruel or mocking their experiences, not kicking them out, defending them from people who do get hostile, etc.

But once that bare minimum is met, I think one of the things that can make a big ongoing difference is the little, fun, positive things that you can do that show that you haven’t forgotten what my identity means to me, and that you are willing to put in some work to actively support me rather than just agreeing to live and let live in whatever way requires very little work.

To that end, I want to share a few brief anecdotes about some the little above-and-beyond things that friends and family have done for me as allies, that went a long way in making me really feel supported and accepted, in the hope that they might serve as inspiration for anyone who wants to be a better ally to their own friends and family:

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November Carnival of Aros Call for Submissions: Aro Community Wishlists

As November rolls around and eventually leads into December, we in the US have now entered the official Holiday Season, with giant sales and advertisements everywhere promising the perfect gifts for your loved ones, and kids everywhere writing out their wishlists for Santa Claus. On a less commercial level, it’s a time when many people start looking for ways to give back to their families, friends, and communities, through gift-giving and philanthropy and more.

In the spirit of the season, I wanted to start building a wishlist of our own for aro communities: what kind of community spaces and resources do you want to see more of, as an aro-spec person?

That’s why for this November Carnival of Aros, I’m proposing a theme of “Aro Community Wishlists” – tell us more about what’s on your own wishlist for the aro community!

Some food for thought:

  • Are there any specific subgroups of the aro community that you would like to see more spaces and resources for?
    • (like allo aros, older aros, lgbt aros, religious aros, aros of color, etc.)
  • Would you like to see more specific types of spaces?
    • (like offline, online, chats vs. forums, closed vs. open, etc.)
  • Would you like to see more specific types of resources?
    • (like coming out advice, scholarships, fictional media, career networks, activist groups, advice for medical professionals, aro wallpaper graphics, etc.)
  • Are there specific types of aro art / swag / t-shirts / merch  / collectibles that you would like to see?
  • Are there specific topics you would like to see more internal community conversations about?
  • Are there any specific subjects you wish the wider public was more educated about?
  • Are there specific actions you would like to see more allies taking?

Also, on a more meta level, I want to remind everyone that Aro Spec Awareness Week is only about 3 months away! One of my hopes for this Carnival is that the wishlists created this month can provide inspiration for future projects for ASAW, and beyond.


How to Participate

To submit your entry to the carnival, you can leave a link to your submission in the comments below, or contact me directly at sennkestra@gmail.com. If you don’t have your own blog, you can also email me your submission text and I am happy to host it here as a guest post.

Submissions are due by midnight on November 30, 2019. (But if you think you are going to be a day or two late, we’re not sticklers – we’re happy to add late submissions to the roundup retroactively)


About the Carnival Aros

The Carnival of Aros is a monthly blogging carnival centered around aromantic/aro-spec identities and experiences! For more information on this project, see its home blog here.

Each monthly carnival is hosted by a volunteer blogger, who chooses any aro-related themes of their choice and issues a call for submissions, which can include text prose, poetry, video, art, or any other format of your choice. At the end of the month, the host will collect the links to all of that month’s submissions into a single masterpost,

We’re also in need of new carnival hosts starting this December – to volunteer to host, see here!

The Economics of Being Alone

This is a submission for the October 2019 Carnival of Aros, on the subject of “Aromanticism and Aloneness“.

On a purely emotional and social level, I don’t really have any objections to “going it alone” in life as single, unpartnered aromantic person. I’ve always had what I think of as a very…self-sufficient personality, I suppose. While I enjoy having a lot of more casual and informal friendships, I’ve never been the type to have super tight “best friend” type relationships where I pour my heart out – my style has always been amicable relationships with large social groups and events rather than the kind of emotionally intimate close friendships that I sometime see others describe.

And when it comes to things like talking about feelings and emotional support, I find that more introspective activities like good cathartic fiction and writing and blogging to strangers on the internet help me process my thoughts and feelings much better than turning to other people in my offline life for direct one-on-one support.

So from that emotional and mental health level, I like to think I do just fine as a single person with no so-called “committed relationships”, whether romantic or platonic or otherwise.

However, where that certainty about my ability to live a sufficient and satisfactory life alone breaks down is when I start thinking of the practical consequences of living alone.

As I’ve gotten to the point in my life where once-immediate concerns about school and job-seeking have receded (at least for the time being), I’ve started thinking more in-depth about what I would want out of a “relationship”, and what steps I would be willing to take to pursue one – not as a hypothetical for future me as I used to think of it, but as a “what steps do I want to take now” kind of thing.

I’ve also reached the point where I now have several years of built up experience on what it’s like to live both alone, and with other people, and without the automatic inbuilt family support structure that I had when I lived at home with my parents as a younger person.

And based on that life experience, I’ve realized that trying to modify traditional relationships (dating, marriage) to fit was going at things the wrong way, because when I actual break down the parts of a relationship that I want – cohabitation, sharing some (but not all) resources, mutual caring during illness, having someone to come home to and talk about the cool things I saw today, short term commitment – and the things that I don’t want or need  – emotional codependence, romantic or sexual exclusivity, lifelong commitments, family recognition – I realized that what I want isn’t a modified boyfriend/girlfriend/romantic partnership. What I actually want is basically just a housemate: I’m not looking for the romantic or emotional support or closeness of having an intimate partner, I’m looking for the more material and social comforts of splitting the bills and having someone to come home to so I don’t become just a hermit.

And frankly, those material commitments of having someone to share expenses with – whether it’s minimal cohabitation expenses like rent and power bills, or slightly more developed entanglements like food costs and entertainment budgets and travel budgets – are pretty serious.

The Costs of Living Alone

As someone currently living with 4 other housemates in a 5 bedroom house (an arrangement which is honestly close to my ideal for short-term relationships, tbh), I can afford to have nice things like living less than 2 blocks from major public transit, an in-unit washer and dryer and dishwasher, a living room large enough to host 15+ person social events, my own room, a garden area for my plants, and more.

If I were a single person living alone, like I was for a short time a few years ago, I could not even afford to live in this city at all, let alone this county – basic studios and one bedrooms start at like 175% of my current rent. Living in a nice place with a yard and washing machine is even more laughable of an idea.

Beyond just rent, other resources like netflix subscriptions, internet bills, food delivery fees, nice furniture, cookware, and more become much more accessible when the costs are split across a household instead of falling on a single person.

Even in terms of intangible resources, having a household also saves time, when you can distribute tasks like cleaning and repairs and streamline cooking for multiple people. Having other people in the household who I can depend on also means that if I’m sick, there’s already someone nearby who can bring me cold medicine, or help me get soup heated up, or to notice and make sure to get me to a doctor if things start getting worse. It means that I have people onsite that can water my plants if I’m home visiting parents, or sign for packages if they come in while I’m out running errands, or check if I left the stove on when I’m having irrational anxiety.

And it’s not just resources in the home that drive home the costs of going it alone – I think what drives it home even more is how much I notice when traveling.

I was recently looking into the possibility of taking an Amtrak Coast Starlight train up to Portland, or maybe Seattle – maybe taking a week off for slow, relaxed, and scenic rail travel in a sleeper car instead of frantic and tightly secured airports.

However, the thing is that if you want to get a sleeper car ticket, you have to buy a ticket for a sleeper car that sleeps two, even if you are a single person traveling alone. Most traditional hotels are the same way – designed and priced for pairs.  And while I totally understand the reason for that (economies of scale!), it really drives home the extent to which life is just not optimized for living as a single agent.

And that’s why I want – not necessarily a “relationship” relationships, but – a household, or traveling partners, or other people who are willing to commit to sharing resources (be it housing, utilities, hulu passwords, hotel rooms or something else).

Rethinking “Committed Relationships”

When people talk about “committed relationships”, I think that the concept is often based on modifying ideas of traditional romantic/sexual relationships, in the same way that I tried (and ultimately failed) to model my own relationship desires for years. Thus, there’s an idea that “commitment” also means lifelong partnerships like marriage, and often some level of exclusivity (whether emotional, romantic, sexual, or otherwise). And the idea that being in a committed relationship required that emotional closeness and lifelong commitment made me wonder if I could ever make that a reality – and if that was even what I wanted.

But what if we model “committed relationships” after another type of relationship – like, for example, roommates! We can think of the central bond as being resource sharing, rather than an emotional or sexual commitment; and the time as the term of a lease, perhaps, rather than the term of a lifetime. When short-term and mid-term commitments, and pure resource based commitments without any feelings stuff, become options on the table, suddenly the idea of a “committed relationship” (of a sort) becomes both more appealing and seems more achievable.

I like the idea that being romantically/emotionally independent, unpartnered, and “alone” in the “are you single or in a Relationship (with a capital R)” sense doesn’t have to be incompatible with other types of committed relationships (with a lower case r), even if they’re not what we traditionally think of as ‘relationships’ (for example, I get along great with my roommates, any my relationship with them satisfies a lot of my ‘relationshippy’ cravings, but they’re all pretty conventional and I don’t think would ever think of themselves as being in a “relationship” with me or our other housemates, if asked in those terms.)

 

7 Types of Relationship Commitment that Have Nothing to do with Sex or Romance.

This is a submission for the August 2019 Carnival of Aros, on the topic of “Relationships

When people talk about creating or valuing “commitment” in relationships, it’s often shorthand for advancing through the socially expected steps of the stereotypical sexual-romantic relationship escalator – things like romantic and sexual exclusivity, cohabitation, financial entanglement, legally recognized marriage, and possibly parenthood. These types of commitment are also largely seen as a linear, hierarchical and long-term (if not lifelong) progression of steps.

However, as Jo explains in the link above, the expected “relationship escalator” path of commitment is one that often breaks down when it comes to the lived experiences of asexual, aromantic, and polyamorous people (among others). After all, sexual/romantic exclusivity – one of the standard first steps on the escalator –  isn’t a good marker of commitment if you aren’t looking to be sexual or romantic with anyone in the first place, or if openness to multiple types of partners is a key goal of your relationship.

And once you start questioning that common first step, the rest of the assumptions of the relationship escalator also break down, not just for aces and aros but for anyone interested in exploring more nontraditional relationship models – after all, why would sexual entanglement need to precede financial entanglement or cohabitation anyway? Why does the person you want to commit to emotionally need to be the same person you decide you might want to co-parent with? What if you prefer to have shorter term or more flexible relationship commitments instead of assuming that the only “healthy” way to approach to commitment is to continue moving up and up the escalator for perpetuity?

Instead of an escalator, therefore, I like to thing of “commitments” as a variety of piecemeal “building blocks” that can be arranged in any combination and any order to define a prticular relationship, and that can be added and removed when or if desired. Which is why I wanted to give just a few examples of types of “commitment” that people can have in their relationships – whether these relationships are romantic, sexual, familial, or platonic; short-term or long-term; intense or casual. Some of these are serious, some are more silly, but hopefully all can serve as food for thought.

If you have any of your own examples of commitment that you’d like to highlight, however, large or small, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

1. The Roommates

This is perhaps the most common kind of non-sexual, non-romantic committed relationship that many people will experience in their life. While moving in with friends or even strangers you met on craigslist is, for whatever reason, rarely seen as a life-changing “commitment” in the way that moving in together with a romantic/sexual partner is, the fact is that choosing to eat, sleep, live, and breath and pay rent together with another person for months or years is one of the biggest financial and lifestyle commitments that many of us make. It’s also a good example of how commitment doesn’t always have to be lifelong or open-ended to be important to you – sometimes it might be bound to the length of a lease, or a graduation date, or other deadline, but that doesn’t make the commitment any less real.

2. The Co-Parents

While parenting is often seen as the ultimate and final commitment for married sexual/romantic couples, there’s really no reason that it has to be limited to these groups – after all, many great co-parents and guardians can also come in the form of close family friends, amicable exes, queerplatonic partners, group communes, extended family, and more.  And furthermore, the person(s) that you choose to parent with don’t always have to be the same people that you commit other parts of your life to – divorced couples have been figuring this out for decades, but it can also be an intentional option for those who choose to build their own relationships from scratch. After all, sometimes co-parents can be friends, not lovers, and other partners can stay partners without becoming parents.

3.  The T-Mobile Friends and Family Plan

One of the perks that our society grants to traditional couples and nuclear families is that they are often viewed as a “household” rather than a series of individual units, and granted privileges that less formally associated groups of individuals are not – from serious benefits like discounts on shared healthcare to less life-endangering concerns like discounts on shared cell phone service plans or even things like costco memberships.

As some companies (like the titular example) increasingly begin to recognize that households don’t just have to be traditional nuclear families, many of the group benefits are increasingly available to any other groups who are willing to commit to the responsibility of paying a shared bill.

4. The Poly Password Swap

Alice has an HBO account; Bob has Netflix.; Charlie has Hulu; and Eve has Amazon Prime; with their powers combined, they can form one big happy television binge-watching family! As noted in the example above, resource-sharing with a committed set of partners-in-consumption can be a great way to access services more affordable by banding together in groups rather than as individuals, and the benefits can increase cumulatively as each person brings their own resources to offer.

This sort of shared media-watching potential can also lead in other forms of commitment, like when you have that fellow fan friend who you make sure to watch every new episode with so you can gush about it afterwards.

5. The Designated Emergency Contact

At a minimum, most of us hope to have someone in our life who we can write down as the “emergency contact” that forms are constantly asking for – someone who we can trust to take on the responsibility of helping us handle our affairs and to get in touch with all the right people in the case that anything happens to incapacitate us. While many choose to trust this duty to a family member or spouse, those without those options often also trust it to a reliable friend or convenient neighbor – and even those with “traditional” options like spouses or family around may still choose to trust this to someone else if they think that person is better able to know their wishes, or to stay level-headed in an emergency – or maybe if that person is just more conveniently located.

On a similar level, the designation of more serious responsibilities like power of attorney can represent an even stronger commitment of this type.

This is also a useful example of the ways that commitment doesn’t always have to be symmetrical or reciprocal – maybe Jane might designate John as her contact, but John lists Joe, who lists someone else entirely.

6. The Friend with Literal Benefits

One of the most life-altering benefits that comes with being in a typical “committed” romantic/sexual relationship for many people is access healthcare insurance – while traditionally offered to married spouses and children, modern day employer healthcare plans increasingly allow individuals to offer benefits to any “domestic partner” (and their children), in order to include unmarried couples as well. While these domestic partner benefits are often still couched in terms that imply romantic/sexual relationships and may be difficult if not impossible to access for other types of committed partners, some jurisdictions are started to broaden the ability to designated a beneficiary for certain benefits in much more inclusive ways. And while current marriage fraud laws (combined with the assumed sexual-romantic-cohabitation requirements of marriage) can make it tricky for non-typical partners to access these types of benefits on the same level as more normative couples, I look forward to a future where this can be more of a widespread possibility (at least until we get a proper universal healthcare system that renders this all unnecessary).

7. The Dungeons and Dragons Party

Sometimes commitment can come in the form of commitment to joint social activity or hobby, whether it’s a monthly D&D group, a weekly knitting circle, a biweekly fantasy football league, or something else.

These kinds of social and hobby commitments can also be a great example of how commitments can be made in a relationship to a group or a community that may evolve over time, rather than a set of specific individual relationships.