My Friend Situation is Like a Fanfiction Trope, AMA.

This is my submission for the October 2021 Carnival of Aros, on the topic of “Friendship.”.

When it comes to aspirations about an asexual and aromantic lifestyle, I’ve come to realize over the last couple years that I’m already living the dream in many ways, with a social and cohabitation arrangement like something out of an ensemble fanfiction found family trope* – albeit it mostly by chance rather than design.

On the one hand, this is a great place to be in the moment, but it also brings with it anxiety about how long the dream can last, and if there’s anything I can do to maintain it into the future. However, I do at least have a few ideas about that.

First, before we get into speculation about causation, I think it’ll help to give a quick summary of some of the highlights of  my current friendship co-living situation:

  • I currently rent the full upper floor of a duplex with 4 other friends all from the same friend group. W’eve been living at this current apartment for over 5 years now.
  • We all know each from being part of the same college anime club almost a decade ago, and have stayed networked with other alumni from the same group via groupchat and lots of shared outings.
  • Basically ever since I moved out of my first college dorms, I have almost always been living with friends from this group in some way, although the exact cast has varied over the years as various people moved in, moved out, or changed apartments. (We regularly announce to the group anytime someone needs a room or roommate, so there’s been several group share house iterations over the years). 
  • As roommates with similar shared hobbies (anime, gaming, food), we’ll frequently have dinners together, watch new episode releases together, watch each other play games and comment, etc.
  • As the possessor of the largest living room, we also become the prime choice for hosting group events for our larger social circle, so we regularly host dinners, movie nights, and pre- and post-outing debriefs (and it turns out maintaining an active social life is way easier when you don’t have to leave the house to do it).
  • We also frequently go on joint vacations within this social circle and split hotel rooms, train fare, book tours or tickets together, road trip in someone’s car, etc. We literally spent hours a couple weeks ago nerding out about different options for potential long-distance train outings once the pandemic subsides enough.
  • While I personally didn’t go to as many of these until the pandemic, the group has several times organized several thanksgiving/christmas/other holiday get togethers for folks who didn’t plan to return home for whatever reason (family overseas and too far to travel, family doesn’t do american holidays, not close with family, etc.).

While it’s something I’ve fallen into almost entirely by accident, it’s actually pretty close to my ideal living situation, as someone who doesn’t like living alone and also prefers interacting with people in established groups over having lots of 1:1 relationships. It’s not as formal as a queerplatonic partner or life partner kinda thing, but that works fine for me since I’m not sure how willing I personally am to commit to anything more formal at this stage of my life either.

As to how I got here, it’s a mix of good and bad things, but I’d say the main factors are being in a high rent area (bad), having shared hobbies and traditions (good), and having strong group networking infrastructure (also good).

High Rent

The first factor that makes my living situation work is the fact that I live in one of the most expensive housing markets in the US, which makes having housemates an absolute necessity for many people; and still quite advantageous to have even for those with higher incomes. The fact that trying to live alone is incredibly expensive here means that living with non-partners is much more normalized, and many more people are open to living with friends than they might be if they lived elsewhere.

This kind of housing inaccessibility isn’t a good thing for society overall, but the increased social acceptance of co-living with friends is one silver lining.

However, I also need to add the caveat that I am unusually fortunate in that both I and many of my friends are lucky enough to now have the privilege of having the income and savings needed to hit the sweet spot of being able to hold out for an ideal living situation with trusted friends; unfortunately the reality of high rent markets is that many people end up stuck in unpleasant living situations out of financial desperation in the same way that lack of financial resources traps many people abusive romantic relationships as well – and there’s even fewer social scripts for dealing with abusive housemates than there are for dealing with abusive partners.

Shared Interests and Traditions

One of the more positive things that helped make this kind of friendship group work is the fact that we all have shared interests, which gave us common subjects of conversation and engagement. 

Perhaps even more importantly, we also tend to have a lot of overlap in the kinds of events we like to go to, so it’s easy to keep up contact with people when we’re all constantly going to the same movie screenings and meetups and conventions. This repeated proximity lends itself well to establishing friendships in a similar way to how it’s easy to form friendships in school when you keep seeing the same classmates day after day.

In particular, there are a few annual conventions that we all reliably travel to in a pilgrimage-like fashion, (and which also involve lots of time sitting hotels and waiting in lines together with nothing to do but talk and get to know each other) which often offers a chance to reconnect and solidify relationships even with people we might not see as often. 

Group Networking

Finally, I think the last thing that helps make things work well for us as a friend group is having a very established, very active group chat. The way it came to be was almost a fluke, involving several switches in chat group platforms for the original college anime club which eventually resulted in a chat group that consisted mostly of recent alumni from the club but which was no longer used for new incoming members or official announcements , allowing it to evolve from an official organizational server into a more casual server for lots of friends to just keep in touch and continue organizing dinners and movie nights and game streams and whatnot.

As someone who isn’t great at 1:1 interactions, having a group chat where I can drop invitations to proposed outings, or ask for advice or help with specific things makes it much easier to connect with people, especially people who I might not otherwise always think to reach out to. It also makes for a great point of contact for rebuilding connections if any of us ever drifts off for a bit (like because of a temporary out of state move or you know, a global pandemic that prevents everyone from socializing for a year or more). 

The Formula Worked Twice

Just for comparison, I’ve also found it interesting that the only friend group that I’ve really stayed in contact with from high school follows similar lines – we originally got to know each other from the anime and game clubs (shared interest), kept in touch largely because we already had traditions of meeting at several annual anime conventions, even when we all scattered to different cities, and of doing small gift exchanges whenever we were back in our hometown for the holidays (shared traditions). Eventually one person in the group set up a chat group to organize D&D sessions, and while the D&D sessions eventually petered out, the shared space has allowed us to become more involved than we had been at any point after graduation (group infrastructure).

I don’t know if this model works for everyone, as it’s focused on group relationships (which may not work for people who do prefer that 1:1 style interaction), and because my particular hobby is one that lends itself especially well to shared events, topics, and spaces, which isn’t the case for all people. It also just requires a certain amount of luck and convenient circumstances. But since this kind of social group dynamic does seem to be something that some people seem to aspire to, I figured I’d just share that it can and does happen sometimes.


*As a caveat, I don’t actually consider my current situation as a found family thing, in part because I actually already have a great relationship with my family of origin, in part because I don’t feel the need to conceptualize important friendships through a family lens, and in part because it’s more a medium-term result of circumstances than a long-term intentional relationship. But I realize that it does hit on a lot of tropes of what people like about found family tropes, especially of the ensemble fanfiction variety.

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.

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!

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.

 

Atheism and Aromanticism: Viewing Marriage Law as Contract Law

This is an only-slightly-late entry for the May Carnival of Aros, on the topic of “The Intersection of Aromanticism and Religion”.


Author Notes: This is mostly written from the perspective of US Marriage law (with a few forays into UK examples), and so some parts may not be so relevant for those in other jurisdictions. It’s also very hastily written so consider it some brainstorming and an open invitation to dicsussion, rather than the final word on anything.

When it comes to romance, sexuality, and religion, I fall pretty soundly into the void of the “a”s: Aromantic, Asexual, and Atheist. I find that all three are somewhat similar in that they are defined largely as matters of absence – they are traits that would be completely unremarkable and unmeaningful were it not for the presence of something else in the world around us – the presence of romance, of sexuality, of religions – that make their absence in my life suddenly all the more significant.

Of those three identities, there’s one place where they perhaps most frequently come together: the institution of marriage. When it comes to sexuality and romance in common culture, marriage is considered the ultimate celebration of such relationships. When it comes to religion, it’s often the ultimate form of recognition and sanctification, with many major world religions have some sort of marriage traditions as some of their central practices.

But what happens when you don’t have any religious attachments to give it any weight? What happens when you aren’t interested in the sorts of romantic or sexual entanglements that typically form the core of even most non-religious marriages? Is marriage meaningless?

Not at all. Because there is a major part of  marriage that actually has surprisingly little to do with romance, sex, or religion: the modern civil marriage contract.

In fact, when you strip away the sentimental concerns of romance and sexuality and the religious trappings, which may carry a lot of moral weight but no real legal weight, I think you are left with modern civil marriage in it’s most basic form: a standardized contract, entered into by a person and a chosen partner, which is recognized by the state and granted certain rights and responsibilities.

When you think of civil marriage in this most un-romantic form, it is, in essence, a sort of specialized business contract – much like a business partnership or an corporation, it marks a joint partnership between two people; in which they may have certain rights or responsibilities different than what they have as individuals; that governs the ownership and handling of property within the partnership; and a level or recognition by the state, which grants them additional rights and responsibilities and has special taxation rules specifically for these partnerships.

Of course, there are also many ways in which marriages are unique as compared to other business contracts:

  • One of the most major is that unlike business contracts, which are drawn up and customized for each new venture, marriage contracts are standard and non-customizable (outside of additional contracts like pre-nups which may have limited effectiveness) – this has the benefit of making them easily accessible even to the average person without the need for hours of expensive lawyer consultations, but more limiting in their lack of customizability.
  • Also, unlike business partnerships – which an individual can enter into ad infinitum – any individual is limited to a single marriage contract at any given time. Furthermore, marriage contracts are generally limited to only two people; unlike business contracts, which can encompass anywhere from a single person to dozens of directors or members.
  • Perhaps the greatest difference between marriage laws and contract laws is that marriage law can also sometimes grant one very special right that cannot generally be achieved through business contracts or other customized legal contracts (like power of attorney or advanced healthcare directives): the rights of parenthood.  (There are also a few select other personal rights that are linked only to marriage contracts, but this is one of the most major).
  • In addition to unique rights, marriage can also carry additional responsibilities. For example, many states require (at least on paper) that they must be sexually consummated to be valid (although it’s unclear whether these requirements would fully withstand a modern challenge). They may also have consequences like spousal support even upon dissolution, so they can be lasting in ways that business contracts arent.

However, when you think about it, it isn’t necessarily a given that marriage contracts always need to be this way – if you take away longstanding [modern christian] religious prohibitions against multiple marriages, or the social and cultural assumptions that significant relationships must be romantic and sexual before they can be worthy of state recognition –  there’s perhaps no reason from a legal perspective that marriage needs to have all the limitations above.

Sometimes I wonder, what would it be like in a world where marriage law was treated more like a business contract – where marriages or families could consist of multiple people, or be between platonic friends or partners (or even siblings).

Also, what if marriage contracts were more flexible? After all, marriages often combines several things – parenthood, financial entanglement, decision making powers in healthcare, protection from testifying in court, etc. – that could perhaps be seperated. For example, what if it were possible to have one form of legally recognized co-parenting relationship, but without as many of the tax implications? Or a purely financial contract without as many of the parenting and healthcare related rights?

In more recent years, there have been some glimpses into what such a brave new world might look like, especially with the advent of “marriage-like” legal statuses like domestic partnerships and civil unions. While these were originally intended to give same-sex couples the right to marry all-but-in-name, the creation of a dual relationship recognition scheme has lead to fascinating effects, such as older couples who seek domestic partnerships as a way to formalize their relationships without disrupting remnants of previous marriages like social security benefits, or platonic friends who use them as a way to recognize their relationships without sexual/romantic requirements, or religious folk who use them as a convenient loophole to work around certain religious prohibitions.

As both secular and aromantic and asexual movements continue to grow, I am curious to see what other ways that marriage can be re-imagined.