I love film and television. Like books, there’s so much you can learn and experience through them. We connect with characters dealing with similar struggles. We escape into these fictional worlds where we feel strong and capable. Entertainment is a powerful tool.
But when you’re asexual, connecting with sexually-motivated characters and plotlines is hard. As someone who doesn’t feel sexual attraction towards any gender, it’s difficult to understand why sex and relationships always seem to be the ultimate goal in stories.
I believe the best way to teach is by using a universal tool. What’s more universal than film and television? And we are in need of more asexual voices sharing their stories and experiences.
With that said, every other week — in between my regular posts — I’ll be publishing my thoughts on a specific movie or show and how they correlate to my experience as an ace.
I want to note that the opinions and experiences revealed in these essays are mine and mine alone. There are many asexual stories out there and they are all different. I highly recommend checking out the Asexual Visibility & Education Network (AVEN) website for more.
If you’re interested in learning more about asexuality, comment below or send me a message. It’s time to amplify the asexual conversation.
Alone But Not Lonely
In the midst of the COVID-19 lockdowns, I rewatched Hulu’s Four Weddings and a Funeral. I was in the mood for something that would put a smile on my face. Based on the 1994 film written and directed by Richard Curtis, this 10-episode series was modernized by writer/actress Mindy Kaling. Kaling wanted to revolutionize romantic comedies. She wanted to show her love for them by adding substance and diversity. Her love letter succeeded. The show follows four American friends living in London where they deal with career and romantic obstacles. A delightful reinvention, it elevated the stagnant status quo of rom-coms but still keep the tropes we know and love. Every single character had hopes, dreams, and fears. Full of classic one-liners and zings Kaling is known for, the series is definitely worth a watch.
During the season finale, Kash (Nikesh Patel) and his ex-fiance, Ainsley (Rebecca Rittenhouse) are walking through the streets at night. It’s the first time since the show’s premiere that these characters are cordial. They spend the better part of the series at odds after Kash calls off their wedding in the first episode. Curiosity and guilt bring Ainsley to the theater where Kash is a lead, fulfilling a lifelong dream he’s had. As they awkwardly catch up, she asks how he’s doing. Kash replies, “Things are good. I mean, I’m single and desperately lonely.”
The show had me until that one line.
It’s the kind of dialogue we often hear in romantic comedies. Characters ache and moan about their single life. About being lonely. They fear they’ll never find someone. Never be happy. Even if everything else in their life is going great, if they aren’t in a relationship, their life has no meaning.
Cue eye roll.
Now, I loved the series. It was sweet, funny, poignant, and romantic. Exactly what you want out of a rom-com. Mindy Kaling brought her quirky touch to a recycled storyline. By centering it on the four friends, she promotes growth and maturity.
But I hate that line.
I despise any movie, television show, or book painting loneliness as a fate worse than death. It implants a dangerous and harmful mindset.
Brene Brown writes in her bestselling book, Daring Greatly, “We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering.” I don’t think Brown means solely romantic connections here. She means basic and simple human connection. Is romance a form of connection? Of course. But to suggest that without romance in our lives, we’re bound to suffer, is not how asexuals like me view the world. And the type of language used in these romantic films and other entertainment is not the message we want to give our younger generations.
In the most recent publication about asexuality, Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex, author Angela Chen says, “So long as there is no romantic partner in the picture, others will think the picture incomplete.”
I understand for a storyline to have merit the hero or heroine must end up with the love interest. What if they don’t? Is it really so bad if the main character ends up alone? Because let’s be realistic. Loneliness happens. To all of us. When my allosexual (anyone who feels sexual attraction for other people; allo for short) friends are single, they complain they’re “alone.” I want to remind them that, in fact, they’re not. Yes, they’re single. But single doesn’t mean they are alone. We’re never completely alone. Are we alone in the sense that we’re by ourselves? Sure. Can we eat at a restaurant alone? Yes. But in terms of being lonely, we never are.
We have access to friends and family within arms reach. All you have to do is pick up the phone. Call. Text. FaceTime. If you feel lonely and want to talk to someone, scroll through your contacts. Select a person you know you have great conversations with and see if they’re available. If not, don’t fret. Try someone else. Stop thinking you’re alone. The idea of ending up desperately alone stems from society’s pressure on finding a life partner. This someone is your person and they mean the world to you. But to think your life has no meaning because you haven’t found someone and you’re afraid to end up alone is the seed society has planted in us. If romantic comedies have taught us one thing, it’s there’s someone for everyone. Right? Possibly. But what about those of us who don’t view others sexually? What about those who don’t want to partake in romantic relationships?
This is where asexuals are viewed as strange. Downright weird. Immoral.
What do you mean you don’t want a relationship? How could you not want to have sex?
I think romance is beautiful. To meet a stranger and grow to love them enough, trust them enough with your most intimate dreams and fantasies. That’s pure magic. I’m awed and inspired by my parents’ love. I watched my sister fall in love with her husband. I’ve gone to weddings of friends and family. I’ve seen love in all forms. As an ace and grayromantic woman, romance and sexual attraction are not at the forefront of my brain. They barely exist. And when I say barely, I mean they’re essentially non-existent. Because of this, I’ve learned to embrace my loneliness. I know there’s a chance I won’t ever find a significant other.
Did you gasp out loud? Did the idea of it make you cringe?
Welcome to romanticism for asexuals.
Julie Sondra Decker points out in her book, The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality that “relationships do not have to include sex or sexual attraction to be categorized as romantic.” It’s possible for asexuals to be in relationships with non-asexuals. Many are. How they approach sex varies from couple to couple, but it’s not an easy conversation to have. Imagine telling your boyfriend/girlfriend that you adore them as a person. You trust them with your heart and soul. Now tell them you’re not sexually attracted to them? Doesn’t go over well, huh? This is what makes dating difficult, especially for aces. When I look back on my past relationships — of which there was only one — I realized it was the friendship I cherished more. After I said yes to being his girlfriend, I felt like I did something wrong. We weren’t together for long. The few dates I went on in college resulted in nothing more than a friendly hug at the end of the night and no second date.
Coming out as asexual made me accept the fact that I may never get married. I may never find a partner. If I do, sexual attraction will not be there. I know this to be true because as ace I don’t feel sexual attraction for anyone. It’s not in my DNA. Physical attraction can be present. I’d be happy to stare at a shirtless Jason Momoa all day. But do I feel a burning desire down there? Nope.
Am I terrified of ending up alone?
What about when I’m older? Who will take care of me? Well, I hope to be fine for a while. I have plenty of time to worry about where I’ll be in my seventies, eighties, and nineties. Angela Chen agrees. “It is still unfair that people worry that not having a romantic partner means they can’t take care of themselves in old age,” she writes.
Will I ever feel truly lonely? Never.
“In reality, friendships can be among the deepest relationships people have—and that goes for everyone, not just aromantic people,” Julie Sondra Decker writes. The friendships I have fulfill me as any romantic relationship would. What do we want out of a romantic partner? Love. Support. Comfort. Trust. The same things we want out of friends and family. Allos want sex and intimacy from their romantic partners but as an ace, I don’t require that to be happy.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary describes “lonely” as (a) being without company, and (b) cut off from others.
Take a look at those definitions again. “Being without company” doesn’t mean never without company. “Cut off from others.” COVID-19 forced us into lockdowns that cut us off from our loved ones. If you lived alone, I’m sure it was harder on you than most. But thanks to FaceTime, Zoom, and Google Hangouts we stayed connected. Imagine if this pandemic happened ten or twenty years ago? The technology then wouldn’t compare.
As emotional creatures, we tend to overemphasize our feelings. If you dropped a fork for the third time in two minutes you’re way beyond annoyed. You’re livid. Cursing. Calling yourself an idiot with butterfingers. My dad and sister are famous for this. They make it well known how mad they are that they dropped something. So if we’re not in a relationship when everyone around us seems to be, we’re going to amp up the drama. We’re going to say we’ll never find anyone. We’ll be alone forever. We’re unlovable. I’ve heard plenty of variations and they’re all dramatic.
I’ve become more comfortable telling people when they ask me, “Anyone special in your life, Jess?” that “No. I’m asexual so I may not find anyone, but I’m okay with it. I’m happy whether or not I’m in a relationship.”
The expressions I receive in response range from shock to pity and the occasional, “Oh, you’ll find someone. You’re too sweet to end up alone.”
It’s funny. Even if you tell someone you’re fine with being alone, they can’t accept it. This stems back to society and the pressure it puts on people to fall in love and reproduce. Isn’t that what we’re meant to do? Every other animal on the planet mates. How could a small percentage of people out there not have romantic or sexual feelings?
Unfortunately, asexuals will always have a hard time convincing people that being alone is not the end of the world. It’s hard to change someone’s mind when the idea of something has been drilled into them since they were little. Believe me, I thought for the longest time if I wasn’t married with a couple of kids at a certain age, I failed at life. This is the seed we need to stop planting. It’s not healthy and rom-coms are not helping the cause.
Let’s check in on Kash and his comment. Does he ultimately end up happy, with his lover back in his arms? Of course he does. Would it be a romantic story if he didn’t? Rom-coms are always bound to have those moments where the main character feels all is lost. But from an asexual perspective, describing this moment as him being “desperately lonely” or feeling like life is over is a trope that needs to be reconsidered for future projects.
Loneliness comes down to mindset. Be sad if you broke up with someone. It’s natural. You need time to heal, but don’t think you’re alone or that your life is over. When you break up with someone, who comes to console you? Friends. Family. Hopefully, they come with wine and chocolate. They give you the love and support you just lost. The next time you feel lonely, grab your phone and reach out to a friend. Chances are, they’ll be there for you.