Shades of Gray (Asexuality): or, Intimacy à la Carte

Back when I first started poly, there were so many rules. These rules were meant to keep me and the primary relationship safe. Because that was the most important thing. And these rules made sense. Sex was reserved for only inside my triad. I could date and play with other people, and making out was okay, but there was no touching in the standard “bathing suit areas”. This was fine with me, most of the time, because I couldn’t fathom having sex with anyone outside my triad. I loved to make out (still do….kissing and touch are two of my favoritest things ever) but most of the time, I had no real sexual drive outside my triad. Most of the time.

So there was this one time when I was dating someone, and this person and I were sitting in my car. They started stroking my palm and talking to me in a very seductive voice. The stroking, the voice…ASMR kicked in and all of a sudden I told them we had to stop. Because I realized I was actually aroused and might’ve had an orgasm…from having my fucking palm stroked. We stopped. No orgasms were had, no bathing suit areas were touched.

There were other times, with people I was dating, very few and far between, that I wanted more than making out. Mostly, I wanted kink. To scene, to play, to be beaten and touched, to flog, be tied up. I didn’t have many options back then and I was also terrified of pick up play. I felt like an incoherent idiot in a foreign country trying to speak the language. Which was weird as hell, since in my triad we were kinky as fuck, and tried new things. However, we were more “into the kink scene” but not really “in” the kink scene. My partners didn’t like playing in public. And there weren’t many people that I both wanted to play with and of whom they approved.

When we got divorced, I began to slowly explore. I did things with people as I wanted, stopped things when I wanted to (or, the people I was with wanted to), and it was fucking terrifying. Because I realized I didn’t always know what I wanted without that screen of what I was told (and agreed to) that I could do. It was all stuff I had to figure out.

It seemed, though, that one common thread was that the rest of the world liked sex a whole helluva lot more than I did. It’s not that I disliked it. Nowhere near. I can be a whore and a half with the right person/people in the right circumstances. But the latter was rare-ish and the former was damn near non-existent. Somewhere along the lines, I found the term demisexual and it was like a light bulb in my whole body.

Yes! I need to have feelings and trust built up with someone before I could feel sexually attracted to them! After all, that’s the way it had happened before. That made sense. I couldn’t even conceive of a one night stand or sleeping with a friend just…cause. This label helped me understand things a little better.

Until I looked more into demisexuality and it’s umbrella label, gray asexuality. An even brighter light went off in me and I felt that even though this term meant more ambiguity than being demi, it fit. I’d begun saying that I didn’t have a primary sex drive, I have a primary kink drive, but this left some room that I felt necessary for a growing curiosity inside. Sex outside of a Relationship. I just still wasn’t sure how to…do that. All I knew was that I wanted to open myself up to it a little, so I did. And then things started happening (in no particular order)…

  • I had this metamour. And they were awesome and open and we had…a few hours together. Making out and some sex. I made them come. After, I didn’t really want to come. I just wanted sensation on my back. So they did that to me for so long. It felt soooooo fucking good.
  • Another time, I had been flirting with a friend sometimes after events. Even though my spouse told me to “go for it”, I didn’t really know how nor did I didn’t think anything would come of it. Until this one time, at a party, a kiss happened. Another time, some making out happened. Another time, we negotiated to play a few times. We agreed that all that was cool, but neither of us were interested in being more than friends.
  • I met someone who woke up parts of me that I didn’t fully know until years later. Taught me more about honest communication and who saw me for me in a way not many had ever done. Along with my best friend, they taught me that holding hands doesn’t have to be for Relationships. Helped me learn how to lean into difficult conversations. They’re incredibly important to me, even though I don’t see or talk to them very often.
  • Met another person who, within fifteen minutes of meeting me, asked if I was submissive. This was a night out with some friends, so it wasn’t like we were at a kink event. They’re someone I consider a comet who comes through my life about once a year and each time, I learn new things about myself. They challenge me. I barely knew anything about this person but found myself sexually attracted to them. We had a brief spanking scene once. Some fairly intense conversations and interactions.

These were all interactions that had some measure of what I would’ve categorized as sexual attraction when I was younger. And sexual attraction, to me, meant I couldn’t do anything with them unless we were in a Relationship. Problem was…these are all people I don’t want to be in a Relationship with. A relationship, sure. I already have relationships with all of them. Varying degrees of friendship

Then there was play…it took me a similarly long time to realize that I could casually play. It was a little easier for me, though. After trying to figure out what I was looking for in play and then starting to talk about it, I wound up connecting with other people who were interested in the same things. I drummed up the courage to ask some people I had kink crushes on to play. Some said yes, some said no. Some I’ve been able to play with and some I haven’t yet. Hopefully at a future event. And I’ve reached out to friends, as well. That’s been a big revelation, that I can play with friends.

  • My best friend and I started playing a few years back. Rose flogging, sadistic massage, impact play, things like that. We negotiate things and have had some great scenes and experiences. There will likely be more in the future and I’m glad for that.
  • A dear friend I’ve known for nearly two decades and I started playing. Some wax, a fantastic, cathartic scene in the fall of last year. Rose floggings. They’ve introduced me to another person dear to them and there’s been some fucking epic co-topping.
  • I’ve started messaging someone else I’ve known for years about playing. It all started from a ultra light flirty joke during a convo and something in me went, “huh…I wonder if there’s anything behind that or if it was just a passing flirt that happens.” Turns out, there was kinda sorta almost something to it and we started talking about possibilities. Things seem to be lining up and maybe hopefully one day, we’ll get to do a Thing or two.
  • Then there’s the pegacorn of the list: someone who’s become a very good friend, who inspires me, who’s great to talk to about so many things, AND with whom I like kinking with, can do energy play with, and one of two people in the world I currently am sexually attracted to.

It was usually a struggle to overcome the fear and panic, but once I did, it started getting a little easier. And I found I was suddenly playing with a few pretty awesome people. (“Suddenly”…after years of evolution). Without having to date them or be in a Relationship with them. This was a revelation. But it was nothing compared to the discovery over the past two-ish years that I could also have other forms of intimate times, like making out and sex and sensual times that also aren’t within a Relationship.

It’s taken nearly two decades, but I finally am able to extract sex and play both from Relationships and truly embrace the possibility of seeing them as a long list of types of intimacy that I can want, ask for, and experience à la carte.

The strangest thing of all, though, is that up until the last three years or so, I didn’t really know how to do intimacy à la carte…hell, I didn’t even really know it could be a thing. And now, it seems like it’s all that I’m interested in. Like, I seriously do not wanna date anymore. I’ve been re-evaluating my capital-R Relationships. And I’m noticing I have waaaaay less interest in traditional Relationship structures, even beyond dismantling hierarchy, and a fuckton more in exploring more with relationship anarchy and building whatever connections feels right for me and whomever I’m building with.

I’m still getting used to this new understanding of myself as a gray ace. Sometimes, it gets weird. People I’ve known for years started shying away from sex and sexuality as topics of conversation because they didn’t want me to be squicked. While I definitely appreciate the consideration, I always wind up feeling like…have you MET me?! I didn’t change who I am; all I did was find better words to describe it, but those words don’t negate the fact that I adore talking about sex, sexuality, kink, and so many thing associated with them. I just don’t have sex or feel sexual attraction as often as most people I know. It’s no better or worse; it’s just different.

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Advanced Cartography: Rewriting Maps & Navigating Cars, Love, and Polyamory/RA

When I was sixteen, I had to take a test at a local community college. My mom and I were dirt fucking poor – on welfare, food stamps, housing assistance. Her old car was hanging on by a thread…no heat and this was in a bitter fucking winter, one of the windows wouldn’t stay up so we had to pull it up every once in a while, radio was broken.

We tried to make a game of it, though. When it was really cold, like the day I took the test, we would pile blankets across us and pretend like we were going on a sleigh ride. The car died on the road leading into the community college. I got out and pushed it until we got to a hill further in and we coasted into a parking space. Took my test. I passed (somehow with the second highest score in the state) but honestly don’t know how because I was trying not panic, thinking about how we were going to get home with the car, y’know, not working and all. My mom kept trying to reassure me as I went in that she would take care of it. And she did. She called my dad. My dad owned a body shop and helped us fix the car. This might seem like NBD, except they’d been divorced at this point for about ten years and neither were the other’s favorite person. But. We were out of options and my dad did it to help me.

I’ve never had a new car. I’ve never even bought my own used car. The cars I’ve had all were given to me, and I realize how fortunate I am in that. The downside is that they are usually high in mileage, or wrecks that my dad fixed up and gave to me. Most lasted for at least a year or two, with their myriad quirks. One decided it didn’t want to go in reverse anymore. That was a fun challenge, to try to always park in such a way that we didn’t have to back out of anywhere. One had a “police door”, as we called it. (The back door had child locks that apparently decided they wanted to stay on all the time so the door had to be opened from the outside.) Another became possessed and started repeatedly activating the power door locks…while I was driving.

I was also incredibly fortunate to have amazing almost in-laws who then became my in-laws and who gave me their gently loved cars with high mileage. I still have one of those cars. She’s lasted longer with me than that marriage did, ironically.

My cars and I bond. I love them dearly. I remember the one that had the pair of dice by the dashboard light because one of my exes had a penchant for Meat Loaf and an adorable sense of humor. I remember the one that I fell in love with because it was deep green and had curvy lines like a zaftig woman’s body. I love(d) all these cars because they were freedom to me. They got me places I could barely dream about when I was little. Out of bad situations I couldn’t get myself out of when I wasn’t old enough to have a car. They are the place where I feel most comfortable, in some ways…I can have intense discussions, sing, choreograph burlesque routines (from the waist up and in my head, of course), see new places, get to sacred spaces, meet up with people who are important to me, help the people I care about by bringing them places or things. Even to this day, when I think about being without a car, I have to fight multiple panic attacks.

Like I said, though, they all had/have their quirks. Sometimes those quirks are repairs I can’t afford to make but don’t technically have to. For example, a cosmetic dent from a hit and run I didn’t even know happened until I got out of work. Since there’s no one to hold accountable and I didn’t have money for health insurance at the time, let alone cosmetic car repairs, there was no way I could get a new bumper. Also, it wasn’t a safety hazard, so it was low on my and my dad’s priority fix list.

One of the most nerve-wracking things about these cars, though, is taking them through inspection. Because often, with older, high mileage cars, the check engine light was on. Or going off and on. I’ve recently been told by a friend that this is usually just a faulty gas cap and if you make sure it’s secure and tightly sealed, all will be well after a day or two. This wasn’t knowledge I had, though, over the past two decades of driving. Which meant that most of the time, I figured it was something I didn’t have money to fix, so I had to pray that the car held out until another one came along or until my dad was able to have a friend fix it. There were short term fixes we learned for various problems. Or sometimes we would get lucky and the light would go off and we’d race to the inspection station and try to get it through before the light came back on and we flunked before they checked anything.

“Quick, get it in before it starts throwing codes!” was the rallying cry.

Sometimes we got lucky and passed. Usually, when we did, the check engine light came back on a few days later. But it was okay. (“Okay”). The old sticker had already been scraped away and a shiny new sticker put in its place, marking the car as valid. It was the stamp of approval so we didn’t have to worry constantly about the cops pulling us over, regardless of what the light said.

Old, out of date maps

Lately, I’m finding an odd parallel between how I was taught to procure cars and what I learned love was supposed to look like. A high percentage of people I’ve been attracted to share some of these traits from formative relationships in my childhood:

  • work-a-holic
  • obsessive personality
  • presently or previously addicted to drugs, alcohol, or other types of highs
  • charming & charismatic (for my magical friends, glamour for daaaaaayyyyyssss)
  • unpredictable
  • being showered with affection then starved for attention and when/if I can manage to ask for some I’m too greedy or demanding. Or selfish
  • being hurt and told it’s my fault. Or that it didn’t happen. Or having it be ignored
  • being in constant vigilance so often I don’t even realize it’s become a normal state as I deal with one fucked up situation after another because shit just keeps happening
  • low emotional intelligence and communication
  • long periods of unavailability
  • anger issues
  • not seeing or interacting with who I am, just what they see me as and what I can do for them
  • abandonment

Shit, when it’s spelled out like that, it’s not all that attractive. But…they manifest in such intriguing ways. Dancing eyes. Saying all the right things. That work-a-holic thing is “just dedication”. Obsessiveness can be so sweet at first when it’s directed at you. So if you look at these Relationships in a certain way, in the right light, on a good day, after an amazing scene, they look fine. The statuses on social media seem accurate. They’ll pass inspection. To the outside world, the relationship is up and running, doing well. Only the people inside it know the anxiety of the seeing the metaphorical check engine light on, or knowing that the symbolic heat doesn’t work, or that you really wish a particular damn window would stay up, especially when it’s fucking snowing outside. It can get really fucking cold and sad when this happens.

And if the check engine light isn’t on, there are times when it feels like these relationships are on the verge of throwing “relationship codes” – different sex drives, lack of communication, goals and ideals not lining up, wildly different kink drives, no pick up…play, fixes we can’t afford to make because they live far away and gas is expensive and we all live elaborate lives. So many codes that can spell disaster for trying to pass the test. For trying to convince yourself that you’ve got a little more time. That maybe it will all work itself out and the light will stay out.

And then I read this post by Page Turner.

This paragraph really hit home:

Yes, I drank and actually enjoyed terrible coffee for years without knowing it could be any different. And now I drink coffee that’s rather snobby compared to what I grew up on. But the same thing happened with love. I was just happy to have anybody in my life. I didn’t know what it was like to be really appreciated. To be cherished.

I would love to have a car I don’t have to worry about, but I don’t really know any different. I’ve never had that experience of new, fresh, and smooth. Waiting, saving, and picking exactly what I want. It’s always been what’s available. Buying a new or even used car has so far been entirely outside of my realm of experience.

Likewise, I don’t have a lot of experience with consistently being loved in a way that feels right to me once the NRE has worn off. My current dream is to eventually, when I’m looking again, find more capital-R-Relationships that could maybe turn me into a love snob. For most of my life, and especially the past few years, I have been stunned that anyone wanted to be in a relationship with me at all (capital or not). I’ve gotten into a Relationship or two because people were available and interested, and I was definitely interested, too. But I didn’t think too much about what it all meant and how it all fit…and if it fit at all. If they had the same values. If what we were looking for lined up. And if they loved me the way I wanted and valued me. Because it’s been a hard path to realize that just because someone wants you, doesn’t mean they value you. Or just because someone loves you doesn’t mean that they love you in a way that you want to be loved. Love itself doesn’t make relationships last. Likewise, it’s a hard road to open yourself up to people who might could love and/or care about you in ways you’re realizing you want, because those ways don’t look like ways you’re used to.

Figuring out how to navigate love is confusing as fuck to me

Especially because being without a relationship in polyamory used to make me panic nearly as much as being without a car. How would I get physical touch? Would I ever play or make out again? Would anyone love me again if I’m not already in a Relationship? Like they say it’s easier to get a job when you have a job, it’s easier to find people when you already have them, right? It’s taken me a really long time to realize that much of these thoughts are severely co-dependent. A good friend gave me a copy of “Co-Dependent No More” and even though I’m bristling at some of it, I know that’s because it’s all too familiar and applicable to me and my life. The more I want to throw it across the room, the more I know there are lessons that I need to learn.

There’s a quote in the chapter I just started that says “I’m fiercely independent…as long as I’m in a relationship.” That gut-punched me. I’m terrified to be alone…and yet I’m also craving to live alone for the first time in my life. I’ve run out of bandwidth and spoons for capital-R-Relationships. I finally know that adding a new Relationship isn’t going to fix anything (ask me how many times I had to do it to figure that out… *headdesk*)

As I skew more and more towards relationship anarchy, though, I’m trying to learn how to be in relationships (friendships, chosen and blood family, etc) that are what I create with the other person, not about what society tells me any of it should look like. That I get to ask for what I want instead of trying to fit things into a certain box or taking what’s in front of me, like the cars I was given, because they’re what’s available.

And yes, I do know that relationships aren’t actually cars

Cars are not people. In fact, in the words of a dear friend to me recently, “You are not a car. You are a person.” They were referring to someone I was interested in, who had a propensity for “chasing cars”.

I get it. (Still totally needed to hear it, then, though.)

But.

There’s a similar feeling towards them both given how I learned to view them in my life. And I realize this might not be universal, but it’s what I’ve got. First, I learned a very specific way that getting a car looked. Similarly, I learned early on what love looked like. All the “driving” in between is a combination of amazing, exhilarating, utilitarian, pedestrian, and thrilling. And then, when the paralyzing fear that the relationship’s or car’s life end is coming, I don’t know how to do it. I don’t know how to pull the plug. Like I said in a recent post, I don’t have a lot of skills built up in breaking up. When I don’t know where my next “car” is coming from and I have no money (or energy) to find another, saying “this is not working. It’s time to stop” feels so…wrong. I never fully learned how to embrace my own autonomy and strength to say, “nope. This ain’t working. I’d rather be alone than deal with this. I will figure it out from here but this sure as hell ain’t gonna continue.” I just…wait for it to just die. Or for something bad enough to happen.

There was one time when I found out a partner cheated on me; I literally packed all my shit and was states away before they got home from work. I had made it clear it was a hard limit and I’d leave if it happened. Hard limit was crossed. I was gone. That equation was so simple.

But what do you do when the equation isn’t simple? When there isn’t a bad person? When you love someone but you don’t want to continue in the way you have been? When you want to try to preserve some parts of what you love about and with that other person and you’re afraid that if you bring up changes you’d like to try, you’ll break everything and lose that person? I know, I know. I can’t control how the other person will react or feel. And that’s where communication comes in. And believe me, I’ve been having some really hard fucking conversations lately. Conversations that felt like it would be easier and less painful to just rip my fucking heart out and throw it out the window. Conversations that made my whole body tense up, even though it might be a good change. Conversations that were a long time coming and hurt like hell but also felt like an immense relief to finally have and come to an agreement.

I’ve broken up with a few people when we both were at the point of “you know, this just isn’t working right now. Let’s go back to being friends. I think that’s better for the foreseeable future.” Sometimes that worked out and sometimes it didn’t.

But one of the things I struggle with is saying all of this:

This isn’t working for me. I deserve and want more. I want to feel valued. Cherished. Desired. Like I’m someone you want to spend time with and make an effort to. I love you, but sometimes love isn’t enough.

Especially since it makes me feel like I’m a failure. If I were better somehow, I could make it work. Just add more duct tape! Adjust your expectations and desires until the little bits you’re getting seem so filling! Hell, if Alanis can feast on scraps, so can you!

Except…after a while, humans can grow accustomed to so many things. Shitty things and  awesome things…we’re remarkably adaptable. But if we keep adjusting our expectations beyond what we actually, really want, we wind up starving, dehydrated, and driving around in a broken down relationship and not wanting to give it up because you feel like you’ll never get another one again.

Seems like a good time for a song cue…

it is enough to have some love
small enough to slip inside the cracks
the pieces don’t fit together so good
with all the breaking and all the gluing back

and i am still not getting what i want
i want to touch the back of your right arm
i wish you could remind me who i was
because every day I’m a little further off

but you are, my love, the astronaut
flying in the face of science
i will gladly stay an afterthought
just bring back some nice reminders

“Astronaut: A Short History of Nearly Nothing” by Amanda Fucking Palmer

And cue the internet supplying me with advice yet again, in the form of this article making a great case for a good reframing…that of reframing what a “failed” relationship is. It’s a little monogamy-centric for me, but much still applies. This part especially:

“…stripping away the success/failure dichotomy and replacing it with an experiential narrative. You lived, you loved, you learned. Now, what did you learn? This perspective has transformed how I date, have sex, and manage my relationships. I encourage you to do the same.

Rather than focusing on doing everything right, it’s better and more rewarding to view each new person in your life as an opportunity to learn, grow, and connect.”

Letting the right ones in

Basically, I’m learning. And unlearning…at the same time. Trying to unravel decades of behavior and messages in a few months. Having hard convos and doing my best to be honest and to listen to the people I trust. I’m incredibly fortunate to have some amazing people in my life to have awesome conversations with about sexuality, sex, art, gender, kink, politics, and life, who encourage my creativity and who open up to my encouragement, who want to play with and make out and have sex with me, who cuddle me and let me cuddle them, who challenge me and demonstrate healthier ways to love on a regular basis. And who show me all the many ways to love and care about someone. That love and/or caring doesn’t have to be reserved for capital-R-Relationships. That it doesn’t have to look like the fucked up ways I learned it looked like growing up.

It’s funny; last year, my friend Deb crafted a limited edition essential oil blend for Valentine’s Day called “Let the Right One In”, based on the Morrissey song of the same name. I did what I almost never do…I bought it scent unsmelled. I just felt…compelled to. When it arrived, I adored it in the bottle and even more on me. I’ve worn it sporadically though out the last year. It’s always interesting to see who likes the scent on me and who doesn’t. Generally, I’ve found the people who like it are the “right” ones that I’ve been cultivating more fulfilling relationships with and the ones who don’t like it on me…well, those relationships aren’t doing so well right now or have already ended. The poly/RA person in me wishes that it wasn’t a singular subject in the song, but such is life. I sing it and pluralize “one” like below:

Let the right one[s] in
Let the old dreams die
Let the wrong ones go
They cannot
They cannot
They cannot do what you want them to do
Oh…

In closing, I find this Kimchi Cuddles comic that just came up in my “On this day” FB feed yesterday to also be remarkably appropriate:

KimchiCuddles-TikvaWolf-572