Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Carnival of Aces - December: Attraction

This post is for the December edition of Carnival of Aces, on the theme of Attraction, which is being hosted at Really and Ideally

On Romantic Attraction

bell hooks - author of All About Love
We receive messages everywhere that tell us sex and romance go hand in hand, and I’m sure they do for some people.  However, this becomes problematic when this experience is perceived as ‘correct’ or ‘normal’.  I believe that the concept of romance is fluid and everyone experiences their own personal definition of it.  Not all asexuals experience romantic attraction, but as one who does, I’ve found that people have a difficult time wrapping their minds around the idea of experiencing romantic attraction without sexual attraction.  I identify as panromantic, meaning that I’m capable of developing romantic feelings for someone regardless of their sex, gender, or sexual identity.  I feel fortunate to have such a flexible and generous identity, but being a romantic asexual brings on its own challenges. 

It reminds me of when I tell people that I follow a pescetarian diet.  Anyone who follows any degree of vegetarianism knows what it’s like to have someone gaping at you, eyes wide, and asking, “So what do you eat?” I’m always baffled by this response, as people seem to temporarily forget that all the other food groups exist.  Similarly, there are all types of attraction, from emotional to aesthetic and many in between.  Sexual attraction is just one form and is by no means the cornerstone of everyone’s experience, just as meat is not the cornerstone of everyone’s diets.  We forget this because our experiences in terms of relationships are so generalized and spelled out for us, regardless of how we actually experience things, by the romantic blueprint.   

As for never experiencing sexual attraction, it’s something I don’t think twice about.  I do understand the difficulty some people who have had sexual feelings their whole lives have understanding this, or why they might think asexuals are missing out or not experiencing attraction to its full extent.  But it’s something that was never there, therefore impossible for it to be missing.  On the flip side, at times I’ve had difficulty accepting that people I’m in romantic relationships with can’t just put their sexual feelings aside.  We all have our own experiences, but it’s important to remember that they are just that, our personal experiences, and do not represent the collective experiences of all people.

In her book All About Love: New Visions, bell hooks speaks on all aspects of the critical role love, in all its forms, plays in our lives.  The chapter Romance: Sweet Love pays special attention to sexual attraction and romance in a way that addresses the many variations of romance that people can experience.  I find it refreshing and inspiring to see a sexual person writing so clearly, and with so much hope, about the way that a lot of romantic asexuals relate to relationships and romance. 

She speaks about “erotic attraction,” saying that it “often serves as the catalyst for an intimate connection between two people, but it is not a sign of love…the intensity of sexual intimacy does not serve as a catalyst for respect, care, trust, understanding, and commitment.  Couples who rarely or never have sex can know lifelong love.”[1]  This is a very powerful and bold statement because when people think about romance, being in long lasting relationships, and being ‘in love,’ they do not equate this with the asexual experience because sex has been so socially married to the idea of romance.  I am constantly hitting a brick wall with other people when it comes to this misconception.  That kind of limited, one dimensional thinking about how romantic relationships should work creates a block in people’s hearts and minds that does not allow any other ideas of love and romance to be validated.

If you ask someone what attracts them about another person or what qualities they are looking for, they typically list off a few physical preferences.  With looks out of the way people always go into this generic list of qualities involving a sense of humor, knowing how to have fun, and meeting whatever sexual preferences they have.  None of those things are particularly deep or original.  One of the reasons I believe people default to this is because if anyone, regardless of their orientation, took the time to sit down and analyze what really attracts them to other people and all the different forms that attraction can take on, it would not be able to be condensed it into a quick general response.  Another way I see this list is that those seemingly disposable qualities represent deeper wants and needs, such as the want to be happy, the need to feel comfortable, and the need to be understood.  Those are things every person wants in any kind of interpersonal relationship, and the demand for them is rightfully magnified in romantic relationships.

For me, a number of things can lead to attraction, from aesthetics to intellect, but above all is energy.  It’s the first thing I pick up on when I meet a person, regardless of what role they are going to play in my life.  We all do this on different levels, and it can tell you more about who a person is than anything they may do when you first meet them, or after.  Some of us can tune it out more, and for some of us it feels like people’s energy is screaming at us.  Since this is something I have a difficult time filtering out, I’m never attracted to someone who has ‘bad’ energy, or rather energy that I don’t feel comfortable around.  On that same note, energy is the first thing that will draw me to someone I am attracted to on a basic level and might have the potential to develop romantic feelings for.

In order for those basic feeling of attraction to develop into romantic attraction there has to be a mutual interest in nurturing those feelings.  Our energies have to respond to each other.  There needs to be a desire to investigate each other on a deeper, personal level; a curiosity in getting to the core of who the other person is.  In other words, I’m not capable of having these kinds of feelings towards someone that doesn’t mirror those same feelings towards me.  This took me a while to figure out.  For a long time I felt I identified as aromantic, but that definition never sat right with me.  I knew that I had the potential for romantic feelings, but it was unclear what circumstances they would be able to develop under.  I suspect this may be driven by the same factors that demisexuals experience, but on a non-sexual level.

Hooks addresses this type of attraction in her book, referencing John Welwood, who refers to this kind of experience as a “soul connection,” which he describes as “a resonance between two people who respond to the essential beauty of each others individual natures…”[2]  She goes on to say that, “the essence of true love is mutual recognition – two individuals seeing each other as they really are.”[3]  There is nothing casual about these feelings and as a result I do not experience them for another person very often, but when I have they have been defining experiences and connections with people whom I have a great deal of respect for.

This is my experience with romantic attraction, and other asexuals will have completely different ones, but it is critical that we continue to investigate and nurture what drives our feelings, or even to pinpoint exactly what our feelings are.  Sexual people have more resources to explain their feelings and sexuality, so much so that we have accepted experiencing sexuality as the norm.  As asexuals, that sometimes leaves us in the dark about our experiences, but as a community we do great investigative work.  I believe that the more we continue to share and communicate how we feel, the more understood the asexual experience will become.

[1] hooks, pg. 174-175
[2] hooks, pg. 182
[3] hooks, pg. 183


  1. I had no idea bell hooks had made such inclusive statements about love... that is amazing. I am also fascinated by your discussion of energy, and appreciating the beauty of another person's soul. It's given me a lot to think about...

  2. This is perfect. Thank you so much for enlightening me about soul connections. All of the deep, highly personal (and non-sexual) relationships I've had with the opposite gender have left me vastly confused. I felt more connected to them than anyone else at the time, and yet I still didn't desire a romantic relationship. This soul connection description matches my relationships perfectly, and it has allowed me to be more comfortable in my (possibly, I'm always open) asexual identity. Thank you.

  3. So glad you were able to take something away from this essay. Regardless of our orientations, I think we can all learn a lot through exploring soul connections and what they mean to us and those we love.