Until a few years ago, I believed that I’d had exactly one crush in my life. It didn’t last very long, nothing came of it, and the man I had the feelings for never knew about it. In fact, it wasn’t really like how most people talk about crushes. I never felt like I was “in love” or was giddy or any of the rest of it, it was just an intensity of feeling (which soon faded) that flustered me a bit. If anything, it was like it was the start of a crush that never developed into anything. But I called it a crush because what else would it be if I’m a woman, and a guy made me blush a bit and feel slightly confused when I thought about him?
I began reading asexual discourse in 2011 and soon came across the concept of romantic attraction, which is often used as another way of talking about falling in love or crushes. Just as people who don’t experience sexual attraction are asexual, people who don’t experience romantic attraction are aromantic. Reading things that aromantic asexual people had written about their experiences, I came across the concept of a “squish” (platonic crush). That was it! That was what that long-ago incident had been!
Given that I had never actually experienced any crushes at all, but only a squish, I realized that I am aromantic.
Squish. Aromantic. These were new words, but the existing words had never really worked for me. Before I had “squish” the only way I could accurately describe the feelings I’d had for that one fellow was “failed crush”. Before I had “aromantic”, I had… nothing. I hadn’t even known that was a thing to give a name to. Words are important when you’ve never had a way to describe and explain yourself.
Meanwhile, in February 2013, I first wrote in my journal about what I called my “fascinations”. A “fascination” is when I get fascinated with someone’s personality for a while and focus much more on my interactions with them than I do with others. I journaled it because I’d been noticing myself doing this a lot more than I remembered from the past.
Later that year, I devoted a long journal entry to analyzing my “fascinations”. I traced them back to at least 2011 (I think now it’s not a coincidence this happened at the same time I was learning to understand myself and my attractions, or lack thereof, better). I noted in passing that all of the people that I was fascinated by were women, but I was more interested in classifying them according to personality type – it seems that opposites attract and I’m often fascinated by extroverted, talkative, self-confident, and impetuous personalities. What, I wondered, did this say about me?
I’m still intrigued by how my “fascinations” tend to fall into a small number of personality types and I’ve got a few thoughts on this (a topic for another column, perhaps). They’re still almost all women – my running list has 12 members, of whom 11 are women and one is a person who identifies as having been designated female at birth but having a non-binary gender. Not a single person on the list is a man.
This is a pretty strong pattern, yet at the time it didn’t seem significant to me. I noted that I had “fascinations” for women and that old squish on a man, but it was like I was describing a science experiment, not talking about my own feelings. And, even as recently as November 2014, I wrote that I didn’t seem to have any positive gender preference. I had recognized back in May 2012, as I learned about queerplatonic relationships, that I wanted to have a female partner but I believed this was a kind of “negative preference” due to my sex aversion, which is much stronger towards men.
Even though, by late 2014, nearly two years had passed from when I first began thinking about the topic, I had never been able to classify my “fascinations” as a particular type of attraction and it never seems to have occurred to me that they might be squishes even though I now had that word at my disposal. In a way, I seemed to be thinking that since I didn’t know what they were, they didn’t really “count”.
Recently, I’ve finally started to untangle all of this and understand why I had this particular blind spot.
For one thing, it took me over two years to recognize in the first place that there was a persistent pattern of something going on. The feelings that I experience in my “fascinations” tend not to be too intense, certainly not to the point of being intrusive. As well, if the feeling is not reciprocated (and it usually isn’t), it tends to fade out before too long (there also seems to be an inverse relation between intensity and frequency of feeling, leading to a large number of brief “fascinations”). Overall, it’s a pretty quiet feeling that usually doesn’t lead to anything else, and that was hard to discern.
But even once I understood that my “fascinations” were an ongoing thing, I still didn’t have a concept to explain them. Part of the problem was that “squish” was just a label I had put on a box with one thing in it. The definition as “platonic crush” was not actually that helpful after all. “Platonic” added no new information – I’m asexual and aromantic so by definition all my attractions are platonic! “Crush” still implied it was like conventional romance.
The missing link that I needed was the concept of emotional attraction, which I came across in a post called Identity, Attraction, Relationship Terms. Emotional attraction is,
[A] desire for emotional closeness, emotional intimacy, mutual reliance and trust, affection, fondness, caring (emotional and/or physical), mutual support, regular contact and physical companionship. Emotional attraction is what usually holds long-term partners together after the romantic and/or sexual attraction has faded (if it fades) and is… the substance of platonic or queerplatonic partnerships.
My “fascinations” are the beginnings of emotional attraction, particularly the desire for emotional closeness, affection, and regular contact. If I define a crush as the beginnings of romantic attraction and replace the meaningless “platonic” with “emotional attraction” then a squish as an emotional-attraction “crush” is actually the same thing as my “fascinations”.
Finally, finally, the puzzle pieces were starting to fall into place. Finally, I had the concepts I needed to begin really understanding myself. What I had needed was a whole new language, not just words but new meanings and ideas that those words represented. I needed to break out of putting everything in conventional boxes, to understand my experiences on their own terms.
But there was one more thing. Why did I think all that time that I had “no positive gender preference” given how strongly my emotional attraction skews towards women? Why did I have this blind spot?
There’s another conventional box I was putting myself in, the box that says that everybody is or should be hetero-oriented. I didn’t think I had internalized this heteronormativity. I was comfortable with myself as asexual and aromantic. Yet I was treating that one squish on a man as if it was more “real” or more valid than the 12 recent squishes on women. (In fact, I think the old squish stuck in my mind for so long precisely because it’s so rare for my emotional attraction to go in that direction.)
Being attracted to men is the default for a woman and somehow I still had that default wired into my brain. When there were parts of myself that didn’t fit in the heteronormative box, I tried to make them not exist.
It didn’t work. I don’t fit. I’m homo-oriented1. The people I’m emotionally drawn to are other women. The kind of person I’d like to form an queerplatonic relationship with is a woman. It was there staring me in the face all along.
Read more by Laura on this blog, here.
1Despite my dislike of the terminology of “platonic attraction”, the word “homo-emotional” sounds weird, so I occasionally use homoplatonic to describe my emotional attraction to women. Having a word for myself is more important than consistency!
Some parts of this post appeared previously at The Asexual Agenda.
Laura P is a European-American convert to Islam, asexual, and queer. She is a contributor at The Asexual Agenda, a group blog for asexual spectrum individuals, and maintains a personal blog, Notes of an Asexual Muslim. You can also find her on Twitter at @muhajabah. She works in online tech support and volunteers with the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative.