Is it possible to find dates if you're a person seeking a person?
October 11, 2014 5:59 PM   Subscribe

I am potentially interested in dating again. I had a breakup of a 1.5 year relationship around this time last year and feel emotionally over it. However, I feel like I will have a bit more challenges in regards to dating than the average person. (I'm mostly asexual, not very feminine, and a non-traditional undergraduate student in a college town). Special snowflakes inside...

I am not really sure how to describe what I am looking for as I am not really sure what I am looking for would look like, or if it is plausible. I guess I would like a situation like the following: I meet someone, they are a genuinely decent person. I observe them being a genuinely decent person for an extended length of time and can tell they are not faking their decentness, we share the same values in life and approach life in a similar manner, and have fun together. Then we start being physically intimate, like cuddling, kissing, etc. And then, if I am truly, truly convinced they see my personhood before anything else about me, I would probably like us to be sexually intimate. The last part is the hard part. I don't think I never want to have sex, but I am one hundred percent certain that I don't want to have sex with someone that thinks I'm just a sack of bones with some pretty packaging. Or to be more explicit in my descriptions, someone who thinks it's okay to objectify the person they're having sex with or who could care less about the person that their partner actually is.

Another caveat: I am female, but do not really subscribe to gender roles. I am done with that. I am not an overly-feminine presenting person -- I usually don't wear makeup, don't wear revealing clothes, and keep my hair short to very short -- and my mannerisms are somewhat masculine. (I am not ugly, I am an attractive young woman when I put the attractive-young-woman costume on, but I find it does not fit me anymore: amazingly, I feel much more confident in myself when I am not trying to fit someone else's idea of attractive.) I am not overly accommodating and am usually not afraid to speak my mind. This may sound strange, but I'm not even sure if I'd rather date men or women. I don't necessarily want to have to "come out" to people that I am bisexual. Also, this may sound stupid, but I always thought having a relationship with another woman would just be too much like a friendship . . . . I think it would be nice to meet a man who has the same kind of ideas about gender as I do though. I am somewhat asexual -- I don't have spontaneous sexual thoughts about people and find people "attractive" in almost the exact same way that I would find a piece of art nice to look at. When I do have spontaneous thoughts about being intimate with someone, it is usually about hand-holding or cuddling or just kissing/making out. (I feel like that makes me sound really childish, but that is honestly my thought process.)

So how do you weed out, or bypass all together, the people that don't see you as a person? I have had guys interested in me when I was in my teens and they were all creepy. I had dated a guy for a brief while who lied to me and manipulated me and definitely was not very concerned about my personhood. My last breakup was with an abusive guy who treated me like a blow-up doll, and a cheap one at that. I had been trying to engineer the process of finding someone I feel comfortable with dating in my own way -- anonymous emails back and forth, so they weren't just going by what I look like, and then if we click, meeting up in person and actually hanging out and becoming friends. I think this might have worked, actually, if we had more serious discussions about thoughts on women's rights etc. beforehand. (Or perhaps if my young self took their answers more seriously! Or if I weren't so naive at the time, in general.) But I really don't know. I would really like to skip the part where things go horribly, horribly wrong this time. As you can see, I have had a peculiar way of going about things/understanding things and can be somewhat naive about people, though I have gotten very good at seeing abusive behavior/red flags, at least from an outsider's perspective.

So, is there a way for me to date? I feel like there's probably only three other people in the entire 7 billion people on earth that feel the same way and at least one of them doesn't speak English. That's a slight exaggeration, but from my post, you can see how things might be challenging for me. I will not be too heartbroken if this is just something that's not happening. I am back in school (am a non-traditional student at 23 in a sea of traditional-age undergrads) and that keeps me very busy. But I see people in relationships -- very traditional heterosexual gender-conforming relationships -- and I kind of wonder why can't I have my own version of that too? On the reverse side, like I mentioned I am pretty busy and also I really like spending time alone/have a lot of solitary hobbies. And the dating pool around here will be rather limited to younger people/my classmates (I feel uncomfortable dating someone that much younger than myself) or people my age or older who potentially don't want to date anyone who is still an undergraduate student. Maybe I should just not bother?

Sorry for the length; I feel like I really don't have the right words to describe myself or my situation with, or maybe I do, but they don't quite feel right (e.g. pansexual, genderqueer etc.) as I don't care about the labels, I am just a person who likes people. I feel sheepish asking this question, but I really appreciate any insight, anecdotes, or advice regarding my situation. Thank you all in advance.
posted by sevenofspades to Human Relations (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I have no advice, but there are a lot more than three other people in the entire 7 billion people on Earth who are single, honestly decent, looking to be with another decent person, and not hung up on all the gender-conforming bullshit. I personally believe as long as you're not a total jerk, you'll "find the others."
posted by history is a weapon at 6:15 PM on October 11, 2014 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I think you're going to be just fine. People tell a lot of horror stories about dating, and online dating especially, but it's usually pretty easy to ignore/block the jerks and focus on the people you like.

Frankly, you seem to be throwing up barriers over stuff that isn't a big deal. You're only a year or two older than a "traditional" college senior age. It sounds like you have a good sense of your boundaries, so get out there and meet some people! I think you'll be pleasantly surprised that you aren't as much of an oddball as you believe you are.

Source: I am a not-very-feminine, non-makeup-wearing, usually-not-shaving, dating-men-and-women-but-mostly-men, outspokenly-liberal, 33-year-old woman in a college town.
posted by momus_window at 6:38 PM on October 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: This might not be applicable depending on your personality or viewpoints, but have you considered joining an organization revolving around identities? There may be a LGBTQA club or a feminist organization or something similar, which may be where people with similar ideas congregate. They may also be complete drama-fests, but orgs differ and so do the people who run them. Yeah, they'll mainly be younger than you, but they may also have some idea what the scene is like for slightly older folks.
posted by papayaninja at 6:39 PM on October 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: It's always possible, and at 23--well, you'll find more and more people with looser ideas of gender roles the younger you go. You'll probably date less than people who check off all the usual boxes, for your age, but that doesn't mean you can't if you want to. One of the things I like about Tumblr is that I've stumbled across some very cool non-gender-conforming people and it's nice to follow them and see more evidence every day of people like that instead of the once-in-a-blue-moon that I would in my daily life? Also, a bunch of them seem to be in healthy, happy relationships, which is even better for just having a bit of ongoing confirmation that I'm okay whether I'm paired off or not. So making contact with others, even if they aren't strictly people you're looking to date, goes a long way towards not feeling like you're one of four in seven billion.

Re: gender preferences, you may find they solidify more as time goes on, or they may change if they're not very solid right now--and that's okay. Gender-nonconforming-people-who-still-identify-male are very much a thing. The too-much-like-friends is kind of the legendary double-edged sword of f/f relationships--sometimes it's amazing and sometimes it isn't, I will say it's tended to feel much more natural to me to have the best friend who turns out to be more, but there's no real reason that has to apply to only one gender identity. You might find someone who doesn't fit into any of the boxes you're used to who just does it for you. If you want something to grow out of a friendship, it does mean that you have to get out there and make friends, and keep doing it even when sometimes they don't work out, which is the hard part.

Definitely more than four, though. I'm pretty sure there are like twelve just on MeFi.
posted by Sequence at 6:39 PM on October 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: First off, I don't think 23 is exactly old enough to consider yourself a non-traditional student. Come on now. I got my B.S. when I was 25 and though I knew I was "behind" my peers, I didn't feel far enough away to be really out of place. It's completely fine and a lot of people, especially people your age or a little older, are really not going to care. I mean, date grad students! There are tons of them your age or a bit older who will still be in the academic mindset.

As far as decent people who are flexible about gender roles and will see you as a person - yes, they exist. They're definitely harder to find than your average stereotypical bro but they definitely exist, and when you find them it's wonderful. I actually feel like online dating is good for this as it lets you get a lot of the "how do you feel about X, Y and Z" out of the way before ever meeting the person. It does not, admittedly, allow you to see the person "in the wild" for an extended period of time and ensure they are a decent person and true to their projected image, but it's an option if you're willing to risk a bit. I also really second the idea of joining clubs or advocacy groups based around topics that are important to you - that might be hard with a busy schedule, but to meet people as said above you do have to spend time with people in general. :)

I met my boyfriend, who is wonderful and definitely views me as a whole person, online on OkC. We don't have anything close to a traditionally gender-roled relationship, he is very comfortable and familiar with LBGT issues and culture, very comfortable and familiar with feminism and in fact is a returning undergrad student at nearly 30. So there ya go, it happens. Oh and he is also on metafilter. So there's that too.
posted by celtalitha at 6:52 PM on October 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It sounds like you want a relationship to emerge from and be centered on a shared sense of connection that isn't physical/sexual/meat-markety (to which I say high five--I felt extremely strongly the same way for a good 10 years or more of my early adulthood and feel a kinship in that I recognize how weirdly hard/frustrating it was to communicate that and find people who felt the same way with no miscommunication or hurt feelings).

I'd suggest finding people to get to know in places where it's more about something shared, an activity like hobby stuff or political/spiritual/other worldviews, than in explicitly dating-focused places. So, you know, if you like theater, a community theater club, or a cooking club, or a meetup group that likes to dine out, or volunteer for a cause you love, or the library. That way you automatically have something to talk about and maybe connect over, not just the usual dating site/blind set up "let's feign small talk while sizing up whether we wanna bone each other" dynamic. Also, that provides a built-in situation where you have reasons to meet and see the same people over and over (getting to know them) without the pressure of dating. Then it's more about friendship developing, eventually into something more perhaps, with the right person. And either way, you might meet cool people, romance-wise or no.

There are also asexual community meetups in some places, though I can't vouch firsthand for what that's like.
posted by ifjuly at 7:06 PM on October 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I feel like you are not really into the give and take of real intimacy and/or the risk that such intimacy requires. It is not surprising--it sounds like you've had some traumatic experiences.

Your list puts a lot of demands on real people with their own needs, thoughts, attitudes and desires. My guess is that it would be very difficult for most men, including most of those who you are looking for to take the risk of navigating the obstacle course you're putting out there to protect yourself. Men have feelings and fears too, and it would be hard to take the risks you demand of them with no reciprocation. And physical attractiveness is a part of mating--an installed drive above and beyond the ethical hopes you pin on it.

It also appears to be a quite passive approach--a danger for you. You seem to be seeking a shyer type that will be more considerate and less-self centered. Such men are abundant and excellent partners. But they will be easily discouraged by your demanding requirements, which would often appear like rejection to them.

The level of passivity and risk-averseness in your approach would seem to invite the opposite, men who would ignore your requirements and requests because they do not feel worried about rejection. Such men would be like those you've dated. But they would oe the one's likely to get through your screen because they are used to appearing like they fit your stringent criteria and don't care about the chances of rejection because they don't care about you.

This is why I don't think you are ready to date now. I think some very, very specific therapy targeted at dealing with your trauma makes a lot of sense. Only then will you be ready to risk with real folks who have real desires of their own that you can healthily compromise with.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:53 PM on October 11, 2014 [15 favorites]

I saw from your past questions that you once asked about how to go around the world through the pages of books. The truth is, you can't. Nothing that has ever been written about anywhere you might want to go can tell you what it's like to be there.

Think of men as cities of the world and dates as trips visiting them. If you want to find places that suit you and that you want to see again, go to a lot of places.

So go on a lot of dates. All the stuff you say about yourself that you think will make dating awkward, that you think makes it so unlikely you'll find a guy you like and who likes you in return--guess what? That's not you, that's dating.

Dating is awkward. It makes you insecure. But the alternative is to sit alone by yourself and think of all the reasons why you shouldn't put yourself out there.

You need to find out what you like, because what you like, and what you think you are like, will surprise you.

Your only job at age 23 is to be open.
posted by BadgerDoctor at 9:53 PM on October 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: And physical attractiveness is a part of mating--an installed drive above and beyond the ethical hopes you pin on it.

Eh, except that if you're mostly asexual you really don't have that, or at least I don't, and I identify as asexual. Because of this, it can be both really really hurtful and really baffling when others do it. This in particular really stood out to me:

- I don't have spontaneous sexual thoughts about people and find people "attractive" in almost the exact same way that I would find a piece of art nice to look at.

Yup, me too, exactly. I never have. It's not an obstacle course and it's not a method of self-protection, I just don't find anyone sexually attractive. If you lived in a society that considered emotional intimacy necessary for sexual intimacy, you might be able to find the kind of relationship you want, but you don't, so I think it's unlikely. I also think therapy is unlikely to help (it never helped me) because it would be dependent on you wanting to change to fit societal norms (which it sounds like you don't want to do, and I don't blame you--I mean, who would WANT what Ironmouth describes above). What you want is for the world to be different than what it actually is--for it to not be okay to "objectify the person they're having sex with or who could care less about the person that their partner actually is."
posted by Violet Hour at 11:09 PM on October 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Hey, congratulations about being comfortable in your own skin and being happy exactly as you are. You're FAR ahead of the curve of your contemporaries in that respect.

There are a TON of people out there you might date or form relationships with. Lots of men are about being with a person they enjoy, and not hung up on superficial attractiveness. Now everyone has that to which they are attracted, some men enjoy gamines, or tom-boys or ladies who aren't all fussy and frilly, and you might have to accustom yourself to the idea that you're some great guy's type. Would that be so terrible? Being found attractive as you are, by a person who is really interested in YOU as a person? Luckily, since that part of the equation leaves you free to appreciate him as a person in return, you have no pre-conceived ideas of male attractiveness so all of the guys who meet your other criteria, should be in you dating pool.

I suggest getting out and living your life. You'll meet all sorts of people in your travels. If you build houses with Habitat for Humanity you'll meet some altruistic folks. If you join an LBGTQA club you'll find people who are also butting heads against gender conformity. If you join a church or faith based group, you'll find people who also have strong convictions about being connected as people before having sex (or not, not all church goers are like that.) But you get the idea.

Dating is hard for everyone, but every pot has its lid. I was nearly 40 before I found Husbunny. But he was worth the wait.

Be honest with everyone you meet. You don't have to tell them every detail about yourself, but as you date, let them know that for you sex is a very important thing insofar as before you're ready to have sex, you have to be completely and totally comfortable. If that's a deal breaker for the other person, then let them decide for themselves to move on. Some great people may be disqualified, but they wouldn't be great for you. The folks who choose to stay are worth exploring and getting to know on the intimate level you want.

We all had some laughably terrible experiences with dating when we were young. Teens and early twenties folks are just young and callow and frankly their brains haven't fully formed. It's part of the process. It doesn't mean that all people are like that, or that all relationships are doomed to be like that. It's just the emotional bumps and bruises you get when you're first learning how to navigate love and sex. It ain't pretty, but it makes us who we are. Don't take these experiences too much to heart. Learn from them, but don't let them scare you.

You aren't really that much of an anomaly. Just stand up for what you want. You won't have as active a dating life as someone who is less picky, but you also won't have as many failed relationships behind you. And that's a beautiful thing.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:50 AM on October 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: To a large measure I think you're going to be fine, find plenty of people. Being a bit gender non-conforming, or sexually ambivalent, or wanting deep connection before physical intimacy, or being 23 (that is so young) are "compatible states" for lots of people. More will continue to emerge over the years as they discover these facts about themselves. You've got a long future ahead, just don't compromise yourself on things you're certain about.

However, one statement you made stood out to me:

someone who thinks it's okay to objectify the person they're having sex with or who could care less about the person that their partner actually is

Equating "ok with objectifying someone during sex" and "couldn't care less about someone" is a ... very strong statement, and one which I think might be at the centre of the question here. I imagine your abusive ex instilled this equation, and for that I feel sadness and empathy. But I want to plant the very minor suggestion that there is more of a spectrum between these points than you acknowledge: that a little bit of objectification, emerging briefly during sex, in a safe and trusting environment with someone who is attentive and truly does care about you, is quite a common part of arousal and gratification. That you will probably do it yourself if you come to enjoy sex, and that it can be enjoyable rather than merely frightening or disgusting to see a partner "become selfish" as they give (brief) rein to their desire.

In other words: you are describing a form of idealism around sex which is perhaps well motivated by self-preservation, but which seems to me unrealistic in its strictest form. Sex is a territory in which even the best-meaning people dissolve a bit, behave a bit contradictory, entertain fantasies they'd never enact outside that setting, and so forth. It's a bit of a sandbox for the Id. Selfishness sometimes blurts out, and with the right partner those blurtings are delightful and welcome rather than threatening or a thing to tolerate.

I absolutely commend you on having standards for personal safety, connection and honesty with your partners. Never dilute those. But expecting a sexual partner to remain perfectly selfless in desire is, I think, requiring sex to be something it is not.
posted by ead at 9:39 AM on October 12, 2014 [10 favorites]

Ironmouth makes a really good point.

I didn't understand why I went through a couple year period after a breakup where I seemed to only date assholes. I had never dated assholes before. I wasn't one of those people who was attracted to assholes in particular. I finally realized it was because I had thrown up so many walls that the only guys who could break through were the ones who had no respect for my boundaries and so they just crashed right through them. Admittedly, the walls I had thrown up were counterproductive and arbitrary, but a nice guy will respect your boundaries even if those boundaries are a little ridiculous. However, the end result is you push away the good guys and after awhile you get bored and lonely and give the assholes a chance.

It's just something to think about. It's a dynamic that took me years to pick up on.
posted by whoaali at 2:57 PM on October 12, 2014 [9 favorites]

Maybe a fun test-run date would be a good idea for you at this stage. Simply go out and meet someone who interests you(more advice about this is located below). The relationship may or may not become romantically intimate, but having a friend with similar ideas, interests and lifestyle choices will definitely help build your confidence.

Many people who are ignorant of what asexuality entails claim that it stems from abuse or trauma. This is far from the truth. Your dating pool will be smaller if you want to date an asexual or less than average sexual person, but it's possible if you manage not reach out through asexual networks online.

Also, your University's on-campus LGBTQA center likely holds activities and mixers(where you'll find asexual, queer and open-minded people) and don't forget the existence of graduate student groups that welcome undergraduates. Is there an on-campus group for women in STEM or Comp Sci? You're likely to have many things in common with these people.

You could even take up a new hobby that genuinely interests you in order to promote positive social interaction. Be open and honest about whom you seek in your endeavors.
,Best wishes
posted by bibliophilia at 5:54 PM on October 12, 2014

I just wanted to chime in on "I think you'll be fine".

College is where a lot of people will try to blend in, be liked. So there will be attitudes that "everyone" agrees on. There's plenty of stuff no one brings up at a party, but it doesn't mean it doesn't exist (Does TV accurately portray real life?). I mean, you don't have to be the lone contrarian here, or shun all conversations that are not of the heart-to-heart sort, but if you're feeling alone in your feelings (us-vs-them especially), you're very likely not.

There are so many kinds of people out there, even on the low to high sex drive spectrum. For your own happiness, it's good to figure out what you value, and how it fits or doesn't fit with what's expected (where do those come from anyway). The other side is getting to know someone- what they value, the way they see things and maybe come to a different conclusion, their particular expectations and lack of expectations or assumptions- without your imposing your own upbringing (i.e. that there is the Right way of thinking/doing something). In college especially, there's lots of social groups where sex and attractiveness is a common topic, like rating people as small talk*. But there's other groups where it's not. So maybe not the clubbing/party all the time people, which I think is default popular. (Or surprisingly the opposite, for example, a Christian student group overly focused on not focusing on sex, stuck on good vs evil which will not help).

I think if you spend time with people you're comfortable with, you'll be fine. And I agree with the idea about initiating. Talking with the kinds of people you like or guiding the conversation elsewhere if there's an exit.

The only thing I would be careful with is, there's a lot of weirdness about gender roles and sex. Assuming "good" girls won't mean what they say or playing hard to get. It's hard to give dating advice without knowing what you're like, but, be honest with yourself and don't be wishy-washy about rejection if it comes up (reject others like you want to be rejected?). If it's a thing, I think the asexuality bit would come up in the getting to know stage, rather than rejection, where it could sound like a fixable issue or taken the wrong way.

And, if you think you would like to have sex in the future, it's responsible(?) to take some steps towards figuring out what you like (type of fantasies, body, touching, whatever it is). Kind of like figuring out for example what kind of movie genres you'd like (or what you can't stand), or what food you'd be willing to try at some restaurant (not such a great analogy sorry). Doesn't have to be set in stone, but if you think you'd ever be curious, you're the one who knows you best.

(*Small talk like playing matchmaker, being friendly over a topic assumed to be safe and popular ("marry fuck kill"), sex being all over TV and advertising in the US as it is).
posted by ana scoot at 1:30 AM on October 13, 2014

Response by poster: Thank you all for your answers. I appreciate the perspectives everyone has contributed.

VioletHour kind of answered what I didn’t know how to ask. I have been asexual (though I didn’t really know it was “a thing” until somewhat recently — I had thought everyone kind of of felt like I did previously) since before those traumatic experiences happened. I have also been dissatisfied with my gender for literally as long as I can remember, but I had just been keeping it to myself starting as a preteen and trying to be as feminine as possible appearance-wise, so no one would think I was strange and because I kind of felt like I had no other options. So after doing my best to be feminine, and then feeling like I incurred those traumatic experiences at least partly due to that, I just kind of said to myself “Why am I doing this anymore? *Who* am I doing this for?”

I thought a lot about your answers and I think one reason that I feel really uncomfortable/disappointed with the prospect of anyone seeing me as a sexual object is that I have never seen myself that way, ever. And I think my lifelong feelings about my gender have a lot to do with that. When I used to be feminine and knew I looked feminine in the mirror, I felt really vulnerable and unsure of myself, but never really felt attractive -- I was just never quite comfortable that way. It is like an out-of-body experience for someone to be attracted to your femaleness when you look in the mirror and that’s not even how you see yourself. I think being objectified probably feels much more dehumanizing for me than perhaps other people because of this. I think wanting to be “a person dating a person” really translates to wanting to date someone who sees me as I see myself. I look in the mirror and I see a dude, or, I see maleness. I feel like a guy with boobs. (God, how I hate having boobs.) It has always been this way and I will skip the anecdotes about being this way as a kid but there are many. It is strange and, frankly, irritating to discover I never really outgrew it the way I thought I did. Kind of like a can of worms I didn’t want to open (and it's not just this question, I have been having vague thoughts about this stuff since early this year). I don't mean to be prattling on too much but I feel like there was some subtext about me making it hard for people to date me, when no, this is really just who I am, even if it makes my life rather inconvenient. (Not for this all to sound like an Upworthy article -- “the shocking reveal will surprise you” and etc. And if this was TMI, I'm sorry. I ramble on a lot when I post here but I also thought I'd extrapolate a little in case anyone in a similar situation stumbles upon my question.)

All things considered, I have a lot to think about. I think I need to figure myself out a bit more before I start dating again. But the suggestions on at least meeting more like-minded people were good ones and something I think I should make some time for. I probably don’t have the time for an actual relationship right now anyway so maybe it was foolish for me to ask this question initially, but I am someone who looks toward the future and I think I learned a little bit more about myself and about the world so that could never be a waste. Thanks again.
posted by sevenofspades at 10:56 PM on October 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

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