If I were a girl in a novel, I would have kissed him. It was a picture-perfect, first kiss moment. We’d just gotten bubble tea and he was trying to make me laugh after giving himself a mustache from sipping his creamy drink. I could have said, “You’ve got something right there,” and he could have said, “Here?” Then I would have leaned in and said, “No, here,” and we’d kiss.
But I am not a girl in a novel.
Instead, I am a 24-year-old who has always been able to beat everyone in a game of “Never Have I Ever” by saying either “I’ve never been kissed,” or “I’ve never been in a relationship.” And although I have never been too bothered by either fact, I sometimes wonder what it would be like to be able to say that “I have.”
As for having never been kissed, I hadn’t felt like much was missing from my life without it because I had never truly desired it. When I learned about weddings, I remember wondering, “Do people really have to kiss in front of everyone? How embarrassing.” Growing up, I felt uncomfortable when witnessing any kind of physical intimacy, from disliking any PDA more intense than light hand-holding, to cringing during sex scenes in movies.
As for having never been in a relationship, I wasn’t particularly inclined to ever pursue one. In high school, I’d watch as my friends constantly got in, and then out of, relationships. I became incredibly familiar with the trajectory of a relationship — first, it was the joy of discovering mutual interest; then, it was the ups and downs of dating; and finally, the heartbreak as the relationship ended. The sadness that my friends always felt after a breakup confirmed my belief that I didn’t need a romantic partner to live a fulfilling life — I was completely satisfied by my friendships. On a much deeper level, I was incredibly scared of being vulnerable. Why would I want to expose myself to being hurt for an outcome that might not even make my life better?
To me, a relationship would involve both unnecessary vulnerability and a form of physical intimacy that I was not comfortable with, so why would I even bother pursuing one?
Then, in a total cliché that would have seemed right at home in the pages of a novel, I taught English abroad for a year and met people who changed my life: a group of women who were so authentically themselves that I couldn’t do anything less than try to emulate them.
Spending a year with these women pushed me outside of my comfort zone as I participated in some of the most open conversations I’ve ever had. They taught me that life is about balance, that it is possible to both work hard and still have fun, that I didn’t have to take myself so seriously all of the time.
One of the most important things I learned that year was vocabulary to describe my sexuality.
Because of my own religious upbringing and society’s socialization of women, I didn’t realize the extent to which my lack of sexual desire was not necessarily what others around me felt. Being raised as a Protestant Christian, the topic of sex rarely, if ever, came up. And when it did, it was always talked about in relation to its utility — to have a baby. No one around me was talking about having sex for pleasure.
Even though media told a different story — people were having a lot of sex for pleasure — this was usually presented as something done for the benefit of men. Very few popular books, movies, or songs addressed the notion that women could enjoy sex just as much.
It was only after meeting others who were more open and willing to discuss such topics that I began to better understand myself. Many of our conversations revolved around sex and sexuality, and the more I saw how comfortable and open my friends were, the more I craved that sense of peace.
Once, someone asked the group, “What is your deepest fear?” I immediately responded, “An erect penis.” Everyone laughed. Someone said maybe I wasn’t as straight as I’d thought I was. But that didn’t feel right to me, either. It wasn’t about the specifics of the genitals involved — it was the act itself that was unappealing to me.
“Have you heard about the ace spectrum?” a friend asked. I had heard about it in passing, but I’d never really imagined how it could be applied to my own life. As my friend began to share what she knew of asexuality, I could see myself in her words. After that, I began to explore what the term meant and the various ways people identified on the asexual spectrum, from being sex-repulsed to engaging in some sexual behaviors with a trusted partner. Although I do not know where I personally fall on this spectrum, I find comfort using the label, knowing that it encompasses my own identity.
After my year abroad, I moved to New York, where I was able to continue learning how to embrace the person that I was becoming. I realized that I didn’t have to be so terrified of being vulnerable — that to open myself up to others could bring pain, yes, but it could also bring joy, too. I felt ready to share this part of myself when I encountered the right person.
As I enter this next year of my life, I have the perfect opportunity to approach relationships with a fresh perspective as an ace person — to be gentler with myself and have fun meeting new people. I don’t know what I’ll find, but I’m working on being kinder to myself, on forgiving myself for any pain that may come with the process of navigating the dating scene.
And that’s not to say that I’m not scared. Even though labeling my sexuality has brought me a sense of peace and comfort, I know that it is going to make dating challenging. Instead of leaning in for a picture-perfect first kiss, I’ll be wondering how to best address my asexuality with any potential partner. And ultimately, it may limit the number of options available to me because sexual intimacy can be an extremely important part of a relationship.
But, in 2020, I have decided that I am no longer distancing myself from my identity. I am ready to do the ‘dirty work’ of wading through the never-ending dating pond that is New York. I do believe that there is much to be gained from opening myself up and pursuing a life of authenticity after never having done so before.
Although I am not a girl that lives her life between the pages of a novel, I am still a girl who can live a life that is novel-worthy. I can tell the boy with the cream mustache that maybe I’m not ready for a kiss, but I am ready for something more. Being asexual is simply one of my many identities, and as I move forward, I will continue to rely on the friendships that have helped me figure out who I am.