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An Ace reflection on dating during the holidays

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Photo by Keenan Constance / Pexels
Photo by Keenan Constance / Pexels

During my most recent visit to the website for the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network (AVEN), I stumbled upon a post from one community member that sums up one of the most common fears people have this time of year: "No one to share the holidays with."

The post was exactly what I expected: this person relies on family for company during this time of year and often feels that they'll be "left behind" if their parents or siblings decide to spend the season with their partners and in-laws. The rest of the thread was filled with others validating and relating to the experience.

Holidays can be hard for everyone for so many different reasons: high travel costs, the stresses of accommodating and hosting guests, balancing work and home life, a rocky relationship with food... the list goes on. For those of us in the Queer community, we may also be dealing with estrangement from friends or family, or celebrating with people we aren't out to yet.

Human beings are wired for social connection, and it's no mystery that this time of year is historically known for moments of love, connection, and celebration. There's also the fact that holiday media (movies in particular) almost always center around a narrative of family, friends, and/or romance, further reinforcing the idea that the holidays are rooted in love. I'll admit, I embrace it just as much as the next person — I love the idea of seeing all my favorite people in one place and sharing it with a partner.

At 21, I'm living at home with my parents and sister at the moment and will very happily spend the holidays with them. My sister will probably have a Friendsgiving night if we can manage it, and I have even more to look forward to when other friends come home from college for their winter break. I will by no means be alone this holiday season, and yet this post left me with a familiar pang of anxiety because of one thing that has changed for me in the last year: this is my first holiday season since coming to terms with my asexuality.

I started questioning my relationship with sex in January, and have since learned a lot about the asexuality spectrum and the complexities of attraction, sexual or otherwise. There has been a lot to unpack, a lot to learn, and a lot to unlearn. One thing I have learned a lot about is the erasure of Aromantic and Asexual people living in a society that so heavily enforces romance and sex as pillars of a good life. This social conditioning is part of the reason I struggled for so long to find an identity that made sense to me, and it is something that I am still trying to unlearn.

As I write this article, I would describe myself as Gray-Asexual and Panromantic, meaning that my sexual attraction to others is based on emotional connection, but I am romantically attracted to everyone (though my identity feels like it fluctuates almost every day). One of the most beautiful and liberating parts of discovering my aceness has been allowing myself certain standards and boundaries while dating.

For a long time, sex was something I did to keep people around, not something I did for myself. Yes, in more serious relationships I enjoy having sex with my partner to make them happy and to feel more connected to them, but it's never been something that motivates me in and of itself.

In many ways, dating on the Ace spectrum can be empowering, because it allows us to put our needs and our boundaries higher up on the priority list without feeling as guilty or ashamed or broken. Understanding my own experience has given me more self-compassion, something I wouldn't trade in a heartbeat.

Still, it doesn't make the failed attempts at dating any less disappointing. When I do find someone who I click with, there's a part of me that tries not to get my hopes up. As sad as I am to admit it, telling people about my aceness has often led to our relationship fizzling out somehow. Yes, prioritizing your needs and boundaries as an Ace person is a courageous and noble act of self-love, but it can still feel like you're letting people down (or like they're letting you down).

This is not to say that dating as an Ace person is a futile pursuit. It's not hopelessly plagued with heartbreak or disappointment. But it does come with a unique set of challenges, and I'd be lying if I said that I'm not more aware of these as the holiday season rolls in. I'm still young, and no one in my age bracket and/or social circle is planning on settling down any time soon, but I am still left wondering what holidays may look like down the road.