The Joke

It’s like being told a joke where the punchline passes over your head. A lifetime of “it’s funny, you just had to be there”.

The joke doesn’t make sense. You don’t understand it, or why people are laughing.

And everyone is laughing. Some more quietly than others, some in loud whooping chuckles which threaten to deafen you but still laughing. To them the joke is funny. To you, it’s just words.

You take it apart. You look at the mechanics. You try and work out what it is that you need to understand the joke. To make it funny.

It is still just words on a page.

You can tell the joke perfectly. Delivering the punchline with comedic precision and a bright smile. People laugh. People don’t notice that your laughter is a little bit more hollow than theirs, a little more forced.

Other people don’t find it funny. They stand there patiently while a friend, wiping away tears of mirth, explains why they should be laughing. They meet your gaze in shared bewilderment.

It is not as though the joke it important, you reason. You don’t need to understand it to life your life. But it is everywhere. From music to billboards to television, they tell this joke over and over again. And still people laugh.

Sometimes you tell people that you don’t get it. That to you, it’s not funny. They sigh and say “well, maybe you’ve just not heard it right” and maybe, maybe they’re right. Maybe if you wait long enough someone will come along and tell the joke properly, make it funny in a way you can understand.

No one comes.

Occasionally though you find yourself smiling. Not at the joke, but the person telling it. The lips behind the words, the sparkling eyes behind the humour. They know other jokes, other stories and those…the quieter stories, the softer jokes…some of them are funny to you. Some of them make sense.

They don’t niggle at you in a pervading sense of confusion. You listen and you smile.

And occasionally…

You laugh.

Old Friends

My birthday is coming up soon and while cleaning my room today I came across my pile of last years birthday cards. Cards from my parents, my sister, my flatmate, my flatmate’s parents (bizarrely) and one from my best friend.

Best friend was, at the time, the best way I had to describe my relationship with S. We’d been friends since high school when I dated a good friend of his for three years. When we graduated we started meeting up for coffee occasionally while giggling about how grown up we were being, and texting and, by the time I got into college we were firm friends in out own right, outside of my ex’s influence.

And we were friends. We cared about each other, communicated constantly, met up for events, talked, hugged and relied upon each other for support. I used the term “best friend” because that was the best way I had to describe a relationship with a person I trust entirely. Not only with my body, but also my emotions, my fears and my hopes. I am not one to trust easily and my unceasing paranoia means that I tend to trust in increments. My current flatmate was dismayed to discover I trusted him…but only to a certain extent. I trust him enough to share a home with him, but not with the rest of me. Not with what is really important.

So there was S, a key part of my life. We “dated”, if you can really call it that, twice.

The first time, I knew he’d been working his way up to kissing me for weeks. I could just see it on his face. And I wasn’t averse to the idea, I loved this guy after all, so I went along with it. And it…it…

It was a mistake.

I walked out of his flat that evening and texted my flatmate because I literally didn’t have anyone else to talk to. I said, “I think I just made a really big mistake“.

There is a big difference between loving someone and being in love with them.

We broke up after a few weeks and it was an awkward for a while. But I persisted in maintaining our friendship and he got a girlfriend so eventually, the awkwardness just burned itself out. We were as close as we had ever been, he lost the girlfriend and my touch starved soul got all the cuddling it could possibly hope to have.

And then I worked out my asexuality. I realised that my ambivalence to sex or kissing wasn’t because I was broken but because that was the way it just was for me. I told S and he was amazing about it. Educated himself and we continued on as always.

And then we started dating for the second time. I don’t know what it was about us if it was just we both got really really lonely around Christmas but we repeated almost the exact same pattern of behavour…except, I didn’t.

I began to think that maybe I could be in love with him. He was clearly attracted to me and cared about me a great deal and, I faked attraction on and off for three years, I know how to look at a man and make him think I want him.

I sound like a mercenary.

There was some conflict, some strife and eventually one long excruciatingly awkward conversation that resulted in the conclusion that we liked each other a lot, we wanted to be together but I wouldn’t sleep with him so he would be okay to see other girls on the side. An Open Relationship, we called it.

The thing is I went into that conversation knowing that this was it. This was the moment that would make or break things. Either everything would work or it wouldn’t and I’d lose him from my life completely.

I really, really, wish I hadn’t been right about that one. We broke up after Christmas mostly because of my ace-ness, and following that I watched our friendship decline. I did try and save it, but that requires two people and now I haven’t heard from him in months.

Infuriatingly now I have the vocabulary to deal with the relationship I was having. Queer Platonic Relationship or QPR is an intense, emotional relationship that is not familial or romantic in nature. Within the ace community, they are often committed relationships and it was only after struggling with my romantic identity (still struggling with that one tbh) that I discovered exactly what I had been feeling and dealing with.

Perhaps it was always doomed to failure. Perhaps it is impossible to form a QPR with someone who feels sexual attraction regularly. I don’t know.

All I know is that now, my birthday is rolling around again and I’m alone. No boyfriend, no QPR, no best friend…and no one I trust enough to let in.

Maybe we could just have cake?

I like cake. My sister would tell you imperiously that I like cake a bit too much but what does she know. I’m Episcopalian, cake is essentially part of my identity.

However, there is a section of the internet, a glorious, soul-affirming section of the internet, which views cake slightly differently.

The Asexual community is famously invisible. Or not famously…you know what I mean. They occupy that wonderful spot outside of Kinsey’s spectrum of sexuality, the X designation. Which is cool, kinda like a superhero almost. But ace’s tend to be a bit misunderstood and a bit swept under the carpet.

Two Kinds of Love

One of the things that astounds me the most is that the majority of people don’t consider that romantic love and sexual attraction are two different things. This was never mentioned to me as a child or even as a teenager. As far as I knew you fell in love with someone and, somewhere along the line, squishy stuff happened. I dunno. My point is that it was expected. You may feel sexual attraction before romantic attraction but the two go hand in hand.

But I come from the Tindr, hook-up generation and I quite quickly realised that sexual attraction has almost nothing to do with romantic attraction. Lust drives people to do insane things, even with people they can’t actually stand.

So it follows logically that romantic love is entirely separate from sexual attraction.

A Spectrum

If there are two kinds of attraction there must be, as Kinsey correctly identified, outliers on both spectrums. Those who don’t feel romantic or sexual attraction: Asexual and Aromantic.

Asexuals are those who don’t feel sexual attraction to other people.

Aromantics are those who don’t feel romantic attraction to other people.

The two are not synonymous and it is possible to be one without the other or to be both.

And, as with everything in this area of the human mystique, this follows a spectrum. There are those who only occasionally feel attraction (of either sort) and they have a whole range of prefixes depending on their personal identity: Gray, demi, bi, homo.

The latter two are examples of how sexuality also comes into play here. You can have biromantics asexuals, who fall in love with a variety of genders but experience no sexual attraction to them, or pansexual aromantics to whom gender doesn’t feature in their sexual attraction, but don’t experience romantic attraction to anyone.

It’s A Spectrum.

(that was a pun)

But Back to Cake

Remember that soul-affirming part of the internet I mentioned? Asexuals have a whole range of networks and forums (AVEN, demisexuality.org, etc.) with which to communicate. There are even asexual dating apps for your smartphone. They have their own pride flags, asexuals have specific jewellery for identifying each other in public and their own memes.

(Asexual and Aromantic Flags)

And this is where the cake comes in. (I said I’d get back to it) Because for an estimated a 1% of the UK cake is better than sex. Biscuits are better than sex. Even the really stale jaffa cakes you find at the bottom of the church tin that you could use to knock in nails…are better than sex.

You get my point.