How to Do It

When I’m Honest With Women About What I Want in Bed, They Run

It scares them.

Man on his phone with a question mark floating next to him.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by fizkes/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear How to Do It,

I’m aromantic but very much interested in sex, and I’m having a recurring problem with all the women I’m seeing.

The women I most want to have sex with, and the type of sex I most enjoy, seem to always be followed by an expectation of a relationship. Explaining my lack of interest in romantic connection, I just want friendship, seems to scare every woman I’ve been interested in sleeping with into running. Literally. Hookups end abruptly. I get ghosted. My texts are left on read.
When I tell women upfront, the sex isn’t as good or they don’t seem to pursue sex in the way I want it and it feels cold or not as attentive or close as I want. Often, women seem focused on their own pleasure more than the shared experience, which is especially frustrating. I’m autistic, so this might be an issue with communicating. But I don’t know how to combine the women I’m interested in with the type of interaction I want to have.

Rich: I think firstly, this might be confusing to people. Not just because aromanticism is not well-understood, but just, like … what is our writer actually going for? Personally, I’m a little bit confused because, on one hand, we have the writer saying I’m aro but on the other hand, there are certain desired hallmarks of intimacy that one might associate with romanticism, such as attentiveness, warmth, feeling close, that people might be like, “I don’t know what you want, dude. I don’t get it.” I have to wonder if this person is what they call a greyromantic, kind of on the spectrum of aromanticism.

Stoya: I actually … I love when we’re going in different directions. It happens so rarely. I think the labels are an issue here.

Rich: OK.

Stoya: I think the best starting point would be to chuck all of the labels out. OK, who are you? First, they’re questioning whether part of this is an issue with communicating, which implies that part of their autism includes struggles with communication. That’s an important factor. This aromantic label, maybe greyromantic, all of that is distracting. In the same way that… Do you remember a couple of years ago when we got several letters that were like, “I’m a cis man but I’m married to a woman. I’m maybe interested in sucking a dick and maybe that dick is attached to a cis man, or maybe it’s attached to a trans woman. What do I even call myself?”

Rich: Yes.

Stoya: It’s like slow down, let’s dial in on what you want.

Rich: Yes.

Stoya: Because these labels only serve to describe common categories to help people find each other and, in this case, that appears to be misfiring.

Rich: Yes. The labels are shorthand.

Stoya: Exactly.

Rich: I always think about this. Labels are useful but they have very, very decided limitations, obviously. I’m not “no labels ever” but I am “let’s take more words.” Take all the words you need, right?

Stoya: Yes. I really think this person, in particular, would have an easier time with more words, at least, for now.

Rich: Yeah.

Stoya: They are very much interested in sex but they do not want a romantic connection. They do want friendship. But in sex, they want warmth, closeness, and attentiveness.

Rich: Right.

Stoya: And a shared experience. I’m really not sure we have a label for that in the world. If we do, it is so new and so… What’s the opposite of widespread?

Rich: Niche? Narrow?

Stoya: Yes. So new and niche, that it probably won’t be useful to list on a dating app or introduce yourself with. OK. So, we’ve cleared out some of the unnecessary restraints. Great.

It would be really helpful for us and, more importantly, for this person’s potential partners to have more detail of what the romantic connection they do not want is, right? Do they not want to go on dinner dates? Are they rejecting the expectation of sending flowers or being sent flowers? What exactly is romance to them? That’s another shorthand label that needs to be unpacked here.

Rich: I guess just in terms of socialization, I understand why it would be hard to find a woman, in particular, that would be interested… Or harder, let’s say, to find a woman, in particular, that would be interested in this kind of configuration because of all of the stories that swirl in our culture about romance, how these things are supposed to work, and where this type of relationship might lead.

But I would also assume too, if I weren’t intimately involved, that it would be hard to find a man, that wants to have sex with men, who would have a similar situation. Technically speaking, as somebody with a boyfriend who is not poly but has sex with other people and who likes connected sex, I would think from the outside, “That sounds kind of difficult” but it’s really not.

I think it’s a matter of forging that connection… In some ways, not announcing everything immediately might actually work to the writer’s advantage. Certainly, don’t give any impression that this is going to lead to something traditionally romantic—keep things casual. But it doesn’t have to be a laundry list of what we’re not going to do and what it’s not going to be. Because I think in a casual situation, if both people know it’s casual, then, OK, we know it’s casual and we see where it goes. There will be people who are willing to see where something goes.

I am not questioning anybody’s identity but what if our writer were to see where things were to go, instead of saying, “No, absolutely not. This is not what it’s going to be”? What if you felt your way through this connection? Some aromantic people do end up getting married, living with other people, and having what is, essentially, a relationship, that might not have the romance but that has a lot of elements that we would associate with a romantic relationship. I think in some ways the label is not just not specific enough, it quite possibly could be a needless boundary for our writer to say, “It’s not going to go here.” It’s a relationship, it’s two people, and you’re making it up as you go along anyway.

Stoya: I am often put off by receiving and incompetent at providing many things that most people generally seem to think of as romance. That is way further down the disclosure priority list for me across my adult lifetime than, for instance, “Hey, so I want to let you know—because it seems like the first few dates have gone well, the sex is good, and we like spending time with each other—I am very dedicated to my work, I work in media and entertainment. Here’s what that means for my schedule. The important thing for you to know is that if work suddenly becomes a conflict, and I need to cancel our date, I will do that five minutes before both of us are leaving the house, and it’s not because I don’t value your time, it’s because I do value my professional stability more.”

There’s sort of a question of what is the most relevant thing that you do need to disclose when someone starts becoming interested in seeing where things go. I don’t think we’re in a position to help the writer weigh what is most relevant to disclose but I do feel that communicating the core of the boundary and including one example of what that looks like works best most of the time.

Rich: I think that’s totally sound. I don’t think that saying something like, “I’m not looking for something serious” at the beginning of any of these interactions is misleading or wrong in any way, and I think there’s a lot of, to your point, nuance that is part of who you are.

These things about I don’t send flowers, I don’t like to do that, all of that stuff comes out over time and it’s just the way people are. Other people come to understand that. If they don’t understand that or that’s not sufficient for them, then they get to realize that and make requests or end things…

But these things can reveal themselves as they come up. It doesn’t have to be an entire laundry list of no, no, no. That is going to be off-putting to a lot of people. We’re not going to do this, we’re not going to do that, it’s not going to be this… You know?

It’s about living in the moment, not setting unreasonable expectations, and allowing people to understand who you are. And then, when they do understand who you are, and they have witnessed that humanity and it’s not just a list of words that may or may not apply to the relationship, they can understand better. They can realize, “Oh, this is how this person is. I’m not going to get that thing that I generally have wanted in other relationships but that’s OK because I like this person and I accept this person for who he is.”

Stoya: Yes. And, speaking directly to this writer, try not to allow a long search or other people’s expectations cause you to feel like you need to fit yourself into a template. It may take longer to find the people who appreciate you for who you are, who see you as a whole person, and who want the same things you want and find you attractive, but keep being yourself and hold out for the people who take you for you.

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