How Do I Relearn How To Date?

How Do I Relearn How To Date?

Hey Doc,
So I’m 31, nonbinary, and somewhere between demisexual and non-sex-repulsed ace on the asexuality spectrum. I was in a long-term relationship off and on (mostly on) from 2009-2018, before we finally admitted to each other that our life trajectories were heading in diverging directions and our incompatibilities (primarily that we’re two very different flavors of neurodivergent, as well as the fact that they’re pansexual with a high libido and I’m asexual with a low libido) were too much to overcome as partners. I’ve been on three first dates in my life, and the other two weren’t terrible but there was no chemistry.

So while I took time to be single and re-evaluate, especially during 2020, now I have no idea how to date folks, since I haven’t first-dated since me and the ex had a break in 2014. The previous relationship has made me want to take sex off the table entirely rather than be unfair to a potential allosexual partner, which limits my dating pool to aces, but like you’ve mentioned in other posts, there’s far more allos out there than aces and I’m very physically affectionate and panromantic otherwise.

Add the whole trans layer and I’m really not sure how to even approach people. Pandemic makes warm approaches difficult (though I did have a crush on an online friend for a bit, before they mentioned offhand they weren’t up to dating anyone for the foreseeable future), and cold approaches are as uncomfortable to me as they likely would be to pretty much anyone I’d be attracted to.

Patchwork Dating Experience

There’s a saying that I’m fond of that I think applies here: “Nailing Jell-o to a tree is impossible; everything else is just difficult.” That is: there are some things that are legitimately and literally impossible to achieve, but most of what we say is “impossible” is, in reality, just very difficult. Which isn’t to say that there are challenges that are incredibly daunting and possibly too much for someone to overcome, but it’s important to note that overcoming those challenges is possible.

Case in point, PDE: you’re in a challenging situation when it comes to dating. Dating is, to some extent, a numbers game; part of the challenge of dating isn’t just finding someone you like and who likes you, but someone who’s compatible with you in ways that matter for a relationship and who are also in a place where they are able to date. This means that, by dint of numbers, the odds tend to point to more misses than hits. Some folks get lucky early on, some folks take longer than they’d prefer, but much of dating comes down to “give this a try and see how it goes.” Sometimes you get first dates to nowhere, sometimes you never get off the ground in the first place, and sometimes you end up meeting someone incredible.

Now part of what helps influence those odds is the relative size of a potential dating pool. However, you want to make sure that this dating pool is – and I’m going to massacre this poor, innocent metaphor – well stocked with folks who are actually a potential match for you. It doesn’t do anyone much good to have the largest potential dating pool possible if the vast majority of people in it aren’t compatible with you. That’s just a recipe for frustration and heartache, regardless of how close or far you are from the mainstream. This is why it’s important to take a serious look at who would actually be compatible with you… but not in a way that’s self-recriminating or judgemental. You’re someone who’s non-binary and who isn’t necessarily interested in a sexual relationship; that can present a challenge. However, the fact that it makes things challenging doesn’t say anything about you or your worth or value as a person; it’s just a datapoint, neither good nor bad. You are uniquely yourself and you want to date folks who can appreciate and value that uniqueness, not folks who would date you despite your uniqueness.

There’re two things to consider for you: the best way to make sure you have as well-stocked a dating pool as you can manage, and how to take best advantage of said pool.

One of the things to consider when it comes to your pool of potential dates is not to write off folks right off the bat. One of the things to consider is that you’re not a person who’s in the mainstream, and your relationships aren’t going to be typical or traditional by definition. By that token, it’s almost a mistake to look to try to date in a typical or traditional manner. Let the things that make you unique – being non-binary, being panromantic, being some flavor of asexual – inform who you date and  You want to lean into the fact that you’re not the average person and that your dating experiences and relationships won’t be traditional either. This alone will help you filter out people who aren’t going to be a good match for you, long before you get to going on dates or trying to build a relationship with them.

So a good start would be to focus on finding and meeting other people who are also not interested in a typical or traditional model of relationship. Let’s start with your being ace and pan-romantic. While yes, most folks who are allosexual (that is, people who feel sexual desire and want or prioritize a sexual connection) are going to want and expect a sexual component to their relationships… that doesn’t mean that other people on the asexuality spectrum are your only choice. If, for example, sex and a sexual connection aren’t a priority for you, then you probably should prioritize a relationship based on mutual affection, emotional intimacy, respect and companionship, but not sexual exclusivity.

While someone being ace doesn’t automatically translate into also being non-monogamous (not being interested in sex doesn’t mean you don’t have feelings about fidelity and exclusivity or that you don’t feel jealousy or insecurity in your relationships), romantic exclusivity could be paired with sexual openness. That is: you and your partner might be exclusive as romantic partners, but they’re able to get their sexual needs met elsewhere. This might mean that they’re allowed to go seek out flings and one-night stands, or to have discrete sessions with a sex worker, or it might mean they have a standing friends-with-benefits relationship that respects your position as their primary partner.

Now to be sure: there’re going to be fewer allosexual folks who necessarily want that sort of relationship than ones who want a more standard-issue relationship that also includes sex… but “uncommon” isn’t the same as “nonexistent”.

Similarly, being somewhere between demisexual – that is, someone who doesn’t experience sexual attraction until they have a strong emotional connection – and ace means that cold approaches and trying to meet complete strangers doesn’t play to your strengths. What would likely work better for you would be to get to make connections with folks within your social circle and build a connection over time; in this case, it would mean the people you’d be most interested in dating would have a chance to get to know you and appreciate you in all of your awesome uniqueness. While this may not mean going on as many dates as you might if you were to date in a more traditional manner, it does mean that the dates you do go on are much more likely to be meaningful and have better odds of success.

I’m also a big believer in efficiency when it comes to dating; it doesn’t do you much good to waste your time and energy on folks who aren’t likely to be compatible with you. It’s a better use of your time to find folks who are already inclined in your direction than to try to persuade someone to give you a try. It’s one of the reasons why, for example, the PUA obsession with overcoming “shit tests” or getting past women’s “bitch shields” is a waste of time. Leaving the fact that women don’t “test” guys they meet, trying to overcome these means trying to convince someone who either isn’t interested or doesn’t like you to change their mind. It takes far more time and effort to try to get someone to move from “uninterested” to “neutral”, never mind “interested” than it would be to just focus on folks who are already open and interested.

All of that is a long-winded way of saying that, if you want as abundant a dating pool of compatible potential matches as possible, then you’d want to focus your time and attention in places where folks who are already inclined to non-standard relationships. The LGBTQ+ community, as one example, tends towards non-standard-issue relationship dynamics. Recent studies have found that gay, lesbian and bi/pan folks have higher levels of experience with consensual non-monogamy than straight people, with bisexual and pansexual people having even considerably more experience than lesbians and gay men. Being an active member of the LGBTQ community in your area would mean that you would be more in contact with folks who have a higher likelihood of being interested in the sort of relationship you would have to offer.

Similarly, you might want to look to specialized dating apps for folks who prefer non-traditional relationship styles. While OKCupid certainly has options for folks to categorize themselves all along the gender and sexuality spectrums, apps like Feeld or #Open tend to market to folks who are already more likely to be familiar and comfortable with concepts like being nonbinary or demisexual – thus saving both time of having to educate them and find the folks who are ready, willing and able to date someone who’s asexual but panromantic. So while I do recommend OKC – it is the 500 lb gorilla in the dating app space and plenty of queer, ace, trans and nonbinary folks have found love and dates on there – I recommend also looking to some of the more niche apps.

That having been said: while I still think dating apps are valuable and have a place in people’s dating arsenal, I still believe they work best as a supplement to meeting people, not as a replacement or primary method. I’m a firm believer that even in the 21st century, in person tends to work best – in no small part because getting to know folks in person allows for greater opportunities for serendipity. When you meet people in person – whether through your social circle, shared activities or even pure cold approaches – you might meet folks who you might have skipped over on an app, but who still click with you in all the important ways. Just as someone can be a perfect match on paper but not work when you meet up, you would be surprised how many people you run into who aren’t your usual “type” but who do it for you anyway; being a little open-minded and open to being surprised can work in your favor.

This also has an additional benefit that can play to your strengths: getting to know people over time. Studies have found that while we may have a stronger group consensus about who’s attractive on a first impression, as we get to know people as people, that consensus vanishes. Over time, uniqueness and personality wins out over conventional attractiveness – or even conventional relationship patterns. Someone who’s had a chance to get to know you, who spends time with you and has more opportunities to see how awesome you are is more likely to see a relationship with you to be worth the price of admission, especially if you’re more inclined to a non-traditional relationship.

Plus, as someone who’s somewhere between being demi and fully ace, a slow-burn buildup plays to your attraction and attachment patterns better than leaping in from the jump.

Now, I’m not going to lie: this can be challenging, even demoralizing at times. Even now, people are incredibly dismissive, shitty and even abusive to non-cis people. You may also end up meeting people who say they’re ok with you being ace but quietly see you as a project; something to be fixed, instead of a person with their own discrete and individual experiences and sexual patterns. It’s important to remember that – as much as it sucks, as much as it can hurt – someone else being an asshole about your gender or your sexuality isn’t a reflection on you or your worth as a person. It’s a failure on their part to be a decent human being, not a failure on yours for being you. And while you can’t completely insulate yourself from the would be fixers and repairmen, there’s no reason you should tolerate it, nor keep them around. You’re not broken, you’re not someone to be “fixed” and anyone who treats you as such should be drop-kicked to the curb with the rest of the garbage.

So lean into who you are: someone who’s sweet and affectionate with lots of love to give but who isn’t interested in a sexual connection. While doing so means that you’ll be limiting the total amount of potential dates, you’ll be ensuring the ones who are in your pool of potentials are folks who’re right for you. And if taking things slowly and letting a relationship build over time plays more to your strengths… well, it may mean that you might take longer to find someone, but when you do? You’ll know just how special that person is… and how special they know you are.

Good luck.

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