When the Friend Zone is the Doorway
“If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends. Make it last forever; friendship never ends” — Spice Girls
“Would you like to come back to my place?” she asked with a clear intention. We’d danced half the night away, and had enjoyed our evening together. She was a woman that I’d met only that evening, and while I was only 19 years old she was four years older. She was visiting from out of state and would be leaving after the weekend. It was the kind of invitation most young men would dream of with no expectations beyond that night, but I realized I knew nothing about her. I enjoyed spending time on the dance floor with her, and she was objectively attractive, fit and beautiful — but I felt nothing for her. She was fun, but she was just someone I had danced with. “Sorry, I can’t… I have to work early tomorrow.” I had lied to her as I didn’t have work the next morning. She looked hurt and we parted ways. I didn’t realize then what I was, and for a long time I thought there was something very wrong with me.
Human sexuality is a complex thing, and there are many spectrums to it. While orientation, gender identity and even monogamy/polyamory plurality are among them, the capacity for sexual attraction is a spectrum many don’t understand. For the vast majority, they see some people as sexual attractive. They see someone, that they may know nothing about, and the idea of them as a sexual partner is something they imagine and desire. This is called primary sexual attraction, and is normal for people who are allosexual, or simply sexual humans. Other people never experience sexual attraction to others, or to a lesser degree. These people fall on the asexual spectrum, some in between identify as grey asexual, greysexual or grey-a, but those on this spectrum can be called an ace.
Another ace type is demisexual, of which I am. Demisexuals don’t experience primary sexual attraction, except sometimes in very fleeting temporary cases. We experience secondary sexual attraction after a strong emotional bond is formed, typically through close friendship. No, this doesn’t mean we want to have sex with every close friend, but that sexual attraction for us is only truly found after friendship is formed. Allosexuals often feel sexual attraction to coworkers and people with whom it would not be appropriate to pursue, but we need to know someone and have an emotionally intimate connection with them for the same attraction to occur.
Some things that are very common for demisexuals is that we are typically baffled by flirting. I can recognize when I’m being flirted with, and can even emulate the activity on an almost psychologically academic level, but I really don’t get it on a fundamentally personal level. This can also give mixed signals to most people and make us appear to be prudes, or even belonging to other sexual orientations. I’m far from a prude, being very sex positive, and when in a close sexual relationship we can be very passionate and often times quite adventurous. The games people play, the subtle dance and sexual politics are exhausting and uninteresting to us. I can see an objectively attractive woman and recognize that she is aesthetically attractive, but to me she’s as sexy as a ham sandwich unless I form a connection with her and get to know her on an emotional level.
In a very connected manner to flirting, hook up culture is also lost on us for the most part. Casual sex and no strings attached rendezvouses are not typically something we want. Yes, it’s possible to just need to feel the enjoyment of human contact and the endorphin rush of a good orgasm, but much of the attraction would need to be faked and can kill any benefit from it. As a demisexual man, faking sexual attraction can has physical limitations in most cases. Sensual attraction, the desire to kiss, cuddle and touch, is often separate for demisexuals, and a good make out session can feel wonderful, but the desire for getting butt nekid and do the horizontal mambo is usually for a later date after an emotional bond has been formed. At least apps like Tinder have started to recognize that demisexuals, and other orientations exist, giving hope to those of us that do want to date and meet prospective partners.
So you may be asking yourself, why would dating a demisexual be worth it, if it require this much work and there’s no guarantee of a connection? Here’s the thing, we may be an investment in time, emotion and energy, but when a demisexual loves you, you have no worries. We don’t cheat as almost a rule, and why would we? As long as the relationship is healthy and mutually reciprocal, meaning not abusive, suffocating or neglectful, we would never stray. When we form that connection, the attraction for us is powerful. We adore and dote on our partners passionately, and are very giving by nature. We also are not keyed into your physicality as much, so if you’ve developed love handles, wrinkles or a little extra here and there, we’ll find your body very sexy still. To quote the movie Don Juan Demarco, “… I see these women for how they truly are… glorious, radiant, spectacular, and perfect, because, I am not limited by my eyesight.” We will see your insecurities as endearing, and be reassuring and supportive in how much we love and desire you. We tend to be very attentive lovers, often spending a great deal of time learning how to be adept at lovemaking to help keep people we are building connections with happy while we get there.
What if it doesn’t work out? What have you really lost, if you’ve gained a good friend? We value you, and when we look at you, we see you, the real you inside. We are also investing our time and energy in you, too. The friend zone is a rather misogynistic concept formed by people expecting sex as a result of being, more accurately pretending to be, a friend. But by being a real friend, you can likely win our hearts.
Being a demisexual is complicated. Along with other aces, we are under the umbrella of the LGBTQIA+ label (hint: the “A”). As a sexual minority, we deal with our share of discrimination. We are often called freaks, damaged and needing therapy, mindless robots or are simply accused of lying. We are erased as not existing at all by many. A 2005 ace community survey found that approximately 43.5% of aces have experienced sexual assault, something I’m all too familiar with personally. We are topics of jokes and often dehumanized. But we are real. I often wear a black ring on my right middle finger, a common ace pride symbol. Some of my closest friends are aces and demis, because we understand each other. I struggle with male friendships because I don’t vibe with the traditional male views of sexuality. Heck, the couple of times I’ve ended up in an exotic dance club, I spent more time talking to the dancers than anything else.
Many of us don’t actively pursue relationships. I’ve talked to many demisexuals who go years, even decades, without a single date. I’ve done multi year long stretches of non-dating too. Still we desire friendship, then companionship, then the other things that involve the naughty bits. We get there, but not at a fast rate. To make a joke, how many demisexuals does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but it’s going to take a while, so get used to the dark. But you won’t be alone in that dark.
We are worth the time it takes to get to know us. To have us find you attractive means you’ve given of yourself to us, and we adore you. We don’t undress you with our eyes.
We look for your heart.