Friending for Demisexuals

The Unique and Powerful Nature of Demisexual Friendships

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Photo by Courtney Cook on Unsplash

“There’s not a word yet for old friends who’ve just met.” — Jim Henson

Ceci was effectively my best friend, yet I knew I wasn’t hers. We’d met in a college photography class in the early 90’s, and we’d become friends after working on assignments together. She was was a very beautiful and fun person, but she was just a friend. We spent hours together and talked often on the phone.

I started to notice, over time, how attractive she was. I’d learned to ignore this, however, as I never dated anyone nor thought anyone could ever like me. I was utterly broken inside and I didn’t understand why I wasn’t like other guys. I just didn’t lust after anyone, yet the thought of a deep conversation meant so much more to me. I was also very overweight, and people don’t often find morbidly obese guys attractive, and never had found me attractive. I threw my focus into my photography, but I also truly began to care for Ceci. She would tell me about her dates, and I would do my best to offer advice from my very limited experience with relationships. I knew I was falling for her, but I buried it down deep. I didn’t want her to know that I liked her. I was terrified of losing her, of losing my dear friend.

One day Ceci started avoiding me and stopped returning my calls. There was no conversations, no confessions. Things just stopped. A mutual friend found out what had happened — Ceci had realized I had feelings for her. She wanted no part of it, of me anymore. I wanted nothing more from her than what I already had with her. We didn’t even hug one another. I didn’t want to sleep with her; I just wanted her happiness. I never realized that her happiness required me to now be gone.

We never spoke again.

Friendship is something that seems to differ from person to person. For some, the essence of friendship is based on quantity, not quality, and people will maintain often toxic friendships for no other reason than the years they’ve invested in each another. For others, there is a definite focus on personal benefit, as in what is it that I get from being friends with this person. The mercantile nature of this thinking is, while understandable to human nature, is inherently unwholesome, yet common.

For a small minority of people, friendship is the foundation of all of our emotional makeup — for demisexuals. Demisexuality refers to those that fall between people who experience sexual attraction based on primary physical aspects, allosexual, and those that experience no sexual attraction at all, asexual. We are members of the grey asexual spectrum, but for us, sexual attraction is developed via deep emotional bonds, that are more often than not forged in friendship. This secondary emotional connection is what defines a demisexual. Sexy is found through sharing of your heart, not through the shape of your body.

For a demisexual, friendship is the core. A recent study determined that approximately 20% of people are born with the genetic capacity for a high level of empathy, the ability to understand and share another person’s feelings. This is not some mystical force or alien attribute in science fiction. Empathetic people are more attuned to subtle emotional signals in other people, a trait often shared with dogs from birth. The sad reality of this, is that for the bulk of the population, empathy is lacking, and for some who are psychopaths or who have narcissistic personality disorder, it’s lacking entirely. Most do have reasonable ability to feel sympathy, but feeling sorry for someone’s misfortune is not the same as being able to embrace their experience and understand it fully. The ability to figuratively walk a mile in someone else’s shoes requires empathy.

Demisexuals are almost always highly empathetic, with a highly attuned capacity for feeling and sharing the emotions of people around them. This can be an incredible gift, but also can be a double-edged sword. When we care about someone, we genuinely want them to be happy. As one demisexual man I know said to me recently in how he approaches relationships, “I’m happy to be of service.” This tendency in us runs the risk of become people pleasing behavior which can become deeply unhealthy.

Altruism and benevolence are also easily taken advantage of by people with less than savory intentions. Highly empathetic people are akin to a beacon to those who have deep emotional insecurities, narcissism and / or psychopathy. Even people who aren’t inclined to be users can find themselves taking for granted and later using someone who finds happiness in being an attentive and generous friend or partner. When you’re highly empathetic, being around unhappy people drains you, so we often struggle to find balance between altruism, and becoming a door mat.

But then you add in the unique nuances of being demisexual, on top of empathy, and it can be quite complex. For many demisexuals, we find it hard to maintain friendships because we put so much into them and often don’t feel things being reciprocated. The divide between acquaintance and friend is often pretty clear for us, and when we ask how you are, we usually do want to know the answer. In the 1998 movie adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel Brave New World, the standard greeting showed the sad disconnect from humanity that people then had, spoken entirely as one line by the greeter:

“Hello. How are you? I’m fine, thank you very much.”

In our modern society, the fact that answering the question “how are you?” accurately is regarded as impolite, yet the fact that we continue to ask this as part of expected social mores, shows we are not far from this kind of greeting.

So the focus of most demisexuals is to build strong emotionally relationships. This is what drives us in regards to interpersonal interactions. Small talk is often forced and baffling for us. We seek big talk. We want to know about you on a fundamental level, and this can be seen as intense. We don’t simply have friendships, we actively friend. We seek to build emotional intimacy with people around us, and will find ourselves bonding with people whom we only have casual interactions with. We function as emotional beings, not to be confused with being overly emotional. We can be quite analytical with the people we include into our lives, and no two demisexuals friend in exactly the same way. Yet, we all friend in one way or another.

Once a genuinely emotionally intimate friendship is formed, you’d be hard pressed to find a better friend than someone who is demisexual. It isn’t that we want to form a connection with you so we can become attracted to you, but rather we truly want to see who you are on an authentic level. We seek to know who you truly are. Being empathetic means being intuitive too and lies, even when the liar is unaware, are much more transparent to us. This will hamper our ability to become close. When our friendship is earned, we are the friends that will stay up with you when your heart is broken. We are the friends that will show up to help you move. We we ask, “how are you?” we truly care about your answer.

But through this emotional intimacy, we can and often will connect and find someone attractive, and possibly develop feelings for them… but honestly, how is that different than any friendship with someone of a relationship-compatible orientation? The reality of attraction is that is must be consensually welcomed, or it is abusive. Most allosexual people will feel some attraction to people with whom they deal with and are around, and many have claimed that heterosexual males and females cannot be truly friends, which shows a remarkable lack of faith in temperance and boundaries among people. If one person develops feelings for another, they have to decide if they are willing to risk their friendship to share this reality, which is often unburdening themselves and in effect burdening their object of affection. As a demisexual, feeling attraction does not necessarily equate to love, and that is something important to understand. It can be very frustrating as attractions can often have a very long times between them, and the desire to explore that attraction can cause limerence, or infatuation, to be interpreted as love. Many demisexuals struggle with the desire to be in a relationship, and actively seeking a relationship without a strong friendship foundation can more often than not doom any success in this pursuit.

The processing of friending, the building of a strong friendship bond, can be applied to a sort of dating methodology for demisexuals. The process of building a platonic friendship or a romantic and ultimately sexual relationship is fundamentally the same process, with only one difference — communication of intention. Honestly expressing with someone that you’d like to explore a possible relationship can do remarkable wonders for facilitating the growth of a healthy relationship. If a connection doesn’t happen, but the two of you become close friends, what have you really lost? Having a close friendship means you get the best part of someone in your life. If there is no connection, there is nothing missing as there is no attraction. Conversely, perhaps a connection does occur, but the feasibility of a traditional relationship isn’t tenable due to some form of long term incompatibility. But if sexual attraction exists, a true demisexual friendship with benefits is very possible. For some demis, sex can only happen in a monogamous relationship, while others can have friends with benefits, play partners and even explore different types of ethical non-monogamy, such as polyamory. The only thing that makes us all alike is the need for emotional connection for an attraction.

And of course there is the risk of forming a connection with a friend that is either unwilling or inappropriate to explore a romantic and / or sexual relationship with. This often requires disconnection by means of converting the relationship away from one that has you experiencing attraction. But disconnection isn’t absolutely necessary unless the attraction is causing you discomfort or anxiety around the friend. Most allosexuals experience attraction to people they will never be with. The novel experience of unrequited attraction for us can be much more difficult to bear, so the decision is ultimately up to the demisexual to process and decide. As with anyone, your feelings and attractions are your responsibility to deal with.

Friendship is a very powerful thing for anyone. People will often go through many relationships, but their friendships will always be there with them for decades, if not their entire lives. Some will find new friends that feel like they’ve know each other forever. For demisexuals, the process of building friendships, whether or not they become relationships, is of critical importance. We don’t really build groups of friends, we build tribes. Sometimes the tribe is small, sometimes vast, but our tribe is filled with the people the we hold closest, and become akin to family — more often than not closer.

May your tribe be strong.