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.

Dating While Demisexual

How To Sail From Friendship To Relationship

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Photo by René Ranisch on Unsplash

“In every living thing there is the desire for love”—D. H. Lawrence

I reached across the table and gently took her hand in mine. It was our first date and I had been trying to get a feel for who she was. I knew that we were compatible, at least in interests and views, but for a person like me this was a very important time as I was assessing if she was someone with whom I could form an emotional connection. While nothing was a guarantee—nothing ever is—I was starting to see who she was inside. I liked who I saw, despite her subconscious attempts to hide the real yet intriguing vulnerability within her, and it made me want to see more of the woman she was. I wasn’t there yet, but I needed to let her know that I wanted to try to get there, together.

“I’d like to be completely honest with you. I like you and would really like to get to know you better. How about this? We take it slow, as that’s something I need to do, but I promise you that you will always know where you are with me, and how I feel about you. I don’t play games and I want to explore this with you.” She first seemed a bit startled by my frank request, and then a sincere smile spread across her face. We talked, got a little bit closer, and finished our date together.

This is how I always begin.

Disclaimer: This article is very much written from a demisexual perspective, for demisexual people as a means to help us in the very complicated process of connecting and forming relationships. It may seem unnecessarily blunt if you are not demisexual, and please understand that it is in no way judging those different from us. We just see relationships differently than the majority of people.

For those unfamiliar, someone who is demisexual is a person who’s sexual attraction is almost always based on a strong secondary emotional connection, rather than primary physical attraction which is common for most. We who are demisexual fall on the grey asexual spectrum as someone who is between those who are fully asexual (never experiencing sexual attraction) and those who are allosexual (experiencing “normal” sexual attraction). We are often misunderstood, but very real, with great capacity to give and receive love as well as enjoy fulfilling sexual relationships with those to whom we’ve connected with.

What draws in initially the vast majority of allosexual people is the appearance and presence of a person. Other factors like personality, interests, beliefs, career, etc., are also often components, but many of these things are very subject to change with the individual. Meeting to determine if there’s compatibility is largely based on physicality and pheromone attraction. It’s through these initial aspects that people then develop deeper connections—lust and infatuation turns to love and commitment. I’m in no way looking down on allosexuality, but our animal ancestry does play a large factor. We are all definitely human animals, and without these qualities, humanity may have not evolved at all. Often subconscious impulses on cosmetic and apparel choices can accent personal indications of fertility and sexual receptivity. Aggressive behavior in men is frequently seen as signs of animal strength, as well as downright threatening behavior when compatible chemistry isn’t present. It’s all often very biological at the start, but much more complex attraction is built as relationships grow and change over time.

We as demisexuals connect through emotion. To oversimplify things, we get to know someone from the inside out, and not the other way. We often very logically learn about a person first, then emotion comes in. After we as demisexuals connect, as our partners age and maybe develop other issues that can diminish conventional attraction, we will still typically see that beautiful person inside that we fell for.

We love them, then lust after them. We are, by definition, not shallow in our attractions. We are deep, attentive and loving partners that embrace all of the humanity in those we love. We are by no means perfect, but emotion is our driving force. How often have we heard someone ask us why we are with someone, when we honestly can’t understand why anyone could negatively view their appearance? Also, how often has someone gone on and on about someone aesthetically attractive, and all we see is someone that feels like a creep or bore?

I will agree, dating while demisexual is complicated. We are naturally high empathy people, and that will attract insecure people, as well as a significant number of narcissists and sociopaths. We can attract some damaged people, because we are more open than most and place much less concern of conventional attractiveness. We are more authentic and genuine due to our tendency to not play games to entice, because we want to know who a person is and we want them to see us for who we really are. This is an inherently beautiful thing, and many people struggle their wholes lives to become more like how we are naturally. To most demisexual people I’ve encountered, being otherwise is completely contrary to our basic nature.

Now there are things we tend to do that can throw off some people. We can sometimes feel cold or even distant at first, as we are still evaluating who a person is. By contrast, we can also be very penetrating and highly emotional in our conversations. We also give a lot to our friendships, so if we have too much on our plate it can be hard to metabolize another relationship. We also easily miss signals and flirting, as it’s inherently a game and we don’t do games not purchased in a store. The quaint give and take of flirting is unnatural to people who are literally just themselves. When we are interested in pursuing a potential connection, we can be very intense. Our desire to reveal who we are can be very overwhelming for the vast majority of people who aren’t comfortable sharing themselves so quickly. Vulnerability is old hat to us, and can be quite terrifying to many others. We feel, “overshare” and express depth that can make those more guarded rather uncomfortable. Deep emotion can bring out anxiety in others, but deep emotion is what we require. When dating someone who is allosexual, there are some tips that may be of help:

  1. Be honest about being a demisexual is a way that can be understood. Some won’t know what demisexuality is, and hearing the word may cause them to think it means a different, likely incompatible, sexual orientation. Many people are not willing to understand yet another label, nor respect ours. Let a potential date know that you are a bit different. Explain that you really do need to take time to get to know them in an emotional way, before physical intimacy is an option for you. This will clear out people that won’t be able to adapt to who we are while we endeavor to connect with them.
  2. Filter somewhat who you are at first. It’s not dishonest to hold back a bit of who you are. Most people are used to having to delve into people as if they were mysteries, and often enjoy this process. However, we as demisexuals are simply documentaries. They will need to feel on more familiar ground to reveal who they are, and figure out who we are.
  3. We need to show that we are potentially interested. I frequently find the need to kiss someone early on to let them know I’m potentially connecting. Not all of us will be comfortable with this level of affection so quickly. For you, maybe you simply touch their hand and let them know that you are “getting there” and need for them to be patient. Some will be able to handle that, others won’t. If they don’t have patience now to wait on physical intimacy, they won’t later on when stressful life steps in and you need to reconnect over the troubles all relationships experience from time to time.
  4. Watch out for people that are inherently selfish. Some people are drawn to our nature of pleasing and focusing on the needs of our partner, and many of them aren’t going to be interested in reciprocating our needs. While focusing on an allosexual’s physical needs can seem a good idea before we’re completely connected and ready, this more than often than not ruins things. I don’t recommend it as it sets up patterns that can be hard to change later, and can encourage selfish behavior even in those not normally prone to it. If a partner is also truly giving, that may be a different case. But lets be honest, connecting with a giving partner is usually a lot faster.
  5. Always keep open communication with where you are with them. Always remember to let potential partners know how you feel about them. It is easy for an allosexual to become insecure with us, due to how we connect, and sometimes disconnect at times. This kind of communication can help them approach your relationship in a more healthy manner.

Now, since we are more likely to “friend” rather than date, here are some suggestions for if you start to connect with a friend:

  1. If you develop feelings for a platonic friend, remember they are never under any obligation to reciprocate those feelings. Telling them you have feelings can feel like an attack for some people. While this is often hard for us to grasp as demisexuals, it can feel manipulative and disingenuous to allosexuals that often have clearly defined ideas of friendship vs. romantic relationships. Some would never consider dating someone who’s a friend for any reason, while others often feel a need to reinforce platonic boundaries to feel comfortable with sharing their own emotions. We typically don’t differentiate as friendship is one of the easiest ways to find a connection with someone. Do not dump your feeling on a friend as the sudden shift in relationship dynamics could cause you to lose them entirely from your life. First determine how they feel about friend-turned-partner relationships and proceed with caution from there.
  2. Understand that some will not be able to return to friendship if things don’t work out. It sucks, but it’s true. As a demisexual, I still care for those I’ve connected with in the past on some level, even if I now recognize them as having been toxic to me. Many people can never go back, and shouldn’t be judged for that. This is a gamble you are taking, and asking them about how they deal with this may be worth knowing before you share your feelings.
  3. If things are good, and you sharing your feelings is received favorably, make sure the friendship also stays preserved with them. As mentioned, some allosexuals aren’t comfortable with partners being friends too—this being very counter-intuitive to us. We, as demisexuals, will not be able to maintain a relationship with a partner than also isn’t our friend. If they can’t do this, they won’t do well with us.

Lastly, we obviously can do a lot better dating fellow demisexuals, but we are fairly rare and still have to deal with being compatible with each other. However, here are a few suggestions for dating a fellow demisexual:

  1. Both of you may not connect with each other. This is a risk and it’s happened to me more than once. There are a lot of reason that a demisexual may not connect with another person, demisexual or otherwise, sometimes for completely inscrutable reasons. There is absolutely no assurances, and much the same way people can’t always control who they fall in love with, we can’t always control who we connect with.
  2. If you have issues, both of you may disconnect at the same time. If you keep communication open, you should be able to mend things. Just realize that you may be starting from scratch again, and anything can happen.

I know this is all complicated, and we’re complicated, but I wouldn’t want to be anything other than what I am. I love being a demisexual. I have a very positive self-image and being demi is a large part of it. I’ve screwed up every one of these things mentioned above, personally in the past, so hopefully my failures can contribute to your success in finding a healthy emotional connection. I’ve also talked to dear friends, allosexual and demisexual alike, to try and comprise these ideas. I can promise this isn’t perfect, but it’s a start. Hopefully you found something that speaks to you. If you aren’t demisexual, hopefully you found this at least enlightening on how it is for us to connect with you.

People-ing can be hard for us sometimes, but good luck demi-ing out there!

The Care and Keeping of Your Demisexual

When the Friendship is the Doorway

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Photo by Christiana Rivers on Unsplash

“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 sexually 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 asexualgreysexual 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 have 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. Some people refer to being stuck in the friend zone, 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.