This is for the September 2015 Carnival of Aces: ‘Living Asexuality’
I think one of the biggest factors which determines how being on the ace and/or aro spectrum affects one’s life is who one lives with. The people we live with are often the people we spend the most time with, and they are even more often the people who get to see the more of our private lives than anyone else.
I have been fortunate that, aside from brief periods, I have only lived with people who are totally okay with me not pursuing sex or romance, and who don’t try to change my lack of romantic or sexual activity (specifically, after the age of 12, I have only lived with my parents and my mother’s friends for longer than four months). Getting my mother to accept my asexuality has been more complicated, but ultimately it wasn’t a hardship.
Suffice to say, if I were living with family who had more negative views towards a lack of sexual/romantic activity, my life an an aromantic asexual would be a lot tougher.
Unless one has the agency/opportunity to build a chosen family, who is in your family is a matter of chance, and the possibilities are all over the map.
Excluding family (which, as I said, can be all over the map), I generally think that communal living environments are worse for aces and aros than a) solitary living and b) living with a few people who you had at least a limited choice over who they would be in advance.
The only time I have ever lived in a school dorm was at a summer school when I was 15 years old. I found that my romantic life (or lack thereof) was under far more scrutiny than it ever was at my high school. This is in spite of the fact that I was with some of the same people for almost four years in high school, yet I was at that summer school for a mere four weeks. It might have partially been a difference in the culture between the two schools, but I think it was more than that. I think a large part of it was the fact that I had two dormmates, and that my classmates didn’t just see me in class – they got to see what I was doing 24/7. I think the fact that we were living together encouraged more discussion of dating, who we had a crush on, who do we want sex with, etc. than we ever had at my high school.
And of course, with greater scrutiny of my romance/sex life, it became more obvious and more widely known that I was different. And that inspired people, in particular my roommate, to ‘help’ me. Thankfully, due to the time limitation, it didn’t get too far.
In college, I never lived with my fellow students, which helped me completely sidestep the situation that Laura found herself in in college. Granted, I was statistically unlikely to end up with a roommate who would constantly have sex in the room, but I suspect even a year in a freshman dorm would have applied far more pressure on me to deal with romance and/or sex than I ever had experienced for an extended period of time.
My next experience of communal living was the hotel I lived at for a little while. I had a bit more privacy there than I did in the school dorm – at least I got my own (tiny) room – but once again, my lack of a sex/romance life made me feel different and vulnerable. One of the people living there assumed that I had a boyfriend who was living elsewhere, and I never corrected this assumption because I was concerned about what would happen if it was revealed that I had never engaged in sex or romance.
I’ve never lived with roommates who I could choose in advance (we did have boarders when I was a child, because housing in San Francisco is expensive and my mother appreciated the money she could get by renting out an extra bedroom in our home), but my impression is that people who room together for economic reasons and don’t share a school / workplace generally are better at minding their own business, and if they aren’t, it’s much easier to get them out of your life.
I also spent almost three years living in a studio apartment by myself. Being an aro ace was not at all a problem in that situation.
In summary, living in a communal residence where one has minimal control over who one lives with is usually more problematic for aces and aros than a residence situation where one has a high level of control over who one lives with (including living alone). It is possible to get lucky – for example, I happened to be born into a family which is okay with me not engaging with sex or romance. However, there are pervasive social expectations that everyone who is abled/healthy/etc. is going to engage in sex / romance. With the reduced privacy which comes with communal living, it becomes more obvious that somebody is not engaging in sex / romance, and social pressures get amplified.
The best solution, of course, is to eliminate the expectation that people will/should engage with sex and/or romance. That’s way easier said than done.