Am I asexual? Am I broken? Or do I have chronic low self esteem?
I’m finding myself asking this question a lot. I’m a scientist. I love the scientific method. I don’t believe anything based only on anecdote or personal feeling – show me an academic paper or five and I’ll re-evaluate. But this question is one that I cannot seem to clarify because annoyingly, there is evidence for all.
Maybe family is the place to start. I’ll get this off my chest first – as much as I loved my mum (I would give up anything to have her back, and if I could be one tenth of the person she was, I’ll consider myself to have lived a great life), she sometimes was not the best for my self esteem. I’m sure she had my best interests at heart, but there are things that were said that became a little… ingrained.
I used to be a competitive swimmer. I swam 8 times a week – every weekday and Sunday, plus Tuesday and Thursday mornings before school. This was a lot of swimming and a lot of burned energy. But I did this alongside brass band, wind band, drama club, keyboard lessons, girl guides and being a brownie helper. That was a lot of hours, and I was never great at swimming, so – with the raised demands of school – I had a choice – drop the swimming, or drop many of the others. So I dropped swimming, but I didn’t change my diet and I put on weight.
Mum told me – more than a few times – that it was not puppy fat I was carrying around and that it would not go away. I was 10. It took a few years to shift some of it, but at one point, when I was in secondary school, I used to walk to school, then home for lunch (a 20 minute walk each way if I was yomping it), and have 5 ice cubes and a swig of alo vera juice for lunch before walking back to school and then walking home again. Looking back, I don’t think this was indicative of fabulous self-esteem. And looking back more closely, this would be an attempt to control my diet and weight as a way of managing my confidence.
At the same time, I tried dating for the first time, and nothing ever lasted past a couple of weeks. I was regularly told that I was “cold” or “closed off” or “absent” and I can’t really argue with that because I was. But over the last few years, I’ve asked myself why this was the case, because each time I tried to force myself into something it just felt… unnatural. Or wrong. Or like I was trying to be somebody that I wasn’t. My friends were starting to get boyfriends and I just didn’t want to engage with that – or I pretended to, to help fit-in with my peers, but it felt just so unnatural and thus nothing ever lasted.
At the time, I pegged it down to low self esteem, but what if it wasn’t? What if I’m just not wired that way? What if it is just a part of who I am, and nothing related to my opinion of myself? What if I am one of the estimated 1% of the population who identifies as asexual and I’ve been trying to force myself to be somebody that I’m not for the past many years in order to meet some societal demands for cohabitation?
But on the other hand, what if in the back of my mind, I just don’t think I’m good enough or attractive enough or thin enough for these people to like me, so I’ve kept them at arms length? I know I had (and still have) crappy self esteem – the ice cube and alo vera for lunch was a testament to that – so maybe the alienness of it all was due in part more to that than to being differently wired?
I know that in everything I do, I doubt myself. I close myself off, I apologise for things that I should never have to apologise for, I become small, I don’t speak my mind, I withdraw and I have such negative views about myself – my intelligence, my personality, my qualities – that I become a really shitty version of myself. I’ve had this conversation with my closest friends not that long ago, and they tried really hard to help me see differently, but it just doesn’t work.
I really, really dislike myself. And I often inadvertently make myself miserable in order to make other people around me feel better. Sometimes my dislike of a situation or of an event will show through my facade for a period of time, but then I’ll see what my reaction to that event/my feelings towards something does to other people and I’ll feel awful about making them feel bad, and I’ll then hide how I truly feel to make them feel better – all the wile, making myself feel dead and cold and deceitful on the inside.
I just can’t help but feel like there is this really horrible, dark thing inside of me that I try so, so hard to not let other people see. So I push it down and try to muffle it, and most of the time it works. But when I’m feeling ego-depleted (a state wherein you are so mentally exhausted that you have no more reserves left to retain behavioural control), this monster can make itself known. And when it does, I’ll later notice it and will beat myself up for letting it treat people a certain way. This just reinforces what an awful person I am and I feel so guilty and ashamed of myself. I just constantly feel ugly on the inside, and as much as my friends have tried to say otherwise, I cannot get away from thinking like this. So maybe I felt wrong and uncomfortable when trying to engage in anything romantic or start a relationship with someone because I’m utterly terrified of letting them see this ugliness inside of me? Maybe I’m not asexual, maybe I’m just broken?
If I am broken, what caused it? Well, this is another interesting question and one which I’m about to get super personal and OTT with, so you’re warned – if you’re easily triggered or don’t want to read this, look away now. As a side note, I’ve written and re-written the next few paragraphs here for about 2 years but never posted it. But then, maybe the reason I haven’t posted it is because it’s a bit of a taboo subject or something that people should keep hidden, and really, all that does is hurt and shame the victim even more. So here goes.
I have a past history of sexual assault, by two different people (who are, oddly enough, closely connected). The first happened when I was 7 with an 18 year-old in my bedroom at a family BBQ. I can remember every aspect of it utterly vividly as if I’m back there. I can tell you the exact events leading up to it – how this person started getting very handsy with me when other people were around but their attention diverted. How we moved to a different room in the house and it got worse. How I went to my bedroom to escape from him and he followed me in. How I tried telling the adults I was with at the time and he said it was nothing and he was “just leaning against the chair”. How I got so, so cold later that night sat outside, but I wouldn’t leave my mum’s side. But how nobody really believed me. It was after this that I became much more introverted and I did stop putting myself out there as much as I used to.
The second time was at a wedding when I was 20 after my immediate family had gone home. I had gotten quite drunk at this wedding (because, ironically, the person from the previous event was also at the wedding and I was terrified to be around him). But I got chatting at the reception to another person. He was really nice and I was being taken to a car in the car-park by him when the celebrations were coming to an end when he dragged into some bushes. I still have some small scars on the top of one arm from where the spikes in the bushes caught me.
It’s strange what I remember from that event – how afterwards, the worst thing to me was that I loved the dress I’d gone in, but I had to throw it out. I refused to go to the police and report it, because nobody would take me seriously. I had been drinking and it was my word against theirs. I’ve studied law – I know how many reported cases make it to court, and from those, how many result in a conviction. I’m not stupid – mine would have caused a lot of issues for absolutely zero gain. I did make sure to get tested for everything afterwards, and there was no lasting physical damage, but I can’t help but think that this – and the previous incident – broke something inside of me?
What is really sad – and quite pathetic – is that all this has done is to teach me is that I am worthless and not good enough. I’m not worthy of anybody’s time, or effort, their protection or care, their affection or support. I’m broken on the inside, and I have to give something back. If I don’t – at all times – then I’m being a terrible and thoughtless person. You should see the amount of times I’ve been told by my closest friends to stop apologising to them for seeking advice or having an opinion – it’s such a common occurrence because I’ve been conditioned to believe that I’m a pest or a bother. So then maybe my aversion to anything of the romantic nature is also due to this.
Which brings us onto the issue I’m trying to get my head around – is my aversion to anything remotely ~romantic~ due to me being genuinely uninterested in anything of the nature (asexuality is a real and genuine sexual orientation – and is something I’ve become more and more interested in as time has gone by), have I been broken by events in my life, or is it due to me having such a low opinion of myself that I feel so bloody uncomfortable when anyone expresses any remote interest that I think they’re unhinged and I bolt?
It is no surprise that I have shitty self-esteem – it’s not like anorexia is prevalent in people with a high opinion of themselves – but is it as central to my living situation as it could be? What came first, the orientation or the aphid-like ego? Maybe I am asexual or demisexual (someone who only experiences sexual attraction after building a close, emotional bond with another person) and it is just who I am. Or maybe I only think that I am when in actual fact my trust was broken a long time, so I don’t feel relaxed in romantic situations and feel repulsed by them? Or maybe I just have such low self-esteem that I can’t bare to let myself be vulnerable with another person?
Maybe I’ll never get to the bottom of it, but it is not for a lack of introspection. For now, I’ll keep pondering on it but will gladly take any advice people have to offer. I guess it is getting to me a fair amount now because I’m 30 years old, my longest relationship has been about 3 months and I often go years without so much as a date. It feels like just now, my life is getting away from me and I’m too busy being scared or confused. But there we go. Like I said, maybe I will never get to the bottom of this – but I am sure as heck going to try.