I checked my direct messages for the first time in a few weeks and a mix of excitement and dread washed over me: I had a message from someone new. He introduced himself and wanted to meet up in person at a local bar; we’d connected through a dating server, so I assumed his intentions were romantic. The problem was, I’m asexual — a person who doesn’t experience sexual attraction. And I was terrified that we had very different expectations about how that evening was going to go.
I had begun to suspect I was asexual in the spring of 2020. I was hungry for meaningful interaction with the asexual community, but since everyone was living inside a hermetically sealed bubble at the time, I settled for a Google search. First I found the Asexual Visibility and Education Network, which mentioned a smattering of subreddits, where I heard about a dating / friendship app that has since gone dark (but not before being overrun by sugar daddy bots) as well as The Asexuality and Aromantic Spectrum Discord. Of course. There’s a Discord for everything, I thought.
But then I learned there’s also a large and active Discord server for dating. (There’s a Discord for everything.) It’s called Ace Date Space — “ace” being the diminutive of “asexual” — or just “ADS.” I stumbled upon it during a bleak evening of scouring the internet for dating advice. (“You’ll just have to learn to love being single!” the message boards bleated cheerily.) And so, I made a new Discord account — I wasn’t out yet and didn’t want this server linked with my main account — and, somewhat apprehensively, followed the link.
At first, I was overwhelmed. After verifying I was over 18, half a dozen text channels appeared in the left-hand side of the screen: “#announcements”; “#roles”; “#introductions”; “#events”; “#lounge”; and “#parlor.” All of them were listed in bold white font, indicating unread messages. A brief introductory message suggested I start in #roles to assign some identifiers to myself based on my age (21–23), what I was looking for (looking for romance), where I was located (USA, Northeast), and my interests and hobbies (animal lover, tech-savvy, scholar). Each time I picked a role from this last category, a special-interest channel popped up in the left-hand sidebar with hundreds more new messages for me to read.
I could also choose my sexuality from a number of asexual-spectrum identities. I joined over 1,000 ADS members in choosing “asexual” for myself, and — after a few more channels popped up in the sidebar — any initial trepidation gave way to euphoria. In a culture so focused on sex, I had finally found people like me, for whom sex was secondary, not a factor at all, or even actively avoided. There were so many of us, each unique and all so in defiance of popular media stereotypes of asexuals as robotic, drab, or naïve. Our flag may be grayscale, but we are anything but.
This euphoria didn’t last forever. Despite my best attempts, I couldn’t integrate myself into the server to my satisfaction. Every time I got to the bottom of a set of notifications, others popped up to replace them, and I couldn’t keep up, let alone engage. Onboarding and introduction to the server’s customs, beyond its basic rules, were insufficient, and I couldn’t deduce the magic formula to maintain any fledgling connections I established. I began to log in to ADS less and less frequently — until the fall.
I got that invitation to a bar.
Our meeting steadily approached. Is he going to take an asexual relationship seriously? What if he wants to have sex? I worried, still feeling that finding someone who was looking for the kind of relationship I wanted was too good to be true. I knew common sexuality was the main reason we had met; I had just gotten so used to feeling undateable — even before I knew to use the label “asexual” for myself — that I had a hard time believing my orientation wouldn’t be a deal-breaker for a potential partner.
We continued to meet; we went on dates, shared interests, or just enjoyed one another’s company. I have a distinct memory of the first time I went to his apartment — to watch The Twilight Zone — and I saw, in the corner of his studio, a small cloth asexual pride flag. I felt a profound relief at that moment, seeing a part of myself that I was ashamed of, or afraid of, and had hidden away now displayed so matter-of-factly as something I shared with someone I had come to admire.
The relationship didn’t work out. He did buy me two pounds of cheese to soften the blow before dumping me (honestly, best breakup ever), and I’ve gained a close friend in him in the process. Now, not yet resigned to the single life, I’ve returned to ADS, which has grown and changed a lot since I first joined. And I’m a little more confident knowing that my asexuality isn’t a bug. It’s a feature.
Cara Giovanetti is an early-career physicist who studies dark matter and particle astrophysics at New York University.