I flipped rapidly through several photos and might have Noped Nicole* had there not been one of her posed alone in the mountainous Nevada desert with hands propped defiantly on her hips. I felt a tug and Liked her.
We agreed to meet the next night. I’m nonmonogamous and had been on dozens, if not hundreds, of dates in my life. Many had been with beautiful women. But as soon as Nicole stood in front of me, I felt an attraction more electric than any in memory.
At the end of the first date, we kissed. Walking to my car, I felt a little in love and longed to see her again — soon.
We began seeing each other once a week, kissing tenderly for maybe 30 seconds at the end of each date. It never went further. After a few weeks, the kissing ended. I wasn’t sure why. When I brought up our confusing physical relationship and asked whether there was someone else, which from the beginning I’d explained was fine with me, she told me there wasn’t.
“What about your sexual needs?” I asked.
Nicole shrugged. She had little interest in sex and wasn’t sure she ever truly had. It had felt nice when it happened, she admitted, but the urge to initiate just wasn’t there. And she was tired of doing it because someone else wanted her to. Ideally, she’d prefer a guy she saw once or twice a week for some quality time, a guy who’d listen to and be crazy about her, but also not pressure her to have sex or even touch much. Hugs were good, maybe a massage here and there, but nothing she feared might get a man aroused.
Though not common — it’s the case with fewer than 1% of people — her story wasn’t unfamiliar to me. I’d spent years studying sexual attraction during graduate school. It also reminded me of a close friend who had no appetite for sex and rarely even masturbated. I asked Nicole if she considered herself asexual.
She squinted thoughtfully. “Maybe.”
Because I’m not interested in anything that isn’t fully mutual, I made clear that I preferred whatever she preferred and that should her desire change in the future, she should let me know. Either way, I wanted to spend time with her.
“As long as our relationship feels this good, I want to stay in it, with or without the sex.”
The territory was new to me. Until Nicole, all of my romantic partnerships had included sex as a vital catalyst for emotional closeness. Our lack of any sexual relationship created a distance that frustrated me — and, without touch, made me feel unloved. How would I be able to stay in a relationship that was deaf to one of my primary love languages? At the same time, I valued how the distance seemed almost paradoxically to maintain my desire and heighten my adoration for Nicole.
I weighed the situation and decided that since I was allowed to have sexual connections with other partners — partners I had long-term relationships with — our dynamic might be sustainable. So despite my attraction to her, despite the frustration of not feeling free to kiss and touch as I normally would in romantic relationships, despite the ego-bruise of not having the physical intimacy I knew her past relationships had, the joy I experienced in Nicole’s presence kept me longing to see her.
A couple of years into our relationship, after my old roommate moved out, she moved in with me. When we discussed the viability of our living together, she said, almost in passing, that we were soulmates. I was touched by her words as well as by the vision of a future together: cooking her favorite foods, taking care of her as she grew older and grayer, being allowed to love her for years to come. Our partnership, I realized, had another advantage as well — it was insulated from the ups and downs of sex.
In some ways, this vision has borne out. I’ve never felt happier or more in love than when I’m with Nicole. And our relationship has deepened. This summer we spent a week together in the Nevada desert, where the photo that originally caught my attention on Tinder, was taken. We’ve celebrated birthdays and holidays with each other’s families. I make her avocado toast for breakfast.
The touch I need I continue to find elsewhere. Our relationship has forced me to recognize in practice, not just in theory, that a major part of my sexual desire is rooted in ego and that I don’t have to take her rejecting sex with me as a rejection of my worth. While letting go of old expectations hasn’t always been easy, I genuinely feel good that Nicole has space to be herself.
For the most part, I don’t discuss my sex life with friends, so many don’t know what it does or doesn’t look like. Those who do know have asked me whether I’m sacrificing too much. All I can tell them is that I can’t predict exactly how I’ll feel five or 15 years from now, whether Nicole and I will be together or just former roommates. But as long as the longing and comfort continue, as long as our relationship feels this good, I want to stay in it, with or without the sex.
*Name has been changed.