Should I consider myself ace/aro, or keep holding out for attraction?

Mason
asks:
I’m almost sixteen, but I’ve never felt any sort of sexual or romantic attraction towards other people. I can appreciate when someone’s attractive, but I just never feel any attraction. People sometimes ask me if I’m asexual or aromantic, but I don’t think so. Is sixteen too old to still be waiting to experience attraction?
Mo Ranyart replies:

I'll answer your last question first, since it has an easy answer: no, you aren't too old to be waiting to feel attraction to someone. There isn't an age that's "too old" when it comes to feeling attraction; even if there was, sixteen wouldn't be it!

People can experience attraction in vastly different ways, and on vastly different schedules; there's no time when attraction to others "should" start. Some people notice feelings of attraction pretty early in their lives, while others take longer to encounter the first person they're attracted to, but it isn't a matter of one person experiencing it on a "normal" timeline and another being too fast or too slow. In addition, some folks tend to be attracted to a large number of people while others are attracted to fewer overall; for the latter group, it might take longer to run into the sort of person who catches their eye.

All of these are normal ways to experience attraction, and someone who develops a new crush per week starting when they're fourteen is just as valid as someone who first experiences intense attraction to someone else when they're twenty-seven, or when they're forty.

When you're in your teens, you're often fairly limited in the number of people you know and associate with on a regular basis, which can make meeting people you're attracted to a bit trickier. Perhaps there isn't anyone in your immediate community who strikes your fancy, but as you move into adulthood and meet more people through work, further schooling, moving to a new town, or other things that broaden your circle of acquaintances, you may wind up finding a person or two who catches your eye. I can't say for sure, of course, but it's certainly possible.

It's possible, too, that you won't experience attraction as you meet more people; the tricky thing is that there won't necessarily be a time when you can definitively conclude that since it hasn't happened yet, it won't happen at all. It might be a feeling you get, and if so, I'd listen to that feeling, but there's no hard and fast rule to follow when it comes to making that judgment for yourself.

When it comes to any sort of descriptive word or label for one's sexuality, here's something I think people forget sometimes: these terms exist to make our lives easier. They can help us affirm our identities, find a community of similar people, or just say "Hey, I'm here!" to the world. If you feel, at any time, that asexuality or aromanticism fit you, or that you feel better, in some way, as part of those communities, those labels are there for you. They exist to provide space and comfort, only as long as you feel like they fit you.

However, if you don't feel a connection to those labels, if they don't quite fit right, if the question of attraction feels on a gut level to be more of a hasn't-happened-yet situation than a never-gonna-happen one, you don't have to call yourself anything that doesn't feel like a label you want to adopt. There's never a point where a judge bangs their gavel and announces, "Sorry, you haven't felt sexually attracted to someone by now so I pronounce you Officially Asexual." You get to make that decision for yourself. No one else can make it for you, and it's not something you have to take on if it doesn't feel right.

While the presence of so many helpful sexuality-related labels can be a positive way for people to find community and self-acceptance, they can also produce a lot of anxiety in people who are questioning elements of their sexual orientation. Considering how complex and complicated sexual orientation can be, a lot of people wind up in that questioning boat at one point or another. The pressure to self-label that can sometimes exist, especially in certain social groups or communities, can actually make the process harder, not easier, to sort out. If you ever feel like friends or peers are pushing you to definitively label yourself right this very minute, you can ask them to back off.

You say that you don't think you're ace/aro; ultimately, the only person who can determine your sexual orientation is you, so I think it makes sense to listen to that voice! It might be that at some point you do feel a pull to one or both of those identities, and you can re-evaluate things then. Just because people ask if you are either ace or aro, and you don't have concrete "evidence" that says otherwise, it doesn't mean they're right. Even if you feel some confusion around the finer points of your orientation and identity, you're still going to be the best expert on the subject. No one else's thoughts or opinions can trump your own feelings.

I want to be clear that if you do feel some affinity with asexuality or aromanticism, and decide at some point that one or both of those identities do align with your experience, that's great! I just don't want you to feel pushed in that direction if it isn't something you're sure of. Since it sounds like you're not feeling a strong pull to an ace/aro identity at the moment, I want to respect that, and I hope that your friends and other people in your life can respect that, too.

I want to leave you with a few extra resources, both about asexuality and about the process of figuring out your sexual orientation; if you ever do find yourself feeling a pull to asexual identities, or even if you think having more information to chew on might help clarify your feelings in either direction, I hope you'll find some of these links helpful.

The next time someone asks about your orientation, or about who you're attracted to, it's perfectly all right to shrug and let them know you're still figuring things out, or that you aren't sure yet. Hopefully, anyone who's curious enough to ask these questions will also be understanding enough to accept your answer. If someone pushes you for more than that, or tries to insist that they know more about your identity than you do, they are being extremely rude; it doesn't mean you're doing anything wrong or don't know enough about yourself. Sexuality is a complex thing, and it can take time to see the shape of it; it's fine to figure things out at your own pace.

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