What does it mean to “like” someone?

When I was 10 years old, in fifth grade (my final year of elementary school), waiting with my mom for my brother’s haircut to be over and for it to be my turn to trim off an inch or so of my hair, she asked me if I liked any boys in my class. (Truthfully, I’m only 25% sure this memory is factual, but please, go with it as if it really happened like this.)

Phrasing it like that, asking a young girl if they “like” any boys in class, plays into heteronormativity to the extreme, amatonormativity, etc. It assumes “like” in a sense that is rare, special, probably slightly-sexual but maybe not too sexual since I was barely entering puberty by then, and definitely a synonym for the term “crush”, with heavy romantic connotations.

And I thought about the boys in my class, none of whom I was actually “friends” with because of the societal gender binary splitting us off and only girls being considered for friendship. Who I talked to at lunch and at recess were pretty much just girls. So the guy I liked was the guy I had noticed reading all 50 books in the Animporphs series just like I was, but with whom I’d never gotten a chance to share a conversation. Was the guy that stood out to me because he was the one non-white guy in class and he was also one of the smartest of my classmates. I was a straight-A student in elementary school, and so was he. We both raised our hands really often to participate in class. And I respected him a lot for all of these reasons, and I decided he was the guy, I guess, that I had a crush on. Let’s call him Jeremy.

But by the time we both got to high school, I decided I liked the personality of a different guy, his best friend, even more. Maybe that even happened in middle school. The dude (let’s call him Alexander) had a ton in common with Jeremy, hence them being best friends. But Alexander was friendlier to me when I talked to him. I worked on more group projects with Alexander and I felt like I knew him better. I confided in him a bit about my abusive mom because I really wanted as many people as possible to know how screwed up my life was. I admired in 7th grade (middle school) his quirky habits, like getting in trouble in our Ancient History class for reading the Atlas instead of paying attention to the teacher’s lecture, lmao. I continued to have a crush on this guy through all of high school, through him starting to date a girl. She was a grade older than us, and I felt jealous when he started to date her, or at least sad that I missed my chance to tell him I had a crush on him. Most of my feelings for Alexander happened because we weren’t friends, and what I desired was not to spend time holding hands or kissing, but because I felt like I had to have a crush on somebody, and out of all of the male students I knew relatively well, he seemed like a great choice for someone I might, theoretically, enjoy getting to know better.

I felt even stronger versions of those same versions of jealousy a couple years later when my brother told me he’d experienced his first kiss. I think deep down, I knew I was different, that I was asexual, that I would never get to experience these heteronormative experiences, at least not in a heteronormative way, and that’s probably why I felt so upset to learn my brother, a whole 2 years younger than me, was beating my 18-year-old self to these rites of passage, and also why I cared at all when Alexander began dating another girl. I didn’t have the terminology for it yet, didn’t know how to categorize my feelings, but I was starting to feel like I wasn’t “normal”, that I was likely to miss out on these dating/kissing/etc experiences in my future, and I didn’t like how that felt.

Meanwhile, around middle school, I also developed what I considered to be a crush on a guy who lived in my grandmother’s neighborhood. I went over to my grandmother’s every day after school so that was basically my own neighborhood. Let’s call him Michael, and he was my friend. As close and real of a friend as my female friends from around the neighborhood. My feeling of a crush for Michael was less clear than my crushes for Jeremy and Alexander. I just started to think, one day, that if I had to date someone, dating Michael might be a good option. I didn’t consider girls, only boys, as potential dating partners, because I mainly assumed I was straight by default, and also as far as I knew every girl and boy in my life was also straight. I just felt like someone who was already my friend, someone I already knew I could get along with, who happened to be the “correct” gender for a “straight” girl like me (ha, ha, ha) — he would be the perfect guy to think of as a potential dating partner.

And once I got the idea in my head that I “liked” Michael in this way, I started to imagine what it might be like to try kissing him or to be dating him, and my imagination never got very fleshed out. I actually find it somewhat impossible to fantasize on these matters, but I did try!

I liked all 3 of these guys in ways that at the time, I had no way to properly phrase other than that I had a “crush” on each of them. But now, realizing I’m aromantic and asexual, and probably always have been, I still don’t think “squish” necessarily encompasses everything about my experiences with Jeremy, Alexander, and Michael. The truth is, I was living in a very confusing state of thinking I must be a straight young woman, because I didn’t know being aro ace was an option. I was thinking I would end up dating a guy, one day, and then getting married and my life was oh-so-likely to turn out that way. I was kind of deciding I had crushes on guys and not girls because of some really extreme heteronormativity instilled in me (I didn’t even realize my uncle who always brought his friend to Christmas/Easter was gay, we had no openly non-straight kids at my schools, etc). And because of the invisibility of alternative life paths, including non-marriage, non-dating, being childfree by choice, that some people are aromantic & asexual, etc.

Would I have developed these crushes/squishes on these people had I truly realized I didn’t HAVE to have a crush on a guy? If I had realized the When Harry Met Sally premise WAS FALSE.

Because growing up, I really bought into this:

Harry: You realize, of course, that we can never be friends.
Sally: Why not?
Harry: What I’m saying is — and this is not a come-on in any way, shape or form — is that men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.
Sally: That’s not true. I have a number of men friends and there is no sex involved.
Harry: No you don’t.
Sally: Yes I do.
Harry: No you don’t.
Sally: Yes I do.
Harry: You only think you do.
Sally: You say I’m having sex with these men without my knowledge?
Harry: No, what I’m saying is they all want to have sex with you.
Sally: They do not.
Harry: Do too.
Sally: They do not.
Harry: Do too.
Sally: How do you know?
Harry: Because no man can be friends with a woman that he finds attractive. He always wants to have sex with her.
Sally: So you’re saying that a man can be friends with a woman he finds unattractive?
Harry: No, you pretty much want to nail ’em too.
Sally: What if they don’t want to have sex with you?
Harry: Doesn’t matter because the sex thing is already out there so the friendship is ultimately doomed and that is the end of the story.

I really felt that was true, that pretty much every guy I met would be straight (since other sexualities were barely on my radar) and that they’d all want to have sex with me, and that therefore I could never be “just friends” with a guy, but if I enjoyed spending time with a guy, maybe that REALLY meant I would enjoy a sexual-romantic relationship with him, maybe if I find aspects of his personality endearing or if I admired things about him or respected him a lot or trusted him with my secrets that this MUST mean I had a crush on him.

But I questioned whether I might not be straight for a minute here or there over the decade since I hit puberty before I started identifying as asexual, and in those moments of questioning, I knew that what I felt for guys really wasn’t any different than what I felt for all my female friends, but ultimately I dismissed my questioning as nonsense and came back to being “sure” I was straight because I was satisfied with “just friendship” with those female friends in my life, and even the girls/women I “liked”/”Admired”/”appreciated”/”for whom I found aspects of their personalities endearing”… even then the fact that I might, in the abstract, like to be friends with them didn’t really matter much in my day-to-day life, didn’t cause me stress or sadness over the unrequited “squish”. I had enough friends already, or the few I had were, at the very least, “good enough”. I was satisfied with my life as it was.

When I finally tried online dating, I was still working hard to convince myself I was probably straight, even after my first failed attempt had me searching AVEN for if finding kissing completely unappealing was a sign you might be asexual. And I still felt kind of “sure”, for a week or so there, that I had a huge crush on the guy who would later end up becoming my boyfriend, let’s call him Richard. I really “liked” this guy, who I stumbled across on OkCupid, and he seemed to really “like me” back. He appreciated my passions, shared the same basic worldviews on a lot of the important things, and for whatever reason, I basically felt like we were instantly “clicking”. We both were on OkCupid for the same reason – we wanted to find a romantic partner. And there is something exciting about dating, about two people who both (presumably) have the same (or at least a similar) goal, about getting to first know each other when you know that the other person probably will want to see you again, that maybe you will one day be able to call each other significant others, unless you do something to mess it up. It’s so different than how making friends usually works, because with friendship, you meet under all sorts of contexts yet never “an online friend-finding website” or “going on a friend-date to see if we would work as friends”. Because being friends doesn’t actually mean anything: you can be friends yet never actually add each other on facebook, yet never see each other outside of groups, yet never see each other outside of your job even (if you are co-workers who develop a friendship). As some examples.

But dating is higher stakes, you have to both agree to be dating before you’re really dating, and there is a bare minimum for what is “allowed” in conventional dating scripts – meeting up for dates on a regular basis, at the very least, where you’re not only seeing each other within group settings. And that higher-stakes setting of a first-date or of a messaging communication on an online-dating site is both nerve-wracking and exciting and helps elevate the feelings you feel for the person, both positive feelings and negative feelings. Anything they do that “is a turn off” is a strike against deciding to date them. Anything they do that you don’t really like should matter in your own mental pro/con list of whether this person is a potential significant other for you. And everything positive is a huge win, because you’ve been playing a game where you only get to win if you like a person enough to date them, so every time you do like something about them, YAY, the game is starting to go in your own favor. 😉

I’m aromantic and asexual, and yet I still felt that way with all 3 of the guys I ultimately dated in 2012 and 2013 when I was 22- and 23-years-old.

And I still have no real answers for what it means to “like” someone, to have a “squish” on someone, etc.

Kasey Weird wrote, here:

I find it very hard to define platonic attraction in a way that is coherent with my experience of life, attraction generally, and friendships particularly. The best I can do is to say that it is something like a distinct feeling that me and another person would make good friends (i.e. that I desire a friendship with them).

The thing that messes with this definition for me is the difference between instances of me having that feeling about people, and who I actually wind up befriending. Many of people I feel this way about are people I just never become close to, and a fairly significant proportion of my friendships didn’t start out with any strong attraction driving them, (or at least not on my side, I guess.)

And I relate so strongly to this.

They also said more related to the topic, but I don’t want to quote the entire post, so make sure you read it.

After reading both that and ace-muslim’s submission for February’s Carnival of Aces, where ace-muslim mentioned:

I experience squishes (i.e., emotional attraction) from time to time, but they’re almost always unrequited, not very intense, and don’t lead to anything. I’ve never found myself wanting to enter a queerplatonic relationship with a woman I’ve had a squish on.

Instead, my reasons for wanting a queerplatonic relationship are practical, functional, and structural. That is, there’s a gap in my life that I’d like to fill with a primary partnership, and I need that to be non-romantic and non-sexual. But this is an abstract or generic desire, not something specific to an individual person.

(links removed by me/luvtheheaven in the quote)

I’m beginning to think that the idea of a crush/squish almost ONLY makes sense when unrequited, or at least not-yet-requited. And that’s part of the confusing part. For relationships — yes friendships too — where feelings of appreciating the other person, “liking” the other person for who they are, liking aspects of their personality, liking how they look, liking anything about them where these things are reciprocated right from the start or are already being felt by them toward you before YOU start to reciprocate it for them, in those cases you never get a chance to have a crush or a squish on a person.

But when you like a person, and you know deep down they’ve never even considered whether or not they like you, at least not to the same degree/in the same way, or if you’re questioning if they “like you as a person back”, that’s when the concept of a squish maybe makes some sense to me, and the same goes for “platonic attraction”, however much this contradicts what I just said approximately 14 hours ago in this post of mine. I think in a really general sense, yes, I’ve liked plenty of people in my life in a way that is not about romance, not about sex, not about appearance, not about wanting to touch or cuddle. Platonic might be the best word for the “how” of my feelings toward these people. However, I prefer not to think of it as being drawn toward them, desiring any kind of relationship (even a friendship) with them, and to not use the word “attraction”, because the truth is, “liking” is a broader concept than I think “platonic attraction” accounts for, and if you define a squish as being a platonic attraction for a specific person, the same problems fall into it.

I have general, nebulous, positive feelings for some of my brother’s friends, for instance. These are often people I know “about” in depth because of my brother talking about them, and I might already have these feelings before or without even meeting the person in question. Or I can have these same types of feelings for family members I barely know but would like to get to know better spanning from them being age 5 to them being age 85, and obviously the way I “like” a 5-year-old is different than a peer-level “I want to be friends”, but there is a sense of “Aw, he is so cute when he says that to me” and “oh gosh I hope he likes me as his oldest first cousin” or “I hope this day I spent playing with him might be fun for him, I’m having fun” or even an abstract “I hope one day we might have a relationship, when he is old enough to be more of a peer-ish-level person to me in conversations and thoughts”. And general feelings of “Aw that 5-year-old is so cute” can apply just as easily to a non-family member as to a family member, and really isn’t all that different from the feeling I get when my queerplatonic partner (who is 1 year older than me) gets excited over reading comments people are sharing on who’s going to be the next Supreme Court Justice now that Scalia is gone, because it’s all just a general happy feeling that’s stemming from my general appreciation of who another human being is?? Is that makes any sense? Like what makes this person relatively unique is something I am appreciating. Is that “attraction”? Maybe, in some definition of it?

But like ace-muslim (Laura), I too have been wanting a queerplatonic partner for practical, functional, and structural reasons. I currently have found one, and the reason I’m considering him my queerplatonic partner is largely because that explains what he is to me in a way that “one of my friends” or “my boyfriend” doesn’t quite capture. Because we are both aromantic and asexual, and the term “best friend” isn’t generally understood in our pockets of culture as a meaningful term for adults who don’t plan to date anyone, where this is our maybe “most significant” relationship in our lives,  but where we’re also not monogamous nor polyamorous in any meaningful sense, where sure we have other friendships, where we acknowledge that basically what we are to one another is very close friends who fill the role that dating would in the average person’s life, but since we are non-amorous/aromantic we don’t have anything else to potentially fill that role. And basically we have to decide on our own rules for how we want our relationship to work both in the present and moving forward.

My relationship basically turned into something that could best be defined as queerplatonic, for structural, functional, and practical reasons. And any feelings of platonically “liking” this guy mainly came after we were already friends, or happened simultaneously with us becoming friends. So… make of that what you will.

But these are my current, scattered thoughts on the topic.

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