I was talking recently with a friend about the distinction I make between relationships and partnerships to explain why I don’t want a queerplatonic relationship, and one of the differences we discussed was the idea of leaning, which invariably led to a lot of existential questions about aloneness.
In theory, leaning is simple: sometimes, when life is hard, you need to lean on something for support. But in practice, it can be pretty complex. There are a number of support systems you can turn to when you need something to lean on (money, family, partners, and interpersonal relationships, etc), but each one is different from all the others. Maybe you’re estranged from your family but you have a lot of strong interpersonal relationships, or maybe you have a lot of money but not a partner. There are also a number of societal expectations around leaning, like how if you catch a cold, it’s fine if your partner nurses you back to health, but it’s sort-of “““weird””” if your friends take on that task instead.
My relationship to leaning is…complicated. I’m normally self-reliant, so I don’t lean very often, but when I am leaning, I’ll lean on someone a lot for a short period of time. When I’m not leaning, a part of me is worrying that I’m too independent and that I need more close friends, or else next time I won’t have anyone to lean on. And when I am leaning, in addition to dealing with whatever’s making me lean on someone, I’m worrying that I’m leaning too hard on them, and either I’m going to lose my friend once this is over (bad), or I’m going to lose them while I’m still leaning on them (very bad).
Now, you might think the solution is obvious. Find someone who is always willing to be there for me to lean on and be my partner, right? Well, the problem is that I don’t like it when other people lean on me. A friend recently asked to borrow a book. I wasn’t currently reading it, I probably wouldn’t read it for the foreseeable future, and I had no sentimental attachment to it. It was just an ordinary book. And yet, my first reaction was one of possessiveness and defensiveness. I was able to perfectly rationalize that even if I never got the book back there would be no negative impact on my life, and that lending the book would lead to a positive impact on my friend’s life, but getting myself to lend the book was, well, hard. I don’t want to be this way by any means; I want to be able to support my friends. I just don’t like it when people lean on me.
The kind of leaning that I’m most comfortable with is when other people need someone to talk to, but even that has its limits. Fairly low stakes stuff is fine and often times enjoyable, but if it’s about a super serious topic that’s well above my pay grade, I’ll worry in the moment that I’m not giving them the help they need, and then dodge the subject in the future. I am able to contribute some support, but I still have a net negative contribution; that is, I lean on others more than I let them lean on me. (Or at least, I think my net contribution is negative. More on this in a bit)
To further complicate matters, I’m okay with being alone for a while, but eventually I’ll need to have some lightweight positive interaction with my friends. I guess you could say I’m an ambivert; I go back and forth between needing alone time and social time to recharge, but in a sort-of extreme fashion. I need places that are just for me, where I have an absolute guarantee that I can be alone with myself, and I also need places that are for others, where I have an absolute guarantee that I won’t be alone with myself. Anything that infringes on my guaranteed aloneness is like the worst kind of lean on me, and while less immediate, being cut off from my guaranteed social interactions grows over time to be equally bad.
So, in short, I rarely but intensely lean on people while also trying to avoid situations where they lean on me, even though I (at least theoretically) want to be there when they need someone to lean on, all the while needing a balance of personal space and social interaction.
But that’s just the present situation. What could my future look like? What’s a stable, long-term living arrangement that would make me happy?
- Totally isolated and self-reliant: This wouldn’t work because sometimes I’ll need someone to lean on (what do I do if I get sick?) or just have positive interactions with.
- Single partner: The idea of being the primary support for another person is a mix of uncomfortable, terrifying, and suffocating. If I met someone that I was comfortable being the dedicated support for, I could maybe see myself entering a queerplatonic relationship with them? But my repulsion from partnerships is pretty strong, so I’m not holding out hope that this would work. (And besides, I don’t like the idea of hoping that I’ll meet someone who will magically “fix” me and save me from all these problems)
- Multiple partners: I used to think a polyamorous relationship might work for me, but as I mentioned earlier, I think I have a net negative contribution of support. I say “think” because it’s possible that I’m just very bad at objectively measuring the ways I support (or would support) my partners. I don’t think it’s necessarily bad if one’s contribution is slightly negative, but in my case I think it would be significantly negative. Furthermore, each time I redirected a partner’s lean away from me and onto someone else, wouldn’t I be separating myself from the rest of the group a tiny bit? And even if my partners didn’t end up drifting away a bit, even if they really were fine with my behavior, even if my net contribution of support was only slightly neutral or even neutral or positive, I don’t think they’d be able to convince me that everything was fine, so I’d constantly be worrying that this option was unstable and about to break down.
- Group of friends: No partnerships and no commitments should be better because I have no obligation to support others, right? Well, the trouble is that this would probably end up being an overcorrection. Without a partnership, I wouldn’t have any guarantee that my friends would value our interpersonal relationship and put in as much time and effort as I’d like from them. So if my friends started dating someone, there’d a good chance they’d end up abandoning me.
- Group of friends in the same predicament as me: Having a group of mostly or all aspec friends, where we all sort-of live together in a communal space but also have private spaces for alone time is definitely a dream of mine. The only problem is that the odds of finding people to make this work in the long term feels incredibly unlikely.
- Pets: I’d love to have one or more pets, probably cats, but I’m not convinced that I’d be able to always care and support for pets and put their needs above my own.
- Children: No. I don’t want kids, and that amount of responsibility for another life that’s completely dependent on you is terrifying.
- Learn to let people lean on me: Considering the amount of effort I put in right now to convince myself that I’m not taking advantage of my friends by leaning on them more than they lean on me, this feels like the obvious solution. And regardless of ethical dilemmas, I do like the idea of my friends leaning on me; I care about them and want to be able to support them. But when it actually comes to providing support, letting people lean on me when I don’t want them to is hard. I’m not sure if I could ever learn to let people lean on me enough that some sort of relationship/partnership/whatever could have a good chance of working in the long run, because often times it feels like my complicated relationship to leaning is intertwined with being aroace. When I look at people who are dating, people who are in partnerships of some sort, the only explanation I can fathom for how they’re okay with being a major form of support for someone else is that something about wanting to enter a partnership with someone makes supporting them more tolerable.
So, am I just supposed to hope that I never need to lean on people? Remind me why our society is set up to encourage single people to find a partner who can always support them? I mean, I have nothing wrong with being alone. Often times, I actually like being alone, having some space that’s just for me. I spend a lot of my time thinking about stuff on my own, processing the topic at hand before I divulge my conclusions to other people. I don’t need people. I can be self-reliant. Let me put on some music, work on a project for hours or days at a time, and I’ll find joy in my work and be super productive. And when I’m in need of some social interaction, I’ll seek it out and recharge for a bit, and then be ready to keep working. I can adjust to small perturbations, as long as they don’t happen all at once. I have a self-balancing system that could potentially run indefinitely given the status quo remains unchanged.
But when a big wave rocks the boat, I’m gonna need something to lean on.