By Maya Petzoldt, TIWP Student
“Who do you have a crush on?”
I don’t have a crush on anyone. I promise.
“Who do you like, Maya?”
Are you asking if I love someone? You of course, like a friend, a sibling.
“Will you go out with me?”
Of course, what’s better than a day with friends? I’d love to hang out with you.
Oh, you meant romantically.
Oh, don’t worry, I know.
I often think that the first thing I ever learned was how to love. I learned to love my family, and I learned that was complicated. Families often love each other, but not always. There are times where love can be lost, where arguments can happen, and familial love can fall apart. I learned this as I grew, and as I watched some sides of my family fall to arguments that lasted decades, and the other sides to simple distance. But the most important thing I learned was that it’s okay, and mutual love never dies out, only changes.
I knew it was okay when I didn’t see my grandmother for a few years, and I knew it was okay when I didn’t recognise great aunts and uncles right away, or ever really. I learned that love changed over time, and that it’s not a steady algorithm that will always have the same answer. That didn’t change the fact that I loved my family, but it did change how I loved them. When I was younger this was by handing them things, as I grew up it became by telling them things.
When I was younger you could know I loved you when I let you hold my stuffed animals. Now you know I love you when I talk to you for hours on end with no sign of stopping. When I was younger you knew I loved you when I handed you cookies I forced my mom to bake with me. Now you know I love you when I start speaking faster because I’m excited, you know I love you when you have to remind me to put spaces between my words.
The next thing I learned was romantic love. I learned that everyone I knew wanted it, everyone I knew had it. My mom loves my dad, and my dad loves my mom. My uncle has found somebody he loves, and maybe she loves him. My best friend has a crush on our friend, and she hopes he has a crush on her back.
That’s the word isn’t it, a crush. Oxford languages says a crush is “a brief but intense infatuation with someone.” They then define brief as “of short duration; not lasting long.” They define intense as “having or showing strong feelings or opinions; extreme and serious.” They define infatuation as “an intense but short-lived passion or admiration of someone or something.”
So then was a crush just another word for infatuation? Why does it change? Because infatuation is fleeting, brief, but crushes last years or months at a time. Can a crush be defined as brief and short-lived when my friend had a crush on a boy for three years? Can a crush be defined as intense, extreme and serious, if we joked about it and made up code names for the boy she liked?
I don’t think it can, I don’t think crushes mean what they think we mean. Is it a crush if it blossoms into a relationship that lasts for five years? Is it a crush if you act on it? Is it a crush if you don’t? I’ve never had a crush. I’ve never gushed over someone to my friends, I’ve never asked someone out, I’ve never meant it.
I learned that romantic love was necessary, and important to everybody. I learned that everybody has a crush, whatever that means, that a core trait to who you were was who you liked at any given time. I learned that everyone falls in love, that everyone has a relationship. I learned that it was necessary. It was important. And so I lied.
When my friend began her three year long trek on crushing on a boy she asked me: “Who do you have a crush on?”
No one, really. I wanted to say-
“I don’t have a crush on anyone, I promise.”
Because I already knew it was hard to believe. But I didn’t. Instead I looked around, and I spotted him. I knew him, barely, but I knew him. I knew he was nice, as far as I could guess, and I knew his name.
“Him, I think. The feelings are still budding.”
I said that instead. It was more believable. And I told that lie again, and again, and again. When anybody asked if I liked someone, if I had a crush, I just changed it up. That guy I thought was pretty and took a picture of on a field trip? Sure. That guy I race to get on the bus for fun? Why not.
I saw how people looked in real life, and in the movies, and in love. I could fake that, easy. I could sigh his name, take too many pictures. I could lie to my grandma and say that boy at church was nice, even if I only ever saw the back of his head. I could tell my friends day in and day out that I loved that boy, wacky mannerisms and all. I could do love, easy.
But then more people asked me, specifically. Not a crush, but like.
“Who do you like, Maya?”
You, platonically of course. I had just learned that word. I loved it. Wait, are you asking if I love someone? You of course, like a friend, a sibling. But how could I lie to them? I knew them since the day they were born, and they told me everything, so why shouldn’t I do the same? I know now that that’s not how trust works, but hey, I like telling people things. So this time, I didn’t lie. I told them who I loved like family.
But I knew that wouldn’t satiate them for long, that they needed a better answer. So I made one up, and discovered about myself in the process.
“There’s this cute girl in my dance class, she’s a redhead.”
I wasn’t lying there. She was cute, she had red hair and wore red dresses, and she came into classes with doodles and drawings all over her arms like tattoo sleeves. My friend, sibling, has blinked at me, laughed, and invited me to the next pride parade. And, oh, how fast things spiraled.
I had discovered a rainbow. Not the rainbow that we looked at over the highway that came from the waterfalls, or the ones we saw over the mountains that came from the rain. I discovered a rainbow in balloons, confetti, and chalk on the pavement. I discovered a rainbow in the very direction, and I discovered an identity.
I liked people, like a lot of people. Boy, girl, non-binary, genderfluid, trans, Agender, and anybody who said they were human. I found them attractive, I found the boys in bikini tops and the girls in daisy dukes the prettiest people I ever saw. I was pansexual. I was very, very pansexual.
It was great to know this, but other things came with it. With seeing so many things and so many people as attractive, and I will stand by that to this day, I started to see things about myself that I thought were unattractive. If I wasn’t appealing to the people I was attracted to, how would I find love? I could find friends easy, I had that down to a science. But finding love? I was more of a novice than physically possible.
I saw that my but was too big, my breasts too small, my hair too short, and my height too tall. I tried to fight it, and say I wanted to be taller, six foot even. I was going to rock short hair, and be a butch lesbian. I was going to wear shorts, and crop tops. At the time, I didn’t actually believe those things. In real life I hid in long, baggy jeans, and collared shirts in oversized sweaters. I let my hair grow long, and I whined about my height.
But things changed again, and I went to the doctors. I knew I had ADHD, I knew I had a processing disorder for written expression, but I learned I had autism. Perhaps that should have been a bigger reveal, but I’d say the sentence reveal is just about how it went in real life. Nothing truly changed, there was now just a name more why I shewed things, for why I felt the need to run back and forth in place, for why I misunderstand so many things. I was autistic.
And that came with something else, I was a horrible example to those I loved. So I changed. I became confident in my butt, and I didn’t worry about my weight. I wore a crop for the first time, and I cut my hair as short as I could. I knew I couldn’t grow any taller, but that doesn’t mean I can’t complain about it. So what if I’m stuck at 5’6, I’m still aiming for 6 foot and I’ll wear stilettos if I have to.
To those I loved, for those in the same positions as me, whether it was my autistic cousin, who I strove to be a better example for, or my lgbtq best friend/sibling that I strove to be a better support for. And with this new confidence, I thought I was ready to dive headfirst into romantic love. I waited impatiently for my first high school crush. I waited, and I waited, and I waited. It didn’t happen, and I went on to leave high school two years early and attend community college instead. No crushed here either. Instead, something else happened.
“Will you go out with me?” Of course, what’s better than a day with friends? I’d love to hang out with you. Oh, you meant romantically. Oh, don’t worry, I know.
I went on two dates, and I hated it. They were with the same person, but a year apart. The first time they were a boy, and we went and got ice cream, and candy, and toys from the toy shop. When they confessed halfway through the date I told them I didn’t feel the same, and we continued on as if nothing had happened. The second they were a girl, and still are, and we went shopping, and we hugged and held hands. And I realized, and they confessed, they still had feelings for me. She had a crush on me. She was in love with me. But I don’t feel the same.
They are a great friend, and I will forever cherish that, but something felt from. I liked going to eat together, going to stores together, cuddling together, but I don’t like it when I’m told that’s romantic. It’s not, to me. That’s my friend, and I love them as a friend would, as family would.
But maybe this needs more explanation, so let me explain.
After I was told I was autistic had a bit of an emo-but-emotionless phase where I wondered if my autism would prevent me from ever feeling things like everybody else. If I couldn’t hate, could I ever love? When my grandfather died I cried no tears, and I thought I was a monster. If I didn’t grieve, did I love them at all? But I wasn’t a monster, and I did feel, and it wasn’t autism that made it different. It was, to put it simply, me.
I had a talk with my uncle, and he told me I wasn’t the first to grieve yet have no tears. That’s common in the military, and for complicated reasons. It’s not bad by any means, simply different. The situations to live in shape you, and many military people don’t cry over lost loved ones because they understand the inevitability of it, of the state of being when you die, and the closure aspect of it. It was okay, and I simply grieved differently. I even saw my parents go through something similar when a friend of theirs died, they didn’t cry, but they did grieve by avoiding things that remind them of his death. I wasn’t a monster for that.
As for the love thing? Perhaps one day I’ll be in a mutually supportive relationship with someone who understands, but until then, guess I’m single. I don’t love like other people do, I don’t feel the need to express myself through a relationship status or dates, through kisses or gifts.
I may be pansexual and fully for physical closeness with other people, but I’m also aromantic.
There, I said it. I’m aromantic. I don’t feel romantic attraction. I feel platonic attraction and physical attraction, and to me those are interchangeable, but I’m not going to love someone like Princess Leia and Han Solo, like my mom and my dad, like my friend and her crush. I like to hug my friends, and I would do so many things for them, but when I say I love you don’t mistake that for a crush, or infatuation. I love you like a friend. Please know this, when you ask me out. But yes, I’m free this Friday, I’ll go out with you.