The cut, the cut, cut, cut, cut, the cut. The cut. I love Valentine's Day, I truly do, it's actually my favorite holiday, and I'm really grateful to my mom for this because when I was a little kid, she actively decided that me and my sister would be really into Valentine's Day kind of as a feminist exercise. It was this huge holiday in our house growing up. And my mom and my sister and I made elaborate Valentine's with glitter glue and doilies for quite literally everyone we knew, our friends, our classmates, our family, friends, our neighbors, our extended family, and, of course, a valentine for Postmaster Joe, who was always really patient when we would stagger into the post office with our massive shipment.
It's actually kind of funny to think back on this because that is so not my mom. On a normal day, she's not into crafts or hobbies or anything like that. It was just Valentine's Day. On this one day she was like, we are going all out. And so it became tradition in my life. I kept going all out on Valentine's Day, but I more or less stopped around college because this one, Valentine's Day, I made my friends mix CDs with custom covers and let them in their mailboxes.
And I was so excited for them to discover these little surprises. But I just ended up making some of my friends very upset and go figure right for a second. You think you have a secret admirer and then it just turns out to be from me, your buddy. And it hurt me that my friends were hurt, especially on Valentine's Day, because I do love my friends very much. And it made me upset that we use this one word love to describe this whole range of feelings from a friend you'd take a bullet for to a person you want to hook up with, to your dog, to your grandpa.
And sometimes it's hard to tell what to make of love, what your expectations and hopes and goals are with someone if you're not going to sleep together. With friendship, we we don't really like talk about what the thing is, you know, we say to each other like you're my person, we're very affectionate with each other, but we haven't had like, you know, we haven't had an official conversation.
This is Allison Berenger. She's been producing and editing here at the show. And for months now, she's been thinking about this one friendship with Hannah.
It's funny because a couple of years ago I was like, am I gay? Like, do I want to have sex with Hannah? Do I want to be in a relationship with her?
And then I kind of like was thinking about it more like I don't want to have sex with Hannah, but I would love to spend the night in the same bed and, like, talk before we go to sleep.
Hannah is Alison's person, her plus one, the Burt to her, Ernie the Abby to her. Alana, there's the kind of friendship that I have with my best friends from home where we talk on the phone and see each other at holidays. But there's another kind of best friendship, which is just constantly being in a person's life and like knowing that person's going to look out for you with Hannah. She's been my partner in this last half decade of my life.
Like if we were having a potluck with a bunch of friends and I was coming late, I just knew that Hannah would set aside a plate for me and I didn't have to call her and be like, Oh, Sam, you set a plate.
I just knew that she would. She's just looking out for me.
They've been like this for years. I met Hannah when I was, I guess, twenty two, and we were both going to do the same work, teach abroad in Thailand together. And yeah, we did everything together. We went for runs every evening. We ate all of our meals together.
And I kind of feel like that year it was kind of one of the happiest years of my life. And I feel like Hannah was a big part of that. And then two years later, she moved to New York City and then we both got to live in Brooklyn together for five years. How often did you see each other? How in each other's life were you in New York?
We lived about probably a mile away from each other. We saw each other multiple times a week. I feel like she. See, Avery, I was worried I was going to cry. Because this year, for the first year in many years, Alison and Hannah had to be apart, Hannah leaving has been this inevitability for for a while now.
She's like a total outdoorsy kind of person, someone who wants to grow a garden and be near nature and be near family. And so I think she's always been planning to move back out to the Pacific Northwest. And like I remember last year, we were talking about her moving and I was just like, I want you to go. You've been talking about this for a long time, but like, I'll be heartbroken when you go.
But then the move happened more quickly than Alison thought it would. When the pandemic hit, Hannah's family decided to all be together in Washington state at the end of March.
I had called Hannah in the morning just to check in and see how she was doing. And then that's when she told me she and her sister were leaving that afternoon. A flight had been booked. They were leaving in just a couple hours. And I remember I went on the roof of my apartment, called my mom and just sobbed.
And it was kind of the cry that you can't catch your breath, that she's leaving the city. I'm sorry. Know it's so hard to think about it. Heard it. It was just like my soulmate, you know. Yes, I did. I don't know. I just really love her so much. Like beyond just like, you know. Hannah went away for the whole spring and the beginning of summer, and then while Hannah was away with her family, that's when she decided that she was going to move to Portland, Oregon.
And then she came back to New York in the summer to pack up all of her things and say goodbye to all of her friends.
So Alison was a good friend. Does drove Hannah to the airport for.
It is considered normal, even proper, to uproot your life for someone you love, but really only if it's the kind of love where you're sleeping together. So should you drop everything and move for a friend?
I have a lot of times I thought, like, why don't I just go with Hannah? We could make this beautiful life together.
You know, she left in August and September and October. It still just felt really raw, like she had just left the day before. My birthday is actually in October. And so I had, you know, friends calling me and wishing me happy birthday.
And, you know, they'd say, Alison, you know, how are you doing?
And I just remember, even though, like, things were very good in my life, all things considered, all I could think about was Hannah and how much I missed her.
And when people would ask me the question, how are you doing? I just wanted to cry.
It felt like a breakup in some ways, but, you know, Hannah, Hannah and I are still friends and so it felt kind of. Silly almost to be so upset because it was like we're still friends, we're going to be friends forever. I mean, we definitely still talk on the phone. And we also started sending each other those little voice messages.
And morning, Allison. Morning, friend. Hi. I just got back from the roller blade and I wore my new roller blades.
I'm so excited to try out the new blades.
I am inspired, but I don't know the contours of her daily life in the same way that we used to. When me and Hannah were living in the same place, it was easy to just like take that for granted. Yeah, you're my person here. We're partners here. And then I think her moving kind of suddenly I was it was like a more scary or unknown thing, like, OK, just just how committed are we to each other if we don't live in the same place anymore?
Like, what does that mean about our partnership? Is it less than now? Is it not the same? And. I've been having trouble finding my feelings. It's like a deep struggle represented anywhere.
There's this whole vast genre of breakup music, breakup movies, but there aren't nearly as many ways to wrap your head around a deep, aching feeling that isn't romantic.
So at one point I was trying to think of a mainstream kind of literary fiction, adult novel that didn't have a romantic storyline. Angela Chen is a science journalist and it was so hard. There always was some kind of romantic storyline.
But maybe this is a matter of redefining what we call romance.
I don't think people explicitly think that we think sex is the same as romance, but I think we couple sex and romance and sex and passion and sex and desire are not the same.
Angela Chen identifies as Asexual or ASW, and she's the author of the book is What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society and the Meaning of Sex.
Anjali's book actually truly changed my life because the thing is, whether you're asexual or not, a lot of our relationships are non-sexual and so asexuality can tell us a lot about what to do with deep, overwhelming love that isn't about sex.
Maybe you have just a really strong love for your best friend, but because it feels almost, quote, too strong for what is supposed to be platonic, you're like, oh, secretly I have some kind of deep buried feeling for her.
After the break, how asexuality opens up a door for new ways to talk about who we love, how we feel and the way our society is configured. As the world changes, so does the way we do business.
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So from all my conversations with Alison, it's clear she does experience sexual attraction, but many of her deep relationships are asexual. And so something a sexuality can teach us all as an identity, as a movement, as a school of thought is that there are many different layers to this mysterious thing we call attraction.
So just a little bit of a one on one. People who are asexual don't experience sexual attraction, but that's not the same as not wanting romantic relationships.
Angela Chen again. And the fascinating thing is that just raises this question of what exactly is romantic attraction. I think for most people, the way that, you know, that you were romantically attracted to someone is that you want to have sex with them.
But four aces by definition, most of us don't experience sexual attraction. So then what is it? You know, when you again, when you start looking at it, start to break down, it's like, wait, how is it not just platonic attraction then? And so I think one of the really interesting things is that sexuality kind of destabilizes what those two are because we think about these as mutually exclusive categories, either platonic or it's romantic. And I think that once we start thinking that romantic feelings can exist without sexual attraction, then it's this interesting framework with which to evaluate our relationships.
What Angela pointed out to me, but I think I knew, but I never really put into words is that there are so many different types of desire and we tend to bundle them all together.
Sex is the shorthand for passion. So if you if you Google, like, passionate and do a thesaurus search, then you'll get things like sultry, lascivious, sexy. And so when you have these very narrow ways of describing a feeling, then, of course, like these get linked in your mind and sure, blame Dr. Freud.
But there is this widespread assumption that everyone is mostly thinking about sex, that it's guiding all of our actions and secretly shaping our personalities and anxieties, and that we would probably like to have sex or talk about sex at any given moment.
And if you don't, then there's something wrong with you. Just as one example, a lot of people tell me when they go to the doctor and they say that they are not sexually active, there's this assumption that there's something wrong with them or therapy is another example. You know, if you say you're not interested in sexuality, many therapists automatically are like, oh, well, what happened to you? What kind of trauma do we need to uncover to make you love sex the way that all happy and self actualized people do?
So all these widespread cultural anxieties about a sexless life without passion can really get in the way of what you actually feel.
At one point, I think I read some review of Magic Mike and then whoever the writer was was talking about how she was so aroused after watching that movie. And she felt super horny. And I was just remember being like, what? Like from a movie like I'm not I don't think that's ever happened to me.
I mean, Angela could see that the dancers in Magic Mike were aesthetically attractive, obviously, but she just didn't feel what her friends felt.
They're like, oh, my body tingles. I was like, no, I don't think he's handsome, but I'm not experiencing what you're experiencing.
You can think someone is beautiful and you can think someone is lovely and you can want to be close to them and you want to have sex with someone. But these are all different combinations and different iterations of those feelings that we normally bundle together and call attraction.
We aren't given the sort of linguistic tools to parse apart aesthetic desire, sexual desire and romantic desire.
There's so many different kinds of really charged, passionate feelings you can have, for example, with a mentor that you really intellectually, you know, or with a therapist. But because we so often make sex and sexuality kind of the shorthand for that kind of charge passion, then people are like, oh, am I actually involved with my therapist?
And think about all the importance we place on the act of sex and not only culturally like legally.
Angela put it to me this way. I can't give my health care benefits to my sister, but I could go meet some stranger on the Internet tonight, marry them tomorrow and give them my health care benefits.
And so why is it that this supposed romantic relationship I have is considered so much more important than familial relationships or relationships with just a dear friend that I want to give health insurance to?
I mean, what if sex was not assumed to be a condition of marriage or of partnership that your dear best friend could be your person or help your sibling or your aunt or anyone you love could be the person you buy a house with or raise a family with or move across the country for? We don't think it's weird if someone would move or switch jobs to be closer to a romantic partner, but I think many people would find it difficult to that to be closer to just like their best friend.
The best friend is just as important.
Yeah, it's really fascinating because Alison Barrenger, who works for the show, her best friend, moved away and she felt these like heartbreaking breakup feelings and she didn't really understand why.
Like, what would you say to someone like that?
I guess I would say that this feeling of I know what I'm feeling, but it feels isolating. It feels alienating.
I think that's one consequence of the fact that we so deeply prioritize romantic and sexual relationships in our society where people can say, I love you and I think more people can experience more things without going around in circles.
So much the name the identity asexual isn't just about a lack of sexuality. It's about approaching all of our relationships with the same thoughtfulness that we give to sexual ones. It's a way to see ourselves and our desires in a new framework. It's almost like a sexuality is a school of thought, almost like the Frankfurt school or something.
So I gave Alison my marked up copy of what asexuality reveals about desire, society and the meaning of sex, just to see if that would clarify anything about her relationship with Hannah.
Yeah, I mean, the book was really interesting and clarifying in a lot of ways. And at the same time, I finished reading the book and I still felt really sad. It didn't take away any of the heartbreak. The other night I was talking to one of my roommates. Abigail was eating dinner and we were talking about Hannah and actually talking about the book.
It's like, should you have done that? I think I've been trying to figure out my feelings from some kind of intellectual perspective. But Abigail said this thing to me, which is kind of obvious. But hearing her say it so plainly, it really stuck with me.
And also, I mean, it sounds like also how do you learn to let go of what it was? Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, yeah. You know, we've been talking so much about how these kinds of intense, intimate friendships go really unacknowledged by our society, they're not recognized as important. They're not really given any airtime. And so the grieving felt really lonely. Do you know how Hannah feels?
Does she feel the same way?
Um, I know she misses me like she tells me she misses me and that she loves me.
I mean, have you, like, really talked about how hard this is for you? I guess not really. I mean, we're like so open with each other about our emotions and what we're going through, but.
It almost feels like this is one area where I've held back, that was until recently. I've been thinking a lot about how. You know, like how hard it's been. Without you here. Yeah, one crying Oh, no, here, no. Yeah, I just yeah, I guess I just wanted to tell you that. It's a thing I've been grieving and also like simultaneously feeling so happy for you. And like the things that you're doing right now and like this new job that you have and I don't know, like I'm so happy for you.
You know, I definitely agree. We get to, as I have said that said, using beautiful Grieg's of your old home exam.
You know, you can always tell the. When you moved, I just felt myself like, I don't know, uh. Yeah, like almost wanting to talk about that, like just to talk about our relationship status.
Like, how do you see the future of our friendship? What do you imagine?
I feel like a necessary component will be. Meeting up with leaders for the better, yeah, or just visiting each other's lives. Yeah, I will. Live in your world heavyweight champion of the world. Yeah. Hey, you think? Yeah, I'd like that to. Because I I thought so many times, like especially in the fall, like, why didn't I just go with Hannah? Why didn't I move with her? I should have just said, Hannah, I'm coming with you.
I guess you would have actually come here.
Yeah, I've really considered that as a serious question. And I think that. Yeah, like right now, um, the answer is. No, like, I'm not going to move to Oregon, but I can see the future where if I could move anyway or whatever, that I'd be like, Hannah, can I move to where you are?
Or like, what is a dream? We're in a very devoted for distance relationship.
We are. Yes, I'm committed.
This episode was produced by Allison Barrenger and me, along with the mighty, mighty cut team, Vuh Parker, and welcome to the team Jasmine Aguilera. I can't believe I get to work with these people. Are executive producers are still a me and Hanna Rosin with editorial support from the shop Kawa.
This episode was mixed and scored by Joel Rabie. Special thanks to Leah, Caroline Matthews, Abigail Cheal and of course Hannah Joseph were made possible by the team at New York Magazine. Subscribe today to support their work at the dotcom slash subscribe. I'm Avery Gettleman. Thanks for listening.