[Warning: This post was typed in a fit of late-night enthusiasm. It is intended only to represent Neshomeh's feelings in the moment. She has those sometimes.]
So, I'm asexual. Looking back on it, I would have been significantly happier if everyone had not been super-interested in whether or not I "liked" anyone as a kid.
I don't think it was much of an issue when I was really little, like 6-ish. I remember telling people I was going to marry my best friend from preschool, but when you're that young you can tell people that what "marriage" looks like to you is hunting aliens and having a laboratory in your basement and never having kids because you want to have fun instead, and everyone just laughs indulgently and thinks to themselves, "just wait until she hits puberty."
It was definitely an issue in middle school, when there started to be school dances and stuff like that. Then all the allosexual kids start realizing it, and all the adults in your life start going "so, do you have a special boy you like, wink wink?"
And, like, I did... but all I really wanted that to mean was for someone to share my passions (which still involved hunting aliens, and maybe saving the world a bit on the side). I did not want to kiss anybody. I remember feeling so tense and strange in situations where I knew that could be a thing, and I'm so damn grateful that the awkward, nerdy guys I liked were good people who never pressured me.
Unlike my own mother, who by high school was practically cheering from the sidelines. I remember one time, driving my "boyfriend" (because I didn't have the vocabulary for "hetero-romantic interest") home—I was along for the ride—and she was all like "So, have you two ~kissed~ yet? :D :D :D" So humiliating. And no, we hadn't, because I wasn't "ready" and my friend knew and actually cared.
The things I couldn't say then: No, Mom, we haven't, because I don't want to, maybe ever. Why is this such a big deal to everyone? This pressure makes me feel really crappy. Leave me alone. It's none of your business.
Why didn't I say those things? Well, why did I have a "boyfriend" in the first place? Why would I even think about marrying my best friend as a goddamn child?
Because if you joke about something often enough, it stops being a joke.
When the adults in your life, and the media you consume, and the culture in general, all discourse about teenagers dating as though it's a mathematical certainty, you can't help but get the impression that it's something you are supposed to do. Moms joshing their teenagers about their love life is normal. Not being interested in having one is weird. And no teenager wants to be weird.
I dealt with this in two ways. First, I figured I was just smarter than everyone around me, and that's why I wasn't interested in something as silly as dating. I was super-down on shipfic, and I have some very embarrassing comments about slash floating around out there in the ether.
Later, when I'd gotten into college and pulled my head out of my butt a little, I figured there was just something wrong with me. Had to be, because not wanting your boyfriend to kiss you, let alone do anything else with you, is not normal and not fair, right? And again, thank goodness the guy actually cared for me and respected my boundaries. Too many other women aren't so lucky. (Bit of a tangent, but he actually slept with someone else at a party one time. He felt so bad about it. My reaction? "Huh. What was it like?" If THAT wasn't a sign...)
Finally, someone on this very Board told me that "asexual" is a thing you can be, and it's totally normal. I'm not broken, or sick, or crazy (or even particularly smart). I'm ace!
And with that knowledge in my pocket, I could finally work out a romantic relationship on my terms, with the understanding that sex is a part of it because I love my partner and want to meet his needs, not because society tells me it's something I'm supposed to be super-excited about.
I'm not. I never was. I never will be.
And ace people are far from the only people to struggle with self-esteem as teenagers due to feeling pressured by social expectations they don't fit.
So, seriously, can we please un-normalize "joking" with kids about dating like it's something they are expected to do? Please?