Kissing Ted Lasso: On Asexuality, Friendship and Loneliness

“Be curious, not judgmental.”

– attributed (incorrectly) to Walt Whitman


This is the press of a bashful hand, this the float and odor of hair,
This the touch of my lips to yours, this the murmur of yearning,
This the far-off depth and height reflecting my own face,
This the thoughtful merge of myself, and the outlet again.

– Walt Whitman, from “Song of Myself”

Last night I had a dream I was kissing Jason Sudeikis. No, not like that.

It was a stage kiss — or rather, a stage make-out session — on the set of Ted Lasso, and I’d been recruited to stand in temporarily for Ted’s romantic interest while the crew marked out camera angles and lighting cues. Okay, go ahead! some disembodied voice would call out, and Jason Sudeikis and I would start smushing mouths, sometimes accidentally bumping teeth as we tilted our heads this way or that in response to further off-camera instructions. Meanwhile, the unseen crew hovered around us, making equipment adjustments. Sometimes there’d be necking, and I could see the line where Jason’s make-up shaded away to exposed skin, and taste the mildly tangy salt of his sweat. Then some voice would call out, Okay, stop, back to one! and the whole thing would start over again. Lip-smushing, teeth-bumping, make-up and sweat. There was nothing salacious or sexual about it.

Why share this glimpse into my awkward psyche? Yeah, I don’t know. My apologies to Jason Sudeikis. I’m sure you’re a wonderful person who deserves a much more flattering thirst-trap. It’s not you, it’s me. I’m ace. This is the closest I get to a sex dream.

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If you ever wondered what it’s like to be asexual in a culture alternately obsessed with and ashamed of sex, this dream might give you some idea. The self-consciousness of performance, the noisy aura of social commentary and expectation like a constant hum overlaying the visceral physicality of other people’s bodies and your own.

And the way performative sexual intimacy can gradually give way to something more comfortable, more tender, given enough time and gentle consideration. Like how in the dream, after a while, the endless repetitions drained the stage kissing of its initial clumsy cringe. And what was left was our professionalism, like an open space, the consensual kindness that people show each other when they’re just trying to get through the day together without doing too much harm… How, eventually, even the bumping teeth and the taste of sweat stopped feeling like an imposition and became something special, almost sweet, intimate without being erotic — a way of knowing another person that the cameras couldn’t capture, something just between us.

Writing and talk do not prove me,
I carry the plenum of proof and everything else in my face,
With the hush of my lips I wholly confound the skeptic.

– Walt Whitman, from “Song of Myself”

When I was younger, my sexuality was a kind of performative pretense, something I thought people did as an excuse to get closer to each other. Sure, people talked a big game about sexual attraction, but honestly… I thought they were exaggerating, or maybe too immature to realize what they really wanted was something else. Who could seriously enjoy smushing mouths together? Who could settle for bumping genitals and come away feeling satisfied?

Of course, I still wanted to be beautiful and interesting — I wanted people to want to spend time with me, to be curious about me. I wanted to feel special, to be known and accepted for my whole self, living and moving in this odd animal body. And I wanted others to trust me to accept the intimacy of their own animal bodies, too, as something special and worthy of love.

So yeah, I wanted to be sexy. But “sexy” was as much an obstacle as an invitation. Not a blind force I allowed myself to give in to, but something I had to choose, deliberately. Something I had to cultivate through the early, awkward stages until it grew into something deeper, the sweet familiarity of earned intimacy.

My final merit I refuse you, I refuse putting from me what I really am,
Encompass worlds, but never try to encompass me,
I crowd your sleekest and best by simply looking toward you.

– Walt Whitman, from “Song of Myself”

That’s what my marriage is like. In case you wanted to ask (without sounding impolite), Why the hell would an asexual ever get married? That sweet familiarity, the kind of trust that is transformative.

Asexuality complicates notions of consent. Being ace doesn’t necessarily mean you’re repulsed by sex or that you might not even enjoy it (under the right circumstances), but it does usually mean you’re not enthusiastically seeking it out from others. Mostly, I just don’t care that much about sex, it’s not an important aspect of my self-identity, there are so many other things I’m more interested in and would rather be doing. But I can enjoy how my husband enjoys sex. My love for him is transformative in this way, the way love is often transformative: through my love for another person, I am brought into sympathy with their way of seeing and being in the world. Through loving them, I am better able to love what they love. And the world becomes a bigger, wilder, more beautiful place.

So our marriage is a relationship of gently cultivated trust, the earned intimacy of embracing each other’s whole selves. I might not be a sexual person, but I am deeply romantic — and that’s what our marriage is: romantic. Full of curiosity and creativity, the excitement of discovery, the fun of spending time with each other and working to build an amazing life together. Sometimes people say “marriage is work” like that’s a burden, but when you’re with the right person, even the ordinary, repetitive work of showing up, teeth and make-up and sweat and all, can become a source of tender joy.

I think that’s why I love the television show Ted Lasso. It’s a deeply romantic show, and that romance spills out into the many friendships and other non-sexual relationships it portrays on screen, including the lovely friendship between Ted and Rebecca (and Ted and Roy, and Ted and Coach Beard, etc. etc. etc.). All these characters who are just absolutely in love with each other. For someone who is asexual — whose relationships have never been defined by, nor conscripted by, sexual attraction — it feels profoundly affirming to see romance portrayed as an aspect of friendship. To see intimacy that is not inherently sexual or sexualized, but is nevertheless deeply meaningful and transformative.

Mine is no callous shell,
I have instant conductors all over me whether I pass or stop,
They seize every object and lead it harmlessly through me.

I merely stir, press, feel with my fingers, and am happy,
To touch my person to some one else’s is about as much as I can stand.

– Walt Whitman, from “Song of Myself”

But it also makes me realize how heartbreakingly lonely I’ve been, especially these last two years as we all stumble our way through this pandemic. Seems like every other week there’s another think-piece in the paper about the mental health crisis in this country, the loneliness epidemic that nobody seems to know how to solve. I don’t know how to solve it, either. They say your 30s are “the decade where friendship goes to die“… and that was even before this slow slide into unending crisis.

If 2020 was the year that the patterns of our systemic neglect for one another were etched with breathless burning fever and made blazingly clear, at least it brought a sense of relief as well — we were no longer alone in our loneliness. But 2021 felt much harder to me, even aside from the exhaustion and uncertainty. I watched as family and friends slowly climbed their way back up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: returned to work and school, ventured back into stores, hair salons, movie theaters, travel, church gatherings, community volunteering, vacation, family holiday celebrations… With each new hesitant step, we assessed the risks we were willing to take and repeated the lessons we’d learned: hold onto what really matters, prioritize the people you love. But by the end of the year, it was also clear: for all my patience and quiet support, nobody had really missed me. Perhaps it would be a long time yet before I was worth the risk…

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.

– Walt Whitman, from “Song of Myself”

What do we do when there are no more safe, open spaces where we might slowly fall in love with the imperfect in each other? The cultural forces that isolate us and drive us apart seem to be so huge and relentless, and the only narrative our society ever seems to offer about what counterforce could possibly conquer them is: overpowering love. Protagonists in television and movies routinely throw their whole lives into disarray when they fall in love — love is the spark, the catalyst, the call to adventure, the one thing worth the risk of opening your heart and changing your life.

But what if… What if love isn’t a blind force you give in to, it’s something you have to choose? What happens to a society that only takes love seriously when it has the overwhelming power of sexual attraction, the sudden revelatory surprise of the meet-cute? I mean, when was the last time — be honest — you fell in love with someone you didn’t want to fuck? And what did you do about it? Anything? (Was there even anything you could do that wouldn’t be misunderstood or misconstrued?)

There’s an approach to dream analysis that suggests reading every character in your dream as an aspect of yourself. So if you’re wondering, Why the hell would a happily married, supposedly asexual woman dream about making out with a celebrity? …that’s the best answer I can offer. Tonight, the part of Awkward Optimistic Animal Self will be played by Jason Sudeikis. And I’ll be the stand-in for Love Interest, I guess, doing my best to play the part until true love comes along…

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean.
Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.

– Walt Whitman, from “Song of Myself”

Kissing Ted Lasso: On Asexuality, Friendship and Loneliness