Sunday, October 10, 2021

Parental Love - A Form of Attraction?

A long time ago, an autistic rights Yahoo group I was in splintered over an argument about parents. Namely, the founder of the group revealed himself to be opposed to helping needy parents on the argument that "if they couldn't support kids, they shouldn't have had any". This angered all the autistic parents in the group, as well as 15-year-old me. The group was consumed in arguing about this, and then one of the parents made a new group and invited all the other parents and me to join.

This argument was the first time I had really thought about the nature of the desire to be a parent. I'd posited it as a biological drive, and gotten scoffed at by the group leader, who claimed that the "drive" I was talking about was only for sex, and could be controlled simply by using birth control. He wouldn't be convinced that I was talking about something entirely separate from the desire to have sex.

In one of my unfinished stories, the main character is the first ever vampire. At the start of the story, he's alone - surrounded by humans, but still utterly alone, until he is driven by instincts he doesn't understand to turn someone else.

Originally, this was worldbuilding for another story. I'd planned to have the story of the second vampire's turning be a really cheesy star-crossed lovers thing, even though the rest of the setting portrayed vampire turning more as adoption than a romantic thing. I soon realized that it'd make more sense, be more unique, and feel more authentic as an aroace writer if I reimagined the second vampire as the first vampire's surrogate child.

I still haven't managed to finish that story, but I've got the plan in my head. Vampires in this setting age, but much slower than humans, and the first vampire was adopted by a human family and has been passed down through the generations of that family. Right around the time he matures enough to reach the vampire equivalent of puberty, and become able to turn people, his family takes in another orphan, and despite his efforts to keep this child at a distance so he won't mourn his death, he ends up falling in love with this orphaned child. He doesn't understand his feelings - it's not romantic or sexual attraction, vampires are generally not capable of such feelings, but he is deeply attracted to this child. And it's making him feel the urge to bite this child, even though he avoids feeding on children, and this urge feels different from hunger in some undefinable way. He fights the urge, and eventually succumbs - and then, to his surprise, he doesn't drink from the boy, but instead injects him with something. As the orphan boy's physiology starts to change, he realizes what his instincts wanted him to do.

A lot of this, of course, is projecting my own experience. Through much of my teens, I was questioning if I was asexual, having learned the term from the writings of Jim Sinclair, a nonbinary, intersex, asexual autistic rights activist best known for writing an open letter to neurotypical parents titled Don't Mourn for Us. Xe was the first person I'd heard of with any of xyr identities other than autistic, and is the reason why, if I ever decide to switch from she/her pronouns to something else, it'll be xe/xem pronouns. Xyr example has shaped my queer identity in many ways.

But back to my own journey. When I was 18, this questioning came to a dramatic head when I tearfully confessed that I thought I might be a pedophile to my mother, and she talked me through realizing that the intense attraction I felt for a much younger child wasn't a sexual one. We didn't have a concept of romantic attraction at the time, but in retrospect, it definitely wasn't romantic, either.

But what was it? I've sometimes lumped it in with a squish, but I've felt squishes for people I see as peers and squishes for people and animals I see as small cute creatures I want to protect and nurture, and they're very different feelings. Different enough, perhaps, to count as different types of attraction?

Most typologies of love I've seen have mentioned, along with romantic love and friendship love, a type of love that's what a parent typically feels for their child. If friendship love and romantic love are both driven by distinct types of attraction, why not parental love as well?

But it's not just actual, physically present children or pets that I feel this feeling for. It's also the idea of a potential individual. Whenever I've contemplated getting a new dog or cat, I've fell a bit in love with the idea of them, before I've even met the one I decide to adopt. And when I started contemplating whether or not I should undergo artificial insemination and get pregnant, I was already falling a little in love with the idea of the child I would conceive.

Even now that they're alive and growing inside me, they feel like an idea more than a person, because I can't really interact with them and have only gotten to see them briefly. I imagine I'd feel the same way if I was in the stage of international adoption where I'd chosen a specific child and was still organizing the logistics and paperwork to finalize the adoption. I know they exist and I love them, but I can't really say I've actually met them yet. (Maybe I'll feel like I've met them once I can feel the movements they're apparently doing already. Or maybe I'll feel that way only once they're in my arms instead of my womb. I don't know.)

It's certainly a feeling I recognize in the personal accounts of people who have had to work extra hard to become parents, whatever their circumstances and whatever route they've taken to do so.

We tend to talk about attraction to people, not the ideas of people. Does an attraction to the idea of a person necessarily go along with attraction to people who have a close enough match to that idea? Well, if I look at the allosexuals I know, one of them regularly draws fictional characters that meet his ideal for sexual attraction, and another has told me about her adolescent fantasies about an eventual romantic partner she would someday meet. So it seems that, like parental attraction has in my experience, romantic and sexual attraction often include fantasizing about a person who will meet the ideal for your attraction.

So, in conclusion, parental attraction seems to be a form of attraction. It's felt by people who want and dream of having a child, and by people who find themselves overwhelmed with the desire to parent a child they've met. It's also felt by many pet owners towards their pets, since pets are often a psychological surrogate for children.


Blogger sildarmillion said...

Wow, thank you for sharing this! And congratulations on conceiving! I wish you the best with your pregnancy, and if you write more about it, I definitely want read more, because tbh, this is something I've been thinking about a lot recently (becoming a single mother via artificial insemination). Thank you for your contribution!

3:00 PM  
Blogger Emily (VioletEmerald) said...

Wow I love how interesting this is as a way to explore that some people feel the drive to become parents and others don't in this kind of context with "attraction" language... and knowing what kind of thing "would be attractive" before it's even in your life... hmmm... you're certainly making me think!

And yes, congratulations on your pregnancy! That's exciting to hear that it's happening for you after knowing you've wanted this for quite a while.

7:49 PM  

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