Once I finally realised I was asexual and started talking to other people who were, I discovered a really useful word, and that word was “squish”. A squish is a strong emotional attachment to someone, rather like a crush, but not in any way romantic. It’s not something that is limited to asexual people; I know someone who is definitely sexual and still has a lot of squishes, mainly on gay men and monks (possibly because both sets of men have the advantage of being “safe” from the point of view of someone who wants their squishes to remain squishes rather than turning into romance). Nonetheless, it is primarily asexual people who have recognised this phenomenon, given it a name, and thought seriously about it. There are a number of possible reasons for this. There is, for instance, the fact that many asexuals are aromantic and experience only squishes, not crushes or other forms of romantic attraction. It may be the case – though I haven’t seen any investigations on the subject – that asexuals are more prone to have squishes than sexual people; on the other hand, it may alternatively be the case that everyone gets squishes, but sexual people are more likely than asexual people to mistake them for crushes and act accordingly. I incline somewhat towards the second theory myself, because I’m pretty sure I have actually done that in the past.
Something else I have learnt from talking to other asexuals is that I am actually a little unusual in that my squishing preference lines up precisely with my romantic preference. I squish exclusively on men. (I’ll talk in a moment about how I distinguish a squish from a crush.) Among those asexuals who have a romantic preference, there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of correlation between that and the people they squish on; in fact it seems to be most common to squish on both sexes, regardless of romantic preference. I also have a very strong tendency to squish on baroque singers, but that’s just me. I love baroque vocal music. It tends to cause a lot of strong emotions, and often these get attached to the people singing it, provided that I know and like them. My best friend, and major squish, is a semi-professional baroque countertenor, and he is a supremely adorable little poppet.
At this point, you can probably immediately see how to tell whether I’m squishing on someone or crushing on him. I would never in a million years refer to someone I am in love with as a “little poppet”. This – as I eventually and rather belatedly realised – is squish talk. It also, incidentally, has nothing to do with physical dimensions. My best friend is currently an excellent approximation to the dimensions of Henry VIII in his later life. I did once tell him I was concerned that I tended to treat him like a superintelligent cuddly toy, but since his response was that that was the nicest thing anyone had said to him for ages, I stopped worrying about it. 😀
Now I’ve been thinking a little harder about this. My “squish talk” sounds quite maternal, and there’s certainly a maternal element in the way I feel about some of my squishes. (Ah, yes, that’s another thing; it is quite possible, and indeed pretty normal, to squish on several people at once. This is another way to distinguish it from romance, since the majority of people are not polyamorous. If you are polyamorous, I suppose it’s slightly more complicated.) But it isn’t simply maternal, and after some reflection I realised that maternal language is a way of expressing the fact that you feel a strong and emotional attachment to someone but it is not romantic. There isn’t really a genuine “squish talk”, because squishes aren’t something that most people even think about, so it has to be borrowed from elsewhere – anywhere that isn’t romance, basically.
It’s not quite the same as friendship, either. All my squishes are friends – it wouldn’t make sense to me to squish on someone I didn’t know at all, any more than it would to fall in love with them – but not all my friends, not even all the close ones, are squishes. A squish has a certain emotional sparkle about it which it shares with romance, and this is why I think it is often confused with a crush (and why I’m sure I’ve done that myself in the past, before I was clear about what was what). For me, though, there’s a quick and simple test to tell which is which. It is to ask myself: would I want to smooch with this person? If no, it’s a squish. If yes, it’s a crush. Simple, but it took a heck of a long time to work it all out.
I had sorted out the concept of a squish in my mind, without actually having a name for it, some time before the point where I realised I was asexual. It wasn’t easy to do, though. The concept itself is not a difficult one, and as I’ve already said it is not limited to asexual people; nonetheless, it is not much talked about these days and often misinterpreted when it is. The way I read The Lord of the Rings, it seems blindingly obvious to me that Sam has a massive squish on Frodo, but my opinion there seems to be in a tiny minority. So many people read it as a gay relationship. I maintain that if Tolkien had wanted to have two of his characters in a gay relationship, he would have handled it rather like George R R Martin did in his series of books A Song of Ice and Fire: the two characters concerned would have been careful not to show affection in public because of the prevailing social mores in the mediaeval world in which the fantasy is set. (This is regardless of the author’s views on homosexuality. They shouldn’t really come into it. If you want to create an authentically mediaeval world in which women, homosexuals, or even for that matter left-handed people, are treated with any reasonable degree of fairness, then you’ve got a problem, and you need to be a very good writer indeed to solve it.)
I suppose the take-home message here, if there is one, is this: squishes exist. They are not just friendships, but neither are they crushes. There isn’t a generally accepted language to talk about them, so people may express them in slightly odd ways. You quite possibly get them, and even if you don’t, you probably know people who do. There may even be someone who is squishing on you.
Enjoy it. 🙂