When I was in junior high, I overheard some girls in math class talking about Brad Pitt. I asked who he was (haha), and one of them said, "He's an actor... a hot actor." When I finally saw a picture of him, I wasn't impressed. I just thought he was old (he was probably 27 at the time, which, to be fair, is comparatively old when one is 13). My experience with dating in high school was similar to others': Wishing for the guys I found good-looking to ask me out (this was shortly before the time when girls asking out guys was common and culturally accepted). A few guys of various good-looking-ness did ask me to dances and such, and I even had a steady relationship for a short while (until I ruined that - an unrelated story I won't go into here). I haven't talked to very many others about this, so I don't know how unique my attitude is, but on reflection, here is where I think my difference lay: When other girls found someone they were interested in, they wanted to date them and find out the potential for a romantic relationship. I wanted to date mainly for social reasons - i.e. to "fit in." There were plenty of people I found good-looking and/or interesting, but I never felt the need to pursue them or fight over them, etc., like stories I would hear about.
I still didn't "realize" anything as I entered and attended college. The main thing I attribute this to is growing up Mormon in such a heavily Mormon community, where abstinence is so stressed, and sex just wasn't discussed (at least not in my circles). It was similar in my college community as well. And so I never viewed other people as "sex-obsessed" (because they weren't, even those who had mainstream straight-oriented feelings) and me as "not sex-obsessed." It just never entered the conversation, and if it did, I didn't notice. I did get some glimpses of my differences in college (and later) when I'd go on dates & my friends would ask "So, do you like him?" (you girls know the tone), and I didn't know how to answer that question. I could list all sorts of reasons why he was a great guy, but I didn't like him any differently than I liked anyone else. I still haven't figured out the difference between liking a person because they're likable and liking a person such that one desires a romantic relationship with them. I do not know what that feels like.
I dated a handful of people exclusively during my early twenties. It was exclusive by default - they were the only person asking me on dates. I enjoyed their company but didn't feel any romantic desire or anything else. They wanted to kiss me, and I wanted none of it. Actually, there was one guy I got excited about dating because I didn't dislike him kissing me. But I ultimately realized that neutral doesn't equal positive. And my feelings about kissing have remained the same into my thirties. (Some aces do enjoy kissing, though; I just don't happen to be one of them.)
When I was 29, I went to a church dance and spent the whole time talking to my friends. On the way home, I realized I hadn't even looked around to see if there was anyone I'd like to dance with. I hadn't even looked around to see if there was anyone else I wanted to talk to. I hadn't even looked around to see if there was anyone there who was "cute." After some more reflection, I went home that night and looked up "not interested in men or women" and found the term "Asexuality" right away. Then I quickly turned the computer off when I found out it's an orientation. It took me almost another year to even tentatively accept the label for myself and join AVEN. Once I did so, I found it was a safe place to explore and a place I could go when I felt alone and defective - especially since I was mostly keeping things to myself back then. I go there less often now, as much of the membership seems to be much younger than me, but it's still a good resource I like to visit at times.
I'm 34 now, so I've been on this journey for about 5 years now. I'm much more accepting of myself now, though it's still hard sometimes when I feel like I can't relate to people or have a successful relationship. I'm still figuring out my romantic orientation (which can differ from sexual orientation). I'm definitely closer to aromantic than not, but I'm not sure I'm completely there. To me, relationships sound like a great idea but turn out to be a completely stressful experience when I don't feel anything. I'm still open to trying again, but I'm not going to pursue it. Not being in a relationship feels better to me.
Sometimes I think about my family and know that they would like to see me get married and have children. That is the culture of both my extended family and my religion. And they love children and family so much. But my parents have been so great and supportive. They haven't brought up dating in years. They support me in my other life endeavors and tell me they are proud of me. And I love them so much for that. At this point, I don't know whether it will happen or not. But I never feel pressure from my parents, and I don't think I've told them how much I appreciate that.
If you haven't gathered by now, asexuality is a spectrum. Each ace's experience can vary from another as much as each couple's dating story can vary from another. It's super complicated to navigate and just as complicated to explain. I wish I could make it simpler, but I don't know how. I hope that you now have a better idea of what it is like for at least one person. And there are enough similarities for the labels to work. I am open to answering some questions if you have any. I might direct you to the AVEN website for the more general questions, but I may be able to answer some questions about my experience.