Alloromantics vs. aromantics: the great divide

I want to take a moment to talk about the perceived divide between alloromantic* aces and aromantic aces.  You’ve probably seen it in those “oh man, asexual people actually exist” articles; there will be a line that says something like, “Asexual people, like sexual people, can fall in love, date, and marry!”  Maybe there’s then a line suggesting that aromantic people exist too, or maybe they aren’t mentioned at all.  Or maybe you’ve seen one of the blog posts about how asexual people are just like allosexual people, but without the sexual attraction!  …except for aromantics; we don’t know what their deal is.  Or maybe you were reading about how asexual people can have romantic relationships–unless they’re aromantic, in which case they get to have queerplatonic relationships instead.  Or maybe you’ve seen one of those arguments about whether or not asexuals are queer, and nobody’s really sure what to do with the aromantics, so they sort of shove them in the corner and ignore them.  Or maybe you’ve seen the queer_fest prompts, a number of which ask for a character to be “asexual, not aromantic,” implying that aromantic is the default for asexual people and that “not aromantic” means “alloromantic,” since often the prompts are asking for what’s clearly intended to be a romantic pairing.

The fact of the matter is, a lot of the time it seems as though aro aces are treated as though they are somehow fundamentally different than other aces, which is to say alloromantic aces.  In fact, as I discussed in a post for Carnival of Aces last year, there are separate words for aro aces and alloromantic aces in Japanese.  I can’t say for certain, but I think that perhaps some of the divide is caused by the attitudes Siggy wrote about in his post on liberationism and assimilationism in asexuality–if aces are just like non-aces minus the sexual attraction, they probably don’t seem as threatening to the status quo.  Aro aces, on the other hand, don’t fall into the “non-aces minus the sexual attraction” category, and so nobody’s really sure what to do with them.

Regardless of the cause, there is a definite tendency to separate aros from alloromantic aces.  Unfortunately, this approach sometimes winds up being more divisive and confusing than it is helpful because:

1. It’s not all black and white (pun entirely intended).  Grey-romantics exist!  There might not be many of us, and we might not be super vocal, but we do exist.  I can’t speak for other grey-romantics, but I would say that I am functionally aromantic 80-85% of the time, and when I (very, very, very) occasionally get a crush on someone, my brain goes, “WHAT???  SUDDENLY ROMANTIC ATTRACTION????  HOW????”  Obviously, grey-romantic folks are going to define their experiences differently–some might consider themselves “aromantics who occasionally experience romantic attraction” while others might consider themselves “alloromantics who occasionally have aromantic periods.”  (You get the same sort of conflicting self-conceptions when you’re talking to grey-As.)  Some greyros might identify more strongly with aros, some might identify more strongly with alloromantic aces, and some might hop back and forth depending on the day, whether they’re crushing on someone or not, and/or the phase of the moon.  (Some might also not identify with either group, as happens with grey-As as well!)

The point is, not everyone feels like they can easily fit into either the “alloromantic” or “aromantic” categories, so when people try to push the two categories as far away from each other as possible and create strict dividing lines, all those people in the middle fall through the cracks.

2. Not everyone finds romantic attraction/orientation a useful concept.  Wtfromantics and ???romantics and whattheheckevenisromantics** exist!   Not everyone can easily figure out their romantic orientationor even finds romantic orientation a useful concept–so dividing aces up by romantic orientation is a bit like asking if they are a bandersnatch or a borogove; if you aren’t even sure what those words mean, it’s really hard to pick which one you are!  A fair number of the wtfromantics I know tend to identify more strongly with the aromantic community, but still find some of the discourse occurring in non-aro spaces helpful.  On the other hand, I also know a weirdly large number of wtfromantics who are in relationships with alloromantic folks.  Thus, forcing them to choose one community, space, or discourse over the other for the sake of creating discrete groups does them a disservice.

3. Your romantic orientation does not dictate the relationships you will form.  This comes up a lot in the “are aces queer” debate; people argue that aromantics can’t be “queer” because they will never involve themselves with someone of the same gender and thus will never be the target of heterosexism.  As compelling of an argument as that is, it kind of disregards the fact that some aromantics date (and marry).  (For example, this one.  And this one.)  It also disregards the fact that some alloromantics don’t date for whatever reason.  (This can turn into some pretty gross rhetoric in aro communities about how all alloromantics are ~destined for romantic relationships~, and so they’re not worth being friends with, because they’ll just abandon you for a romantic partner.)  Maybe they can’t find anyone to date.  Maybe they don’t want to date anyone for whatever reason (remember, attraction ≠ behavior).  Maybe they’re involved in other kinds of relationships instead (alloromantics can and do wind up in queerplatonic relationships and platonic partnerships!).  There are a whole lot of reasons why an aromantic person might be dating when an alloromantic person isn’t.  So when people talk about how aromantic people are fundamentally different because they don’t date…it kind of doesn’t make sense.

4. Relationship distinctions are a lot more fuzzy than people make them out to be.  You know those posts about how queerplatonic relationships are fundamentally different than any other sort of relationship?  And then inevitably within 12 hours you run across another post about how queerplatonic relationships/platonic partnerships are the “aromantic equivalent” of dating?  Well, putting aside the fact that non-aromantic people can (and do) wind up in QPRs/platonic partnerships, how can they both be fundamentally different and the aromantic equivalent?  The answer, of course, is that they can’t.

Relationships are subjective, and vary pretty widely depending on who’s in them.  Juan’s “friends with benefits” relationship may look a lot like Susie’s marriage.  Isabel’s platonic partnership may look a lot like Milo’s friendship may look a lot like Gina’s romantic relationship.  Who’s right?  Well, no one and everyone.  Everyone conceptualizes their relationships slightly differently.  For example, I tend to be very touch-averse when I’m not romantically attracted to people, but I have friends who are giant cuddle bugs; cuddling may be an extremely intimate, romantic gesture to me whereas my friends may just see it as another form of friendly affection.  Does that mean that I’m wrong about cuddling, and my romantic relationships are actually just “regular friendships”?  Well, no.  This is exactly what I meant about relationship distinctions being fuzzy.

In ace communities we’ve gotten good at separating sex from romantic relationships, but we still have trouble remembering that sex isn’t the only optional component of a relationship (regardless of the type).  I mean, this is why we have so many checklists and graphs, right?  Everyone picks and chooses what components they want to make up their relationship, and, sure, it might look like I’m picking components to make a friendship, but if I tell you I’m making a romantic relationship, you can’t tell me I’m wrong, because you don’t know what my relationship looks like from the inside.  So when people start dividing relationships up into strict romantic and nonromantic boxes (especially when they’re dividing them up based on behaviors), it not only doesn’t make sense logically, it’s also pretty wildly hypocritical, given how desperately ace communities have fought for recognition of the validity of nonsexual relationships.

Now, I’m not saying that aromantic folks and alloromantic folks are basically the same; that would be a bit ridiculous.  But I do think that the divide between the two groups isn’t as huge as it’s sometimes made out to be.  It’s more of a fuzzy line, and while some people are pretty clearly on one side or the other, some of us are straddling the line, hopping back and forth, or totally unsure whether the line even exists.  I think that dividing up the community may make sense in terms of people’s individual interests—aromantic folks are probably on average less likely to care about dating resources than alloromantic folks.  But dividing up the community and pushing aromantics off into one corner and alloromantics off into another and saying, “These resources are only for this group of people, because the other group will never ever ever need them” is rather counterproductive and may prevent people from finding the resources they need.  We’re such a small percentage of the population to begin with that dividing us up further just doesn’t make sense from an activism or even a social standpoint.  It all comes back to the purpose argument—if you’re proposing a gathering to talk about what it’s like to be an ace dating a non-ace, it makes less sense to ban aros from the event than it does to advertise the event as being specifically for people who have dated, are dating, or might date a non-ace.

So the next time you feel inclined to divide folks up by romantic orientation, maybe stop and think about it for a moment.  Do you really need to?  Are you really saying something that will only be relevant to folks who experience romantic attraction (or that will only be relevant to folks who experience romantic attraction to certain groups of people)?  Or are you assuming that attraction = behavior (which we seem to have gotten pretty good at disconnecting [at least in ace spaces] when it comes to sexual orientation but still have a ways to go when it comes to romantic orientation)?  If it turns out you’re dividing people up by romantic orientation when you don’t really need to, maybe you should stop and reconsider.  After all, if tweaking your language will help you reach a larger audience, that can’t be a bad thing.

*I’m using “alloromantic” in this post to refer to folks who experience romantic attraction in a “normative” matter.  Mostly I don’t want to imply that alloromantic folks are necessarily “romantic” (although that’s probably not as problematic as “sexual” instead of “allosexual”).

**Google informs me that I am the first person to use the word “whattheheckevenisromantic.”  Please take a moment to revel in this stupendous step forward for the English language.  (If you want a list of significantly better words people have created for the same concept, you should click here.)

About queenieofaces

QueenieOfAces is a graduate student in the U.S. studying Japanese religion. She also blogs over at Concept Awesome. She is never quite sure what to write in these introduction things, but this one time she accidentally got a short story on asexuality published in an erotica magazine.
This entry was posted in aromanticism, asexual politics, Misconceptions, Relationships. Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Alloromantics vs. aromantics: the great divide

  1. scar says:

    Great article. And congrats on coining a phrase! ;)

    From a grey (very dark grey, usually) aroace.

  2. Jo says:

    Sometimes I feel like there is quite a difference between someone who seeks and forms relationships like a non-ace person, just without the sex, and someone who is all sorts of weird aro like me. And I do occasionally get annoyed when I see yet another media piece saying ‘they don’t have sex… but look, they’re just like any other couple!’ (because a) I really doubt it’s that simple given how insidious sex is in normative relationship narratives and b) I still find there is a lack of discussion on non-partnered people and what that all means). But as you say, there are so many other people in between as well, that it makes the whole thing a little bit silly, especially when you say something you think only applies to a certain group of people based on perceived identity (which is really just a behaviour).

    Two years after identifying as ace, I still don’t know what to make of romance, which is why I call myself aromantic. For my own sanity, I choose to just look at it as this weird construct that has absolutely zero relevance to my life, or just ignore it completely. The fact that I have a partner doesn’t change any of that, because I’m not suddenly romantic now, or suddenly anything else. I was never looking for a partner, never thought that I am the sort of person who wants to have a partner. I just randomly fell in love, and I seriously doubt whether it would happen again, or whether I’d want to look for someone again if it ever didn’t work out.

    • queenieofaces says:

      See, I’m pretty sure that the whole “they’re like allosexual people without the sex!” thing is also pretty blatantly incorrect. (IIIIII should probably write a post on that at some point. Someday.) Sure, there are definitely some people who fit that narrative, but at least looking at my ace friends, even the alloromantic ones have relationships that look pretty different than “regular relationships minus the sex.” But the relationships that wind up getting highlighted (especially in mainstream media coverage of asexuality) are the ones that tend to fit more easily into the “allosexual people without the sex” mold (speaking of, think of how many of the couples highlighted get shoved into the “heterosexual couple without the sex” mold), which then creates this false model for what alloromantic aces’ relationships look like (which the aromantic community then picks up to say, “Look at how different we are from them!”). Like I said in the post, I think relationship distinctions are a lot fuzzier than most people make them out to be, and there’s a lot more variation in relationships (by aces of all romantic orientations) than is commonly talked about.

      • Jo says:

        Yes to all of the above, especially the incorrectness of the ‘allos without sex!’ thing. Which I also just thought I should write a post on, though perhaps I wouldn’t have as much to say as someone who has actually been in a romantic relationship.

  3. Siggy says:

    Based on many of the examples, it seems like there is a need for some behavior-based distinctions. What kind of relationships do we seek out, what kind of relationships are we receptive to, and to which genders? But for all our willingness to create words and labels, we tend to stick to ones based on internal feelings rather than behaviors. So when people want to talk about aces who seek different kinds of relationships, they instead speak of romantic orientation as an imperfect proxy.

    I think relationships are a really big deal. Much of the time, that’s why we care about orientations in the first place! I think we shouldn’t let boundary cases get in the way of an important distinction. (Conversely, we shouldn’t let a good distinction get in the way of recognizing the many boundary cases.)

    • queenieofaces says:

      You bring up a really interesting point, and I may have spent way too long thinking about it (but still don’t really have answers). It’s interesting, ’cause there are definitely some behavior-based PERSON labels (like “friends with benefits” or “touch partner”), but I can’t really think of any behavior-based relationship labels. I think some of that might be a privacy thing–people probably don’t want to list off everything they do with a particular person in a particular relationship. Also some of that is probably because most people (maybe not most aces, but most people in general) feel that specific relationship labels (like “dating” or “married” or whatever) have a generally understood meaning that pretty well approximates what their relationship actually is.

      I think it’s really important to keep the feelings/internally-based labels–just because someone has never dated someone of the same gender doesn’t stop them from being attracted to the same gender. Behavior-based labels can also turn into some sort of weird GSRM Olympics–”You can’t really call yourself gay unless you’ve kissed X people of the same gender” and so on. If you created labels based on potential behaviors (which seems to be what you’re recommending), I wonder how many people will be able to actually articulate that clearly. (I know a fair number of people, both ace and non-ace, who said, “I would never want to do X” and now are reconsidering/have wound up doing X and enjoying it.) I also wonder what behavior-based relationship labels would look like (and how long it would take for some sort of weird behavior-based elitism to pop up).

      BASICALLY, lots of things to think about.

      • Siggy says:

        Awarding people “gay cards” based on their behavior is a problem that arises not from behavior-based labels, but from the conflation of behavior-based and feelings-based labels. I don’t think this would be a problem if we had separate labels. But it is a problem if we only have feelings-based labels, and people use them when they really need behavior-based labels.

        Imagine if we had words for “people seeking normative relationships”, “people seeking non-sexual romantic relationships”, “people seeking non-romantic exclusive partners”, “people seeking multiple non-romantic partners”, “people receptive to non-romantic relationships”, “people still not sure what they want”, “people in stable exclusive relationships therefore this is all moot”, etc. Now that I say it, it seems absurd, since it would double our vocabulary and still leave a whole lot out. But there would be some advantages to that language, no? It would make it easier to talk about what kind of relationships we want, and help us find more people who want similar kinds of relationships.

        I’m not proposing that we actually have a large quantity of behavior-based labels, but I think we shouldn’t be afraid to describe our behaviors as an important component of ourselves. I’m in a normative relationship with a person of the same gender, and that matters. It matters a whole lot more than my romantic orientation, which is some a-/gray-/homo romantic whatever. Likewise, if you’re alloromantic but not seeking romantic relationships, isn’t that a thing? Or if you’re aromantic, but want close non-romantic partners, that’s different from being aromantic and not wanting close partners. The important differences aren’t along aromantic/alloromantic lines, they’re along the lines of the kind of relationships we have.

        • Sciatrix says:

          I’m not convinced that there’s necessarily a ton of difference between the kinds of relationships either, in the long run. I tend to think differences in aro/allo romantic styles are about the way people get into relationships and how they act when those relationships are still new, not necessarily how the relationships look after a longer period of time. (I’ve got a nearly finished post that elaborates on that which should be up in the next couple of days, actually.)

          In terms of “relationship behaviors,” I think that the “behaviors” that really matter to other people outside the relationship are about commitment and exclusivity. Those are the ones that could potentially impact other people. The first one is important as a rough barometer of how long your partner is going to stick around, whether things are likely to go south any time soon, that kind of thing–it’s useful social information. The second one is important to know what kinds of things are okay for people within the relationship to engage in with people outside the relationship. For example, sex is a behavior that’s commonly restricted within a relationship. If the rules of the relationship are different such that sex outside the relationship IS allowed, it’s important for outside people to know that if you actually want to have sex with them. This is obviously more important for people you are likely to engage in “restricted” behaviors with, mind.

          With respect to the terminology you proposed, those all sounds like desire terminology to me! You’re labeling what kinds of relationships you’d be interested in, after all. And I think the desires people have for relationships are often specific enough–because they’re based on compatibility between two people!–that trying to come up with words for that would be prone to absolutely endless splitting. It’s probably easier to just respond to offers for a relationship on a case-by-case basis, or outright say what specifically you are or aren’t interested in.

          • Siggy says:

            Yeah, I had been thinking of the endless splitting as I wrote the list. It’s not realistically workable. More realistic are the terms we already have to describe relationships and their parts–sexual, romantic, platonic, exclusive, committed, seeking, receptive, etc.

            When people reach for the old alloromantic/aromantic divide, often one of those other distinctions may be more suited to their purposes. But still people misuse alloromantic/aromantic, because they are identity labels describing our innermost feelings and therefore the most important and fundamental distinction. I suggest that distinctions based on behavior (or based on what behaviors you seek) may on occasion be more important, and solve some of the problems in the OP.

  4. Jo says:

    Do… do people seriously believe that aromantics can’t be queer.
    Right, because being aromantic means you absolutely have no sexual attraction whatsoever, and that sexual attraction can’t be directed toward the same sex.

    It doesn’t even have to be dating! I’m gray-romantic and I dare someone try to tell me I’m not queer. I’m a lady who digs other ladies, and it might not be romantic but that doesn’t mean it’s any less real.

    Moderator’s note: There is another commenter named Jo, so please use a different name next time.

    • queenieofaces says:

      Yeah, some of the “aromantics can’t be queer” arguments get quite tortured. They’re often the same sort of arguments as “asexuals can’t be queer” except with “romantic attraction” substituted for “sexual attraction”–because they’re not X-ly attracted to people of the same gender, they won’t experience heterosexism EVER; they can’t be queer unless they’re X-ly attracted to the same gender and, no, Y attraction totally doesn’t count; they can’t be queer because WE SAID SO THAT’S WHY; etc. I think they wind up glossing over a lot in the favor of creating discrete boxes, and also shutting people who could really use their resources out of their spaces, which is pretty disappointing.

  5. ace-muslim says:

    I like the definition of alloromantic as “experiencing romantic attraction in a normative manner”. I think that’s an important distinction that I don’t often see made, somehow. I think in general the discourses we have in the asexual community about romantic attraction and orientation, and how we classify it, do not work well and that we need a better model. I wonder if there’s a group term we could use for non-alloromantic people (which would include aromantics, gray-romantics, demiromantics, wtfromantics, etc) that doesn’t use the word “non”. I’m definitely interested in exploring this framework further.

    I also like Sciatrix’s point that the differences between normatively romantic relationships and other types of relationships like a QPR are mostly at the beginning of the relationship and tend to disappear over time. I think this may be due to the distinction made by Helen Fisher [1] and others between attraction and attachment. If attraction is a short-term feeling and attachment a long-term feeling, then both kinds of relationships will tend to converge around attachment, even though the presence or absence of attraction may make them seem very different initially.

    [1] http://asexualagenda.wordpress.com/2013/07/04/asexual-and-scientific-classifications-of-love/

  6. Eric says:

    Really good article. There is such a spectrum and while I am a very darker shade of gray aro, there have been blips in my history that have made me reevaluate things. This article puts a lot of that into a better perspective.

    At the end of the day, maybe labels are more problematic than helpful? Sometimes I find them useful for a general idea of things, but it all breaks down the closer you look. Ah well.

    Again, really well written!

    • queenieofaces says:

      Aw, thanks!

      I agree with you about labels being useful for general things but breaking down the closer you get to specifics. I think that might be why some people have so much trouble defining romantic attraction–yes, I can define precisely what romantic attraction is like FOR ME, but if you ask anyone else, they’ll probably give you a slightly different answer, so if you’re trying to come up with a specific answer that applies to everyone, you’re going to get a whole lot of question marks flying around. The same goes for looking at the specifics of, say, “romantic relationships” vs. “platonic relationships.” I think labels are great as long as you remember that they include a lot of wiggle room.

  7. Pingback: Asexuality, “legitimate” relationships, and the potential for queerness | The Asexual Agenda

  8. Pingback: Asexuals aren’t “just like everyone else, minus the sexual attraction” | The Asexual Agenda

  9. luvtheheaven says:

    This was fascinating to read and you made a lot of good points. ;)

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