WTF, romantic? In which I try to understand romantic attraction and relationships and fail

Awhile ago, Queenie wrote about different ways that people may prioritize their sexual and romantic orientations. In a comment on this post, I said that I consider my sexual orientation (i.e., asexuality) to be more important than my romantic orientation (i.e., aromanticism).

Part of this is because I feel that I share more experiences, and have more in common, with alloromantic asexuals than with aromantic allosexuals. (If there’s a group of allosexuals I feel I have more in common with, it’s sex-averse and celibate ones. And I currently feel that my sex aversion has affected my life more than my aromanticism has, if only because it gets triggered first.) Since my primary purpose in being on Tumblr is to seek community and support from those who have similar experiences, and since the aromantic community on Tumblr seeks to explore aromanticism as shared by both asexuals and allosexuals, I just haven’t gotten as much value out of it as I would like to (this is not a criticism of the community, just a statement that it hasn’t been a good fit for me).

Another major part of my prioritization is that I don’t understand romantic attraction. I’ve always found the category of wtfromantic to be appealing because I share their confusion. It’s just that no matter how many different definitions and descriptions of romantic attraction I’ve read, or even the experiences of gray-(a)romantic people, I never seem to have felt any of that. Since I first learned about romantic orientations, I’ve identified as aromantic (primarily because I’ve never had a crush on anyone). I keep reading about gray-aromanticism in case that might be me, but each time I eventually decide to kick doubt to the curb and reaffirm my identification as aromantic.

One of Queenie’s categories of prioritization is people who can’t classify their romantic orientation or don’t find the concept useful. I’ve gone through phases of wanting to de-emphasize romantic orientation because of my confusion, but then I realized that’s more like the “prioritizes sexual orientation over romantic orientation” category.

I recently saw the topic of “romance-repulsion” come up. In thinking about this and whether it might apply to me, I realized that my primary fear related to romantic relationships is that it might lead to sex. In other words, this is actually my sex aversion.

In order to determine if I’m also romance-repulsed (or, romance-averse), I would need to imagine a non-sexual but romantic relationship (perhaps with an alloromantic asexual). But what exactly is a romantic relationship? rotten-zucchinis argues that a romantic relationship is one that feels romantic. But since I have no idea what “feels romantic” means, I have no way to define a romantic relationship at all. It produces a divide-by-zero error.

rotten-zucchinis rejects a definition of a romantic relationship as one characterized by romantic attraction on the part of at least one of the parties. I think they make a lot of good points (in fact, I plan to re-read their post a few times to fully understand it) – but I don’t have anything else to go on!

And, more than that, the idea of someone experiencing romantic attraction to me triggers a kind of aversion. In this case, it’s because I feel it will lead to that person expecting something of me that I can’t give (this is a significant part of my sex-aversion as well). However, I don’t think this is romance-repulsion in itself. My sex aversion includes a feeling of repulsion about myself engaging in sexual activity (the core sex repulsion). But I don’t feel anything about myself engaging in “romantic activities” – whatever those might be! I’m not sure that I even find the idea of being “romance-repulsed” to be useful here.

This is an example of how aromantic discourse is not actually useful to me. Some of it (as in this example) seems to be based on asexual discourse, but replacing “sex” or “sexual” with “romance” or “romantic”. But that assumes that “romance” and “romantic” are terms that can be defined. That assumption fails in my case. I read aromantic discourse and even though I know I’m aromantic, I’m not able to determine if the discourse applies to me or exactly what it’s talking about.

Here’s what I do know. I don’t get crushes. I don’t get quasi-romantic feelings like some gray-aromantic people describe. I assume that I will not ever be able to love someone in that particular way. For this reason, if I do some day seek a primary relationship, it would need to be one where there is no expectation on me to have such feelings. Where my partner is happy with the kinds of love that I can give. If they themselves experience romantic attraction towards me, they don’t expect it to be reciprocated. I assume I would have the most luck with another aromantic person (and since I also want a non-sexual relationship, it would need to be an aromantic asexual by the same reasoning).

I call this non-romantic because I don’t know any other way to define it. I assume that I can never say that a relationship “feels romantic” (since I don’t know what that is), which by rotten-zucchinis’s definition would seem to mean that I make all relationships non-romantic by the fact of being aromantic. Or maybe if I had an alloromantic partner, the relationship would somehow be in a state of “quantum romanticness” – it’s romantic when my partner looks at it but not when I do. ??? Like I said, this definition produces divide-by-zero errors for me.

As a final note, this exercise illustrates to me how very differently I relate to people than alloromantic people do. How non-normative aromanticism is. To me, aromanticism is profoundly queer and that’s part of why I hate it when aromantic asexuals are excluded from queerness because we don’t experience same-sex attraction. That’s why I prefer a definition of queerness as non-normative experiences of sexuality, romance, and gender.

About Laura (ace-muslim)

Laura is an aromantic asexual, queer-identified, and a Muslim. She lives in the U.S., works in online tech support, and volunteers for a Muslim anti-racism organization. She blogs about asexuality, queer Muslim issues, and other topics at http://ace-muslim.tumblr.com and has written on asexuality for a number of Muslim sites.
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12 Responses to WTF, romantic? In which I try to understand romantic attraction and relationships and fail

  1. queenieofaces says:

    Just to throw a massive spanner into all of this (and because this is something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently), my girlfriend is wtfromantic. She does’t know whether she’s romantically attracted to me or not, and, for the most part, she doesn’t see that big of a difference between our relationship and a friendship. (She says: I guess personally I don’t often find romance as a concept to be particularly useful. Kind of like “fish” it works colloquially but contains such a varied and unrelated set of characteristics that it isn’t helpful for precise labels.) BUT she agrees that our relationship is romantic! So defining our relationship by the presence or absence of romantic attraction is just going to return a divide-by-zero error, as you pointed out.

    BUT there are a lot of other ways to define relationships aside from romantic attraction! And maybe it’s because I’m grey-romantic and so romantic attraction is occasionally weird for me, but I find a lot of those alternate definitions more helpful than “is this romantic attraction, yes/no?” Just off the top of my head, some words that I find more relevant than romantic attraction for defining (all) my relationships: intimacy, commitment, exclusivity, priority, time, etc. For me, specific combinations of those things (certain types of exclusivity, physical intimacy, and reasonably high priority) are going to naturally show up in what I’ve (kind of arbitrarily) decided to call romantic relationships, but for other people, their combos are going to be totally different (for example, I tend to have unusually high degrees of commitment and priority in friendships, or so I am told). So sometimes I think about it as like going to a sundae bar, and I’ve got coconut flakes and chocolate chips and Bob has rainbow sprinkles and graham crackers and Robin has substituted sorbet for ice cream, but we can still call all of them sundaes.

    So this is basically all a very long-winded way of saying that I’m not sure it gets any less confusing when you DO actually experience romantic attraction, which is why I tend to like self-definition of relationships rather than “a romantic relationship must meet the following stringent criteria handed down from the Romantic Attraction Bureau.” And sometimes (okay, actually, a lot of the time) when I hear aros talking about romantic relationships, they seem to have this impression that there’s some sort of arcane initiation ritual for those of us who experience romantic attraction (to whatever degree) wherein we discover exactly how to differentiate romantic and non-romantic relationships. But, at least in my experience, it’s a lot more like, “Are we in a romantic relationship?” “Ummm, yeah, sure, we can call it that, I guess.” “Okay, cool.”

    • Yeah, I think from a personal standpoint, using alternative definitions and conceptualizations of relationships will be more useful for me. I actually have a pretty good idea of what I would like a primary relationship to be like, and it’s more detailed than I mentioned in the post (since not really relevant to the post) and as long as it meets those characteristics, then if my partner wanted to call it romantic they could do so, even though I wouldn’t see it that way.

      The idea of aromantics discussing romantic attraction and relationships reminds me of Sci’s post “If you can see the invisible elephant, please describe it”[1]. How are we supposed to know what we’re talking about when we’ve never experienced it? It definitely shows sometimes in aromantic discourse.

      [1] http://writingfromfactorx.wordpress.com/2011/04/02/if-you-can-see-the-invisible-elephant-please-describe-it/

      • Sciatrix says:

        Fun fact: when I wrote that, I actually had my confusion with romantic attraction way more in the front of my mind than I did any confusion about sexual attraction. (I’ve honestly never been all that bothered about sexual attraction because I’m not close enough to an edge case to have doubt about experiencing it.)

  2. Sciatrix says:

    Yeah, I second pretty much all of this. For example, I’d like to note that one of my two relationships is almost exactly as you describe in “quantum relationships”–my partner is more apt to categorize it as a romantic relationship, while I generally avoid romantic terminology where possible and feel uncomfortable using it. (Checking in with both of my partners, everyone is currently pretty comfortable saying “It could be romantic or it could be not, but no one cares enough to say definitively one way or the other” right now–sort of “eh, meeting in the middle,” you could say.)

    It’s actually probably worth noting that I am generally super uncomfortable about applying to myself just about everything that’s normatively romantic (celebrating Valentine’s day, using the word “wife,” dealing with people’s expectations about me being married, etc.). Note that this does not include my actual relationships, which are comfortable and awesome, partly because neither of my partners is particularly interested in these kinds of “there’s a romantic relationship here! Look! Romance!” signifiers and partly because we all automatically pay pretty close attention to each other’s comfort zones. But it’s a thing, and it makes talking about my relationships to other people who are not familiar with anything related to asexuality or aromanticism pretty weird sometimes, because they often expect me to feel certain ways about things that I just don’t feel.

  3. Pegasus says:

    I can relate to a lot of this. I don’t really understand what romantic attraction is or what romantic feelings are. Though do also like some of things often considered being part of romantic relationships (particularly physical and emotional intimacy beyond “conventional” friendship). So probably am a romance-enthusiastic aromantic, if going by the “no romantic attraction” definition.

    But, I also don’t really get what platonic or queerplatonic feelings are either. These categorizations also don’t really make sense to me. All my ‘ships with people feel different, but those feelings don’t really neatly fit into distinct boxes. But if all those different feelings for people I’m close to all fit in the same category (as I can’t distinguish them), to me it feels strange to just say they are platonic feelings by default. Which the romantic vs aromantic distinction seems to.

    • I’ve seen some discussions of “platonic attraction” that make no sense to me at all. I’ve used the phrase “platonic crush” to define “squish” but I was mostly using it as a synonym for “non-romantic” because what I experienced was an intensity of emotion that didn’t lead to any interest in doing anything sexual or romantic with the person. So it was a “non-romantic crush”.

      I’ve always thought there must be a kind of spectrum of feelings that at one end most people think they’re “romantic” and at the other end most people think they’re non-romantic (which is often given the label “platonic”), but in the middle it’s more ambiguous. The same applies to relationships of course.

      I think a lot of the problem here is the discourse and terminology that tries to make distinctions that don’t always apply in as clear-cut a manner as the theory says they ought to.

  4. I’ve always found romantic attraction to be a confusing and not altogether useful word for me. I do experience some kind of attraction, but I don’t know, or really care, if it’s romantic. I’ve never been in a relationship, but it doesn’t seem to me like there’s really anything inherent that separates a romantic relationship from a nonromantic one, so why should I care if my attraction is romantic or not? I currently characterize it as something between romantic and nonromantic attraction, and identify as grey because I’ve only really experienced it twice (although I do not consider it a necessity for a relationship of any kind), but it’s just not super-important to me as a concept. That being said, my identity as quoiromantic (which I use instead of WTF because I can pronounce it, although I can’t really spell it) is important to me, because our society doesn’t seem to think the way I do. But because I experience some kind of attraction, even if I don’t know how to characterize it, I don’t know if I really feel I belong in aromantic discourse, so I usually don’t get the chance to discuss these things.

    Of course, I’m sure some people do feel a meaningful difference between types of attraction – everything I say applies to me only, and isn’t meant to be prescriptive.

    • I find that gray-aromantic and wtfromantic discourse really resonates with me, more than aromantic discourse often does, even though I consider myself to be aromantic. I think it would be great to see the two groups sharing more and looking for areas on common.

      As a side note, I pronounce wtfromantic by saying the first three letters out then “romantic”. However, I can see why it may not be suitable to use in all circumstances!

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  6. Mr.Bunnypants says:

    I’m so glad that you aren’t one of those anti-alloromantic people. I mean, I know you don’t understand alloromantics and I have to say that it’s impossible to describe what romantic attraction is like. It’s like trying to imagine a new color (besides pink and purple because those are colors, unless you are color blind). You really just… can’t. I really wish I could and I’ve tried but failed because my description of romantic relationships sound a lot like descriptions of my really close friends relationships. I’ve seen so many alloromantic-hate-fueled blogs, one even stated that romantics can’t love anyone genuinely and that aromantics are superior and that every romantic hates aromantics, but that’s untrue. I think of aromantics as people and they’re no lower or higher than any other person. In my eyes, everyone should be equal and accept the differences between us. ‘It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.’ It’s so true. Some give up and make assumptions and make a group out to be horrible when in all actuality, they’re just scared because they don’t understand. But one thing, there is a HUGE difference in sexual attraction in romantic attraction. Romantic attraction is more like a special feeling you get to be a part of someone’s life and be with them forever, but like I said, that sounds a lot like a great friendship too, right?

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