An Aromantic’s Lament

Last November, I wrote about how I don’t understand romantic attraction and how a lot of online aromantic discourse doesn’t make sense to me because of that. As rotten-zucchinis perceptively noted (footnote 3), it’s not so much that I’m failing at discourse as that discourse is failing me.

I’ve always identified as aromantic because I don’t experience crushes. I’m 41 years old and have never had a single crush in my life. There is a cultural narrative around crushes, falling in love, limerence, and my experiences profoundly separate me from that narrative. It’s this sense of difference from the norm that I define as my aromanticism. It therefore follows that alloromantic people would be those who do experience crushes, falling in love, and/or limerence and therefore that romantic attraction must have something to do with the capacity to fall in love, get a crush, or experience limerence.

The problem is that an awful lot of discourse around romantic attraction in asexual communities doesn’t seem to match with how I understand it. I’ve seen definitions of romantic attraction that are circular (”wanting to have a romantic relationship”), or that sound like sensual attraction, or that read any kind of love as romantic attraction, or that define romantic attraction as “wanting to have a relationship”.

Some of these definitions simply don’t make sense to me, while others seem to imply that if you want any kind of nurturing or emotionally-intimate relationship with another person, you can’t be aromantic.

To be honest, this reminds me of the attitude the asexual community spends so much time trying to rebut, that you can’t be asexual if you have any kind of sexual feelings, thoughts, or experiences at all. That kind of narrow definition would limit asexuality to non-libidoist, sex-averse asexuals. We reject such definitions of asexuality, so why are we pushing similar definitions of aromanticism?

As Queenie has pointed out, aromantic aces are sometimes treated as though we are fundamentally different from all other aces. We’re those weird ones that apparently have no feelings or relationships at all. (My favorite line in Queenie’s post is, “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.” We don’t know what their deal is, indeed.)

I’ve always felt a sense of commonality with wtfromantic people, in particular because they don’t get the discourse on romantic attraction and I don’t get it either. Some people also use the term wtfromanticism to describe an experience of having feelings for another person that can’t easily be classified as either platonic or romantic but which are somewhere in between; some people use the term greyromanticism to refer to this experience instead.

Whatever term is used to describe it, that kind of feeling seems to me to be distinct from limerence and it feels like something I might possibly be able to access (although I have not in fact experienced it). It seems to me that this kind of feeling is consistent with how I understand queerplatonic relationships. And it seems to me that this kind of feeling can be consistent with my definition of aromanticism, or at least could be considered gray-aromantic or aromantic spectrum.

I would like to see more discussion of the non-alloromantic experience as something shared by a range of people who may or may not identify as aromantic and who may use such labels as greyromantic, wtfromantic, or gray-aromantic. I would like to see more emphasis on the aromantic spectrum as a continuous range or field of experience. I would like to see aces stop ruling out an aromantic identity because they would like a relationship or have felt love for a partner. I’d like to see more posts like “I found the right person and I’m still aromantic” and Jo’s “confession and announcement” about being aromantic and in a relationship.

I’d like to see aromanticism discussed as more than just a lack or absence.

I’d like to stop feeling like I’m being stuck in a box that allows me no room for growth or deep connection with others.

I’d like to stop feeling like a freak in the asexual community because I’m aromantic.

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.
This entry was posted in aromanticism, Articles, Misconceptions, romantic orientation. Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to An Aromantic’s Lament

  1. queenieofaces says:

    So you said:

    “I would like to see aces stop ruling out an aromantic identity because they would like a relationship or have felt love for a partner.”

    and part of the reason why I’ve mostly peaced out of aromantic communities is the hostility toward people who “sell out” by entering into romantic relationships. When major players in aromantic communities use turns of phrase like “altar of romance and sex where you worship” and loudly imply (or outright state) that anyone with the capacity for romantic attraction is incapable of friendship, it drives away not only the greyromantic folks but also the aromantic folks in partnered relationships. I mean, I already get enough hostility from the rest of the world for my (visibly queer, interracial) romantic relationship; I don’t really want to face that sort of thing from “my” community.

    So I think the issue of narrow definition is coming from both the aromantic and the asexual communities–one is pushing aros away by saying, “We’re not like them,” and the other is pushing away anyone who doesn’t fit their ideas of aromanticism by saying, “You’re not like us.”

    • I have a lot of issues with online aromantic discourse and generally do not find it helpful at all, and I’m someone who fits the narrow definition. I don’t participate in those communities, and that’s part of why I’m frustrated when I see issues with how asexual communities discuss aromanticism too, since that seems to leave me without a home.

  2. Silvermoon says:

    Ha, it’s like the problem that aces have trying to define sexual attraction all over again.

    But I was just thinking the other day- if you’re in a relationship of some sort, and both you and the other person are happy and getting what you want from the relationship and are comfortable with the behaviour that it involves, does it matter if you label the type of relationship one way and the other person labels,it with something else?

    • Yeah, it seems like we have these kinds of debates a lot.

      I agree that the content of the relationship is much more important than its name, or the partners may choose to name it one thing between themselves and another thing when talking to others, depending on what they want to communicate (or not communicate) to those others.

      Thanks for commenting!

    • Sciatrix says:

      Ha, this exactly. From personal experience: no, it does not. At least, it hasn’t for the last few years, during which we’ve all sort of moved towards each other to meet in a happy, apathetic middle…

  3. Aqua says:

    I’ve met a lot of aromantic spectrum people, and may be on the aromantic spectrum myself; so much of the Greyromanticism 301 post really spoke to me. It’s sad that there’s still a lot of progress that needs to be made with including aromantic spectrum people, in both the asexual and aromantic communities.

    I don’t think an aromatic person is a “sell out” for being in a relationship, but I don’t know what separates a romantic relationship from a non-romantic one, if it’s not the amount of affection, emotional closeness, or the level of commitment in it.

    • I haven’t figured out what is the defining characteristic of a “romantic relationship” either, other than that the partners experience romantic attraction to each other. I know what a *conventional* romantic relationship is like, but I don’t think that’s what should define it.

      A lot of the problem that I see with aromantic discourse, which I’ve written about before[1] is precisely that it assumes that “romance” and “romantic” have unambiguous definitions, and they don’t. How can you call someone a “sell out” for doing something you can’t even define the boundaries of? It’s stupid and harmful.

      [1] https://asexualagenda.wordpress.com/2014/11/02/wtf-romantic-in-which-i-try-to-understand-romantic-attraction-and-relationships-and-fail/

      • queenieofaces says:

        Ha, I’m in a romantic relationship with someone who isn’t sure if she’s romantically attracted to me and I’m ???romantically??? attracted to her. We decided it’s romantic because we sat down and were like, “Is this relationship romantic? Yes? Okay then.” Given that what we do in our relationship could be considered textbook queerplatonic (other than the part where we call our relationship romantic), I feel like “you’ll know it if you feel it” might be the best way of defining relationships.

        • I suspect that I’m looking for some kind of checklist or at least a guideline precisely because I have no clue, LOL. However, given where I’m at right now, I’m pretty sure that I would never consider my ideal relationship type as “romantic” and it would be up to my hypothetical partner whether she wanted to consider it romantic or not based on her own criteria. As long as we both understand where the other is coming from, I don’t see a problem with that!

  4. Siggy says:

    Aromantics often complain that the asexual community uses romantic relationships to humanize asexuals, leading to dehumanization of aromantics. For example, “Asexuals may not want sex but they can still have romantic relationships.” But one of my big complaints about aromantic asexual discourse is that they replicate the same dynamic, using strong platonic relationships to humanize aromantics. Where does that leave aromantics who don’t want strong platonic relationships?

    Combined with the attitude that people in romantic relationships can’t be aromantic, this seems doubly problematic. If you feel unsure about the boundaries between romantic and platonic, and you’re in a relationship of unknown character, then are you barred from aromanticism, or are you the token example of why aromantics are human?

    I think it’s kind of sad that one of the reasons I like “gray-romantic” is because the discourse surrounding the term is underdeveloped, and therefore at least hasn’t developed in a direction I dislike.

    • I’ve looked at aromantic discourse a number of times, hoping that it might provide something useful for me, but every time I’ve been disappointed. I realize that the community is very young and that all communities have growing pains as they seek to define themselves, but the aromantic community is going to have to mature a lot before it can be as beneficial to me as the asexual community is (or even beneficial at all).

      I have mixed feelings about how (queer)platonic relationships are depicted in the discourse. On the one hand, I agree with you, and as someone who has been a “soloist” (as swankivy memorably put it) all my adult life and who will most likely remain so for the foreseeable future, that seems to leave me out in the cold.

      At the same time, I am increasingly interested in someday entering a queerplatonic relationship (assuming I can find the right person, which is a big “if”) and I have definitely felt like even that deducts points from my aromantic card, as it were.

      I really wish there was a lot more nuance and thoughtfulness in these debates, on all sides.

      • Sciatrix says:

        The thing that gets me is that I increasingly think the thing that I’m missing about romantic attraction is the beginning of a relationship, not the endpoint. That gives someone like me a lot to talk about when you’re trying to negotiate how one winds up in a more or less permanent social structure, whatever that looks like, but it really gives you very little to discuss once you’re in a relatively settled place. And I rather suspect that that’s a huge problem with the way aromantic discourse works, because I think it’s a big issue with how the community has evolved over time–people who are in comfortable, settled relationships tend to stop paying attention over time and withdraw from the community.

        • I think there needs to be much more writing about all stages of asexual relationships of all different kinds. Unfortunately, I suspect that many ace bloggers, especially on Tumblr where the demographic is younger, just don’t have any relevant experience to write about (I don’t either). So the burden falls on a small number of aces, who may not want to or be comfortable talking about their relationships.

          But since there aren’t really any social scripts to help us navigate these types of relationships, any information anybody can provide from their own experience is helpful!

          I agree with Siggy that the greyromantic/wtfromantic/gray-aromantic/whateveryoucallit discourse seems to be much more flexible than aromantic discourse is. It makes me wish I identified as any of those, and that’s why I would like to see more of the two groups coming together (hence my argument in the OP) to share experiences.

  5. Pingback: Me and romance (trying to define it, and of course failing) – cinderace blogs

  6. Aster says:

    Hi, Laura. I’m curious about which part of the aromantic community you’ve been following.

    I myself have mostly been following some aromantic advice blogs and self-affirmation blogs on Tumblr. The advice blogs I follow, such as qpadvice, are generally very careful to affirm those aromantic people who wants to form romantic relationships or other forms of close, emotionally intimate relationships.

    Although, as you mentioned, there seem to be a lot less discussion about the experiences of other aro-spectrum people. I’ve often seen this part of the aro-spec community left out in self-affirmation posts and in general discussions, which is something that definitely needs to change. I’ve seen some efforts towards rectifying this, like how Aromantic Awareness Week is changed to Aro-spec Awareness Week, and how people are careful to include all people on the spectrum when initiating discussions or creating writing prompts. Though of course there is still a lot to be done.

    Also, I think there needs to be more in-depth discussions about the experiences of aro-spec people, such as attractions, relationships, and obstacles. Due to cultural reasons, I am under a lot more pressure to form romantic relationships than to have sex, so the affirmation the aro-spec community provides is invaluable to me. But I think more in-depth discussions like the ones found on this site can help me figure out more about my own experiences and what kind of relationships I would like to have.

    • Thanks for your comment, Aster. To clarify, the original post is primarily about aromantic discourse within asexual communities rather than blogs or sites that are specific to the aromantic community. However, many of the people who commented wished to focus on their critiques of the aromantic community so the discussion has gone more in that direction.

      In general, I feel that the aromantic community needs to have much more in-depth writing and discussions. While self-affirmation and advice blogs are important for many, they are not particularly helpful to me at this stage of my life (I don’t follow asexuality-themed blogs of this type either).

      Many of the critiques made here in the comments are specifically about a blog called The Thinking Asexual, which often takes a tone that strikes others as elitist and whose posts often seem to lack nuance. TTA is one of the few blogs I’ve come across who does write longer posts and in-depth discussion of aromantic topics, so they have a disproportionate influence over the discourse that people see, especially aroaces or others who are approaching aromanticism from the asexual community.

      Basically, most aromantic discourse seems incredibly shallow to me and thus fails to engage with any of the more complex issues and questions that people commenting on this post have brought up.

      • Sciatrix says:

        Ditto. It’s especially difficult because almost everyone else I know who talks about issues with romantic relationships or confusion about dating and so forth identifies as grey or wtf or in some other way “between” or outside the concept of romantic orientation, and my impression is almost that there are two separate communities: one who identify as aromantic full-stop, and one who identify as “romantic orientation is confusing and kind of unhelpful.”

        I have not been particularly comfortable in aromantic spaces for quite a while, which is kind of ironic given that my blog and discussions I was a big part of keep getting cited as discussions “in the aromantic community.” I’m okay in my own corner of discussion, though, and I don’t think that aromantic-specific spaces necessarily need to be for me at this point.

        In some ways, I feel like I’ve gotten the affirmation I needed by…. shouting into the void that I was confused for a very long time, and hearing people shout back, and having all these long self-indulgent conversations about what confused me and why. The closest to that which I see now was anagnori’s blog, and their writing style (as well as TTA’s) was always less slanted towards “I’m confused, what on earth is going on” and more to “Hm. I’ve thought about this, and this is what I think.”

        I don’t actually know what I could do to provide a space for people like me again, except by occasionally off-handedly reminding people that I found something that seemed to work for me and continues to keep working. And I do bring that up sometimes in meetup discussions, that it’s okay to have no idea what you want when it comes to interpersonal relationships, and it’s okay to want something you’re not sure how to label, and it’s okay to go out and talk to people who are floundering and confused and see if they want similar stuff to you. Hell, that’s how I wound up in every significant relationship I’ve ever been in.

        But if I wanted to go out and look for lots of people floundering through these definitions today? I’d have no idea where to start looking–advice blogs are all well and good, but they really don’t provide that critical space for lots of confused people to find and talk to each other. For me, those conversations between a lot of people who really had no idea what they were doing and who were very open about that were really important–and not all of them were in public. I had a lot of conversations with my now-partners and SlightlyMetaphysical and Kaz and people I met through the TransYadas and others over Skype and email and Gchat about that, and that space to have a private conversation with people who knew me and knew what I was going through and got it on a personal level was super important. I have no idea how I would have found those people and started up those conversations today, and it makes me sad.

        • Siggy says:

          It may be worth mentioning at this point that my own distance from aromantic discourse dates earlier, to when *you* were the one talking about it, Sciatrix. I felt there was a lot of emphasis on what we now call queerplatonic relationships, which was very interesting, but not entirely relevant to my personal experience. I kind of feel like I’m the only gray-romantic who has absolutely no problem distinguishing the different kinds of relationships that I have.

          I’ve always felt a vague dissatisfaction with aromantic and wtfromantic discourse, but I feel awkward talking about it because I don’t know what exactly I would want out of it anyway. And then I think to myself, is there any particular reason I should want aromantic discourse to cater to me at all? Yeah I’m aromantic spectrum, but so what? Just because there’s a label doesn’t mean it’s the best dividing line for a community or discourse.

          The main reason TTA made an impression on me is that they said things that were relevant to me, but in a bad way. They basically said the way I do friends is shitty and romantic-supremacist.

          • queenieofaces says:

            *raises hand* I’m a greyromantic person who has no issue distinguishing between the types of relationships I have. Part of that is that I WANT clear dividing lines between my relationships–I’ve been in “are we friends or are we dating or what?” kind of relationships, and they were really unsafe and bad for my mental health. And, yeah, if you look at my romantic relationship too closely, you’ll be like, “Oh geez, what’s going on here, did you two even read the assembly instructions?” but we’ve decided to call it romantic and having that cordoned off linguistically (even if it’s kind of weirdly shaped and wibbly) makes the relationship a whole lot safer for me to be in than if we decided to label it something wibbly and non-normative or if we eschewed labels altogether. And, yeah, my friendships may be a bit more emotionally committed than is normative and may bleed over somewhat into other realms (I mean, I have several roommates who have promised to live with me for as long as we still want to be together, which is the kind of commitment you expect from a spouse), but I’d really prefer to have things linguistically separated into different realms because it helps me know where we stand in relation to each other (rather than constantly worrying if my level of feelings for the other person is inappropriate/too much/too little and if the other person feels the same about me).

            On one hand, I feel like I should write about that at some point, but on the other hand I’d rather not have the aro community swooping in to declare doom on my head and that I’m a romantic-supremacist who is crappy to her friends.

          • The label “queerplatonic” seems match quite closely the type of relationship that I currently don’t have but am increasingly thinking that I would like to have. To me, the type of feelings and relationship activities it would entail seem quite distinct from conventional romantic relationships (which would not work at all for me) while the level of commitment and emotional intimacy seems quite distinct from the friendships that I have and have had (obviously, other people may have very different experiences here). So I don’t have any trouble distinguishing these types of relationships or feelings. I feel like there’s nothing whatsoever “gray” or “wtf” about my experience. I just really like gray/wtf discourse and wish that aromantic discourse could be more like it.

            Queenie, I can’t reply directly to your comment due to the threading rules, but I just want to say I wish there was a way to create a safer space for you and others to share experiences and stories like this where people such as TTA wouldn’t be jumping in on the conversation.

          • elainexe says:

            (In relation to Queenie and Laura’s comments)
            I find that very interesting Queenie. I never considered labeling a relationship based on its usefulness. But, that’s what labels are supposed to be for, aren’t they? Usefulness. It’s an easy thing to forget; I always have to be reminding myself.
            Finding out about the concept of queerplatonic relationships was comforting to me. But in the wibbly-wobbly gray area where I am, I don’t know if any relationships I might form would be more romantic or queerplatonic. But I think I might not have to figure that out because what I do want is to get married. I can just skip over any boyfriend/girlfriend designation straight to spouse 😄 The orthodox Muslim way is kinda advantageous to me in this respect. If…that ever happens.

            For a safe aromantic-spectrum space….ha, maybe we need an Aromantic Agenda. A Carnival of Aromantics. I dunno…something like that might prompt people to write more. I know both of those have inspired me to think and write (and start unfinished drafts ^^; ) about the topics.

          • elainexe says:

            –My thoughts could have been more complete there. Marriage makes it so I can avoid the romantic/queerplatonic distinction when speaking to others. When it comes to myself…well, I guess it’s still not as important as what the marriage means to me: commitment, building a life together, emotional closeness. Those being the most important to me, the romantic/queerplatonic distinction becomes more of a minor detail.
            At least these are my thoughts never having had any relationships beyond family/friends.

    • Siggy says:

      Indeed, The Thinking Asexual has a disproportionate influence on how I view aromantic discourse, as well as discourse on aromanticism. I don’t feel it is right to take one voice as so representative, but that’s a statement of the situation. Even when I’ve seen other people talk about being aromantic, it’s hard to overcome the strong impression made by my disagreements with TTA.

      At this point, I don’t have any desire that aro spaces include me.

      • I was thinking recently about what I had written about aromanticism – which isn’t very much to start with – and realized it was almost all in some way a critique of aromantic discourse. I feel like I ought to write more about it, since I myself said there needs to be more in-depth writing, and that this would help reduce the influence of bloggers such as TTA. But then I realized I’m not quite sure what else I want to say.

        In terms of how I want to relate to people, my sex aversion is like the 800-pound gorilla that rules out many common relationship types, and my aromanticism is kind of left as a filter on the rest. It’s the 98-pound weakling. I think a lot of aromantic discourse, especially that by TTA, is by people for whom their aromanticism is much more central than it is for me. That may be another reason I don’t relate well to a lot of aromantic discourse and why I base myself in the asexual community.

        (This comment is more some random thoughts inspired by your comment than a direct response to you.)

  7. robotcorvid says:

    First-time commenter, but fairly long-term reader of this blog, here. I found this post really interesting to read because a lot of it it resonated with some of the criticisms I have of currently-standing aromantic discourse – but while approaching these things from quite a different direction than I have been.

    The focus I see in most aro discourse I’ve come across, on whether or when a person experiences romantic attraction as the centrally important feature of identity, tends to strike me as incredibly lacking for a foundation for discourse and social critique. I find it overly rigid, as you’ve discussed, and simultaneously an insufficiently-described phenomenon as well as disappointingly accepting of the very conceptualisation of romance as something discrete and identifiable outside of a heavily social context. Basically, I think you’re absolutely on the right track in terms of how aromantic and grey/wtf/quoi discourses would do better to become more integrated; but also I think a very important feature of some of what I’ve read in this area (and my own shouting into the void on tumblr, as it sometimes feels like), is a criticism of romance, romantic orientation, romantic attraction, as necessarily relevant concepts, and how they can reinforce the idea that romance definitely /exists/ in a meaningful way, outside of people mutually deciding it does.

    So ultimately I guess, to mirror your own conclusion – the kind of aromantic discourse I’d like to see is one that accepts a wide range of experiences as relevant, and relevant /as/ “aromantic” and not necessarily /only/ “aromantic-spectrum”; while simultaneously challenging the idea that close relationships and love are or need to be labeled as romantic (or even any other specific label like queerplatonic). One that questions relationship hierarchies and society’s emphasis on partnered relationships to begin with, and also provides a discourse encouraging people to develop new and nonstandard connections with others that best fit their needs and desires.

    • Great points! In my original post I suggested a definition of romantic attraction as being related to the capacity for crushes, falling, in love, or limerence, but I also said that these are what the *cultural narratives* of romance appear to be about and that I define my aromanticism through my sense of difference from these cultural norms.

      What I would really love to see is all of us whose experience of attachment or relationships differs significantly from the cultural norms get together and share experiences and thoughts about that. We could call this aromanticism, aromantic spectrum, or something else entirely; the label doesn’t really matter except as a convenient shorthand.

      What I do see happening, and the reason I wrote this post, is that aromanticism is being defined in such a narrow way sometimes that it prevents that forming of community with others who do not identify as aromantic but who share the sense of difference from cultural norms. Maybe we need a new terminology that doesn’t rely so heavily on concepts of romantic orientation and attraction, exactly as you talked about.

      • elainexe says:

        Y’know. Maybe it says something about the models of sexual/romantic attractions that nowhere else have I ever heard of people making labels for themselves based on the concept of something not making sense to them.
        If only there could be something else to convey just, what kind of relationships, consisting of what elements, do you want to form? Feelings (like attraction) are always hard to pin down, quantify, and communicate. But wants can be a little easier.
        On the other hand….there are a lot of types of things people might want in relationships. So I don’t know if anyone could base any labels off that.

      • robotcorvid says:

        Yeah, I very much agree with all of this. One of the reasons I still keep up with a good amount of ace blogging (I used to identify as ace but I don’t currently) is because I do see an actual level of discourse going on, a sustained commitment to thinking about personal experiences and relationships and how that interfaces with society. And as you say, the way so much is focused on hairsplitting about emotions (that yeah, definitely do need to be revisited conceptually – I personally think by even more than just the aro community – because of how the discourse seems to be failing so many people in related ways) ends up distracting from forming a more extant and cohesive community to talk about the narratives we all have (and/or would prefer to have) about feelings and relationships.

        Part of this I suspect is how the aro spaces I tend to see don’t place much emphasis on the “labels are tools” idea that was so central to the ace blogging I started out reading. And honestly, in both aro and ace spaces, there is an extent to which I think the attraction-catalogueing tendencies, while interesting, can detract from a culture of discussing social contexts and moving from, okay, so here are a lot of people’s personal feelings and experiences, to “and this is what we can /do/ with them to make broader narratives and theories that can impact more people”.

  8. Pingback: Me and romantic orientation labels – cinderace blogs

  9. Pingback: On friendships, part 2: Ace culture and ideals of friendship | The Asexual Agenda

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