Learning to Understand my Aromanticism

This post is for the October Carnival of Aces.

There’s nothing gray or fluid about my aromanticism; as with my asexuality, it seems to be total and lifelong. Yet, I’ve always found it difficult to write about being aromantic, despite how much I’ve written about being asexual.

Part of this is that I don’t really understand romantic attraction – or at least I don’t understand how romantic attraction is discussed in asexual communities.

Part of it is that my sex aversion (which I don’t really separate from my asexuality) seems to have had a much greater impact on my life than my aromanticism has. After I’ve finished arranging my life to support my sex aversion, it doesn’t seem like there’s much for my aromanticism to “do”. Or I feel like if I experienced romantic attraction, it would complicate things, but I don’t, so it doesn’t.

To put it another way, because sex and romance are so tied up in modern Western society, when I seek to avoid sexual relationships, this also has the effect of avoiding most romantic relationships. I don’t want either kind of relationship, so I’m sort of getting two for the price of one here, lol.

For most of my life, I had assumed romantic/sexual relationships were the only kind of partnered relationships that were on offer. I assumed I was destined for a solitary life.

Since learning about queerplatonic relationships, I’ve come to realize that I would like to have one some day, something I’ve been writing about for awhile. But I don’t know how to get from here to there.

Part of it is that there aren’t very many other fish in this puddle, as Queenie once memorably put it. There aren’t even any potential candidates on the horizon, so all my talk about QPRs is hypothetical and abstract. Part of it is my own psychological blocks (I’ve written about a couple of these issues for Love InshAllah here and here).

But it’s more than that. I feel that, as someone who is aromantic, I don’t understand how to build the kind of relationship that I want. How do I get beyond friendship to build a greater emotional intimacy? Even if there was somebody in my life that was open to a QPR and a good match for me, what do I do? What steps do I take? This feels completely bewildering to me, and I think that sense of bewilderment is also (along with my confusion about romantic attraction discourse) why I sympathize with wtfromantic people, even though we may be bewildered by different things.

The most useful thing I’ve ever read about romantic attraction is Omnes et Nihil’s description of it as feeling a level of emotional intimacy with a person that doesn’t match with the work that has been put into the relationship that exists. I understand this to mean that people who experience romantic attraction are able to “jump ahead” in the process, but people who are aromantic (or on the aromantic spectrum) need to build emotional intimacy the hard way.

And that’s exactly where I’m stalling out. There’s no map for doing it the hard way. The cultural scripts that exist for building partner relationships assume the presence of romantic attraction. That’s of no use to me.

It’s like I opened the Book of Love and it read like this:

cartoon showing a complex equation on a chalkboard with 'then a miracle occurs' in the middle

Romantic attraction is the “miracle” step, but I’m not able to do that. It’s completely inaccessible to me.

I’ve come to realize that, as someone who is aromantic, I relate to others in a profoundly non-normative way. (One might even dare to say, a queer way.) It’s actually really important to my life. I didn’t realize that before because I was looking in the wrong place.

The sex normativity of our cultural models of partner relationships alienated me so much, and triggered my sex aversion so strongly, that I completely cut myself off. I didn’t even try to relate to anybody beyond friendship so I didn’t discover that my way of relating is non-normative. (This is also why you can’t separate my experience of my aromanticism from my asexuality.)

Now here I am, 42 years old, trying to piece together a way forward from a few notes written by other aces. There are people who have gotten to where I want to go and some of them have been kind enough to leave a few pointers along the way. Perhaps these hints, along with putting myself out there for potential zucchinis (aroace Muslim women looking for a female partner, where are you?!) and working through my own psychological issues, will eventually be enough.

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, romantic orientation. Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Learning to Understand my Aromanticism

  1. luvtheheaven says:

    This is such a wonderful piece. Thank you for writing it for the carnival.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    Hmmm, this bit…

    The most useful thing I’ve ever read about romantic attraction is Omnes et Nihil’s description of it as feeling a level of emotional intimacy with a person that doesn’t match with the work that has been put into the relationship that exists. I understand this to mean that people who experience romantic attraction are able to “jump ahead” in the process, but people who are aromantic (or on the aromantic spectrum) need to build emotional intimacy the hard way.

    …that seems way off to me. As someone who is greyromantic and has been partnered to an aromantic person now for 7 years, and she and I didn’t exactly follow normative romantic relationship scripts… early on, we absolutely “jumped ahead” with emotional intimacy, but I wouldn’t call it romantic in the least. There was just this incredible level of connection right away, we talked for hours and hours. But if you had asked me back then if I was romantically attracted to her? I would’ve said no. Not even a little.* And with other friends, I’ve also had that sort of “I feel like I’ve known you forever” feeling right away, even though it’s not even slightly romantic.

    * Of course that said, for a long time neither of us considered the possibility of being aromantic, so the only script we had for the kind of relationship we were (extremely quickly) developing was a “we must be dating now” type of romantic framework. Trying to fit that script caused us both a lot of problems throughout our relationship.

    But yeah, I dunno, the idea that romantic attraction is like jumping forward in intimacy when you haven’t done the emotional work… really ignores a lot of the non-romantic situations where that happens. Building intimacy and connections with other people, in my experience, is hardly a consistent, steady, or even stable thing. It can be, with some people… but I have friends I’ve known for years where that emotional intimacy has never really developed, and I have friends where it’s been there from the start where it logically wouldn’t make sense, and I have friends where the emotional intimacy comes in fits and starts, with long periods of distance in between. And sometimes you can have intense emotional intimacy with complete strangers, without having any desire to be friends or be in a romantic relationship, or even learn their name.

    So if there’s some sort of magic formula? There isn’t just one formula. It’s completely different depending on the people involved, and where you’re at in each of your lives.

    I don’t know if what I’m saying makes sense, but I hope it helps somewhat? Either way, I really enjoy reading your reflections on all of this. 🙂

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It’s entirely possible that I either misunderstood what Omnes was saying, or explained it poorly in trying to condense it, so if you haven’t already, it might be worth reading the original post to get more context.

      In any case, the full explanation that they gave made a lot of sense for me about some of the phenomena that often seem to be associated with romantic attraction or with limerence, particularly giddiness, obsessive thinking, sometimes engaging in fantasy reasoning, and so on. It’s honestly one of the few things I’ve read in ace spaces that describes romantic attraction in a way that seems to match the larger cultural narratives about it (as I said early in the post, and have said before, most descriptions or explanations of romantic attraction in asexual discourse make little or no sense to me).

      I feel like what Omnes described in the original post may go beyond what we’re talking about here and that it’s my fault for oversimplifying it and losing some of the nuance of their discussion.

      • Elizabeth says:

        Yeah, I’ve read the whole post, several times now. I do take issue with parts of the original, specifically this characterization of friendship:

        In contrast, friendship is typically stable and makes sense– where you have intimacy because you’ve done the emotional work. [2]

        [2] In a friendship– even a very intimate and significant one– the wanting to connect is with someone you know well and have a reason to trust… It’s rational and certain and in the context of a stable relationship. You have intimacy because you’ve done the work to build it… together. It’s not mysterious and it does make sense.

        You know how your friend will react and who they are. And when you empathise with a friend, it’s coming from a place of understanding them, and not from a place of imagining who they are.

        Friends– and in my experience also queerplatonic partners– can and usually do meet each other on proverbial level-ground, without the need for subtext. It’s real and it makes sense, so it probably doesn’t feel “magical”.

        I just think it portrays a very specific idea of what friendship is like that doesn’t match so many of my real experiences with friends. Wanting to connect with them is not necessarily related to knowing them well and having a reason to trust them, and very often that’s not the case for me. And I really don’t know how a lot of my friends, even long-time friends, will react to me sharing really intimate details of my experiences. Maybe that’s more of a survivor-specific problem, but… and yeah, like I said above, my relationships with friends typically don’t start on a “level ground.” Some friendships do have a feeling of “magically” jumping ahead. Others ramp up slowly, and still others are incredibly inconsistent.

        I will say though that the description of what it’s like to feel romantic attraction in Omnes’ post makes more sense. It’s just that, the way it’s framed and contrasted with friendship… really doesn’t, to me.

        • Here are a couple of other posts that talk about some of the same things as Omnes, albeit more briefly:


          Both of them focus on the “irrational” nature of the feeling of romantic attraction, which is also something that is very much part of the cultural narratives that I’ve read. Both of them agree that this is something they typically don’t experience in friendships and is what distinguishes these relationships from friendships. I understand Omnes to be talking about the same thing as the two authors above.

          The primary reason that I identify as aromantic is that I’ve never experienced anything that even remotely resembles what any of these authors are talking about, or what the cultural narratives I’ve read talk about. There’s clearly something special going on that most people who have experienced it are able to distinguish from friendship and that’s what they’re trying to express.

          I don’t know, maybe this is confusing because it’s a group of aromantic and grayromantic people talking about things that we don’t experience, or experience in ways that don’t match the dominant cultural narratives and so we’re all trying to feel our way through it.

          If I went back to edit the post, I would try to make it more clear that Omnes’s description fits my own experiences very well, and helped me to understand something about them that I hadn’t realized before, but that they may not match other people’s experiences. It was valuable for me, and I wanted to give credit where due for that.

          • Elizabeth says:

            I mean like… I totally understand the “irrational” nature of “romantic attraction” (I’d prefer to jettison that term in general though), and I know the feelings that all of these people are describing. I’ve experienced similar feelings, so I’m not confused about that.

            What I’m saying is… does the way that these things feel irrational necessarily mean that friendships, as defined in opposition to romantic relationships, must then be rational?

            Is it really helpful to define friendships in that way, or might that limit our conceptions of what friendships can be?

            For me, a lot of friendships start with something that goes like this: “hey I don’t really know you that well, and I have no rational reason to believe I can trust you with this kind of intimacy, but here’s what’s really going on with me right now.” In some cases I even have good reasons to believe that the friend I’m disclosing to is going to have a negative reaction, but I’m just hoping that I’m wrong and taking that risk (because the other option is just distancing myself). So I can’t really relate to the idea that friendships are as stable, rational, and certain as Omnes has characterized them.

            I don’t know if that helps explain what I mean better? Basically, the issue is not confusion about the “romantic attraction” feeling… it’s just the way that it’s defined in opposition to a Specific Idea of Friendship. I’m not really confused by these discussions, just questioning the framing.

          • Thanks for clarifying, Elizabeth. I did not read Omnes as trying to limit friendship or saying that it doesn’t or can’t contain irrational elements or unexpected degrees of emotional intimacy, merely that friendships are typically not characterized by these features in the way that romantic attraction tends to be. However, I don’t know their intention so I can’t speak further to that.

            What I do know is that by citing their description, I intended only to describe a model that happens to match my personal experience fairly well and that I found helpful in understanding that experience. I did not intend to push that model on others or to classify or characterize their relationships or feelings in any way. I’m sorry that it came across that way. If you feel that the post as written is misleading or problematic in such a way, I will edit it.

          • Elizabeth says:

            Oh no, don’t worry about it, I don’t feel like your post pushes the model on others or anything like that. Just talking about points of difference that hopefully feels productive! It feels like a productive sort of disagreement for me, at least. I have a post for the carnival half-written that may put all of this in a more enlightening context, hopefully.

          • I’m looking forward to reading your post! Thanks again for the exchange of thoughts; it’s always helpful for me to learn about people’s different experiences and perspectives.

  3. TreePeony says:

    I hope I’m not jumping into the conversation, but my experience of friendship vs romantic relationships has been much the same as what Omnes and the author describe. Most of my “friends” I don’t really consider to be friends: just acquaintances. This is largely because I’ve realised that the other party is unwilling to and/or incapable of putting in the amount of effort required to build up the kind of relationship I personally define as a friendship. To me, romance has always been even more of a puzzle than sexual attraction (though, being a med student, I always understood the biological imperative behind both sexual and romantic attraction in humans), because the way romantic people would go to extreme lengths for a person who did next to nothing to “deserve it” (in my eyes) was utterly baffling to me. Personally, I’ve never developed emotional intimacy with anyone off the bat — not even with people who later became good friends. Certainly, there are people I enjoy spending time with more than others, but whether I find someone pleasant to be with or not, for me, has always had a rationalisation behind it. Matching ideas and dreams, similar social backgrounds, basic politeness, not being arrogant, being interested in education/work and study more than sex or romance (not to say I need them to be aro or ace, of course), are the major points of a basic check-list that I have in my head. If someone doesn’t tick off all these points, then I won’t even think of becoming their friend. (But, as I noted before, I have a much stricter definition of friendship than most people) I’m pretty sure romantic people don’t have that kind of conscious check-list in their heads when looking for romantic partners, and that things like physical appearance and – at least for the non-ace romantics – sexual preferences, get precedence over most other things.

    So I think Omnes and Laura’s descriptions make a lot of sense, especially in the context of a queerplatonic relationship. It doesn’t seem to me to limit the definition of friendship at all, since I never got the impression (from either this article or the one referenced) that the authors were implying that if the relationship is not logical, then it’s not a friendship/is a romance. The idea that a friendship requires a lot of effort beyond that initial spark, and a continuous dedication to maintain it and improve on it, and that people need a fairly sound reason to both start and continue a friendship, feels logical to me. After all, there must be a reason why they say “fell in love,” as opposed to “made/became friends”!

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  7. queenieofaces says:

    I dislike Omnes’s definition of romantic attraction because it A. falls into the “those romantics and their IRRATIONAL attraction, unlike us aromantics and our totally rational and reasonable attraction” trope (I should really write a post on this, because it’s one of the main reasons I stay the heck away from aro communities; other examples of this include talking about how romantic attraction makes you romanticize and idealize your partner whereas aromantics NEVER idealize ANY of their relationships) and B. it implies that demiromantics…aren’t experiencing romantic attraction since you do have to do the long slog of emotional work before attraction kicks in. Which seems kind of like gatekeeping. (In general, a lot of descriptions of romantic attraction written by aromantics tend to totally shaft and/or ignore greyromantic/aromantic spectrum people, which doesn’t make aro communities super welcoming to aro spectrum folks.)

    • luvtheheaven says:

      I love this comment, Queenie. I hope you do write a post on this sometime soon!!

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I did not at all read Omnes as making a value judgment on either the type of attraction nor the people who experience it, but rather as describing how the attraction may feel as an internal experience.

      I apologize that my citation of this model made you feel that I was giving the shaft to non-aromantic people or made you feel unwelcome. Such was not my intention and I’m very sorry it came across that way.

  8. I am choosing to close comments on this post. I appreciate the discussions that have been had here; however, it is clear that due to my own shortcomings as a writer, the main point that I intended to make about myself and my own experiences was lost and that instead a number of readers felt that I was invalidating their experiences due to the way I cited a particular model in one part of the post. I am very sorry that it came across that way and I will be much more cautious when writing about my aromanticism in the future. Thanks to everyone who took the time to read and to comment, it is very much appreciated.

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