Ace Tropes: Ace/Ace Romance

This is part of a series on tropes in fiction with ace characters. To link or follow this series, please use the “ace tropes” tag on this blog.

“Yes!” Wes shouted. “Because our entire relationship was built on that one thing. It’s the reason we met in the first place. If a foundation’s rotten, nothing you build on top of it is stable.”

“That wasn’t our only foundation,” Nash protested. “I was excited to meet another ace Pagan. Weren’t you?”

Wes blew out a sharp breath. “Yeah,” he admitted. “I really was.”

“Isn’t that part of our foundation, too?”

Wes gave a small, grudging smile. “I guess it is.”

– “Mr. March Names the Stars” by Rivka Aarons-Hughes

The definition of this trope is simple – at least two ace characters have a romance with each other.

Of course, there is more to this trope than that. For one thing, Ace/Ace Romance, like the Ace Group, is a trope which guarantees that there is more than one ace character in the story.

In all of the ace romances I have read, I have not found ANY which are M/F (and if I expand the field to ace/ace aromantic partnerships, I can only think of one M/F example). The rest are F/F or M/M. Part of that is probably just that a substantial portion of published ace fiction comes from LGBTQ+ publishers, and LGBTQ+ publishers – even in fiction about B, T, and Q+ characters – strongly favor same-sex pairings over different-sex pairings. However, I cannot help but wonder if there is also a cultural stumbling block against have a romantic yet nonsexual M/F relationship.

Satisfying fiction tends to have conflict. One reason that the Allo/Ace Romance trope is so common is that it lends itself so easily to conflict. However, romance fiction also often is intended to serve as wish fulfilment for readers. It’s tricky to make Allo/Ace Romance serve that function (especially if one wants it to have that effect for both ace and allo readers). So, if one wants to write an ace romance without the conflicts typically present in allo/ace romance, the obvious move is to write an ace/ace romance.

It is possible for aces to have romantic feelings for each other without knowing that the other is ace – thus, they think they are in an allo/ace romance when it is actually an ace/ace romance, and I’ve seen this in one story (which I am not going to name because this is a major spoiler). The viewpoint character (who is ace) is anxious that his love interest will not want to date him because he does not want sex, and therefore holds himself back, but if he had tried communicating with his love interest, he would have learned that his love interest is also ace. Thus, one of the conflicts of allo/ace romance got worked into an ace/ace romance.

Of course, many allo/allo romance stories have conflicts around things other than sexuality, so it is entirely possible for an ace/ace romance to have a conflict completely unrelated to (a)sexuality. For example, in We Awaken, the ace/ace romance indirectly causes people all over the world to be seized by such awful nightmares that they are turning into insomniacs just so that they can delay returning to their nightmares (it makes more sense in the novel than this brief description) (also, this problem is caused by their romance, not by their asexuality), so the ace characters have to either break up in order to save the world, or they have to find some other means of controlling the mass nightmares. That type of conflict works equally well for both an allo/allo and an ace/ace romance.

Are there any conflicts which are specific to ace/ace romance? The only ace/ace romance I know of which has a conflict directly related to asexuality is All the Wrong Places. One of the ace characters is really insecure about his asexual identity, and that leads to problems with his relationship with his ace boyfriend.

Something else which stands out to me is that ace/ace romances tend to always be about two aces who are at similar places under the ace umbrella. Non-gray aces go with non-gray aces, and gray-aces go with gray aces (actually, in my opinion, the ace/ace relationship in The Painted Crown is gray/demi since one of the characters is occasionally sexually attracted to people when he first meets them, which seems gray-A rather than demi to me, but Word of God says they are both demisexual). Also, I have yet to find any ace/ace romances in which the aces have different levels of comfort with regards to kissing/touching/etc.

One thing that ace/ace romance stories tend to imply is that the ace characters’ are each other’s one true love because they are both ace. It is true that, all else being equal, two aces are probably more compatible as romantic partners than an ace and an allo. All else, however, is rarely equal. Some ace/ace romance stories acknowledge this, and the aces in those stories have to work out their interpersonal incompatibilities. Other ace/ace romance stories assume that, just because the two characters are ace, they are automatically compatible.

It is true that aces who have felt they were all alone as being ace may experience euphoria when they meet another ace, and this euphoria may even been a way to spark a romance. It is not impossible that such a romance, through sheer luck, will avoid all significant interpersonal difficulties without any particular effort on the aces’ part. Reading about such a romance may be effective as wish fulfilment and escapism. Yet there is also a risk, to quote this old Asexual Agenda post:

When people present ace/ace relationships as a panacea for relationship difficulties, all those potential stressors are erased. When every ace/ace couple is squealed over and pointed to as the ideal, it can be really hard to talk about the fact that, hey, no relationship is completely bump-free. When your [ace/ace] relationship configuration is elevated as the Holy Grail for lonely, scared, and anxious aces, it can be extremely uncomfortable to talk about the fact that, actually, work (sometimes a lot of work) goes into maintaining that relationship. But, hey, you should be grateful you have that relationship at all, right?

There are plenty of heterosexual romances where the love interests are extremely compatible without having to put much effort, but since people looking for a heterosexual lover have a much larger pool than people looking for an ace lover, this may be even less realistic for ace/ace romances than heterosexual/heterosexual romances. Then again, many romances are unrealistic, and this is not necessarily a bad thing.

Examples:

We Awaken by Calista Lynne
The Painted Crown by Megan Derr
All the Wrong Places by Ann Gallagher
“The Cybernetic Teashop” by Meredith Katz
Ignition Zero (webcomic)
“Mr. March Names the Stars” by Rivka Aarons-Hughes
How Not to Summon Your True Love by Sasha Miller

Questions:

1) What is your take on ‘they are both ace so of course they are a One True Pairing without having to go through any difficult interpersonal stuff once they’ve found each other’ style ace/ace romances? Do they make you feel happy as a reader? Why or why not? Do you think readers can enjoy these as wish-fulfilment without it negatively impacting real-life ace/ace relationships?
2) This post mentions an example where an ace character’s insecurity with his own ace identity leads to problems with his ace/ace romance. What other kinds of problems might be specific to ace/ace romances (i.e. problems which would be much less likely to occur in allo/allo romances)?
3) What do you want to have in ace/ace romance stories?

About Sara K.

Sara K. is an aromantic asexual from California who has previously lived in Taiwan. She blogs at the notes which do not fit, has previously been a contributor at Manga Bookshelf, and has written guest posts for Hacking Chinese. She enjoys reading, travel, live theatre, learning languages, and gardening.
This entry was posted in Articles, Media, Relationships and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Ace Tropes: Ace/Ace Romance

  1. Siggy says:

    1. Even outside of ace/ace relationships, the relentless positivity of the romance genre already bothers me. But when ace/ace romances have no conflict at all, well that just feels like a missed opportunity. The story could have shown relationship conflict and Said Something. I don’t want wish fulfillment, particularly since I’m happy in an ace/allo relationship–I want stories that say something. I am also disappointed when the stories feature conflict, but they have nothing to do with the characters being ace. The fact that All The Wrong Places is the only counterexample you know of makes me want to read that book.

    2. The ace characters could have different preferences regarding kissing, cuddling, and quasi-sexual activities. One could be out and the other not. There could be some disagreement on ace issues, like if they have different relationships with the local queer community. One or both could be aro, and wanting some sort of nonstandard relationship that they can’t quite agree on.

    Ace/ace relationships could also have this subtext that neither person knows of any other options. This could create conflict, if characters are just seeing the relationship as a way out of being single.

    • Sara K. says:

      I don’t want to oversell All the Wrong Places because it’s not a great counterexample. But at least it IS a counterexample, and at this point the only one I know about.

      Maybe, if one is willing to stretch, “Mr. March Names the Stars” is also a counterexample since there was a miscommunication about something which was important to one of the characters, and it was important to him to some extent because he was ace, but the problem was really the miscommunication, and it could have easily been a miscommunication about something completely different.

      • luvtheheaven says:

        I’ve already wanted to read All The Wrong Places for other reasons but the more I hear about it the more I want to spend my money to buy it and really really support it (even though it’s actually I think the only ace fiction book in my local library…) especially since I had an on again off again ace/ace relationship where we broke up twice and just… Siggy’s comment about the possibilities almost feels like it’s calling me out lol, it’s very accurate, and I tried my best while in my relationship to ignore how much it bothered me and worried me that I wanted to be very much out and proud as ace but I knew my partner was much more closeted and yes, insecure about his identity, and I didn’t really know how to navigate it??

        Also that quote at the start of the article from Mr. March Names the Stars also is relatable because a big part of my foundation with that one ace queerplatonic partner(/boyfriend?) I’ve had was how exciting it was that we were both somewhat similar in our asexuality experiences but also our atheism.

        You mention:

        It is possible for aces to have romantic feelings for each other without knowing that the other is ace – thus, they think they are in an allo/ace romance when it is actually an ace/ace romance

        And that reminds me that is actually fairly common in fanfiction, stemming first from it being fun to do for gay/bi interpretations of presumably straight characters – he’d never like me back because I’m a guy and he’s straight of course, but at the end he does reciprocate the feelings. I’ve read in think at least 2 “I’m ace too” fanfics. There Matt be more I’ve forgotten, too. In my experience the are usually quite short- I can’t imagine a full novel or a novel-length fanfic pulling that off unless it was a sideplot? But I’d be interested, probably… If someone wrote a very long story about two people who are both ace but the fact that one is ace isn’t revealed for a long time, that could be a great way to see how Not Having Words causes other unnecessary issues in relationships but that awareness would solve. I did once, at my local ace meetup group, meet a married couple (or soon to be married couple?), m/f themselves, who started dating and tried sex because it’s what you do and neither knew being ace was a thing, and it turned out they both similarly weren’t into sex and both were ace!! They discovered asexuality while together! It can happen, I saw the proof!! Lol.

        I just find it very unrealistic to know you’re ace and be dating someone and not come out pretty early on, but I’d be happy to hear people disagree with me. I just feel it rings hollow. If you can’t trust a romantic partner enough to tell them your sexual orientation, what is the rest of your dynamic like?

        You asked “Are there any conflicts which are specific to ace/ace romance?” and well, one thing I quickly can think of from my personal life being in an ace/ace relationship is just how you feel about the way your relationship dynamic looks to the rest of the world, or how the people surrounding you make assumptions, get confused, or judge you. It’s similar to what a single aroace or what most bi people whether single or partnered might go through, invisibility, passing as straight or being mistaken as gay, etc… but with aces it might be even more complicated. I was with my qpp when a friend overheard us asking each other if the other had any tattoos, and that’s how I later found out even though he knew we were ace, he thought that meant we only had sexual attraction to each other or something but he still assumed since we were together for months we’d have seen each other naked and would’ve had sex. Which was very much incorrect. I could see this kind of miscommunication with others around them as potentially being a source of conflict in a story, especially if the two aces who are dating each other have different ways of wanting to handle these… comments.

        Another way to answer #2, problems less likely to happen in allo/allo romances but would still happen in ace/ace could be a character realizing they aren’t ace after all, as sometimes the journey to figuring oneself out is difficult and gender dysphoria was confusing or you actually were repressed or any of those kinds of things and it wouldn’t send the message that all asexuals are that way, it wouldn’t be like the ace/ace male/female romance that existed in that notorious House M.D. episode where the message is that neither ace is “really” ace at the end of it (yikes, I still can’t believe when I first watched that episode during my House binge the summer of 2012 I didn’t realize it was horrific, I was still so far away from understanding I was ace…)… or, similarly, one ace character realizing they are aromantic in the end and incompatible with their partner for romantic orientation reasons that they hadn’t figured out yet at the start of the story!

        As for my answers to #1 of your questions there at the end… I think i used to like “they are both ace so of course they will get a happily ever after” a lot more before I experienced my breakups with my ace partner. I think those stories don’t have to necessarily negatively impact ace/ace relationships in real life, but I do think a lack of any narratives addressing the issues that can arise in either personal accounts or in fiction can cause problems. I think the bigger problem is making ace/ace romances seem so hard to come by, rare, only a dream and unrealistic for anyone in actual real life but still fun to imagine in fiction… that kind of thing can cause aces such as myself to be so afraid that the ace/ace relationship I was in, at the time, was “my only shot” at the dream future I imagined for myself that I didn’t want to bring up concerns within my relationship sometimes. Minor things, nothing even close to the issues people might have in, say, an abusive romantic relationship. I just… didn’t want to ruin my one chance at a relationship with a partner I loved by addressing a few of the “elephants in the room” regarding our future…

        What I would love to see in fiction is an ace/ace romantic or queerplatonic relationship not working out and then the ace (main character, ideally – or even both ace characters!) finding happiness after that. Different stories doing it in a variety of ways. Ways that feel realistic. Ways that make people feel like they don’t only have one shot, that when they thought their ace/ace romance was their only chance they were actually wrong. Things showing aces who end up happier nonamorous after all. Aces who find more success in an allo/ace romance than an ace/ace one, surprisingly. Aces who can have more than one ace partner in their lifetime. Aces who solve relationship problems in ace/ace romances with polyamory instead of that being just for select allo/ace romances. All of it and more.

        • Rivers says:

          Yes! I really like how that last paragraph. There are options for ace people, and we have more than one shot at getting the relationship/s we want.

          On a sidenote about the appearance of relationship dynamics, this is a potential problem aces can have regardless of whether they’re in ace/ace or allo/ace. Aces in general will most likely have trouble with how people perceive their relationship. Because of how my relationship with my qpp would appear in my conservative community, I can’t reveal/explain/show any signs of my relationship with my qpp in public. It’s an allo/ace relationship, but we can’t pass as straight. That creates certain kinds of conflict. Depending on your environment, there can be consequences to how people perceive your relationship.

          • Sara K. says:

            The problem you mention – how an ace/ace relationship looks to others, is occasionally mentioned as an issue in ace fiction. In fact, one of the examples on the list, We Awaken, gets into that problem a little, but the ace characters come out to the third character relatively quickly. I suppose that could count as another counterexample, though the issue was more that the character came out as ace rather than came out as being in an ace/ace romance.

        • Sara K. says:

          There are a number of books called ‘All the Wrong Places’ so are you sure what’s available at your local library is specifically the one by Ann Gallagher?

          Also, I think your ideas about aces who have problems with their (first) ace/ace relationship yet find happiness in the end anyway are fantastic. And I personally think an ace/ace/ace poly relationship in fiction (whether triad or vee) would be wonderful.

      • Tabitha says:

        Random question about “Mr. March”–did we ever find out what exactly happened with Wes’s parents that made him have trust issues? As far as I could tell it was never revealed in the book, which felt really odd to me. But maybe I just missed it?

        • Sara K. says:

          I don’t remember offhand, but one of the neat features of eBooks is that it’s easy to run a search:

          Okay, after doing keyword searches, the trust issues seem to be related to Wes’ parents death. I can’t find where it’s stated how his parents’ death caused trust issues, but it’s implied that it’s because his parents (being dead) weren’t there to care for him and Ivy so they had to fend for themselves.

          • Tabitha says:

            Thanks! I thought it seemed to be hinted that there was more to it, some specific incident that had occurred that Wes had told Nash about, but that we the readers never learned. But maybe it was more general, like you said.

    • Grey Wanders says:

      Continuing on your #2: You could have the aces be dragged along by escalator forces to places they’re not sure they want to be (could be how they interact physically or how they structure their relationship and interact as a couple) and have them have to navigate figuring out what they want in a society that tells them in no uncertain terms what they’re “supposed” to want.

  2. I.C. says:

    1. Honestly, when I see ace relationships portrayed in the way, it actually makes me really happy. The circles I exist in aren’t particularly ace positive, and as someone who isn’t entirely happy with their identity, positive portrayals of ace/ace relationships are something which feels very validating for me. I completely understand the need not to put these kind of relationships on a pedestal, and naturally there should be discussions about the interpersonal difficulties involved in ace/ace relationships, however I don’t think this kind of relationship should never be portrayed, as it can be a very positive thing. I don’t think aces should be prevented from seeking wish-fulfilment just because they’re ace.

    2. I can’t particularly think of issues that would occur in ace/ace relationships that wouldn’t in allo/ace relationships, other than what’s already been said by Siggy above.

    3. Personally, I just want more ace/ace stories, and being able to see ourselves in fiction more in general. That being said, I’d prefer ace/ace stories which focused on interpersonal conflicts not to do with their identity as an ace person, simply because that kind of fiction doesn’t appeal to me, and I prefer less romance-focused stories in general.

    • Sara K. says:

      A LOT of aces (myself included) would prefer less romance-focused stories in general.

      One of the rubbing points with this is that the publishers which are putting out the most ace fiction these days are LGBTQ+ publishers, who also often focus on romance. I don’t want to go to a ‘romance’ publisher and say ‘HEY, PUBLISH LESS ROMANCE!’ There is also the self-published ace fiction scene, but my experiences there have been more negative than with the LGBTQ+ publishers. Ideally, some other corner of the publishing world will step up and offer more ace fiction without necessarily making it about romance, but I don’t see where that will come from at this point.

      And for what it’s worth, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being happy and getting wish fulfilment from ace/ace romance stories. I think it’s best to have a balanced mix of different kinds of stories, and that as long as there are stories which address the interpersonal difficulty stuff for the people who need stories to address that, then having simple wish fulfilment is also fine.

  3. Rivers says:

    Another great post! I really like the relationship related type posts since I plan on writing several ace relationships in the future. The whole ace trope series is really fun:)

    I think it is important to have ace relationships that are very positive and ones that show conflict. Different people are in different places and have different experiences, and ace/ace relationships should reflect this. However, I think the idea that if an aces are natural soulmates just because they are ace is ridiculous. There are too many unfortunate and unhealthy implications with that. I am all for showing positive ace relationships, but the conventional idea of “true love” and “attraction just on means of sexual compatibility” can actually be pretty damaging. Interpersonal compatibility is how people actually get to know and connect with each other. Though sexual compatibility is important, it’s just one aspect of compatibility, and most people will probably not click just with their sexual orientation right off the bat. It’s also possible to have different levels of sexual compatibility and still have a ton in common (which can be more obvious in allo/ace relationships, but still applies here because we are a spectrum).

    • Sara K. says:

      I very much agree with your comment, though I do think having aceness in common can work as a ‘spark’ to get a relationship started, especially since aces often find it very exciting to meet another ace offline (though for the relationship to be sustained, they also need to be compatible in other ways).

  4. Carmilla DeWinter says:

    I’ve written an F/N ace relationship that is not a romance, specifically because my agender character is also aro. So the conflicts are about the amount of touch allowed and about having/raising children.
    1) OTPs for me aren’t really about their sexual orientation, and two aces in a story do not automaticall make an OTP.
    As to wish-fulfillment: Any romance has the potential to skew the perception of the not so aware reader and thus can have a negative impact on actual relationships. So, my greatest concern about ace fic in general is still the surprising number of fictional aces willing to try/have sex, because that fits into the current romance requirements. And I hate it, because repetition creates mental images, and those influence expectations of actual people.
    I’ve only read one thing that was nearing an ace/ace romance (one character is homosexual, but won’t have sex due to bad things having happened), and the couple does end up having sex, which made me go “bleh” and I’ve only not dissected the thing in public because I’d be humiliating a not-quite-friend.

    2) Insecurtities about one’s own sexual orientation aren’t ace-specific, ditto the willingness to come out. If a couple who don’t have sex are assumed to be having sex, this might be cause for conflict, depending on the couple. (Like, imagine an M/F pairing who needs to procreate for a more or less contrieved reason and can’t let anyone know they try to do so by artificial insemination – might be played for comedy, if someone is up for the idea.)

    3) Might sound odd, but I’m looking for some (to me) relevant truths about the human condition in fiction in general, and romance has the bonus of happy endings, something I actually crave on a regular basis. (Really, the actual world is bad enough most of the time.) So, wishes about ace/ace fic? Portray the spectrum and be true. Do not bend your aces to fit the plot.

    • Sara K. says:

      Yeah, one of the reasons why I think having idealized ace/ace romances in fiction as wish-fulfilment is not so bad is that a lot of romances are unrealistic wish-fulfilment, and while these sometimes may have negative influences on real-world relationships, they haven’t totally wrecked society either.

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