This post was written for the Carnival of Aces & Aros. The Carnival of Aros is a new sister project that will be separate from the long-running Carnival of Aces, but just to kick off its first round, The Ace and Aro Advocacy Project and The Asexual Agenda are hosting it jointly on the topic of “The Relationship Between the Aro and Ace Communities.” For further details, check out this introductory post. This post is cross-posted to Prismatic Entanglements.
Content note: This post has some discussion of trauma in relation to romantic orientation.
Confusion & Uneasy Questioning
“Aromantic” is a word that feels relevant to me, yet it is an identity I don’t feel comfortable claiming. When I think about whether it applies to me, I feel uneasy, and if I keep thinking about it for too long it can spiral out into a choking panic. My personal trauma history has left me with a legacy of pain, confusion, and deep-seated fear associated with the idea of my own possible aromanticism.
“I had no idea you were capable of that feeling.”
What an assumption.
“That feeling.” What even is it? What does it mean?
I’m frustrated, when I read definitions of what aromantic means. What the hell is “romantic attraction,” anyway? Honestly, at this point I’m pretty convinced it’s not even a thing. Not a single thing, I mean, not one thing, but just an assortment of different feelings wrapped up in a shorthand concept as if they somehow belong together. But in my experience, they don’t.
I know what it’s like to be “in love,” to experience limerence, and yet I have never had a crush. Sometimes, while I was growing up, I either picked a target that was probably safe or invented a person who “goes to another school” and told people I had a crush on that person, just to fit in. But I had no understanding of what they even meant when they asked me who I “like-liked.”
It’s inconceivable to me that people apparently think that having limerent feelings is the same thing as having a crush. While I still don’t really understand what exactly a crush is, what I’ve gleaned from hearing so many others talking about them is that… well, yeah, sure, limerence is part of having a crush, of course, but there’s something else there too, something about dreams and hopes and expectations and ideals, and none of that is anything I can relate to. All of these things are often unspoken assumptions tagging along behind the idea of what it means to be “in love.”
I’m not particularly averse to the idea of romance, really, I just don’t get it. Even in the throes of limerence, I didn’t have any desire to actually get into a romantic relationship with the person, I just wanted to be near them, spend a lot of time together, share some physical affection, and know that I was important to them too. No commitments or exclusivity necessary. No grand gestures, no expensive attempts to impress. Just intimacy, plain and simple—and not the kind that is a euphemism for sex.
I didn’t always get what I wanted.
Feeling Distant from the Aromantic Community
I suppose I always assumed, growing up, that I would eventually fall in love and start wanting the kind of relationship you see in movies, T.V. and… maybe not romance novels, those are usually a bit too over-the-top, but you know what I mean. The standard. Dating someone, moving in together, eventually getting married, maybe not kids but surely adopting a pet.
On the surface, viewed from the outside, I guess my life isn’t all that different from that now, aside from the marriage part, although we’ve certainly considered it, and then rejected it, numerous times. But when you’ve been together with someone for ten years, ostensibly romantically, you become close enough to someone’s daughter-in-law anyway, even without a certificate.
So it’s kind of dissonant for me, sometimes, reading aromantic community discussions. I’m usually in such a different place than most of the writers that it feels kind of hard to relate—and perhaps even more, it’s that I feel like they would find it very hard to relate to me.
For a long time, I just noped out of the burgeoning aromantic community, because, at least in the parts of it that I was exposed to, there was so much hostility and resentment towards alloromantics and anyone else perceived as… what was it, “drinking the Kool-Aid of romance supremacy”? Something like that. I’m not willing to look it up, but Siggy discussed it in his post. Mostly this was just that one blogger poisoning the well, but still. The loudest voice was the most unfriendly, and it was frequently signal-boosted without any commentary challenging the author’s views, which made me want to stay far away from aromantic-specific spaces. And that’s a shame, because they could have had a lot to offer.
I thought for a long time that I really didn’t need to engage with the aromantic community (once there actually was an aromantic community, that is), because I already had plenty of aromantic people around me in the ace community. And since most of the posts about aromanticism were still at a basic introductory level at that time, I found them terribly boring. Why should I read about things I already know about, just from being in the ace community?
But what if?
What if there had been much more in-depth, nuanced discussion about what it means to be aro, and grayro, and aro-adjacent or aro-ish, all along? What if the tone of these discussions had been calmer and more welcoming, tolerant of people with all sorts of different experiences and relationship styles? Whose voices would we have heard then, that we haven’t heard from now?
Realistically, I feel like the growing pains the aro community has had were probably unavoidable, and could only have been marginally improved. The important thing now is to work on developing the community in the direction we’d (assuming you’re with me) like to see it go, and I am hopeful that this new Carnival of Aros will expand and deepen the discussion, just as the Carnival of Aces has done for the ace community for so many years.
I’m at a point in my life now where I’m once again re-examining my place on the aromantic spectrum. I’ve identified as more-or-less gray for 3-4 years now, but it’s always been a point of pain for me, easier to paint over with a broad brush than to inspect in any great detail.
Sometimes I wonder if it really makes sense to think of myself as gray, when I haven’t actually had any experiences that could even vaguely fit into the “romantic attraction” (whatever that is) category in more than ten years now. Even so, I’m still not comfortable calling myself aromantic, full stop. The intensity of my past experiences still lingers in a way that keeps me wondering, could something like that happen again? Would it be transformative, if it did? These are questions that can never be answered, only experienced. I’m not waiting on a mythical “right person” to show up, but I’m also not bothering to try to make connections with people that could possibly be romantic, either.
I suppose I’m still potentially open to the idea of a romantic relationship with someone new, but it feels pretty much the same way to me that the idea of a sexual relationship feels to me as an asexual person. It’s not something I have any intrinsic interest in, just something I might consider if I developed a relationship with someone else who wanted that sort of relationship with me. Many romantic-coded activities are fine with me, and I enjoy them… but I don’t think of them as romantic at all. I know from experience that I can potentially be comfortable in a relationship including those things where my partner does think of them as romantic.
My current queerplatonic relationship started a lot like that. For a long time, we had what we thought of as a romantic relationship, with neither one of us realizing that we were both on the aromantic spectrum. We did many romantic-coded things, and I was mostly comfortable with them (although it was all rather fast for me), because I thought that’s what she wanted to do. As it turns out, she was a lot less comfortable with being in a romantic relationship than I thought, apparently even less comfortable with it than I am even though she dated around a lot and she was the one making most of the moves. She was just pushing herself really hard to do what she thought would please me. In retrospect, it explains a lot.
There’s been a lot of relationship upheaval between us in the past 6-ish months as we re-examine things and try to figure out what will work for us going forward. A lot of it has to do with aromanticism. So more and more, I have felt that lately, we both really need the aromantic community. Reading about others’ experiences has been very helpful for us—especially so for her, I think, because she was never immersed in the ace community like me but rather only adjacent to it, so she has had a lot less exposure to aromantic voices. She’s still figuring things out for herself, but I’m hoping that one day she might feel comfortable sharing something about her own experiences.
In any case, I’m glad to see that the aromantic community is stepping out of the ace community’s shadow now to become more independent. I eagerly look forward to seeing how it grows.
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My experiences are obviously very different, and I’ve never been motivated to expand on my description as “aro/aro-ish”. One of the reasons is, like you said, “romantic” seems to mean too many things at once. Nevertheless, your writing actually motivates me to look a little closer at the community that’s emerging. Though, at the moment, I don’t see what I should do there — my peeves with society all seem to center around my being ace, so “oh yeah, I’m aro-spec” is more of an afterthought than an actual identity.
I am very interested in seeing the aro community move forward and grow to be more inclusive. I find a lot of aro posts I see to be rather polarizing. I feel like I have a lot of trouble finding aro-specific spaces that have that sense of being attached to community. Even though I generally consider myself ace, being aro is also a huge part of who I am, and I get more direct push back for it than being ace. Especially around this Valentine’s Day, I felt so invisible and isolated, and it would be nice to have an aro-spec space for all of us. I also want to be able to learn from all of us instead of just specific orientations or specific voices in the community.
Thank you for writing this. I have a lot of the same feelings and experiences, and watching the other Carnival entries come in has been really, really difficult, so I may be projecting, but I feel like this was probably really hard to write and I appreciate you doing it.
Oh yes, it was definitely hard to write! Especially avoiding the Trauma-Bombs, which I talked a little more about in my reply to a comment in the other comment section. Kinda waffled a bit on whether I wanted to post it, but since it was helpful to you, I’m glad I did! 🙂
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