This is a guestpost by demiandproud.
Hi, I’m a demisexual Dutchwoman who’s identified as such since her mid-twenties. I toyed with adopting a romantic orientation label for a long time while figuring out how attraction works for me.
In the wake of February’s Carnival of Aces, romance and romantic orientation cropped up in a few conversations I had with friends. They asked me a question I could not answer: “What’s romantic mean, to you?” They understood I used it differently. And, yeah, it has developed a new meaning and use in the ace and aro communities. One, I discovered, I couldn’t put it into words very well.
I’ve seen some bloggers quip “you must know it when you feel it.” I think that’s exactly right. We – I should say I – have been intuiting what the word means while using it. Doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try to define it. Enough such attempts taken together would make it possible to come to a more complete understanding of the new use of ‘romantic’. Especially as a foil to aromantic.
While I’ve been writing this, it seems this discussion’s already well underway. Nevertheless, I hope this provides some food for thought.
Romantic, root word with a prefix
I’ve seen romantic, as opposed to aromantic, used most often with a prefix (-romantic) as a replacement for sexual with a prefix (-sexual) by people on the asexual spectrum. They use it as a way to indicate what gender they tend to be attracted to, which ‘asexual’ does not indicate. That works if ‘doesn’t want (a) partner(s)’ or ‘I (mostly) don’t feel attraction’ is what asexual means to you. The double-barrel prefixes I saw around when I started blogging seem to have fallen out of favour. As example, I identified as hetero-demisexual back then.
However, using -romantic for the purpose of pointing out a gender preference is only a partial solution. In the first place because the same prefixes that apply to -sexual to indicate the process, degree or frequency of attraction, e.g. a-, quoi-, demi-, lith-, may also be applied to -romantic. In the second place because not everyone finds the root, -romantic, useful as an orientation label.
Looking at just the language, I’d love for there to be a root that could be the carrier for the prefixes homo-, bi-, hetero-, etc. One that didn’t require attraction to be classified as sexual, romantic or otherwise. An umbrella term for attraction or orientation, so we could have formal counterparts to the colloquial straight, gay, bi. One that could include -sexual and -romantic or not and not be limited to it.
If you know one, I’d love to hear it. I like shiny, new words.
Romantic, adopting the label
I had rather the opposite problem. While I was comfortable identifying as -romantic, I scratched my head at what to put in front of it. I really can’t fathom having a preference in the gender of my partner. While my break with heterosexuality was a clean cut, I only shed the hetero- part of that gradually.
I got more comfortable being interested in people of all genders, the longer I identified as demisexual. I have found more asexuals feel this way, but some people have a definite preference for a specific gender. Finally, I settled on the prefix pan- and it’s suited me well so far.
Romantic, a personal definition
I identify as having a romantic orientation primarily because of what attraction does to me when I feel it. If forced to define what attraction I feel towards a crush or in a relationship, I’d say a blend of emotional, intellectual, aesthetic and sensual attraction.
When I am attracted to someone, I focus in on them. I think about them a lot, I prioritise them for no rational reason, they have a disproportionately large influence over me. I feel more powerful emotions towards them, and everything associated with them, than most anything else in my life.
I associate it with Romanticism (1800-1850), the cultural era defined by deep emotions overcoming rationality in artistic expressions. Its defining characteristic for me is that I am irrational in that initial period of being in love. Infatuated. This stage of ‘romantic’ love that evens out into the more steady attachment some would describe as ‘committed’ love.
To me, romantic orientation is more of a scale to measure whether or not attraction may translate into overpowering emotion, and whether that influences my behaviour. In other words, it’s more about how attraction proceeds than the type(s) felt.
Romantic, queering it
Identifying as demisexual, and later panromantic, spilled over into how I treated love. Namely, I began to question the boundaries put up between types. Seeing love defined and used differently in Dutch and English, in French and German in school, in Hebrew and Greek in the bible, only added question marks. Here’s where the more modern-day idea of romance came in for me. The coding of behaviour, products, atmospheres, rituals and specific relationships as romantic.
I decided that I loved in many ways. I felt I was romantic. So, feeling I had permission to act romantically without acting sexually, I started using romantically coded gestures and rituals to show affection even towards friends and family. In the process the label ‘romantic’ has seemed to become more artificial. A deeply flawed, limited and vague word.
And yet… it’s such a commonly used word, that especially outside the asexual community I still use it. More and more, however, it’s come to describe to me how I love, the wish to love deeply, to find someone to return that. As a label for movies, music, relationships and even attraction… I’m not too sure any more.
So, now I’m curious: does this any of this resonate with how you’d define romantic, if you have a romantic or aromantic orientation?