An aromantic person is someone who feels little to no romantic attraction. Aromanticism is often mistaken with asexuality, but asexuality is related to the experience of sexual attraction. Not all asexuals are aromantic and not all aromantics are asexual. While some, can be both! While the distinction between different types of attractions isn’t often clear in romantic partnerships, it is sure worth exploring.
February is an important time to the aromantic movement across the world, and it needs acknowledging especially due to the co-occurence of the hyper-romantic Valentine’s Day. The month’s final week is commemorated as Aro Spec Awareness Week (ASAW) and is devoted to the dissemination of aromantic knowledge & awareness. This is to ensure that aromantic spectrum voices and concerns are heard and understood.
People sometimes speak of sexual orientation, but they may not be aware that romantic orientation is also valid to discuss. Hence, we interviewed some representatives from Aurea, to highlight the intricacies of being Aro and how they navigate their experiences in a predominantly amatonormative world. For those reading that term for the first time, amatonormativity is the assumption that positions romantic relationships over others.
Often times, when an aro person comes out to their family, peers and themselves… they are the only aromantic person they know. For Jaymie, Storme and Maya, this was largely so.
It can be hard to envision a truly platonic life in a world obsessed with dating shows, royal marriages, celebrity romances, and Insta-worthy proposals. However, an increasing number of people describe themselves as “aromantic” or do not engage in dating at all.
While some people simply identify as aromantic, many use specific terms to describe their experience of romantic attraction. For instance, Jaymie identifies herself as demi-panromantic, Storme identifies themself as bisexual aromantic, and Maya identifies herself as bi-oriented, cupioromantic. There is no one aro experience and there is a whole range of aro spectrum that people can identify with.
Aromanticism has been present for as long as people have been on this planet, but its existence as an identity and preference has been obscured in the post-colonial world and in globalised media.
Even as amatonormative culture deems romantic relationships as one of the “most important human achievements”, it’s significant to state beliefs of those who find that their own intimate relationship is fundamentally “disconnected from normative societal expectations” of romantic love.
It’s essential to recognize when to come out and whom to come out to, as many misconceptions abound. It’s not uncommon for aros to hear insensitive questions or comments like: are you unable to love? You are heartless. Are you sure you just haven’t met the right person yet? You can be fixed, once you find them.
However, it’s important to know that coming out isn’t a necessity, unless it is what you want. When asked about her experiences, Maya said: “I don’t feel the need to explain my orientation to friends who I am not close with or my family. A lot of people don’t get married, so it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary if I didn’t either. Being cupioromantic, if I was able to find someone who was also aro ace and wanted a partnership, I would explain my relationship and orientation in a way that makes me feel supported. I don’t talk to people about dating unless that person is a friend who knows I’m only looking for a queer platonic relationship!” To be cupioromantic is to not experience romantic attraction but desire romantic relationships nonetheless. As long as it’s a consensual, honest relationship, we can all educate ourselves of people’s preference and be supportive of it.
For others like Storme, even with an immediate support system like family… peers and work colleagues can impose pressures with regards to romantic affairs. “I believe, romance works as a construct, a medium to measure where you stand in life opposing an individual rawness in growing as they want,” they said while sharing their thoughts with Gaysi. This in turn led Storme to become self-conscious of their identity and they wished that they “could just be (statistically) “normal. To cope now, I reflect on how much more meaningful my relationships are in the absence on romance. My love is self-generated, not contingent upon anything external. Like a deep exhalation, I relax into myself and stop trying to force myself to be someone I’m not. I tell myself; this is who I am, and that is ok.”
A brief look at anthropological research into romantic love, however, shows us that its focus & findings are actually far closer to pop-culture tropes than to reality.
Although romantic infatuation and sexual idealization have been articulated throughout our recorded existence, the romantic ‘template’ that we focus upon—including the expectations of singular possession, devotion and unending commitment—can be interpreted as more of a modern-day social innovation.
This is also something we can easily see if we take into consideration a less essentialist view of romantic love. To engage with their thoughts on the subject, we asked them what the word ‘soulmate’ means to them.
Jaymie: A really close friend who you fall in love with platonically, sometimes romantically, who you feel comfortable with. Sex and romantic activities are a release for me.
Storme: The concept of a soulmate feels limiting and constricting to me (though I do not assert this is true for everyone). I was researching the definition of romantic love because I don’t really understand what it is, and I came across a website describing it as a force like gravity that draws you magnetically toward the person you romantically love – like the gravity that keeps the planets revolving around the sun. A soulmate (from my understanding) would then imply a person [who] is destined to fall into the orbit of another person(s) and stay there forever. I don’t want to be bound by some invisible force to anyone or anything forever. That sounds rather painful to be honest. Everyone and everything changes, and the expectation of forever can cause us to resist the natural ebb and flow inherent in life. As such, I don’t personally subscribe to the concept of a soulmate. I have the whole world instead, including everyone and everything in it.
Maya: When I think of a soulmate, I imagine a friend who is emotionally supportive and trustworthy. Growing up in an amatonormative culture, it can be difficult to find friends who don’t put their relationships before me. For me, a soulmate would love me (platonically) unconditionally. A soulmate is someone who shows up!
We see romantic love, most commonly depicted in contemporary culture, as a kind of timeless and everlasting force. The core role of sexual and emotional togetherness in human culture, it has been proposed, is to question the kind of causal and contextual factors that refer to the more trivial, artificial conceptions of the contemporary world. That is, even if everything else is subject to change, romance is real.
But in reality, romance carries a compendium of attractions. It’s not just black and white, there are a lot of shades in between. The aromantic spectrum consists of individuals who do not ever experience romantic attraction and people who feel it, either on certain occasions or in certain conditions, such as grayromantics, demiromantics, quiromantics, etc.
How liberating is that?!
Although some know about asexuality, aromanticism is often looked at as a subset of it. Aromanticism is poorly misunderstood and the lack of aro representation in media doesn’t help either.
Storme, highlighted that Pop culture, in most parts of the world is filled with sex and romance, generating an “unrealistic idea of what romantic relationships might look like and feel like (eg, the happily-ever-after myth)”.
Maya suggested – “I don’t think there is much aro representation and I definitely don’t have a favorite. I have read two books with aromantic characters, but I didn’t find them very relatable. One of them was Loveless by Alice Oseman. It was an entertaining read and I love that a lot of aromantic people can see themselves in that story! I think that now that I know I’m aromantic, I can try to make friends with aro people who are also looking for a support system. As a writer, it is my goal to create more representation for asexual and aromantic people so it is easier for future generations to accept themselves.”
The lack of representation reveals the deep-rooted amatonormativity and the default belief that the need for commitment needs to be altered to something that fits the romantic narrative. Storme believes that this invalidates the aromantic experience, as it derides the possibility that there are individuals who are perfectly happy without romantic love.
Now, if you are or feel you might be aromantic or someone who doesn’t live by the amative conditions of love… here are some tips from them to cope and embrace your identity in the world we live in.
- Seek out in-person and/or virtual community.
- Have an in-person and/or virtual support person to confide in when things get tough.
- Understand and trust in your own experience – there is nothing wrong with you. You are allowed to be who you are.
- Create artwork or write about your experience and share it with others (if comfortable).
- Surround yourself with media/art that does not revolve around romance to give yourself a break. Create your own safe-haven.
- Embrace the ways that you are different! Meeting people who share your experiences and consuming art that represents you helps you feel less alienated from society.
- Try not fall into the pressure of relationships to fit in and reminds yourself to simply choose the person(s) you love wholeheartedly in whatever way; and if you don’t that’s okay too because all aro experiences are valid.