While I’ve thought a LOT about my sexual orientation and gender over the years, romantic orientation was never really something I actually put much thought or consideration into as a part of my identity until recently. For most of my life I just assumed that everybody ultimately wanted a romantic relationships with romantic partners and that the “healthiest couplings” were romantic ones. But conflating love with romance, and true happiness only coming from romantic fulfillment, just ended up stressing me out, leaving me feeling frustrated and confused.
Lucky for me, I happen to have quite a few close relationships and friendships with folks on the aromantic and asexual spectrum, which has really helped me with unpacking my own experiences with more clarity and empathy.
Here’s what I’ve learned about myself and what love means to me as an aromantic, polyamorous, non-binary queer.
A Quick Primer
First, let’s get some definitions out of the way here for context. Generally speaking, romantic orientation refers to an individual’s emotional patterns, expressions, and experiences in relation to their desire for romantic relationships with others.
Somebody who is alloromantic experiences romantic attraction to others and desires romantic relationships.
On the other side of that, an individual who is aromantic has very little to no romantic attraction and often does not desire to be in any explicitly romantic relationships.
Greyromantic then refers to the space between alloromantic and aromantic. Someone who is greyromantic will sometimes experience a degree of romantic attraction, but often this is unusual or only happens in specific scenarios or environments.
Demiromantic often describes an individual who only experiences romantic feelings and attraction once they’ve gotten to know somebody better.
And then there’s the doozy, amatonormativity, a term coined by Elizabeth Brake to describe “the widespread assumption that everyone is better off in an exclusive, romantic, long-term coupled relationship, and that everyone is seeking such a relationship.” This one has honestly fucked me up over the years…
Finally, there’s the relationship escalator, which author Amy Gahran describes as being “The default set of societal expectations for intimate relationships. Partners follow a progressive set of steps, each with visible markers, toward a clear goal. The goal at the top of the Escalator is to achieve a permanently monogamous (sexually and romantically exclusive between two people), cohabitating marriage — legally sanctioned if possible. In many cases, buying a house and having kids is also part of the goal. Partners are expected to remain together at the top of the Escalator until death.”
Romance, for me at least, isn’t an inherent trait or experience, or a feeling that I consistently have, so much as it’s more of a conscious act that I do in specific situations with specific people. I’m certainly happy to engage in romantic activities with a partner should that be something that would make them feel more fulfilled, affirmed, and happy! However, I often feel uncomfortable or overwhelmed if there are any sort of expectations that I need to experience the same “romantic” feelings in any way.
Over the years I’ve felt a pretty crushing pressure to “love” people in very specific ways that I simply wasn’t really able to deliver on because it wasn’t something that I experienced myself. As a result I underwent a great deal of guilt and shame for not really, genuinely being able to meet those expectations for romantic validation and assurance placed on me by past partners. So, I would lie to others, and to myself, about the intensity of my romantic feelings in an effort to almost talk myself into it, all while hopefully alleviating any of the insecurities of my partner at the time.
I think the biggest frustration about it all for me is that I really did love those individuals, it just wasn’t in the traditional ways they maybe wanted or expected me to. It wasn’t in the ways shown in film, television, and games. It wasn’t in the ways that they expressed their romantic feelings. It was in my own way, and I now understand that my aromantic love was just as valid and genuine as anyone else’s experience of affections.
Honestly though, I really just don’t understand why so many of my favorite things to do with the people I care about most has to always be codified as romantic when that’s not really how I see it at all.
Like, I love holding hands and cuddling my friends nice and close! I also enjoy when those cuddles are more sensual too with soft touch, caressing, face nuzzling, hair/head rubs, and full body spooning. Having intimate physical affection in my friendships is incredibly important to me.
But when I’m doing any of that I’m not inherently feeling any sort of romantic attraction so much as I’m just feeling… really good!
Most of the time, with most of my friends and partners, it’s affection I’m feeling. It’s contentment, comfort, fulfillment, safety, support, care, and joy. I get all of this from my friends in those intimate moments and give it back to them in turn, but just because I enjoy those levels of intimacy that doesn’t mean I’m after long-term, romantically committed partnerships with anybody.
In fact, that’s not really what I’m looking for at all anymore.
[Sharing a shower with my friend and peer Taylor J Mace!]
Queerplatonic Dynamics and Friends With Benefits
I’m at a point now where I finally feel comfortable and confident in my aromanticism to say that I know what I want in my relationships. I’m not looking for a “soul mate” of any kind, or anything that functions even remotely close to the traditional relationship escalator. I don’t want to get married again, to merge finances in any way, to pursue any form of exclusive/monogamous commitment, or even have kids of my own (though I am open to someday fostering queer youth in need of a safe home).
I’m looking for diverse life partners that respect the partners and lovers I already have, who won’t try to subvert those relationships in any ways, and who will respect my emotions and feelings. I want to be able to say that I love somebody without them interrogating me on whether that love is “real” or “authentic” since I’m aromantic. Ultimately, I’m looking for bonds that can transcend distance, cohabitation, and normative expectations as they exist exactly as they should, without trying to force themselves into a form or structure that doesn’t work.
And I want friendships that aren’t restricted by social norms. Friendships that can exist as intimate relationships in their own rights, that can be sexual and emotional in deeply fulfilling ways, that aren’t less important than “romantic” relationships, and that can grow more freely, open to changing with the ebb and flow of our lives in whatever ways are needed to sustain those bonds.
That’s why I find myself gravitating a lot more toward long-standing friendships, be they sexual or otherwise emotionally intimate, as well as queerplatonic relationships, which, according to the LGBTA Wikia, typically go “beyond what is considered normal or socially acceptable for a platonic relationship but is not romantic in nature or does not fit the traditional idea of a romantic relationship.”
Lucky for me, I have an incredible partner right now, Verne, who enriches my life in profound ways despite us not being very “romantic” partners. It truly is a beautiful thing and when I say that I love them, they know that I mean it.
Read more about some of my queerplatonic relationships and friendships here:
Are you on the aromantic spectrum? What have been your experiences with relationships and dating? Please feel free to share your story in the comments below!
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