Some aromantic basics

I don’t do enough ace blogging around here. I zipped right through Asexual Awareness Week without saying a thing! But let’s not talk about asexuality, let’s talk about something a bit different: aromanticism.

I don’t like to think of myself as writing a definitive guide to aromanticism, since I’m not aromantic myself, so I’m just going to keep this casual in tone.

Romantic orientation

“Aromantic” is constructed in an analogous way to “asexual”. Asexual means not experiencing sexual attraction, and so aromantic means not experiencing romantic attraction. Alternatively, “aromantic” might just mean not wanting romantic relationships, the definition is a bit flexible like that. Either the noun or adjective form is fine, and “aro” is a common abbreviation.

Aromanticism as a concept has had a long history, since the beginning of online asexual communities in the late 90s (although terminology may have changed since then). Once you get a group of asexual people talking to each other, two of the very first narratives to appear are: asexuals who want relationships and don’t want anything to do with sex, and asexuals who don’t want anything to do with romance. It’s natural to make a distinction between these two experiences, and the name for that distinction is romantic vs aromantic. (In some places, they use “alloromantic” instead of “romantic”, in the same way that “allosexual” is a common term for “non-asexual”.)

Once we have the concept of romantic vs aromantic, it starts to makes sense to think of this as a sort of orientation. Not a sexual orientation, but a romantic orientation. Thus the common constructions “heteroromantic”, “biromantic”, “panromantic” and “homoromantic”. Pretty much any prefix you attach to “-sexual”, you can attach the same prefix to “-romantic”, and the meaning is the same, except it’s for romantic orientation instead of sexual orientation.

So we have a model where people pretty much have two orientations, their sexual orientation and their romantic orientation. This is called the “split attraction model”. (Almost a decade ago, I used to call it the Double Storms model–it made sense at the time.) For most people, their sexual orientation and romantic orientation align and synchronize. But for some people, it doesn’t.

Within the split attraction model, we can theorize the existence of aromantic allosexuals. We could theorize, but we don’t have to; we can go and find such people. Once I did an interview. And you could search around tumblr. I don’t claim to know much, but whatever your initial assumptions are, they’re probably wrong. It’s annoying that everyone thinks aromantic allosexuals are emotionless robots who just hook up all the time.

Aro obstacles and issues

Speaking of emotionless robots, did you know? Aro people are not. If you considered all the people in your life, and excluded romantic partners, you would still have a lot of meaningful relationships! Or maybe not, that’s fine too. So, that should be your expectation of aromantic people: they probably still have lots of meaningful relationships. (Or maybe not, that’s fine too.)

In fact, a lot of aromantic discussion is about these non-romantic relationships. One common (but not universal) experience, is that people want very strong relationships that are not romantic. This sometimes goes under the name “platonic relationship”. So what is the distinction between nonsexual romantic relationships, platonic relationships, and strong friendships? Gosh, well I’m just saying this is a distinction people make, I’m not saying that it’s easy to understand! To get started, I suggest Queenie’s essay about five factors that define relationships. Anyway, one difficulty that aromantics face, is trying to find the kinds of relationships they want, when our culture lacks an appropriate road map.

Another problem that aro people face, is the perpetual dehumanization of aromanticism. It is often stated, implicitly or explicitly, that love is what makes us human. Okay, but do you really mean that? Think of the aros…

To give an example, LGBT activists often say that queer people experience the same love that the straights do. Okay, but what if they didn’t? Some queer people are aro, and they definitely do not love in the same way the straights do, and what of it? It’s problematic that the only way to get a lot of people to sympathize with queer people, is to talk about queer loving.

Asexual activists also occasionally run into this problem, e.g. saying that asexual love is just as strong as sexual love. Ace activists don’t even have the excuse of ignorance, I don’t know what to say.

The aro spectrum

At the beginning, I stated this narrative of an aromantic person who doesn’t want romantic relationships. But there are other narratives besides that one. For example, just as there are gray-asexuals and demisexuals, there are also grayromantics and demiromantics. Some aromantics might also want romantic relationships for various reasons. For example, maybe they don’t feel romantic love in the same way, but they find that romantic relationships still work, at least for one person.

There’s also a large group of people (about 1 in 10 in ace community surveys) who are WTFromantic (also called quoiromantic). That means that they have difficulty with this friends vs romantic partners distinction, which makes it rather hard to identify with a romantic orientation! If you, dear reader, find it difficult to understand all these aro-related concepts, the thing to understand is that some aro people also find it difficult to place themselves. And that’s fine, the models are there to serve us, not for us to serve the models.

All these various identities and experiences fit under the “aromantic spectrum”, or just “aro-spec” for short. In the last several years, there has been a push for aro-spec communities to claim independence from ace communities. This makes a certain amount of sense, because it would make more room for aromantic allosexuals, and it might be nice if we could understand aromanticism on its own terms instead of always making analogies to asexuality. But there are also lots of aro-spec aces who aren’t interested in a separate aro-spec community. So, you know… But I’m not here to talk about drama.

By the way, I’m aro-spec myself. I’m grayromantic, or whatever. I don’t talk about it that much, because it’s kind of a blob. I… I don’t really understand what romantic attraction is. Anyway, thanks for listening to me talk about romantic attraction. Have a music video.

cn: nudity, of the artsy sort.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *