Things we don’t have words for

C and I made this observation over lunch today:

We have a word for someone who abstains from sex (celibate) and the idea of abstaining from sex in general (celibacy). Actually, we have two words for it if you count abstinent as well.

But as far as we know, there isn’t really a word for someone who has decided not to pursue romantic relationships for whatever reason (whether they’re celibate during this period or not). The closest we have (as far as I am aware, at least) is aromantic, but that’s different. The vast majority of people who don’t pursue romantic relationships are not aromantic, they’ve just decided that now is not the time, for whatever reason. Maybe a bad break-up, maybe they have career goals that they don’t want to be distracted from, maybe they just want to spend time single to get to know themselves well and gain a sense of independence. It’s the same as the difference between asexuality and celibacy, only with aromanticism and… a person who is abstaining from romantic relationships, I guess. You see what I mean? We have a description, but not a word.

Has anyone heard of such a word? It gets rather unwieldy to say that every single time when you’re trying to have a conversation about someone who is intentionally, purposefully single like that. I guess there’s “independent,” but that’s more of a general personality trait used as a euphemism than an actual term for it. Since it has that general meaning as well, if you say that without explaining what exactly you mean, other people are liable to get confused. You can say, “She’s very independent” about a married woman, too.

And what does it say about our culture’s values that people have never thought to name this concept? It’s like the idea of people being single on purpose is considered so wrong that people don’t even consider naming it, even though it’s not unheard of. It always seems to be considered just a temporary thing that requires explanation.

13 thoughts on “Things we don’t have words for

  1. Hmm, good point! This describes me pretty well, actually. I’d consider dating someone, but it’s not something I actively pursue. Even during the short period when I tried online dating, I had very mixed feelings about it.

    The only existing term I can think of is “quirkyalone”, although I don’t think it fits perfectly. I guess I could be considered some kind of extreme quirkyalone, although I don’t self-identify as such.

    It feels weird for me to view my non-dating as a choice (rather than something that derives organically from some other part of my identity). I think part of that probably has to do with the cultural idea you mention, that not dating isn’t something anyone would choose. It’s true that not cleanly fitting into any romantic orientation or gender category makes it harder. But as far as I know, there are other people like that, and some of them do decide to date.


  2. Hmm. The only thing I can come up with is the confirmed bachelor.
    In German, I’m sometimes referring to myself as the female version – the confirmed bachelorette.
    Bachelor is a very male term in English, still, though, and simply adding a female ending for women is probably not going to cut it for the non-binaries.


  3. Very good point, thank you !

    As for bachelor-ette, I have the impression that the word include not engaging in romantic relationships but only not engaging in sexual relationships. So, it does not fit well.


  4. It would be nice to have a word specifically for that, especially since I could relate. I made a topic about romantic attraction on AVEN & somebody posted something that could work: Nonromantic – does not desire romantic experience (where as aromantics do not experience romantic attraction). While I like it, I can definitely see it getting confusing to the majority, like how asexual & nonsexual are not always the same yet are sometimes seen used interchanegably.


  5. How about a more narrow definition of the two words “not looking”, implying a temporary thing, while one would say “aromantic” to mean the more permanent nature.

    (P.S. I wonder if this might not be a problem in some languages, like the difference between “ser” and “estar”)


  6. Sorry for the late reply guys—been doing holiday stuff.

    @Ily: You know, I thought about quirkyalone briefly, but it seems to me like a great website name, but not so great as a broad label (except as a label for denizens of the site). I can’t see it becoming popular as a term for this kind of thing. But at least it’s something.

    @Carmilla: That’s an interesting idea, at least for long-term. I think for people who are just temporarily not looking it wouldn’t work so well. I don’t like the way it sounds in English either, though. I’ve never liked bachelor/bachelorette, and “confirmed” reminds me of catechism too much. Maybe “committed bachelor”…? That sounds kind of weird too! Oh well.

    @Jill: Hmm. That could work, maybe. But yeah, like you said, it would run into the problem of people not understanding the difference, just like asexual vs. non-sexual. I’m not sure the distinction is clear enough.

    @RP: Isn’t “not looking” the one phrase we already have though? It seems a little too vague for me, and what exactly someone isn’t looking for would have to be defined in the context of every single conversation. So it’d run into the same problems. I’m not sure it would accurately get across the temporariness or permanence of it, and plus it would erase the difference between the motivations of aromantics vs. people who have decided it’s not in their best interest to get into a romantic relationship.


    • Amnolite sounds pretty cool! It’s the kind of thing you would have to define every time you use it until it gets popular because people don’t know latin, but I could see it potentially catching on eventually.

      I think it’s also interesting that you point out that celibate derives from “unmarried.” That meaning has certainly changed!

      Edit: I decided to quickly google amnolite to see what would happen… and google auto-corrected my search to “amMolite.” So I guess that might be a bit of a problem for trying to popularize it, if people can’t even find the word when they look.


  7. Something that I’ve seen being used a lot is “single by choice”. Not something I’d want to start using (I’m aromantic btw) and it sounds kind of… off-putting, but it could be good to get the point across!


  8. Here’s the link to it if anyone’s interested (I think, I’m not sure if you can click on it)

    Thought I should mention that it doesn’t necessarily have to do with being aromantic & that aromantics are capable of feeling for others. Weird how people sometimes think lack of one feeling means lack of all of them =/ If anybody feels they could describe amnolite better then I definitely encourage them to add it.


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