This post was written for the Carnival of Aces & Aros. The Carnival of Aros is a new sister project that will be separate from the long-running Carnival of Aces, but just to kick off its first round, The Ace and Aro Advocacy Project and The Asexual Agenda are hosting it jointly on the topic of “The Relationship Between the Aro and Ace Communities.” For further details, check out this introductory post. This post is cross-posted to The Asexual Agenda.
Content note: This post has some discussion of trauma in relation to romantic orientation.
Confusion & Uneasy Questioning
“Aromantic” is a word that feels relevant to me, yet it is an identity I don’t feel comfortable claiming. When I think about whether it applies to me, I feel uneasy, and if I keep thinking about it for too long it can spiral out into a choking panic. My personal trauma history has left me with a legacy of pain, confusion, and deep-seated fear associated with the idea of my own possible aromanticism.
“I had no idea you were capable of that feeling.”
What an assumption.
“That feeling.” What even is it? What does it mean?
I’m frustrated, when I read definitions of what aromantic means. What the hell is “romantic attraction,” anyway? Honestly, at this point I’m pretty convinced it’s not even a thing. Not a single thing, I mean, not one thing, but just an assortment of different feelings wrapped up in a shorthand concept as if they somehow belong together. But in my experience, they don’t.
I know what it’s like to be “in love,” to experience limerence, and yet I have never had a crush. Sometimes, while I was growing up, I either picked a target that was probably safe or invented a person who “goes to another school” and told people I had a crush on that person, just to fit in. But I had no understanding of what they even meant when they asked me who I “like-liked.”
It’s inconceivable to me that people apparently think that having limerent feelings is the same thing as having a crush. While I still don’t really understand what exactly a crush is, what I’ve gleaned from hearing so many others talking about them is that… well, yeah, sure, limerence is part of having a crush, of course, but there’s something else there too, something about dreams and hopes and expectations and ideals, and none of that is anything I can relate to. All of these things are often unspoken assumptions tagging along behind the idea of what it means to be “in love.”
I’m not particularly averse to the idea of romance, really, I just don’t get it. Even in the throes of limerence, I didn’t have any desire to actually get into a romantic relationship with the person, I just wanted to be near them, spend a lot of time together, share some physical affection, and know that I was important to them too. No commitments or exclusivity necessary. No grand gestures, no expensive attempts to impress. Just intimacy, plain and simple—and not the kind that is a euphemism for sex.
I didn’t always get what I wanted.
Feeling Distant from the Aromantic Community
I suppose I always assumed, growing up, that I would eventually fall in love and start wanting the kind of relationship you see in movies, T.V. and… maybe not romance novels, those are usually a bit too over-the-top, but you know what I mean. The standard. Dating someone, moving in together, eventually getting married, maybe not kids but surely adopting a pet.
On the surface, viewed from the outside, I guess my life isn’t all that different from that now, aside from the marriage part, although we’ve certainly considered it, and then rejected it, numerous times. But when you’ve been together with someone for ten years, ostensibly romantically, you become close enough to someone’s daughter-in-law anyway, even without a certificate.
So it’s kind of dissonant for me, sometimes, reading aromantic community discussions. I’m usually in such a different place than most of the writers that it feels kind of hard to relate—and perhaps even more, it’s that I feel like they would find it very hard to relate to me.
For a long time, I just noped out of the burgeoning aromantic community, because, at least in the parts of it that I was exposed to, there was so much hostility and resentment towards alloromantics and anyone else perceived as… what was it, “drinking the Kool-Aid of romance supremacy”? Something like that. I’m not willing to look it up, but Siggy discussed it in his post. Mostly this was just that one blogger poisoning the well, but still. The loudest voice was the most unfriendly, and it was frequently signal-boosted without any commentary challenging the author’s views, which made me want to stay far away from aromantic-specific spaces. And that’s a shame, because they could have had a lot to offer.
I thought for a long time that I really didn’t need to engage with the aromantic community (once there actually was an aromantic community, that is), because I already had plenty of aromantic people around me in the ace community. And since most of the posts about aromanticism were still at a basic introductory level at that time, I found them terribly boring. Why should I read about things I already know about, just from being in the ace community?
But what if?
What if there had been much more in-depth, nuanced discussion about what it means to be aro, and grayro, and aro-adjacent or aro-ish, all along? What if the tone of these discussions had been calmer and more welcoming, tolerant of people with all sorts of different experiences and relationship styles? Whose voices would we have heard then, that we haven’t heard from now?
Realistically, I feel like the growing pains the aro community has had were probably unavoidable, and could only have been marginally improved. The important thing now is to work on developing the community in the direction we’d (assuming you’re with me) like to see it go, and I am hopeful that this new Carnival of Aros will expand and deepen the discussion, just as the Carnival of Aces has done for the ace community for so many years.
I’m at a point in my life now where I’m once again re-examining my place on the aromantic spectrum. I’ve identified as more-or-less gray for 3-4 years now, but it’s always been a point of pain for me, easier to paint over with a broad brush than to inspect in any great detail.
Sometimes I wonder if it really makes sense to think of myself as gray, when I haven’t actually had any experiences that could even vaguely fit into the “romantic attraction” (whatever that is) category in more than ten years now. Even so, I’m still not comfortable calling myself aromantic, full stop. The intensity of my past experiences still lingers in a way that keeps me wondering, could something like that happen again? Would it be transformative, if it did? These are questions that can never be answered, only experienced. I’m not waiting on a mythical “right person” to show up, but I’m also not bothering to try to make connections with people that could possibly be romantic, either.
I suppose I’m still potentially open to the idea of a romantic relationship with someone new, but it feels pretty much the same way to me that the idea of a sexual relationship feels to me as an asexual person. It’s not something I have any intrinsic interest in, just something I might consider if I developed a relationship with someone else who wanted that sort of relationship with me. Many romantic-coded activities are fine with me, and I enjoy them… but I don’t think of them as romantic at all. I know from experience that I can potentially be comfortable in a relationship including those things where my partner does think of them as romantic.
My current queerplatonic relationship started a lot like that. For a long time, we had what we thought of as a romantic relationship, with neither one of us realizing that we were both on the aromantic spectrum. We did many romantic-coded things, and I was mostly comfortable with them (although it was all rather fast for me), because I thought that’s what she wanted to do. As it turns out, she was a lot less comfortable with being in a romantic relationship than I thought, apparently even less comfortable with it than I am even though she dated around a lot and she was the one making most of the moves. She was just pushing herself really hard to do what she thought would please me. In retrospect, it explains a lot.
There’s been a lot of relationship upheaval between us in the past 6-ish months as we re-examine things and try to figure out what will work for us going forward. A lot of it has to do with aromanticism. So more and more, I have felt that lately, we both really need the aromantic community. Reading about others’ experiences has been very helpful for us—especially so for her, I think, because she was never immersed in the ace community like me but rather only adjacent to it, so she has had a lot less exposure to aromantic voices. She’s still figuring things out for herself, but I’m hoping that one day she might feel comfortable sharing something about her own experiences.
In any case, I’m glad to see that the aromantic community is stepping out of the ace community’s shadow now to become more independent. I eagerly look forward to seeing how it grows.
14 thoughts on “Aro-ish: Permanent Questioning & the Aromantic Community”
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I can relate to most of this post. Like you, I’ve experienced limerence, but I have no idea what “romantic attraction” feels like. I’ve had sexual crushes, but I can’t imagine what a “crush” would be if you took out the sexual aspect. I like lots of “romantic” activities, but I don’t really see what makes them “romantic” – that is, I don’t see why they would be separate from regular friendship.
And, like you, I wonder if I just don’t understand the aromantic community well enough. And I’m looking forward to learning more about it through this Carnival.
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I read Blue Ice-Tea’s submission first and then this one and being a person who interacts with aro spaces (as they are right now) I’m surprised you’re unsure about being aro. The shift in attitudes that happened is quite big – the experiences you describe seem pretty like what I see being talked about by aros now. Granted I haven’t been in the either ace or aro circles when it was just starting out, so you have a different perspective – I see a lot of people mentioning this one blogger who alienated a lot of the people who have non-standard experience with close partnerships, but who don’t necessarily “don’t fall in love” or have a hard time understanding romantic attraction at all. I’m really eager to see conversations with people like both of you on what aromanticism means or can mean in the environment aro spaces (at least the people I interact with) create!
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In my case, I just haven’t spent much (read: any) time in aro spaces that aren’t also ace spaces. And, while ace space has always been divided between the “alloro” and “aro” aces, I’ve mostly registered this division as “something that makes sense to other people but that I don’t fit into.” For a while I thought I might be biromantic or aromantic, but I’ve been more comfortable identifying as simply “ace”, and not trying to pick a side.
It’s good to know that there is discussion going on in the aro community similar to what I/Elizabeth describe. Perhaps, then, there is more room for people with my kind of experience than I realised.
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Well, for me it’s not just about that one blogger (who gets voldemorted most of the time, so I imagine that must be quite confusing for the younger cohort! Siggy gives the basic backstory in the post I linked above, just in case anyone reading this is confused). There have also been a lot of… hm, declarative statements, I guess? Or just casual references to a certain kind of experience of What Being Aromantic is Like that I don’t relate to, over the years, which it felt like the authors were assuming were universal among aros. It’s kind of hard to convey that sort of thing in a blog post without an example, but I’m hard-pressed to find one given that it was years ago and no one single post was so bothersome to me that it stood out. My partner has taken to calling this the “Gold Star Aromantic” narrative recently, and I think as you said, it’s much less of a problem in aro communities now (hooray!), but I think it’s often still a big problem in media articles about aromanticism.
Up until around the time that Queenie posted Greyromanticism 301, I don’t recall there being very much discussion of greyromantic experiences at all, just a little bit here and there. Aside from wtfromantic/quoiromantic discussions, that is, which were not really categorized at the time as grayro experiences, and still aren’t necessarily. So before I started IDing as somewhere on the aromantic spectrum, I considered myself more wtfromantic/quoiromantic, and just ?????? about the idea of romantic attraction/romance. I said I was panromantic at the time pretty arbitrarily, because that just covered all bases, and incorporated my aesthetic attractions. I didn’t examine it too closely. I guess I assumed a lot of my confusion was just down to being ace.
I should also mention, the online aro community isn’t the only thing coloring my experiences on this either. There’s the occasional in-person conversation where I still get dismissed with things like “But you’re not aro, you’re grayro!” (that happened last week). Things like that kind of solidify in my mind that there’s some sort of boundary there, that I can’t be considered Fully Aro based on my life experiences. Obviously local communities tend to lag far behind the internet on understanding/accepting new terms, and a lot of this is based on the way introductory/media articles tend to present things in a more black-and-white way. Hopefully that will get better with time as well.
And then of course there’s Trauma Stuff, which I really de-emphasized in this post because ugh, there’s way too much of it and it should probably have its own post. Maybe. If one day I’m willing to get into it. But… yeah, I think that more than anything else it’s the traumatic experiences that make this so difficult for me. Especially now that the aro community is becoming more inclusive/welcoming. I expect to basically stay questioning forever because trauma questions are “what if this never happened to me?” questions, so as I said, they can’t ever be answered.
Anyway, I hope that little bit of rambling was illuminating to you about some of the things influencing my perspective! I’m very glad to hear that you’ve had totally different experiences. That gives me hope for the direction that the community is (and has been!) headed in. I haven’t read through all of the carnival submissions yet (there are so many!), but I’m very much looking forward to seeing what people had to say, and finding new (to me) aro blogs to check out.
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So earlier I said I had a hard time finding examples of comments that tend to make me feel unsure about IDing as aro/being accepted as aro. Now I’ve just found one through some Asexual Agenda backchannel discussion, and I thought I’d share. Siggy made a tumblr post about historical definitions of aromantic, and how it wasn’t always defined in terms of romantic attraction. Someone replied to this by saying:
If aromantic = does not experience romantic attraction, and not experiencing romantic attraction = inability to fall in love, then I’m just disqualified on the basis of That One Time 10+ Years Ago. Will it happen again? Who knows! But since it happened once, it’s reasonable to assume that it’s not an inability, it’s possible it might happen in the future.
I don’t think this makes sense, and based on your comment I don’t think you do either. But the point is, I still hear black-and-white definitions like this going around, so I guess not everyone in the aro community is on the same page. Maybe a lot of these kinds of comments don’t even come from the aro community, it’s hard to tell. But they do still have some impact, especially in aggregate, even if each individual one is easy enough to shrug off.
I’ve now read all the submissions to last month’s Carnival, and I’m actually feeling rather discouraged. There seems to be a lot of hostility in the aro community towards the ace community, resulting from the ace community’s alleged marginalisation of aro-spectrum people. I can understand why aro-spec people would resent this, but, in practice, marginalisation of aros is not something I’ve observed in the ace spaces I frequent. If anything, I find the ace community an open and welcoming place for aros, alloros, and those who don’t fit neatly into either category.
Which brings me to an even bigger problem. Many of the posts coming out of the aro community seem to assume a neat aro-alloro binary, where everyone has a clear romantic orientation that is distinct from their sexual orientation. Many of the complaints ignore the fact that for some people, their asexuality and aromanticism simply aren’t separable, or that for some people (like me), aromanticism is a hard concept to grasp simply because we have no idea what “romance” is in the first place! As a quoiromantic person, these posts didn’t make me feel welcomed; they made me feel ignored and resented.
That said, I didn’t find that hostility everywhere. Some posts, like yours, I really liked. (I’m assuming this is you?: https://aromanticism.dreamwidth.org/2658.html) And I definitely see the importance of a separate aromantic community for people who do not identify with asexuality. I’m not sure if I myself would want to join that community, but I won’t dismiss the possibility based on a few bad Carnival posts. I’ll keep an eye on the next few Carnivals of Aros, and see if any future posts resonate with me.
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“If aromantic = does not experience romantic attraction, and not experiencing romantic attraction = inability to fall in love, then I’m just disqualified on the basis of That One Time 10+ Years Ago. ” Tbh I think it’s important to make a distinction between what someone says that is true about their variety of aromanticism or how they understand their aromanticism and the general range of experience of aromantics. I agree those perspectives that equal aromanticism with no romantic attraction, not falling in love whatsoever are the most widespread, but I think it has some to do with it being like… a very clear-cut experience that’s easy to describe in a few words.
“in practice, marginalisation of aros is not something I’ve observed in the ace spaces I frequent.” it’s possible that they’re experiences with some aces that left lasting effects and colour other experiences, make people interpret things negatively (I’m pretty sure that is a factor there). But I mean, what I really dislike is referring to aro spaces as ace spaces (or implying they are) for example. That to me is the ultimate insult, because we’re working not to be seen as a subset of ace and building a community on aromantic experiences and someone saying “oh I was looking to connect with other aces here” is the antithesis of what we’re trying to do. That said, this is sometimes not what people mean when they mention “ace spaces” in an aromantic community, as my getting upset with Elizabeth on the arocalypse forum showed. So I think there are genuine instances of hurt and then our perception gets coloured by that.
I agree that the aro community places a lot of emphasis on attraction and tbh from how I’ve seen quoiromantic defined most often – as “inability to distinguish between romantic and platonic attraction” (and how I also thought of it until recently) I can see the way conceptualizations of it by people who take romantic attraction for granted is different and not always indicative of actual quoiromantics’ feelings.
And yeah that’s my post and in general I guess I believe we all have some hurts (aroaces are frustrated by the expectation to prioritize aceness or aroness, people hurt by some aros, people hurt by some aces) but I guess we should let go of that a bit and talk about what we can do to move forward…??
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In this vein, I’d like to bring attention to this: http://aroacepagans.tumblr.com/post/183685900203/aro-neir-o-aroacepagans-i-think-a-big-issue
I agree with a lot of what you’ve said here! And thanks for linking that survey too.
Yeah, I think it’s the same reason that “asexual = a lack of sexual attraction” has been the most prevalent definition. But that caused similar problems, and the ace community has spent a lot of time trying to reverse some of the damage of the strict/narrow definition. Or at least, a lot of us have tried to expand the definition/broaden understanding and create a more inclusive community. This blog actually would not even exist if I hadn’t felt unwelcome at AVEN because I didn’t meet the strictest definition of asexual!
Agree in principle, but the wording of this… hm. I would advise caution about using phrases like “we should let go” and “move forward,” because as a survivor, that sets off warning bells for me. Having been in a lot of situations where people urge me to “move on” while apparently thinking that trauma is something that can just end when someone has decided to “put it in the past” or… something like that??? I really don’t know… It can come across as really, really dismissive and uncaring about the pain people are in, and sometimes even victim-blaming. Some of my family members like to use phrases like that towards me judgmentally, to suggest that it’s somehow my fault that I still have PTSD, because I should have “moved forward” already (so that I can do whatever it is that they’re demanding that I do this time). So, even though you’re not using these phrases in that context, some people are (understandably!) really sensitive to statements like that, and are likely to read it as very dismissive, judgmental, and perhaps condescending (depending on the context of the rest of the conversation).
Communicating is hard! I think a lot of us tend to get defensive and snap at each other like we both did recently, without stepping back to consider that whatever statement upset us might not have been meant in the way we interpreted it. I’m going to say that I think even though that was not ideal, I still think it helped, because we still resolved the situation productively, and now we have a better understanding of each other. But… the ability to do that is a skill that people develop over time and have to keep practicing at to maintain. So I think we have to expect imperfect levels of patience and conflict resolution, and just try to work on helping the whole community improve on that.
Yeah, it’s a problem, in large part because people with grey identities who see a lot of those definitions (I still claim theyre personal ones a lot of times) do feel like that’s not about them then.
Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to wake up those associations, I see how it had :( What I was trying to say was trying to, at least on the conscious level, lessen the expectation of being hurt by the new people you’re (general you) interacting with. The arbitrary and generalizing divides like “allo aros vs aroaces” don’t help with that imo.
“So I think we have to expect imperfect levels of patience and conflict resolution, and just try to work on helping the whole community improve on that.” Yeah I guess!! I know it’s still a learning curve for me, but it’s something to aim for
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