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January 7, 2022 — 12:24 PM
As language evolves to meet the spectrum of sexuality, more people are finding pieces of themselves within new identities. For example, years ago, if someone found themselves having no desire for romantic relationships or connection with other people, they may have immediately thought there was something wrong with them. But today, there is enough information out there to help that person realize that their feelings are totally normal. In fact, they might even be aromantic.
What does aromantic really mean?
An aromantic person is someone who has little to no romantic attraction to others, says licensed marriage therapist Janice R. Miles, LMFT. “These individuals lack the desire to be in romantic relationships or engage in romantic acts with others. These acts can include any activity, such as holding hands, kissing, or cuddling, that is done with romantic intent.”
The term, sometimes shortened to aro, was first coined by the Asexual Visibility and Education Network in 2005.
Aromantic people generally don’t feel like they need a romantic relationship to feel fulfilled and might be quite happy to stay single. Their lack of desire for romance can often cause people to think that they are “cold” or “prudish,” but this isn’t the case. Aromantic individuals can make social connections and feel platonic love, like between friends and family.
People who are aromantic often deal with other people’s judgments and assumptions about why they aren’t interested in romantic relationships. As sexologist Carol Queen, Ph.D., explains further, there are misconceptions that the person “does not have feelings or can’t love someone, that they can never have a relationship, and all the other ways that the cultural marriage of sex and love can lead to assumptions about what is normal.”
Signs you may be aromantic.
Someone who is aromantic will often feel disconnected from the idea of romance, but what does that really look like in practice? Here are a few signs you might be aromantic. They may not apply to every aromantic, but consider these as just a helpful starting place for exploration:
1. You don’t get romantic crushes.
Great relationships start with great sleep.*
One major sign that you might be aromantic is that you simply don’t find yourself entertaining romantic crushes. Queen says you might really like or even love someone, but that thing people do in junior high with the initials in a heart? You don’t think that way.
2. You don’t desire or see yourself happy in a romantic relationship.
Are all your friends actively looking for “the one” and dreaming about their perfect weddings and future kids–but that’s not your thing at all? You might be aromantic, says Queen.
3. You don’t link sexual attraction with the idea of romance or relationships.
Unless the person is also asexual, being aromantic does not necessarily mean you have no sexual desire or abstain from sexual activity, Queens explains. But an aromantic may see sex as disconnected from romance.
“A sexual connection could be casual or even deep, but you do not think of it as leading to romance, marriage, etc.,” she explains. “This could obviously have some overlap with poly lifestyles or hookup culture but isn’t the same thing. For one thing, plenty of poly people do feel romantic about their various partners, or some of them.”
4. You do date, but you don’t need romantic attraction in your relationships.
Some aromantic people do still date and enter into relationships. However, you might feel that choosing someone to be in a relationship with has very little or nothing to do with romantic attraction, says sex and relationship coach Azaria Menezes.
“It might even feel like you are choosing them based on platonic compatibility compared to a friendship. Love and romantic attraction are completely different and separate to you,” she explains. “You might even feel like a friend-with-benefits situation sounds ideal. Romantic attraction seems to be at the very bottom of your favorite things about a relationship. Love is still one of the top things, but there isn’t romantic attraction attached to it.”
Of course, this doesn’t mean you don’t understand what romantic attraction is–you very well understand the intellectual and societal meanings of romantic attraction, but it doesn’t resonate with what you are feeling, and it might seem strange to you when people “catch feelings” or “fall head over heels.”
5. You’re often accused of giving mixed signals.
Since romantic attraction doesn’t quite resonate for aromantic folks, Menezes says it’s often easy for others to accuse them of giving off mixed signals.
6. Your feelings of love for another person stay platonic.
As someone who’s aromantic, you might love someone in a platonic sense but not romantically. Queen explains that aro folks can have very close and loving relationships that are based on ties of friendship rather than romance–platonic love, as the Greeks would have it.
7. You relate to the idea of erotic love but not necessarily romantic love.
Queen notes that romance isn’t a requirement for erotic love. As such, you may experience feelings of love for another person that are rooted in sexual attraction but not romance.
“It’s a myth that you can’t have erotic love without romance. Romance is something other than just sexual connection–it implies a type of bond between two people (with various roles and assumptions often attached) that aro folks do not respond to or want,” she says.
8. You don’t respond to romantic gestures, even if you feel connected to the other person.
If someone tries to woo you with the hearts and flowers and “you complete me” stuff, it is not likely to be appealing and may, in fact, be a red flag or big turnoff for you.
Aromantic vs. asexual.
While aromanticism is often confused with asexuality, and they may actually go together from time to time, they aren’t synonymous.
An aromantic individual is not interested in romantic relationships, or if they are in one, it isn’t because of the romance–it may be because of their bond with the other person who is romantic. An asexual individual, on the other hand, typically has no sexual desire–but this, too, can have a range of ways it shows up, including only feeling sexual desire when a strong emotional connection is present, or just feeling it sometimes, or not very strongly.
“Either could be experienced separately or together, sometimes or all the time, so both the ace or aro person (and friends and partners) will ideally want to distinguish them. To do that, think about sex without romantic love; or with it; or romance with and without sex. For some, the two spectrums will be really connected. For others it’ll be, ‘Oh, I like everything but the narrative of romance,'” says Queen.
A person may describe themselves as “aro ace” if they do identify as both aromantic and asexual, but these two identities can also show up distinctly and separate for a person, says Queen.
“Delinking the sex and love model is actually one thing that ace and aro people can really teach all of us. Instead of riding along with this social norm, both kinds of people focus on what is actually true for them. It matters enormously that there are now communities and discourse to support this,” she tells mbg.
The aromantic spectrum.
In the same way asexuality can show up on a spectrum, so can aromanticism. For some people who identify as aromantic, it’s not always zero romance or zero desire or love. There can be variations, or a kind of scale on which various related things might affect one’s identity, desires, and choices.
“That can range all the way from a person really being repulsed or super-not-into romantic attraction and its narrative/ideology (aka romance-repulsed), all the way to being in a romantic relationship that they do not feel romantic about–cupioromantic,” Queen explains. “And there is the demiromantic micro-orientation that, like demisexual on the ace spectrum, describes someone who may feel romantic feelings sometimes, or under very specific conditions. A non-amorous person would not want a love relationship at all, romantic or otherwise.”
Additionally, an aro person can be gay, straight, bi, or any other sexual identity, as well as trans, nonbinary, or any kind of gender identity. These are separate spectrums, so there can be overlap of many kinds, Queen adds. (Consider, as another example, how being bisexual is different from being biromantic.)
Dating when you’re aromantic.
It’s not uncommon for aromantic people to choose not to date at all because romance isn’t a priority. However, some aro people do choose to enter partnerships, have kids, and have a family. For the ones who do date, they may fall into different categories.
“Aromantic people can definitely date–they could be the ‘not looking for a relationship’ people you see on your apps or the people who prioritize sexual connection and nothing else or the ones who are super-cerebral and would rather talk all night than have sex or fall in love in a traditional way,” she says. They may also ignore the rush to cuffing season, and they might roll their eyes at Valentine’s Day.
If this sounds like you, Queen says it’s a really good idea for an aro person (or any person) to be as clear as possible about what they want out of dating and life. That way, they’ll be able to find compatible partners, be clear with their wants, focus, and boundaries, and build the life they want with informed consent for others.
As for the aromantics who aren’t into dating, they “may be ace enough not to be interested in dating but would rather form platonic connections; might want to raise kids but do it with a relative as a blended family, not in the context of a more traditional relationship,” says Queen.
Queen also encourages people who identify as aromantic (and everyone else) to always stand up for themselves. If someone is pressuring you, don’t be afraid to set boundaries. Queen suggests saying something like: “I really feel like you’re pressuring me to want the kind of relationship I don’t actually want.”
“If they want to speak more about being aro or disclose detail, fine, but that response works for a lot of circumstances–including an aro person who hasn’t even come out to themselves yet,” she adds.
How to support aromantic people.
Aromantic is still a fairly new term, and as a result, aro folks often face stigma and misconceptions about their romantic orientation. If someone in your life identifies as aromantic, a great way to support them is by being respectful of their orientation and identity, says Miles.
“Avoid being dismissive of their feelings and position by insisting that they’ll change how they feel or pushing them into romantic situations they are not interested in,” she says.
If this is a person with whom it’s appropriate to dive into a deeper conversation about their identity and feelings on relationships, Miles does encourage asking questions.
“You might not fully understand what it means to be aromantic, but you can listen to what they have to say and ask what you can do to accommodate their needs and show your support,” she says. “Ask if it is OK for you to ask questions and learn more about them, but be aware that the individual may not want to share.”
The bottom line.
While it’s easy to assume that being aromatic means someone doesn’t have the capacity to love, the assumption couldn’t be more wrong. As Menezes says, love can take on many forms and shapes, and it can look and feel different to different people.
If you feel like you could be aromantic, take the time to explore it. By doing this, you’ll be able to assign words to your feelings and ultimately lead to a deeper understanding of your whole self, for you and for those you choose to share yourself with.
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