There was a time when the label “asexual” applied to anyone who didn’t want to get married, date, or fuck with anyone else. There were only three sexual orientations worth mentioning: homosexual, heterosexual, and asexual.
…or so we thought.
Then I came along, all lovely and stupidly queer, hovering on the edge where more specific, hazy, and convoluted identities ended, and I know I’m not alone.
I’ve always known that I don’t find the relationship escalator inevitable; I find romantic relationships to be more repulsive than sexual ones; and I value close friendships over romantic partnerships; but I’ve always been confused by how the label “asexual” doesn’t quite fit my life.
But then those pesky bi and pan people showed along to tell everyone that it wasn’t so cut and clear.
My other identities began to take shape, but it wasn’t until I discovered the word “aromantic” that everything came together.
You see, I had been labeled as every variation of “unloving” imaginable, including cold, odd, aloof, and so on. Nothing about this made any sense to me. I was filled with profound emotion. It’s just that I never found a way to adequately convey my feelings. Relationships were not defined for me in terms of rank or importance but rather by the ways in which we developed concurrently, how our thoughts and feelings intertwined but never collided.
My noetisexual self, naturally, delved headfirst into the muck of the asexual subculture in search of buried wealth. There was a tunnel that led to uncharted area, where the aromantic experience and identity awaited.
What Happened to Romance When Sexuality Was Divided From Love?
The more assimilationist members of the Gay Rights MovementTM had their neat little history of gay liberation shattered once they got there and saw the truth (white, cis, gay men, mostly).
More ethereal and multifaceted sensations sparked the emergence of new words to describe them. Forgotten letters in the alphabet soup fought for their territory as non-binary persons delineated their area and pansexuals made efforts to better accommodate them.
Like a thirsty man, I guzzled down the information, consuming the new vocabulary words as if they were water. I was getting closer and closer to the huge list of terms that would adequately define all of my facets.
Quite a few gun battles occurred. Numerous breaks up over the years. Asexual persons began to discreetly gather in the background and gain momentum while bisexuals and pansexuals clashed and transgender and gender nonconforming people questioned whether they really were under the same umbrella.
Like any human endeavor, the discussion deepened, giving rise to new metrics. Many asexuals felt it was important to underline that they wanted to participate in all the same activities as heterosexual couples, but without the commitment that comes with a romantic relationship.
Maybe it was just a convenient way for asexuals to keep their ties to the broader LGBTQ movement, which has long said (and still occasionally proclaims) “We’re just like you! See? Straight people, “we want the same things you want” is a statement of solidarity.
Or it could have something to do with the simultaneous rise of polyamory and other forms of non-monogamy among straight cis people (that is, the mainstream), where many people were surprised to learn that there existed alternate, but equally impactful forms of bonding with each other beyond the sexual and even the romantic.
Regardless of the motivation, sexuality had become functionally independent of romantic relationships.
The thought made me happy.
Discovering the Origins of the Term “Aromatic”
There comes the aromantic (aro for short).
Some aces (slang for asexuals) are totally against marriage, romance, and the “upward spiral” of relationships that typically comes with being in a couple. The fact remains that there are many among us who, no matter their sexual orientation, never really found love. Some of them were even turned off by the concept of love at first sight.
I count as one of the best in my field.
Many people finally realized that the LGBTQIA+ community isn’t dysfunctional, cold, or soulless; rather, we’re just misunderstood.
Although the term aromantic was coined in the context of asexual discourse, it has now been adopted by a wide range of people, including asexuals, allosexuals, autistics, and many more like myself (as everything but allosexual).
It became a symbol for those who either never or rarely experience romantic attraction, who don’t seek romantic relationships, or who value platonic friendships more than romantic partnerships.
At last, I had a term that helped me specify the type of relationship I wanted to cultivate with others. Instead of merely having words with romantic connotations, I found and developed terminology more closely tied to friendship than romance, such as queerplatonic, sensual attraction, noetisexual, aesthetic attraction, squish, etc.
My fantasies of sharing a large house with my closest pals (sexual or otherwise) suddenly seemed more realistic. My years of isolation and the confusion that ensued when someone said I didn’t love them became crystal clear.
It wasn’t that I was flawed, lacked emotional intelligence, or couldn’t build meaningful relationships. The simple truth is that I was never able to experience or even comprehend what romance must be like.
Committee 2 on Membership
In spite of my jubilation, I noticed a crack appearing. Because of my sexual orientation, I felt different from the celibate aces. And as an aro ace, I was soon put under the bus, albeit for romantic reasons.
Identity and Its Varieties
The ace and aro subcultures may share some characteristics, but they are otherwise distinct. For instance, I share more in common with other aros than with other aces, despite the fact that I am both an ace and an aro.
Other aces exist, I discovered, who share my desire for marriage, my preference for romantic over platonic relationships, and my acceptance of destructive amatonormative beliefs. However, Aros are typically less ritualistic and more spontaneous when it comes to the initiation and development of love partnerships.
Moreover, aros can be any sexuality on the rainbow and share more in common with the early stages of the LGBT movement than aces do.
When it first began, the “gay” rights movement was mostly anarchist, queer as hell, Black-run, and trans-led. Later, in an effort to normalize LGBT “lifestyles,” the concept of romantic love came into play, following the conventional trajectory of dating, marriage, and having kids.
I and others like me were abandoned. We hung out on the fringes of the ace community, never quite fitting in there. Many aces disregarded us, claiming that they were “just like romantic people” since they still wanted to find love, unlike those strange aros who felt nothing.
Unfortunately, aces of all romantic orientations are still frequently left out of the alphabet soup and sometimes overlooked in so-called “sex-positive” conversations and spaces.
Moreover, aces and aros are still frequently muddled and summarily disregarded by allosexual alloromantic people, who tend to relate sex and romance very strongly, or imagine that they do.
Relationship Types Available and Some Examples for Each (And How They Differ)
Worse yet, we often misinterpret the types of relationships we desire and are even capable of, leading to needless stress and suffering.
It’s quite rare for an aro person to get married because of love. An ace might not get married because they don’t believe in the importance of sex. Many aces, regardless of orientation, still hope to find love, get married, and start a family.
However, for many aros, friendship rather than romantic attachment is the peak of the social pyramid. People with Aros personalities may lean toward labels like “perma-single,” “solo polyamorous,” “relationship anarchist,” “ethical slut,” “relationship flexible,” and so on (or all of them, in my case).
Whether or not queerplatonic or companionate relationships are more feasible for aces or aros depends on a number of factors. While an ace may still lean toward choosing a romantic partner, an aro may choose a sensual companion, an emotional tie, a family member, or virtually anyone they trust, regardless of their level of physical attraction to that person.
The non-monogamous character of friendship leaves many people, myself included, perplexed by conventional love practices involving certain kinds of behavior, limitations, and presumptions.
In my personal experience, I’ve lost several really close friends because of my aromanticism; they moved on to find someone with whom they could share romantic or sexual feelings, or simply because they sought something from me that I was unable to provide.
Many experts don’t understand why others just think that sexual activity is required in so many situations.
Each community has its own unique manner of dealing with these concerns and approaches, and this is significant since it has practical ramifications.
Why There Are Distinctions The Relationship Between Aros and Aces
One thing that makes an aros happy can be very destructive to an ace. My aromanticism has a far greater impact on my life and has far more profound ramifications than my asexuality.
Not all relationships are created equal, and the potential for harm varies depending on the sort of connection. Although aces and aros are both underrepresented in the dating pool, the aces still have more options when it comes to finding a love partner. Although the idea of being “best friends forever” is romanticized in children’s literature, few alloromantic adults genuinely adhere to this ideal.
While aces and aros both have to deal with the possibility of sexual violence, aces are more likely to be victims of someone seeking to “correct” them or misinterpreting their signals. A lover’s lack of receptivity might give rise to aros, but sex shame or the idea that one is “easy” can also play a role.
There are many difficulties that members of the LGBTQIA+ community, including aros and aces, share. However, treating them as interchangeable will lead to the same harm that has been inflicted on other members of the LGBTQ community. For the sake of a uniformity that no one voted for, it will nonetheless lead to erasure.
Understanding these distinctions can aid in identifying what one really wants out of a love partner, opening up new doors and improving the quality of one’s options when it comes to forming romantic partnerships, and making friends into something more than just a convenient placeholder.
Understanding what these new and different labels imply and symbolize might help you gain insight into experiences and viewpoints you haven’t previously considered, but which are just as valid as anyone else’s and deserve the same acknowledgment and support as anybody else’s.