Recently, I started to deeply contemplate an idea that has flit in and out of mind a handful of times, and the idea has evolved into a theory. The theory feels strongly probable to me, but I haven’t yet decided to view it as truth. I feel like my life experience has been building to this theory for a long time, but I haven’t explored it long enough to make it a part of my worldview.
The theory is this: Asexuals, including aromantics, may be capable of feeling a unique kind of nonsexual/nonromantic love that romantic-sexual people cannot feel.
This nonsexual/nonromantic love is the kind that romantic friendships, passionate friendships, and certain queerplatonic friendships are based on: it’s a love that is far more emotional, profound, intense, and significant than anything that holds together a common friendship, but it is not romantic or sexual and does not seek to culminate in a traditional romantic relationship. It’s a nonsexual/nonromantic love that causes someone to see a special friend as their primary companion, the most important person in their life, or at least equally as important as any romantic partner they might have. It’s a nonsexual/nonromantic love that causes someone to want a lot of physical, even sensual, affection and intimacy with their friend. It’s a kind of nonsexual/nonromantic love that feels completely equal to the kind of romantic-sexual love that’s universal to romantic-sexual people: equal in intensity, equal in depth, equal in its power to compel attention and prioritization and commitment and heavy involvement.
I’m not suggesting that the romantic love asexuals feel is any different than the romantic love that sexual people feel, aside from the absence of sexual desire. I’m not suggesting that romantic asexuals are capable of a special type of romantic love. The love I’m talking about is not the stuff of traditional romantic relationships, sexual or nonsexual. The love I’m talking about can just as easily be felt by an aromantic asexual as a romantic asexual, maybe even more frequently by aromantic aces.
I’m thinking of feelings that lead to what you could call “gray area relationships.” Relationships that are essentially a blending of common friendship and traditional romance, that fall in between the two standard categories. Relationships that look a lot like romance but are not sexual, don’t actually have to include any kind of romantic attraction, and are a hell of a lot more important and emotional and intimate than common friendships.
My reasons for this theory are simple: romantic-sexual people, for the most part, don’t have romantic friendships or passionate friendships. They don’t believe in them, they don’t want them, they don’t understand them. The vast majority of the sexual population has never heard of these relationship types, and usually, when you explain it to them, they respond with general disbelief, confusion, dismissal, etc. They’re very quick to label any kind of relationship that looks more emotional, physical, and important than common friendship as romantic and sexual, even when there’s no evidence whatsoever of romantic attraction and sexual activity between the two people in question. Asexuals are all too familiar with sexual people’s skepticism of romantic attraction that isn’t born in sexual attraction, of romantic relationships that don’t include sex as legitimate and distinct from nonromantic friendship, and of their total incomprehension of nonromantic primary partnerships, such as the kind that aromantic asexuals may want or have. They sexualize and romanticize all forms of physical affection more intimate than a hug. They cry “emotional cheating” if they think their romantic partner is nonsexually connected to someone else “too much.”
Meanwhile, there are scores of asexuals, both romantic and aromantic, who have expressed interest in romantic friendship or passionate friendship or queerplatonic friendships that function as primary partnerships. And I’m not talking about romantic asexual relationships. Totally different thing than those friendships. That’s sort of the bottom line. There are romantic asexuals who do feel romantic attraction and who can fall in love and know the emotional difference between a romantic relationship and a romantic friendship, and they express interest in having a romantic friendship as something separate than any desire to have a romantic relationship. There are aromantic asexuals who can nonromantically fall in love with a friend so hard that they want to be lifelong, primary partners with that friend–in a totally nonsexual, nonromantic relationship. There are aromantic asexuals who can be very physically affectionate with a friend they love, and there are romantic asexuals who are totally open to have both a romantic partner and a romantic friend, maybe more than one romantic friend.
All of this data suggests to me that there might actually be a difference in the emotional wiring of asexuals that allows us to feel nonromantic love in a way that romantic-sexual people just can’t. Even when asexuals don’t have the language to describe their feelings and their relationship desires, it’s common enough for them to sense that they want something other than a plain old friendship and other than a romantic relationship, that they aren’t all immediately jumping to the conclusion that a desire for romantic friendship/passionate friendship/primary QP relationship is actually a desire for a romantic relationship. This sense of loving people in friendship, in a way that blurs sexual culture’s rigid dichotomy of “nonromantic” and “romantic” feelings is intuitive and persistent enough in many asexuals that they throw up their hands and say “Fuck it. I don’t know what romance is as opposed to friendship, and I no longer care. I don’t even need a romantic identity label. I’m asexual and I love people, period.” (Some of them even playfully identify as WTFromantic.)
I, for one, am quite familiar with both feeling love that is clearly romantic friendship or passionate friendship type love, NOT romantic relationship type love, and totally confusing sexual people who don’t have a clue that any kind of relationship besides common friendship and traditional romance exists and therefore misconstrue what I feel and what I want. Sexual people of all genders, age categories, races, orientations, etc–same inability to understand the emotion and desire for romantic friendship/passionate friendship/primary queerplatonic friendship.
I think that when it comes to the sexual population’s disconnect from gray-area nonsexual relationships (romantic friendship, passionate friendship, and primary nonromantic relationships), there are really only two explanations:
1. They can’t feel the feelings that fuel these kind of relationships.
2. They can feel the feelings that fuel these kind of relationships, but through their own social conditioning, they come to believe that such relationships do not and cannot exist and have nothing desirable to offer. In the event that they do feel emotions for someone that are naturally of the gray-area nonsexual friendship kind, they mistake those emotions for romantic and sexual and thus pursue a romantic-sexual relationship with someone they actually want to be romantic friends/passionate friends/nonromantic primary partners/super close QP friends with. Or, they don’t act on their feelings at all. And then, despite feeling these feelings, they act totally confused and weirded out and dismissive and even shitty when asexuals bring up the subject of romantic friendship or passionate friendship or nonromantic primary friendship because they feel the need to uphold their own culture’s teachings on love and relationships despite the fact that their own emotional experiences prove those norms to be bullshit.
I think this is the perfect scenario in which to apply Occam’s Razor, which is a a logical principle that basically says when you have competing hypotheses, the one that makes the fewest assumptions is the best one. So, simplest explanation is the likeliest.
Clearly, that would be #1.
The explanation of why sexual people can’t and don’t have these kinds of friendships matters to me personally because it determines how I feel about the situation. If romantic-sexual people can’t feel the feelings necessary for these types of friendships–they literally cannot feel nonromantic/nonsexual love as deep, intense, sensual, and emotional as the kind that fuels these relationships, regardless of what they intellectually think about the relationships–then I can’t hold that against them. It sucks, but it can’t be helped. It’s no different than asexuals, myself included, being incapable of feeling sexual desire for other people, especially in the context of romantic love. If we’re simply built for different kinds of relationships, then it’s pointless to get upset about being unable to connect to sexual people in these ways that matter to me, because they didn’t choose to be what they are and can’t choose to be any different.
But if they are capable of these feelings that can lead to these friendships and they never act on them, they stay firmly closed to these alternative friendships, they doubt or dismiss or criticize them, they act as if asexuals are freaks for wanting friendships like that and engaging in them whenever we get the opportunity, they try to impose their false readings of romance and sex onto our romantic friendships/passionate friendships/primary QP relationships, etc….. then, sexual people are just boring, conformist assholes about the whole thing and letting culturally sanctioned romance supremacy and sex supremacy rule the way all human beings form relationships without ever critically thinking about their own emotions or how they do relationships and why. What’s worse, they’re controlling the odds of asexuals getting the romantic friendships/passionate friendships/primary nonromantic partnerships some of us want from that place. In which case, I have no respect for them and solid reason to resent them.
So, I’m leaning toward this theory as a way to explain what I’ve lived and what I see in the world. I think the only thing that holds me back from fully adopting it is the obvious: if romantic-sexual people, on the whole, can’t feel these particular friendship feelings I’ve been feeling my whole life, then there’s no hope of ever having a romantic friendship or any other type of serious/intimate/alternative friendship with any of them. Not a single romantic-sexual person I meet, as long as I live. I’ve already pretty much concluded that I can never have the relationships I desire with romantic-sexual people, more from the standpoint of Explanation #2, but adopting the Theory of Emotional Difference would makes it 100% impossible. Which does not bode well in the event that I slip up one day and lose control of my emotions long enough to get seriously attached to someone who’s a romantic-sexual person. Unrequited love–I’ve had enough of that crap for one lifetime.