So, I see that a self-identified cupioromantic took the time to respond to my post protesting the cupioromantic identity. I have some things to say, in reply to their defense of the concept.
I appreciate that in this instance, the person identifying as cupioromantic openly acknowledges that in fact, amatonormativity is behind their desire for romantic relationships. I understand where they’re coming from, in terms of the emotional and psychological struggle to accept being aromantic, especially with a coinciding desire for loving primary relationships/partnerships. I understand, better than perhaps people have previously realized, the way being aromantic and wanting love and living in this aggressively amatonormative society all come together and interact in emotionally explosive and/or cognitively dissonant ways.
It occurs to me that all the emotional and psychological suffering that many people experience upon realizing they’re aromantic, I experienced through the lens of asexuality instead. I’ve been identifying as asexual since I was 15, but it took me until about a year ago to finally accept my aromanticism, after going through a transitional phase of not specifying romantic orientation at all. I grew up thinking I was romantic, but in retrospect, I doubt that was ever true. At best, I might have been grayromantic in childhood and in my teen years. See, when I was younger, I made the mistake of believing that it was my asexuality–not aromanticism–that made me want passionate friendship and value nonsexual love so much. I thought I was going to be alone forever because I was asexual and didn’t want to have sex, not because I’m aromantic and want passionate friendship instead of romance. By the time I got to aromanticism, I’d already spent all my social deviant misery chips on the asexuality portion of my identification journey, and frankly, I’d already become someone who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about being part of the Normal Crowd and having my existence and choices validated by total strangers. Picking up the “aromantic” identity was easy.
I know what it is to be in deep psycho-emotional agony caused by my own deviant desires and nature, and to be beyond anyone else’s ability to help or comfort. I grew up living with untreated, intense depression that was constant for about 11 years, and there was always a strong connection and interaction between the depression and my desire for love, the love I actually felt that was almost always unrequited. I used my asexuality and my unique relationship desires as fuel for the fire of my pain and grief. I was the most pessimistic kid you could possibly imagine–and in true depressed, pessimist fashion, I was spectacular at twisting anything and everything into doom and gloom, into the worst case scenario, into more reason for misery. “Nobody loves me, and nobody will ever love me, and there’s nothing I can do about it.” That was my story.
I spent most of those 11 years being profoundly, passionately suicidal. I wanted to kill myself so much that I thought about it daily, wrote about it endlessly in diaries and poems and social media messages, fantasized about dying and about my funeral, which I planned in some detail when I was still a high school student. Suicide became my default response to anything painful that happened to me: “If I were dead, I wouldn’t have to deal with this. If I kill myself now, I’ll never feel pain again. Death is the only solution.” I got as far as choosing a method and window shopping for the tools, but I never made a serious attempt. I think the reason for that is, as strong as my desire to die was, all of my other desires were stronger, and maybe because I was a kid or a repressed optimist, part of me never quit hoping that if I stuck it out a little longer, life would eventually get better. I was in a wrestling match with the Universe, and maybe if I made it very clear that I was going to commit suicide in lieu of being happy, it would finally cry uncle and throw me a bone.
I wanted love more than almost anything, when I was growing up. I spent all those years writing love poems to people who weren’t even my friends and sometimes to people who were, crying on a fairly regular basis because I always loved and wanted someone somewhere who didn’t reciprocate or because I wanted to meet somebody I hadn’t met yet and didn’t know if I ever would. I went to college, and it didn’t get any better. In fact, that first year was horrifically devastating on an emotional level. I had meltdowns over my own deep knowing that my oldest friendships were all going to disintegrate in the near future, because my romantic-sexual friends were going to get sucked into the black hole of romantic relationships and marriage. I got my heart broken by someone I loved who didn’t understand me or what I wanted in friendship, not for the first time or the last, but it felt more like a nuclear bomb had gone off and left me with nothing but a burnt soul.
After that, when I turned 19, I reached a point where I realized that I couldn’t keep living the way I had been for so long. I couldn’t keep being that depressed, in that much pain all the time. I had to find a way to feel better, or I had to die. So, I decided to feel better–and slowly, gradually, I did. I didn’t see a therapist or get on medication or use recreational narcotics. I didn’t suddenly meet the perfect person for me with whom to share my ideal friendship. The world didn’t change, there wasn’t suddenly millions more asexuals and aromantics, people around me did not suddenly understand me and support me. I changed. I did everything I could, on my own, to feel relief mentally and emotionally. Somewhere during this process, I developed a real self-esteem, I really got to liking myself and loving myself, and life did improve.
So I understand, clearly and intimately, what it feels like to be a major outcast living in a society that completely opposes who you are and what you want at every turn. I understand what it feels like to have no one in your life who is like you, to not know anybody who understands who you are and what you want and why. I understand what it feels like to be the weirdo in every room, to not see yourself anywhere: in TV, movies, music, books, commercials, magazines, or the radio. I understand what it feels like to be totally turned off and fed up with all the crap that the rest of the world considers “normal” and to want nothing more than to go live on a deserted island somewhere cut off from mainstream media and 99.9% of mankind. I’ve been alone with my pain and my sorrow too many days and nights to count, and I’m sure there’s more of those moments in my future: where I cry in private over shit that I can’t change or control, then eventually pick myself up and keep going because ain’t nobody here to call on for comfort, and even if there was, I never really liked empty platitudes. I understand the deep, simmering rage and frustration. I understand loneliness. I’ve had my times of asking God why they would create someone like me and then put me in a world like this one.
I’m going to be 25 this year. I know exactly what I want, relationship-wise. More clearly and specifically than ever before. I am at peace with my asexuality and my aromanticism. I’m proud, actually. I am at peace with being permanently celibate and permanently single (romantically). I know who I am, and I like who I am. I haven’t been depressed in years, and I rarely angst about being who I am in the context of this romance supremacist, sex-normative world. I’m mostly hopeful about meeting the right people for me and having the kind of friendships I desire. I realize I am young and I have most of my life ahead of me. I’m trying not to be in a hurry for any particular relationship, especially because friendship is slow to build.
I gave you all that information so that you know I’m not ignorant or inexperienced with whatever pain and turmoil that you felt in the past or feel now, which contributes to your choosing of the cupioromantic identity or the desire for romantic relationships in general.
Now, I’ll respond to specific points in the post.
“The thing is, the people I become close to are not necessarily going to be aromantic. The things they want out of a relationship may be things that I can’t give them. Yes, I have an intense friendship with someone I value with everything I’ve got. But it’s platonic, non-exclusive. Whether I like it or not, amatonormativity does exist, and we exist alongside it, so when she begins to go out with someone, and maybe someday marries them, that will be the relationship that society prioritizes, and potentially the one that she and I will prioritize as well, because we both grew up in a society that values romantic relationships above all others. It’s just how our society works, and it’s not likely to change drastically in the next several years.”
Well, if I were you, I would make a decision to seek out perma-single aromantics who you CAN count on in friendship. That’s the decision I’ve made, and I’m convinced that it will change the course of my life from what it would’ve been were I just going to passively make friends with whatever individual I happen to bump into. If you don’t actively look for and reach out to other perma-single aro people, if you don’t make noise about the fact that you are one of those people and want a certain kind of friendship, well, then no shit your odds of meeting a whole bunch of average romantic-sexual people are much greater than meeting people you can actually have satisfying, reliable friendships with. When you’re part of a very small minority, as aros and aces are, you have to be exponentially more proactive than just about any other group of people, about meeting and connecting with others like you. Heterosexuals can’t walk a fucking block without meeting each other, but that’s not how it is for aros, aces, and permanently single people. We have to look, we have to advertise, we have to talk about ourselves, we have to go to meet-ups and the right online spaces. We have to try. And no, it’s not as easy as flushing a toilet, but trying does increase your chances of meeting other aros/perma-singles.
And not only do you have to take initiative and seek out the right people, but you also have to be willing to set boundaries and stick to your standards. You are not obligated to be friends with romantic people. You are not obligated to get close to someone who’s regularly in romantic relationships. You are not obligated to emotionally invest yourself into a friendship that realistically doesn’t have a future beyond the standard, shallow, meaningless, inferior “We’re just friends, let’s hang out once a month when my romantic other is busy and can’t be with me” scenario. If you choose to spend all your emotional energy and all your social hours on ordinary romantic people, that’s your choice, but don’t pretend that it’s the only option or that you’re the only aromantic person on the planet. Because none of that is true. You choose who to spend time with, you choose whether or not to set standards in your personal relationships, you choose whether to continue or terminate any given friendship, and you choose what kind of treatment you’re going to accept in your friendships. Society may set the environment and rig the game, but you’re not some helpless robot lacking the agency to deny your programming. You’re responsible for your life, your relationships, and your choices. Now that you know what amatonormativity is, you’re also responsible for the beliefs you hold about relationships.
“And here is exactly why I disagree with the charges raised against cupioromanticism: amatonormativity exists whether we like it or not. It’s not something that exists in our pasts, it’s something that exists in the present, in the society we live in on a day-to-day basis, and probably in our futures. To say that we have been affected by it would be inaccurate: we are being affected by it, and we almost certainly will continue to be affected by it. But we didn’t set it up, and there is absolutely no reason we should be responsible for tearing it down in a way that denies the effect it has had (and continues to have) on our identities. Do not ask us not to identify as cupioromantic because that identity shows the effect amatonormativity has on us.”
Here’s where you lose me completely. What the fuck is this, “that’s just the way things are” bullshit? Is that the attitude we should adopt about all the unacceptable norms alive and well in our world? By this logic, we should all resign to racism and sexism and transphobia and heterosexism. By this logic, everybody guilty of those -isms get to excuse themselves because they’re just products of their social conditioning, and there’s nothing they can do about it because they have to live in this racist, sexist, heterosexist, transphobic society and can’t single-handedly dismantle those harmful paradigms.
We shouldn’t be responsible for tearing down the systems of oppression that affect us on a daily basis? Oh, really? Who should be responsible, then? The people who benefit from those systems? Yeah, I’m sure making the world a better place for other people by abdicating their own privilege is at the top of their priority list.
Maybe you haven’t noticed, but white people are not the ones who originally wanted the end of slavery, segregation, and Jim Crow laws. Heterosexuals are not the ones who originally wanted to throw gay pride parades in city streets and legalize same-sex marriage and feature queer characters in media that don’t die at the end of the story. Cisgender people are not the ones who first started to push for justice, equality, safety, and medical care for trans people and other gender nonconforming individuals. Men did not come up with the idea of allowing women to vote and go to college and own property and work any job they wanted.
Every social justice movement in the history of the fucking world has been led by the people who have the most to gain from it. Every improvement we’ve achieved as a society since 1900 happened because black people and women and queers and transgender people and other people of color put themselves on the front lines, showed up and demanded that they get their rights and representation. Nobody handed that shit to them. They died for progress, they went to prison unjustly for progress, they got beat up by cops and people who opposed them for progress. Whites have never given black people anything out of the goodness of their hearts, and men didn’t suddenly quit treating women like cattle because they had an epiphany in the night. There is not a single nice or fair or just thing that LGBTQI people or POC or women or any other disadvantaged group have secured for themselves that they didn’t have to fight for, tooth and nail, for YEARS. And they’re STILL fighting. They’re going to be fighting the rest of the century and most likely the one after this and the one after that. Even after all the progress made, they still have to combat the system, and they’re not done getting what they deserve.
So, why you think it would be or should be any different for aromantics is beyond me. Romantic people aren’t looking out for us. They’re not the ones who are going to tear down amatonormativity and trash their romance supremacist movies, TV shows, books, and music. They’re not the ones who are going to create legal support and protection for nonromantic/nonsexual relationships. They’re not going to become better friends of their own volition or turn their backs on traditional romantic relationships because they just randomly feel like it. They’re not going to hand us anything on a silver platter, at their own expense.
If you want the world to be better, if you want things to be different, you’re damn right you have to do something about it. Somebody has to. If you want to sit back and let other people like me do the hard labor of accomplishing change by sheer force of will and being an unrelenting pain in the ass of everybody who stands in my way, so be it, but don’t think for one second that amatonormativity and romance supremacy and all their manifestations are going to spontaneously evaporate one day or that the romantic population is going to experience enlightenment and correct the system themselves.
“I may be cupioromantic because of amatonormativity, but that in no way invalidates my identity as a cupioromantic person.”
Actually, yeah, amatonormativity invalidates the cupioromantic identity in general. You don’t have to deny that you’re someone who doesn’t experience romantic attraction yet desires romantic relationships–because that’s a fact–but you don’t need to create a new category, a new identity, to accommodate a fucked up head space that’s more a condition to be resolved than a place to set up camp and nest. I’ve said elsewhere on my blog that I think if you don’t experience romantic attraction but desire romantic relationships, you can and should use the grayromantic identity, which already exists and predates “cupioromantic” and covers a wide variety of experiences fitting in between the aromantic or alloromantic categories. The danger in legitimizing “cupioromantic” as its own unique identity is allowing people to believe that wanting romantic relationships for fucked up reasons is a state of being that can and should be permanent, accepted uncritically instead of worked through.
I’ve already acknowledged that there are valid reasons why someone aromantic would choose to get into romantic relationships, but ending up in them because of extenuating circumstances–like being sexual and fucking just one person at a time, or not knowing you’re aro, or not wanting to disappoint a friend who asks you out, etc–is very different than having an abstract, ongoing desire for romantic relationships that can’t be satisfied by anything else and is purely for your own happiness. It’s the difference between an asexual who has sex because they have to do it for the sake of dating, and someone who doesn’t experience sexual attraction but actively wants partnered sex for their own personal satisfaction (which I consider to be a type of gray-asexuality). So we’re not talking about participating in romantic relationships as aromantics; we’re talking about wanting romantic relationships for their own sake, as people who don’t actually feel romantic attraction, love, etc. The motive is what we’re discussing, and motive is important.
“We cannot fully reject amatonormativity anyway until society also does, because regardless of whether or not we acknowledge it, it affects us every day, so saying that people shouldn’t identify as cupioromantic because the orientation reinforces the idea of amatonormativity is very much not ok.”
False. If we all waited for society to get its shit together on all fronts, nothing would EVER fucking improve anywhere. I reject amatonormativity, here and now, every day. I reject it when I call it out for the bullshit it is. I reject it when I criticize romantic narratives for being toxic, ridiculous, and unrealistic. I reject it by choosing not to date. I reject it by choosing not to get married and advocating for the abolition of marriage. I reject it by not consuming romantic media whenever I can avoid it. I reject it be rejecting the bullshit conduct of romantic people in friendship, letting them know that it’s bullshit or otherwise rejecting them as friends completely. I reject amatonormativity by believing in the core of my being that my ideal friendships are beautiful, desirable, possible, real, and valid, and that I am a human being who is intrinsically worthy of the love and joy I desire, even though I am aromantic and permanently single and asexual and celibate. I reject it by writing about friendship in my creative fiction, not romance. I reject it by trying to be the kind of friend I want to be and forming the kind of friendships I want to form, even if there’s always a chance I’ll be misunderstood or misread or turned down. I reject amatonormativity by saying to the world, “No! I’m not the one who’s the problem here, you are!” I reject amatonormativity every day of my life, and I will continue to reject it until I breathe my last breath. I don’t care whether I do this alone forever or not. I’m doing it.
“Yes, amatonormativity sucks. But when we have been conditioned and conditioned to value romantic relationships and then eventually find out that we’re aromantic, are you really going to tell us that the desire for romantic relationships that we’ve been conditioned to have our entire lives should just…stop on a dime? That we can’t want romantic relationships anyway? That they’re Not For Us because of something beyond our control and anyway honey, you can always have something else, even while society is screaming at us in a hundred different ways that non-romantic relationships just aren’t quite as good?”
Stop on a dime, no. Personal development is a process. It does take time. But actively engaging in the process of deconstructing your internalized poisonous beliefs is something you have to choose to do, not something that magically happens all by itself. Acknowledging that you’ve got a problem isn’t enough; you have to do the work. And if you do the work, yeah, eventually you will think and feel differently.
This is probably not going to be helpful to you at this moment in your life, but I need to say it anyway because it’s true: you really need to get over caring what society thinks. Easier said than done, sure, but it can be done. That’s the real problem here, with cupioromantics in general, along with most people: caring more about what society says instead of what you feel, caring more about what other people think you should want instead of what you actually want, looking out instead of in. Society doesn’t give a fuck about you. Society doesn’t care if you’re happy or unhappy, if you’re well or unwell, if you’re living with authenticity or not. Society only cares about using you as a tool to perpetuate its systems of power and control, for the benefit of the ruling classes. Society only cares about profiting off of you. Other people care more about using your conformity to their rules to makes themselves feel better about what they’re doing than they will ever care about you. Everybody’s out for their own personal gain, and their telling you how to live, what to think, what to feel, etc is virtually always motivated by their own selfish desires.
So the sooner you dedicate yourself to liberating your psyche, to watching less TV, to spending less time monitoring what other people are saying, the sooner you can start paying exclusive attention to your true self, which you may not yet know because you haven’t bothered to get in touch.
“Yes, there are lots of other kinds of wonderful relationships out there, and objectively they’re worth every bit as much as romantic relationships, but don’t you dare tell me I can’t wish I could just introduce somebody as my wife or my girlfriend. Don’t you dare tell me I can’t feel a little twinge of hurt when the only words I can use to explain how I feel about someone are all related to romance, or when I introduce the people closest to me as my “friend,” the same word you might use to introduce an acquaintance, because nobody outside the internet has a goddamn clue what queerplatonic means. I don’t want to have to give a vocabulary lesson when I want to explain what someone means to me. I just want to spend the rest of my life with someone in a loving relationship that I don’t have to explain or justify. I don’t want to make a statement with the way that I love people, or to see my relationships as secondary over and over and over again. I just want society to value my relationships the way I do. And for that, I would need a romantic relationship.”
You don’t want to have to do the work to make the world a more hospitable place for people like you, and you don’t want to deal with the shitty reality of being outside the privileged group in society. You want to have been born into a life where everything is easy for you, and you’re part of the “normal,” dominant majority. You wish you were an ordinary romantic-sexual person who wanted traditional romantic-sexual primary relationships, so that you could live your live oblivious that anyone unlike you exists or has problems because of the very culture that you directly benefit from and fit into without even trying.
And I’m sure every person who isn’t a white, cis, heterosexual male has felt similarly at least once in their life. You think people of color want to devote time and energy to fighting racism? You think women want to devote time to fighting sexism and putting up with bullshit from men? You think queer and trans people want to spend time and energy fighting against queerphobia and transphobia, socially, culturally, and legally? Don’t you think all of these people wish they could just live their lives in an environment where they are respected, supported, secure, and equal by default? Of course, they do.
Instead, we live in a world where not being a white, cishet man means you’re going to have issues. We live in a world where being aromantic and wanting a long-term, stable, loving friendship with someone who is committed to you, prioritizes you, and treats you like a partner is harder than being any kind of romantic-sexual person who wants a conventional romantic-sexual relationship and a conventional romance-centric lifestyle, harder even than being asexual and romantic and dating conventionally. If you want to pretend to be something you aren’t and try to find happiness within the bullshit system that rejects who you really are and what you really want, that’s your choice. You can be aromantic and pretend to be romantic and date and get married, just like a queer person can pretend to be straight or a trans person can pretend to be cis or an asexual can pretend to be sexual or have partnered sex for the rest of their lives just to appease someone who doesn’t love them enough to stay in a nonsexual romantic relationship. Nobody’s going to stop you, and sure, on some level, you’d benefit from living life like a member of a privileged group, a group that is considered acceptable and normal. Instead of being single and unpartnered for who knows how long as you look for a compatible friend, you could ride the dating merry-go-round instead and have <50% chance of living happily ever after in a long-term monogamous romantic relationship. You can get together with your romantic friends and bitch about being single or bitch about that recent breakup or bitch about how your current romance is no longer satisfying. You can get married just like all your romantic-sexual friends and then get divorced at least once like half of your romantic-sexual friends. You can turn your back on friendship and all the alternatives to traditional romance completely, not even bother looking for anything else, write off queerplatonic partnerships as mythical pipe dreams, and pretend that the Romantic Fantasy really is the only thing you’ve ever wanted and could ever want and you would be incomplete without it.
And at the end of the day, you’re just one more person feeding amatonormativity, one more person perpetuating The Way Things Are, one more person standing in the way of all the permanently single aromantics who want to be respected and supported in our own right and do relationships our way and have our primary or domestic or committed friendships respected–not because they’re like romantic relationships but because friendship fucking deserves equality for being what it is.
You want to spend the rest of your life in a loving relationship that you don’t have to explain or justify? Great. So do I.
And I’m not going to fold to Romantic Society’s gospel of romantic relationships just to get it. I’m not going to date a bunch of romance supremacists and pretend to like it, to compensate for a lack of faith in friendship and the possibility of the kind of nonromantic relationships I really want. I’m not going to close myself off from other aromantic people who want the kind of friendship I want, by burying myself in romantic relationships.
I’d rather die alone.
You do what you want. But “cupioromantic” is an unnecessary term.