Part of belonging to a marginalized minority in society is having to detoxify your own mind of the harmful and false belief systems and points of view that you’ve internalized throughout the course of your life, simply through constant exposure to the rhetoric and realities of the kyriarchy. We all spend too much time consuming media and paying attention to our social network, and that leads to a constant absorption and reinforcement of racism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, amatonormativity, sex normativity, de facto monogamy, etc. We did not pick up our prejudices, build our personal worldview, and install our beliefs into the deepest levels of our psyche overnight—and we aren’t going to break them down quickly either. It’s a process. It’s a process that never ends, but one that is absolutely vital for us to undertake, for our personal and collective well-being.
It goes without saying that asexuals have internalized compulsory sexuality, sex normativity, and anti-asexuality just like everybody else. It also goes without saying that aromantic people have internalized amatonormativity, singlism, and anti-aromanticism. This programming began in early childhood, when we would all read books and watch movies and TV shows that presented only one message on the subject of human relationships: it is normal, inevitable, and exclusively correct for all people to want and eventually have a heterosexual romantic relationship that follows the blueprint mainstream society promotes, which involves monogamy, marriage, having children, the man and woman filling traditional binary gender roles, etc. Go back and check all the children’s movies, TV shows, and books that you consumed before the age of 10. See how many of them include a conventional hetero- romantic relationship plot line, particularly one at the center of the story. Now look for the ones that didn’t include that straight romantic relationship. What’s the ratio?
See, this process of internalizing anti-asexual and anti-aromantic beliefs and attitudes didn’t start when you hit puberty, when you entered high school or junior high, certainly not as late as college. The world started filling your brain with this shit EARLY. When you were too young to question it, too young to wonder about alternatives, when you were so young and impressionable that anyone could’ve told you anything about the way life and the world works and you would’ve believed it. So now, when you reach your 20s and beyond, you’ve been running the same program in your brain for decades. Shit is deeply entrenched. Replacing that programming with something totally different, even as you continue to live and participate in the society and culture that gave you the program in the first place and is reinforcing it nonstop everywhere you look, is going to take effort! It’s going to take focus, more specifically. And it’s definitely going to take time.
I want to talk about aromantic people thinking like romantics. This is a problem I’ve noticed in aro spaces online, both the ones that are mostly asexual and the ones that include sexual people. It’s a symptom of internalized amatonormativity and anti-aromanticism, although the sort of thing I’m talking about today has less to do with hating yourself for being aro and more to do with seeing the world and human relationships through romantic-person lenses, even though you’re aro.
I’ve noticed that some aromantic folks, whether sexual or asexual, are stuck in romantic perspectives when it comes to human relationships and love. They’re talking like romantic people, throwing around the word “relationship” the way romantic people do—to mean a partnership that is more than and different from friendship—and worst of all, conducting their own social life like romantic people.
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen people online ask questions like: “What’s the difference between a queerplatonic relationship and a best friendship?” or “Can I still be aromantic if I want a queerplatonic partner? Or does that make me gray?” And oftentimes, I look on with disappointment when I see advice bloggers answer along the lines of, “Queerplatonic relationships are this, and friendships are that. They’re not the same thing.”
Queerplatonic relationships are friendships. We should not be trying to avoid that truth here, out of fear that romantic people won’t take us and our relationships seriously. Just because romantic society treats friendship like disposable, meaningless trash doesn’t mean that aromantic people who want or have nonromantic partnerships have to dismiss the idea that what we desire and what we have are friendships. Trying to convince the world that queerplatonic partnerships are something other than or more than friendship is pulling the same shit that romantic people pull when they treat romantic relationships as different from friendship by virtue of being more.
The word and the concept of queerplatonic relationships was created by AROMANTIC people, to describe their own feelings and desires for nonromantic relationships that don’t fit into romantic society’s understanding, into romantic society’s relationship binary of “romantic partnerships” vs. “friendships.” That’s why I’m flabbergasted whenever I see someone ask whether wanting a queerplatonic partnership might mean they’re not aromantic. Jesus Christ! A desire for a NONROMANTIC partnership, called by a term that aro people invented, should not cause anyone to doubt their aromanticism! Romantic people are not the only ones who are allowed to want a partner! Why? Because partnerships are not exclusively romantic! Read that again! And again and again until you grasp it.
Nothing nags me like having the following conversation with a fellow aro person:
“I want a relationship, just not with any of the romantic [or sexual] stuff.”
“So you want a committed friendship.”
“No, I want something that’s more than a friendship, but I don’t want an actual romantic relationship.”
“….. so you want a friendship that’s a partnership.”
“No, I want a relationship that isn’t romantic. Friendships don’t have all the things I want in a relationship.”
At which point, I internally sigh the biggest sigh and probably try once more to suggest that they want a queerplatonic partnership, which is just an alternative term for a centered, committed friendship which might be exclusive in some way.
This is a prime example of an aromantic person having aromantic feelings and desires that they think about in romantic people terms. I get that most, if not all, the people any given aro interacts with on a day to day to basis are going to be ignorant romantics who have no idea what aromanticism is, what queerplatonic partnerships are, or that there’s anything possible in the realm of relationships outside of their own standard de facto primary romantic partnership. But come on, aros—learn to de-romanticize your mind and your language, for fuck’s sake. If you’re not romantic, there’s no good reason why you should be thinking and talking like one, especially when it contributes to romantic social and cultural dominance. There’s certainly no good reason why you should be talking and thinking like romantic people when you’re in aromantic spaces.
Anyway, this usage of the word “relationship” that is consistent with romantic culture, paired with the denial of wanting a friendship to be at the center of your social life, is pure internalized-amatonormativity being expressed. I’ve raged before about how utterly ridiculous and frustrating it is that romantic people even use the word “relationship” to exclusively, specifically denote romantic partnerships, and I would like to point out once again that this is a linguistic indicator of the romance supremacy that romantic society has institutionalized. In this dialogue with the brainwashed aro, we see the same old, tired idea that friendship is inferior to “[romantic] relationships,” and the corresponding idea that only romantic relationships can be partnerships, even though it’s directly at odds with what the aro person says they want: a nonromantic relationship.
Friendships are relationships. So fuck off out of here, romantic society, with your attitude that only romantic relationships are worthy of the word “relationship.” Aromantic people, PLEASE start paying attention to how amatonormativity and romance supremacy continue to live in your language and your mind, and start actively uninstalling it by speaking and thinking differently. See, once you understand that romantic people use the word “relationship” to exclusively mean “romantic relationship” and that they also consider “romantic relationship” and “primary partnership” to be irrevocably synonymous, and once you understand that what you’re looking for is a nonromantic partnership, it just doesn’t make any sense to say that you want “a relationship” the way romantic people do. Saying you want “a relationship” that isn’t romantic, yet refusing to call it friendship, is illogical. And it reflects the problematic, illogical status of romantic people using “relationship” to specifically mean romantic relationship in the first place. Any active connection between two human beings is a relationship, period. Not all relationships are partnerships. Not all partnerships are romantic relationships. If what you want is a nonromantic partnership, just use those words—and don’t be afraid to also call it a friendship.
“But, dude,” the brainwashed aro wants to say, “all the friendships I’ve ever had with romantic people have never come close to the kind of partnership I want with someone, and I know these friends of mine wouldn’t want to partner up with me unless we became romantically involved. The only kind of friendship I’m aware of is the less involved, non-committed, unemotional, non-intimate, non-physically affectionate, super casual kind that always without exception comes second to my friend’s romantic relationship. So this partnership I want can’t possibly be a friendship.”
Well, my dear aro, let me set you straight.
First of all, for the love of God, please go get some aro friends. Friendship between two people who are aro, perma-single, and friendship-centric is from a different fucking universe than friendship between an aro and your garden variety romantic person. Learn this for yourself.
Second of all, you need to understand something: the way romantic people do relationships is not the only way for human beings to do them. You are not limited by romantic people’s language, desires, practices, beliefs, or anything else—in terms of what is possible for you, what you’re free to do, what you actually feel and desire. Friendship itself is not limited to what romantic people are capable of making it. You, aro person, are not living within a fixed, universal romantic reality that you cannot escape. You are free and capable of creating relationships in your own life that don’t exist in romantic people’s lives, and when you talk about these relationships, you are not obligated to explain them or label them for the purpose of getting romantic people to understand them. And you can’t do that, anyway. You just end up distorting the truth of what your relationships—your friendships—are and allow romantic people to believe that nothing exists outside their own worldview.
What friendship can be in your life, as an aromantic person, is never limited by what it is in romantic society. What friendship can be in your life has nothing to do with what it is in the lives of romantic people. What friendship CAN be in your life is not even limited by what your friendships with romantic people have historically been like. You could meet a compatible aromantic tomorrow who wants everything you want in a nonromantic partnership and become friends, and if your friendship grew into that partnership you both want, it would still be friendship. It would be a friendship unlike any other you’ve previously had, but it would be friendship all the same. Not romance.
I’ve said this before but it always bears repeating: partnerships are not exclusively, inherently romantic. Wanting a partnership, as someone aromantic, is not the same thing as wanting romantic relationships. The thing is, for ROMANTIC people, a partnership is equivalent to romantic relationship; they can’t conceive of being (primary) partners with someone nonromantically. Their romantic feelings create a desire for partnership, and their desire for partnership is romantic by default. This is why they so often make the mistake of believing that you can only be aromantic if you have no desire or interest in partnerships whatsoever, and that aros are all satisfied with normative friendships being the only relationships in our lives. When romantic people mentally subtract “romantic feelings/desires” from the aro person, they imagine the aromantic individual as someone identical to themselves but without the romantic portion of their nature. In reality, an aromantic person is not some walking half-human who’s missing romantic capabilities the way an amputee is missing a limb. The aromantic person is whole and wired differently than romantic people altogether. It’s obvious that in many, many cases, aromantic people have an emotional make-up that’s different than that of romantics: not only in what aros don’t feel but in what they DO feel—for friends, nonromantic partners, even family.
Being willing to settle for romantic relationships, in the absence of nonromantic partnership, is not the same thing as actually WANTING romantic relationships. Desperate people will do all kinds of things they normally wouldn’t do, to fill an urgent need—and loneliness, touch starvation, an intense desire for love can make human beings desperate. Aromantics who want emotional intimacy, companionship, love, a friend they can always depend on, someone who will treat them like they’re important, can be desperate for those things to a point where they’ll take romantic relationships instead of trying to wait it out for a queerplatonic partnership while dealing with their disappointing normative friendships with romantic people. It’s sort of like putting a vegetarian in a position where they can either meat or starve. They may hold out for a long time, if their vegetarianism means a lot to them, but most people are going to fold and eat meat before they reach the point of death. This is very similar to asexuals who routinely enter mixed romantic relationships in which they have sex; in that scenario, their desire for romantic partnership is so strong, that they’d rather put up with sex—even if they’re averse, repulsed, and/or don’t experience any physical pleasure from it—than be single for long periods of time. It’s a “lesser of two evils” situation. Presented with what they truly desire—a nonromantic partnership or a nonsexual romantic relationship—the aro or ace in question would choose that immediately. But if they perceive the only two options being “romantic-sexual relationship” or “none of my core emotional/physical needs being met,” then many will ultimately choose to try the romantic-sexual relationship.
I’m not going to harp on cupioromanticism at length again because I think I’ve said all I have to say about it, but it bears noting here that the concept of an aromantic person—someone who never experiences romantic attraction, romantic love, etc—wanting romantic relationships specifically (not just a partnership, but a relationship that is labeled romantic, perceived as romantic, and had with someone who is romantically attracted to the aro) is closely related to this relationship availability problem, in addition to the fact that we all live in a culture saturated with amatonormativity.
What cupioromantics and other romance-willing aromantic people say is: “I don’t experience romantic feelings, but I want to participate in romantic relationships.”
But frequently, the truth is more like this: “I don’t experience romantic feelings, but I want at least one connection with another human being that meets my needs and desires for emotional closeness, companionship, loyalty, attention, affection, physical intimacy, commitment, love, intentional togetherness, priority, etc. And because I live in this fucked up world dominated by romantic people, in an overwhelmingly amatonormative culture where aromanticism is invisible and scorned and friendship is treated like worthless trash, because romantic people outnumber aros like me millions to one and because they’re only capable of normative romantic partnerships and casual friendship, because it’s much easier to meet these romantic people who think in this amatonormative way than it is to meet other aromantic people who think and feel the way I do, and because I would rather not wait for years or even decades to meet just one person who I could have a friendship with that meets my needs and desires and be single in the meantime without those needs and desires met, I am willing to do romantic relationships with romantic people because at least then, I’ll get much of what I want from a partnership even if it never quite lines up right with my nature and my core desire for a nonromantic friendship that is also a primary partnership. Basically, romance is better than loneliness, solitude, and social insignificance, and doing relationships just like the vast majority of humankind is way easier than being a major social deviant and dealing with all the bullshit that goes along with that.”
Obviously, it’s easier to use the first description. Especially if you’re not self-aware enough to understand why, as someone who doesn’t have a single romantic feeling whatsoever, you would still want romantic relationships.
Settling for romantic relationships when you’re aro, because you’d rather be romantically coupled than not have any kind of significant connection at all, may be understandable, but it still just perpetuates the romance-dominated, amatonormative culture and society that makes life hard for aromantics in the first place. Instead of making yourself available to other aros who want a nonromantic partnership, you join the ranks of romantic people in romantic relationships. Instead of standing up for friendship and nonromantic partnership as legitimate, possible, and desirable, instead of calling romantic people out on their bullshit attitudes about friendship vs. romance, instead of actually trying to change the world for the better, you just quietly disappear into the ranks of romantic couples and allow romantic society to continue believing that the only way they know how to live and love really is The Only Way. And on a more personal, individual level, you aren’t doing anything to deconstruct and heal your own internalized amatonormativity and anti-aromanticism and singlism and romance supremacy. Romantic society has colonized your mind, and you’re going to let that stand.
But you don’t have to. You don’t have to blindly, unconditionally accept romantic ways of thinking, speaking, and being. You don’t have to do relationships the way romantic people do them. You don’t have to give up on improving the world for aromantic people before you even start, just because it’s hard. If the only thing you ever do for the aro community is get right with yourself on the inside, cleanse your mind of internalized romantic crap, and start living and talking and thinking in such a way that is clearly aromantic, that will be enough.
Start respecting friendship, not just in your own life but as a social form. Start questioning everything you hear romantic people say and what you see them do. Listen to yourself and make sure that you aren’t regurgitating some toxic anti-aromantic, anti-friendship nonsense that everyone takes for granted as normal and true. Don’t let the amatonormative system take queerplatonic friendship discourse away from the aro community. Don’t allow the fucked up, distorted image of aromanticism that romantic society would have you believe, make you doubt your own identity and emotions. Set out to be an aro-positive person living an aro-positive life.