Nonromantic Love and Affection are Great; Romantic Love and Affection Are Not
Here’s probably the most telling indication of my personal aromanticism and also an example of the fact that it’s only romantic attraction that separates romantic behavior from nonromantic behavior.
In the abstract and in emotionally significant friendships, I desire and enjoy a lot of physical affection, emotional intimacy, general closeness and some interdependence, quality time spent one-on-one with each other, etc.
But take any of those same experiences and turn them into something romantic, by way of someone else’s romantic feelings for me, and I am immediately turned off.
A friend or queerplatonic partner telling me they love me is sweet and appreciated.
Somebody telling me they are romantically in love with me makes me want to go to another planet. There’s no better way to get rid of me. If you’re my friend and you have romantic feelings for me, do us both a favor and keep that information to yourself.
A friend wanting to cuddle with me because we love each other is really wonderful. It has the potential of making me feel deeply loved, secured, and happy.
A person who’s got romantic feelings for me proposing that we cuddle makes my skin crawl a little bit. I don’t want to be touched by anyone who’s got romantic designs on me, despite the fact that in the abstract I do want and like to be touched.
The behaviors can be exactly the same. The activities shared can be the same. The banter, the affection, the other person’s desire for closeness with me can be the same. Hell, there can be love in both scenarios, real love. But how I feel about it changes dramatically based on the presence or absence of romantic attraction.
I guess you could say that in friendship, I defy the negative aromantic stereotypes, but dropped into someone else’s romantic gaze, I personify that stereotype to a T—not just because I am aromantic but because I am also romance-repulsed. Nothing makes me cold the way romance does.
Furthermore, this extends to other people, not just myself. Other people’s romantic relationships annoy the shit out of me. Other people’s close friendships please me. I love seeing friends being physically affectionate, but romantic couples sucking face in public and acting all ooey-gooey is a turn off. I love hearing about other people’s significant friendships, especially if they’re queerplatonic or passionate, but I don’t want to listen to anyone go on and on about how in love they are with their romantic partner. I really don’t give a shit about your romo story.
The Time It Takes Me to Feel Emotional Attachment
Romantic people can go from strangers to serious romantic couple in a matter of weeks. It happens all the time. They go out on dates with total strangers or they have sex with someone they just met and a few months later, they’re a couple with an exclusive commitment who are obsessed with each other and can’t seem to be apart in their free time.
Apparently, you’re supposed to decide within 5 or 10 dates whether or not you want to be an official, exclusive couple with someone you’ve only known that long. And if you don’t, then you quit dating and/or fucking altogether and move on to the next candidate.
Maybe this is because I’m aro, maybe it’s just a feature of my personality, or maybe it’s both—but there is no way in hell I can decide in a collective 10-20 hours whether I want to be the most intimate I can possibly be with another human being. I’m certainly not going to love anyone I know that little.
That “spark” or whatever that romantic people talk about, that lets them know their date is someone they want to see again for the purpose of pursuing a romantic relationship in the near future, is not something I experience. I’ve experienced very strong chemistry with a few people, not to mention strong love and attachment, but a) it’s rare for me, in comparison to how often romance happens to romantic people and b) it takes me a hell of a lot longer to feel anything at all for a friend.
I imagine that if I tried dating—if I decided to go on a bunch of dates with someone from OkCupid or Tinder, for example—we’d be several dates in, they would try to have The Talk about becoming an official couple, and I would be at a loss because I wouldn’t feel anything whatsoever, beyond “Sure, you’re all right, we’ve had some decent conversations.”
I don’t understand how anyone can believe they “love” someone who they’ve known for less than a year. Or how you can become completely consumed by that other person within that same short amount of time. If someone I went on 10 dates or less with suddenly proclaimed that they were in love with me, my honest reaction would be along the lines of, “You don’t even fucking know me. You don’t love me, you’re just infatuated and in love with the idea of me and the romance you’ve created in your mind.”
With few exceptions, the people I’ve loved in my life were people I knew for years, and it took years for that love to develop on my part. Likewise, in no universe could that love evaporate or die in a matter of weeks or months, the way some romantic relationships do.
The bottom line is, loving friendship is slow to build, starts out light and superficial, deepens and intensifies over time; romance starts out intense, flares up fast, and burns out—either to nothing or to a much calmer kind of loving bond with substance instead of intensity. The way I naturally bond with people and develop emotional attachment to them is in line with friendship, not romantic relationships.
What I Want vs. What I Don’t Want in Intimate Friendships
I’ll keep this simple.
Stuff I Want in Intimate Friendship: genuine love, respect, quality time spent one-on-one, physical affection (which can include hugging, cuddling, kissing, co-sleeping, holding hands, leaning against each other, back rubs, etc), emotional vulnerability and sharing, intimacy, trust, fun, saying “I love you” when we mean it, loyalty, protecting the time and space of our friendship, humor, communication, being able to do some things together and other things apart, freedom, flexibility, taking the friendship into consideration when making life decisions individually that could impact the friendship, deep connection,
Stuff I Won’t Tolerate: possessiveness, neediness, obsession, loss of independence, loss of individuality, the expectation that you come first and before everyone else I know by default, the expectation that we have to spend all of our free time together and can’t socialize separately, invasion of privacy, blending our social lives completely so that we no longer have separate friendships, the expectation or demand that I damage or destroy my other friendships for the sake of pleasing you and/or indulging your insecurities, constant sentimentalism, restricting what I can and can’t do in other friendships, framing the importance of our friendship in terms of how it is superior to all of other relationships, a sense of entitlement to knowing where I am/who I’m with/what I’m doing at all times,
In other words, I wouldn’t last 5 minutes in the average romantic relationship.
I Want the Same Things from All People I Love
This was definitely something that should’ve tipped me off to my aromanticism when I was a kid, because it was consistently my experience back then, pretty much like it is now.
So the average romantic person has a long list of stuff they specifically want in romantic relationships, and for the most part, they ONLY want those things from romantic relationships. I am convinced that to a degree, this is caused by powerful social conditioning that teaches us you’re only allowed to access certain experiences through romance or that certain behaviors/feelings/experiences are innately romantic, but whatever the reason for romantic people limiting themselves to satisfaction through romantic relationships is beside the point. The point is, they want XYZ in their lives, to feel happy and loved and whatever, and they don’t want or need or look for XYZ in friendship or family relationships, even when they’re single. They associate XYZ with romance, period.
In contrast, there has never been anything—even when I thought I was romantic as a teen—that I exclusively wanted from romantic partners and not friends, except for maybe the partner label. Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I had intense feelings for a variety of people, male and female, who I either wasn’t close to and wanted to be intimate friends with or was already friends with but not the way I wanted to be. I wanted emotional intimacy with all of them, I wanted to be loved by all of them, I wanted physical affection from all of them, I wanted to be important to all of them, and I felt devastated by the idea of being inferior to their romantic partners fairly equally across the board.
Looking back, even though at the time there were particular individuals who I wanted to “date,” nobody really stood out emotionally or in terms of the kind of interaction I wanted. There wasn’t a glaring difference between the people I wanted to be intimate friends with and the people I thought I wanted to date. If I had gotten all the relationships I wanted at the time, exactly the way I wanted them, outsiders wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference between the friendships and the “romantic” relationships, except for who I would’ve called my boyfriend/girlfriend.
And now, knowing that I am aro and knowing that I have no interest in romantic relationships, it’s clear that there’s not really a significant difference in desire and emotion when it comes to the domestic partners I want and all the other intimate friends I want or have or could have. Living together as committed, intentional partners is pretty much the only thing that I want to separate those domestic friends from everyone else I love. The actual depth or intensity of emotion, the love I want to feel, the physical affection and intimacy I would like or be comfortable with, the quality time spent one-on-one, the trust and the openness and the sharing—all of that can and ideally will be the same amongst all of my friendships.
There is no Super Special Person that I fantasize about fulfilling all of my most important desires and needs for love, connection, emotional intimacy, affection, etc—while the rest of my friends and family are relatively cool and distant with me by comparison. Because nothing is inherently romantic, there’s nothing that I see as off-limits (physically or emotionally) in my friendships simply because they are friendships.
Jealousy is something I rarely experience as an adult, but I did experience it intensely as a kid, including through college.
I almost never feel any kind of jealousy or even envy when it comes to a close friend having other close friends. Or if someone I want to be close friends with has a close friendship with someone else. Regarding other people’s close friendships, I feel either neutral or happy on their behalf. I think it’s really cool when someone has the kind of friendship I favor myself, even if that person is someone I’m friends with or becoming friends with. There is typically no reason for me to feel threatened by a friend’s friendship with someone else, even if they’re technically closer to that other friend than they are to me.
But what can make me extremely jealous and/or envious is a friend’s romantic relationship with someone else. That was always the thing that hurt most when I was growing up and when I was in college, the idea of the friends and family members I deeply loved getting romantically involved with other people and leaving me in the dust.
Now I know what you’re reflexive reaction is to this: if I only get jealous or envious of a friend’s romantic partner, not their other friends, then I must have romantic feelings for them.
But you’re wrong.
My jealousy and envy of people’s romantic partners have always been rooted in the fact that romantic people are notoriously romance supremacist. If my friendship is automatically inferior to a friend’s romantic relationship, whether that RR has been going on for 3 weeks or 3 months or 3 years, why shouldn’t I be jealous? If my feelings, desires, and needs as a friend are subjugated or ignored entirely because of my friend being in love with someone else, why wouldn’t I be upset? If I can’t have the time or the affection or the intimacy I want with my friend, because all of it goes to their romantic partner or because what I want is perceived as “romantic” by nature and therefore off-limits when my friend is in a monogamous romance with someone else, isn’t it totally rational that I would be pissed off, sad, hurt, and offended?
I guess romantic people would say no because they’re so trained to believe that this state of affairs, this approach to relationship organization and conduct, IS “normal” and “natural” and friends have no choice but to get over it, when they’re shafted for romance.
But that’s why I don’t make friends with romantic people anymore.
So my jealousy was never about wanting to be my friend’s romantic partner; it was only about wanting to be equally or more important than their romantic partner of the moment, while remaining their friend. It was about wanting the time, touch, and value that I liked in my friendships and perceiving that it was the fault of my friends’ romantic partners that I wasn’t getting it.
It’s not that I want you to date me; I just want you to stop being such a God damn shitty friend.