“Is it possible for a person to not be romantically attracted to anyone throughout their life?”
I asked this to several students of De La Salle University—several, if not most, said no. Miguelito Beato (I, AB-PHM), argues that “humans in general are social beings that are bound to be attracted [to someone else] even [if] their feelings are not reciprocated.” Keeping in mind that a person comes across hundreds of people everyday, the possibility of being attracted to at least one person is presumed. All the fairy tales we grew up with, and even the most-watched shows of today can attest that romantic love will emerge in our lives one way or another.
But what if developing romantic interests is not in one’s nature?
Aromanticism, a term coined in the mid 2000s, is a romantic orientation in which people develop little to no romantic attraction towards others. An aromantic gravitates toward deep friendships and meaningful relationships that defy expectations of romance.
The week after Valentine’s Day, February 17-23 marks the Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week whose prime purpose is to educate people about aromanticism, its history, spectrum, and issues.
Line in between aromanticism and asexuality
Aromanticism has sometimes been confused and associated with asexuality. This is grounded from the fact the word ‘aromantic’ was first used in asexual spaces such as the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN); and even until 2004, this word was still considered synonymous with asexuality to a certain extent. As people started having conversations regarding their lack of romantic attraction, the term ‘aromanticism’ then came into use.
While aromanticism and asexuality can go hand in hand, they are distinct from one another. Aromanticism is the lack of romantic attraction, whereas asexuality is the lack of sexual attraction. According to the University of North Carolina’s LGBT Center, “sexual attraction involves the desire for a sexual relationship or sexual contact with someone, while romantic attraction focuses more on an emotionally intimate connection with someone, not purely related to sex.” Seeing the differences, an aromantic person can have sexual urges without having romantic interests, and an asexual person can have romantic interests without having sexual desires.
Sasha Hailey, a 21-year old Sociology student in the United Kingdom who identifies as asexual, asserts that despite the differences of asexuality and aromanticism, “both deconstruct the idea that sex and love is the thing that we should organize our lives around.”
Knowing that an asexual person can possibly have little to no romantic interests, asexuals can then also fall under the growing spectrum of aromanticism: greyromantic, lithromantic, demiromantic—the list goes far beyond. All these identities only differ from the extent they see and experience romantic attraction. Take for example, a greyromantic experiences romantic attraction rarely, weakly; and even so, this attraction is easily lost; while a lithromantic likes the idea of romantic relationships, but does not want to involve him/herself in one.
Just like the romantics
“I feel [like an] outcast, as if I’m a freak or a weird person, as if I don’t deserve to be loved or cared for. I feel like I’m too weird sometimes, and that I’m not taken seriously.” Ellen*, a 19-year old Engineering student in Northeast USA, confesses how she feels being an aromantic. She feels alone seeing all her friends in romantic relationships; she admits that she sees herself marginalized or “othered” in the social circle she belongs in.
Despite the lack of romantic attraction, aromantics also yearn for acceptance, emotional connection, and deep relationships. Some people express affection differently; and though some aromantics are uncomfortable with physical affection, some enjoy cuddling, holding hands, and hugging.
“I’m all for it! I’m a very affectionate person with my friends and family,” Leah*, who loves playing instruments and learning languages, enthusiastically responds of how she, being an aromantic, feels about physical affection. “I get ‘squishes’ sometimes. [The feeling is] super rare but I do,” she also confesses. “Squishes”, as explained by AVEN, is “a desire for a strong platonic relationship with someone which is more emotionally intimate than a typical friendship.” It is the aromantic version of a crush—just lacking interest in developing it into a romantic relationship.
However, there are aromantic people who also look forward to being in a committed relationship—settling down together, sharing finances, living under the same roof, and even getting married. Some explain it as having a lifelong companionship with your best friend—usually without physical intimacy such as kissing. The terms “queerplatonic” or “quasi-platonic” are used to describe such relationships. Aromantics admit that this kind of set-up is quite difficult to grasp by non-aromantics—having little to no clue of how they feel, behave, and live.
Both Leah and Ellen have also made known that they both have been called and perceived as “plants” or “robots”, incapable of having feelings; but aromantics, just like everyone else, can feel and express emotions. Just because they cannot offer romance the way others do does not mean they are not capable of giving “love” at all.
Love beyond what is seen as love
Elizabeth Blake, an author and Philosophy professor, coined the term “amatonormativity”, which is a belief that poses the idea that the world is conditioned to believe that a romantic relationship is a universally shared goal that everyone must strive for.
From the telenovelas displaying romance on our television screens, to the countless posts about “true love” filling our social media pages, it really is easy to believe that romantic love is the best love out there—a love that must be searched for.
Yet, “love is not just about romantic love,” as Leah emphasized. Romance is merely a small portion of all the kinds of love this world has to offer; and though this world might have been set up to believe that romantic relationships are essential for fulfillment, it is not and should not be the universal standard. Aromantics are the living proof that happiness and contentment can still be achieved even without romantic relationships.
As time progresses, sexual and romantic orientations also evolve. Preferences are no longer limited within the narrow set of culturally approved options.
The Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week reminds us to celebrate love beyond romance. Let it be known that aromantics, a community that the world has overlooked, are no less than anyone else. They also feel the intensity and weight love brings—only expressed and experienced beyond the amatonormative expectations. It is high time for them to be fully recognized and pushed out from the margins of society—for we are one, and essentially the same.
*Names with asterisks (*) are pseudonyms.