What is aromanticism? Why these aromantics say romance feels 'very unnatural to me'

·10 min read
Not everyone wants to be swept off their feet, which is why speaking about aromanticism — and its various micro-labels within the spectrum — has never been more important. (Photo: Getty Images)
Not everyone wants to be swept off their feet, which is why speaking about aromanticism — and its various micro-labels within the spectrum — has never been more important. (Photo: Getty Images)

While rom-coms and Disney flicks often portray romantic love as a universal goal, not everyone shares the same desire to be swept off their feet.

The romantic and sexuality spectrums are wide-ranging, and to ring in Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week, Yahoo Life sat down with a few aromantics (“aros” for short) to discuss what aromanticism actually means and what society often gets wrong.

But first, let’s make a couple things clear:

Aromanticism is a romantic orientation that most commonly describes people who experience little to no romantic attraction to others, or those with little to no desire to have emotional contact and interaction with a partner. Of course, one’s definition of a “romantic relationship” varies depending on the individual.

This is not to be confused with asexuality, which describes people who do not experience sexual attraction, or those who are not drawn to people’s sexuality and do not desire to act upon attraction to others in a sexual way. Similar to aromanticism, one’s definition can vary depending on the individual.

“Ultimately, for both orientations, it's about attraction, not their behavior,” Vesta, a researcher and activist at AEURA, an aromantic advocacy group, tells Yahoo Life. “That’s why we love to put emphasis on how it's a spectrum, and in both the asexual and aromantic communities, there's such a wide range of diverse narratives, experiences and preferences.”

Yasmin Benoit, a British model and activist who identifies as asexual-aromantic, says that society’s obsession with romance has created a warped understanding about the aromantic community.

“We are kind of taught to perceive romantic love as being the ultimate form of human emotion, and that human connection is the epitome of everything,” she explains. “Therefore, if you can't experience that for whatever reason, people place a whole lot of negative stereotypes on it and it’s something that defines your entire emotional approach to life.”

Understanding aromanticism

Damon Jacobs, a psychotherapist and licensed family therapist living in New York City, says to understand aromanticism we have to look critically at the way romance is consumed by society — which, he argues, is “rooted in fear.”

“People are conditioned to believe they ‘need’ to have their emotional and physical needs met by another person, and relationships are the means by which people achieve their goals,” Jacobs tells Yahoo Life. “This is consistent with a scarcity mindset — i.e. the thought system: ‘There is not enough love, attention, affection, sex, validation for me’ and ‘As my boyfriend, you should meet my needs.’ This thought process often results in much strain, conflict, resentment and ultimately loneliness.”

“In this regard, I'm aromantic,” Jacobs adds of his orientation. “It is no one's responsibility to meet my needs. No one ‘should’ do anything to help me think or feel anything.”

Of course, all experiences and approaches vary depending on the person. For many, like in Benoit’s case, understanding her emotional truth began at an early age.

“As a kid, it wasn't ... on my radar until like early puberty, when the kids went from just playing together to fancying each other and wanting to go out with each other,” she remembers. “That was when I was able to recognize I wasn't really feeling the same way and that there was something different about me. But I didn't really feel the need to put a word to it.”

That’s why, she explains, using her platform to educate the world about aromanticism has been her life’s mission. “I think a lot of people encounter that it's still kind of not really something people believe,” she explains. “I don't really think we're entirely there yet.”

For Vesta, understanding their orientation required a deep level of soul-searching.

“I'm platonically attracted to my friends. I feel a very strong aesthetic attraction for people when they just look so gorgeous, or, you know, just aesthetically pleasing,” they explain of their experience. “But I was struggling with understanding if I've ever felt romantic attraction or if I have ever had a crush on someone. It was difficult to distinguish between how I feel toward certain friends: Do I want to date them? Or do I really, you know, love them as friends? This distinction was really difficult.”

Inspecting one's emotional and spiritual connection with others, Jacobs says, is a vital step toward understanding where you are on the aromantic spectrum.

What are other micro-labels?

There are many micro-labels that exist within the aromantic spectrum, and all of them are very unique to the individual.

One of the most common is demiromantic, which according to AUREA, is described as “a person who only experiences romantic attraction after developing an emotional connection.”

“If this was someone they had just met, there would be no chance of ever experiencing romantic attraction toward this person,” Vesta explains of demiromanticism.

Frayromantic, Vesta adds, is another popular micro-label describing “someone that will experience romantic attraction toward strangers that they aren't that familiar with, but as they get to know them more, this attraction would fade away.”

Other micro-labels, as explained by AUREA, are:

  • Greyromantic: Describes a person who feels romantic attraction very rarely, weakly, unreliably or gains/loses attraction in unusual or unknown circumstances. It can also be used as an umbrella term for orientations on the aromantic spectrum except for aromantics who don’t experience romantic attraction at all.

  • Loveless aromantic: Describes a person on the aromantic spectrum who feels disconnected from the concept of love, does not experience love or rejects the idea of personally experiencing love. Loveless aros may experience other attractions, but do not equate these attractions to love.

  • Neuroromantic: Describes a person whose romantic orientation is affected by their neurodivergency in some way.

  • Recipromantic: Describes a person who feels romantic attraction only if the other person feels romantic attraction toward them first.

  • Nebularomantic: Describes a person who has difficulty or inability to tell romantic attraction apart from platonic due to their neurodivergency.

  • Bellusromantic: Describes a person who has interest in conventionally romantic actions, yet does not desire a romantic relationship.

  • Quoiromantic: Describes a person who doesn’t understand romance, romantic attraction or romantic orientation and feels as if those categories are nonsensical, inapplicable or inaccessible so they disidentify with those labels.

  • Aroflux: Describes a person whose romantic orientation fluctuates but always stays on the aromantic spectrum.

  • Arogender: Describes a gender which is significantly connected to one’s aromanticism. It can be any gender identity influenced by having an aromantic spectrum identity. It can be used as a standalone gender label or in conjunction with others; for example, one could be an arogender boy.

Challenges and misconceptions

Societal pressures to find romantic partnership have created unique challenges for aromantics, a feeling Vesta understands all too well.

“Romance genuinely confuses me,” Vesta explains. “In theory, I understand what it is, sort of. When you come across romance and films and books, or romantic relationships you witness in real life among friends or family, I understand all that completely, sort of. But when it comes to myself, it would feel very unnatural to me.”

“If I were to go on a date,” they explain, “I would constantly second guess myself and think, you know, is this romantic? Was that gesture meant to be romantic? What is romance? What even is a date? What's the difference between a date and hanging out? All of that confuses me so much. And often, it just brings a lot of frustration if I try to think too much about it.”

Benoit says her connections with others have never manifested in a romantic way, which often made her a target growing up.

“We put romantic love on a hierarchy and it's very much assumed that everyone is going to feel that in exactly the same way, even though it's technically a concept rather than an inherent emotion,” she says.

A popular misconception about being aromantic, she adds, is a false notion that they are incapable of loving another human being.

“For asexuality, people tend to [think we] have something wrong with our body, whereas with aromanticism people tend to think there's something wrong with your soul, and your heart," she explains. “You fall into a sort of Voldemort-esque domain.”

She adds, "People think we don't have any feeling, that we’re super cold-hearted and maybe evil. ‘Psychopath’ and ‘sociopath’ are the top 10 list of things I get called, like I have something wrong with that part of my brain, I don't have any emotions, I don't value human connection, human life, all these things, like, bordering on serial killer material.”

There’s also a general idea that aromantics “hate romance” and in many cases “reject it,” Vesta points out, which they say isn’t entirely true.

“Some aces [asexuals] would be in favor of sex in their relationships, or just in general, in favor of sex. Some aces are repulsed by sex,” they say. “Similarly for aros, just because they might be romance-repulsed, they might still engage in romantic activities with their partners. Or perhaps they do enjoy romance, but maybe in theory or in specific circumstances. It's all very dependent on the individual so it's very helpful to not make any assumptions [like] 'OK, so you're ace, that means you hate sex,' or for aros, that they want to necessarily be single forever. Some do, and that's completely valid as well.”

Due to the personal nature of these identities, Jacobs says the key to understanding aromantics (and anyone, for that matter) is to respect one’s individual search for authenticity in their lives — however that manifests.

“Authentic love is an abundant, joyful energy that helps people experience sustainable connection, love, fulfillment, play and meaning, throughout the lifespan,” he shares, adding that in any relationship, “it is not contingent on one partner meeting one's needs in a ‘romantic’ way.”

“It is based on the fact that you and I are individuals who are actively engaged with our process of growth and expansion, and in our connection can help the other grow and expand further,” he explains. “We may choose to only that with each other, or we may choose to do that with an abundance of sexual partners and friends.”

Growing visibility

Looking ahead, Benoit says the world is learning more about aromanticism given the younger generation’s thirst for knowledge.

“I’m speaking at universities constantly and just trying to do as much as I can, to raise awareness wherever I can,” she says. “I'm definitely grateful for it, in essence, but at the same time, I’m definitely an easy target because I’m the easiest person to find [online]. Being known in your community can make it harder to just exist as a normal individual, but I do think we are heading in the right direction.”

With education comes more empathy, Vesta says, which is always a good thing. Re-examining our understanding of what love is and what it looks like, they add, can only help the movement.

“In this day and age, we're discovering that different people have different priorities to what they want to do in life, the types of relationships they want to have,” Vesta says. “I think a really important thing to think about for Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week is to really be open-minded and be accepting of how different people want to have different types of relationships in their lives.”

Still, Benoit adds, when it comes to educating the masses, it's a slow burn. And that's OK.

“It’s all about baby steps,” she says.

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