If you clicked on this article thinking, I have no idea what aromantic means, then you're not alone. Despite many people identifying this way, aromanticism is rarely talked about in the same way other LGBTQ+ identities are. This leads to A LOT of misunderstanding about what it really means to be aromantic - or 'aro'.
Here, three people who identify as aromantic explain what it's really like.
What does aromantic mean to you?
Jenny, 28, she/her: Well, the "official" definition is not feeling romantically attracted to others (or only rarely/under specific circumstances), but I define it for myself as not being able to fall in love.
Scarlett, 18, she/her, a barista: It’s a word that finally made my feelings make sense. A couple of years ago I was feeling like I was odd because I didn’t fall head over heels for people like I saw my friends doing. Aromantic just fit.[instagram]https://www.instagram.com/p/BmRGqhwlGV-/?utm_source=ig_embed&utm_medium=loading[/instagram]
Steph, 27, she/her or they/them, editor at Stand Up magazine: Aromanticism is a broad spectrum, but it means people who do not, or rarely, experience romantic attraction. Romantic attraction is a specific form of attraction and does not always align with sexual attraction (or other forms of attraction such as aesthetic). A lot of people mix up aromanticism with romance repulsed. Some aromantics might be romance repulsed (i.e. extremely uncomfortable with romance in any way), but it's actually separate to the experience of attraction. Some aromantics absolutely love romance - such as romcoms, going on dates, romantic gestures etc - but not actually experience romantic attraction for themselves, for instance.
Do you identify in any other ways?
Jenny: I may be cupioromantic, which means desiring a romantic relationship even though you don't feel romantic attraction. I am hetero-allosexual (someone who experiences sexual attraction), and a cis woman.
Scarlett: I’m sort of greyromantic (where someone can feel romantic attraction, but this is rare) and demiromantic (where someone only feels romantic attraction if they've developed an emotional connection) because I’ve definitely felt romantic love for one or two people, but never without a strong friendship beforehand.
Steph: With my aromanticism, I'm greyromantic and demiromantic. I'm also bisexual and a genderfluid woman.
How did you come to identify this way?
Jenny: Although a couple of times there were guys I found attractive, I never wanted to date and didn't think I would ever be in a relationship - not just because I'd never been in love. After dating someone for six months, I had to tell him I'd never been in love and didn't think that that would change. I really liked him though, so we continued dating. After some weeks, I Googled "can't fall in love" and found out about aromanticism. When I first found out that I am aro, I read up on it and discovered that there's a spectrum. One day I realised I might be cupioromantic: I like many things about being in a relationship - the commitment, spending time with my best friend, kissing and cuddling him. My partner is alloromantic (someone who does experience romantic attraction), but it doesn't bother me. Although I didn't like when he sent me a Valentine's gift and bought me flowers. I'm not sure if that means I am cupioromantic; I now usually say that I am aromantic, and sometimes add that I might be cupio.
Scarlett: Ash Hardell, an LGBTQ+ vlogger, talks about every term you can think of as a way of educating people. It was through them that I first discovered the term. However, it wasn’t until early this year that I identified as it when my friend made a now obvious observation that I might be demiromantic.
Steph: I only really started to associate myself with aromanticism a couple of years ago. In comparison, I've been very aware of my bisexuality since I was a teenager. My understanding of my aromanticism really started through my bisexual activism. I've always been totally for the bi community and highlighting our experiences, but I started to realise my own experiences of romanticism and sexuality didn't quite fit with bisexual activism - which is largely focused upon people who are bisexual and biromantic. It's ironic that I started to feel like an outsider in my own community, but it started a process where I began to ask more questions of myself and my own experiences. I slowly I realised that I was not alloromantic.
How does being aromantic affect your relationships? Do you date and have casual sex?
Jenny: I’ve never actually been on dates. I've never had, or searched out, casual sex.
My current partner once said that it's always in the back of his mind that I am not in love with him; he is okay with it though. He appreciates that I've always been honest with him, and he understands it's just the way I am. I guess my relationship wouldn't be much different if I loved him in a romantic way. I don't say those three words, and he correctly pointed out a few times that I don't care about him as much as/the way he cares about me. We've been long-distance for six years, and most of the time I'm okay with that. Again, not sure if that's because I'm aro or because I'm very introverted, or if it's a mixture of both.
Scarlett: I haven’t actually dated since before I started identifying as aro.
Steph: Relationships are an incredibly important part of my life. I don't usually develop deep, long connections with anyone - platonic or otherwise - as regularly or easily as most people seem to. That said, when I do form connections with people, I do cherish them. My aromanticism is a big part of how I approach every relationship in my life. It's helped inform me about toxic attitudes in society, and it's helped me evaluate my own actions. With any kind of sexual or romantic relationship I try to be as honest as possible, when it feels safe to do so. This has always been fine by partners, if a little confusing for them at the start. I imagine my relationships are the same as most people's. Some are casual, some are less so. Some romantic actions might put me off, or there may be days when I'm feeling a bit romance repulsed but again, that just comes down to me communicating to my partner, and letting them know I might have certain boundaries during that time.
What stereotypes and misconceptions do people hold about aromantics?
Jenny: Some people think that we can't love at all and are heartless/emotionless robots, which isn't true. There are many ways to love, love isn't exclusively romantic. Something many people don't get is that arospec [on the aromantic spectrum] people can like romantic-coded things such as kissing, or using pet names. People also often think aromanticism and asexuality are the same, or they mix up these two, or they think that all aros are also asexual. Many people tell us that we just haven't met 'The One' yet. While for some people there may be causes for them being aromantic, such as mental illnesses or their parents' bad relationship, this is not true for all aromantic people.
Scarlett: I’m only out to a select few people, all of whom are LGBTQ+ and get it already. I’m not publicly out because I worry about people not understanding, and saying my feelings aren’t real. I know of people who would give me the 'you just haven’t found the right person yet!' speech. Which I suppose is sort of true in my case, what with being greyromantic. Nothing happened that made me incapable of love. For one I am, but it’s platonic, but also it’s how my brain was wired. I worry about people who aren’t so informed will think aro people are unfeeling robots, which couldn’t be further from the truth, for me at least.
Steph: [There are misconceptions] even within the queer community. When it's explained, people tend to have awful reactions at first, ranging from complaining about having to learn another queer identity, to flat-out denying its existence. A lot of [the misconceptions] overlap with stereotypes about bisexuality, too. There's a general conflation with psychological conditions or mental illnesses, these include psychopathy, narcissism and depression. These conditions are all widely misunderstood and stigmatised anyway. People also think aromantics just want to have sex with other people, which enforces slut-shaming. People have even said that my bisexuality and aromanticism are bad for the queer community because it's misogynistic to want to "chuck and fuck" women. Other stereotypes include that we are self-involved, want to party all the time, are aloof, cold-hearted, robotic, manipulators and that we only ever just want to use people. Being aromantic is not in any way a moral trait, and nor is it a mental illness.
Do you feel like you're part of the LGBTQ+ community?
Jenny: I do think aromantic people are part of the LGBTQ+ community. In my opinion, people who aren't cis and/or straight or alloromantic/-sexual belong to the community. Some online LGBTQ+ communities don't think so, and don't make us feel welcome. I personally don't have any experience with it, but I've read that the same is true for many real-life organisations/meet-ups.
Scarlett: I feel like I am because I’m pansexual, but I know a lot of people would say that if I were heterosexual and aro that I’m not welcome. It’s an ongoing problem in the community, and I think the fact that it's a problem is reason enough for asexual and aromantic people to belong. The community is a group of minorities, that includes ace and aro people.
Steph: My aromanticism is a queer identity and that in itself - regardless of my bisexuality or genderfluidity - is enough to define me as queer. However, I do not feel accepted as part of the community. I never have. My bi activism has been largely the result of exclusionary behaviour from cisgender gay people, but now my aromanticism feels excluded and hated by pretty much all other queer people too. It's all about gate-keeping and it's incredibly strange to see a community that is so willing to recognise allies, but not aromantic people, asexual people and agender people. These identities alone are almost never spoken [about].
What do you wish more people knew about aromantics?
Jenny: Aromanticism is a spectrum. There are people who experience romantic attraction very rarely or only in very specific circumstances (greyromantic), or lithromantic people who enjoy romance or experience attraction only in theory. Being aromantic does not mean that we or our lives are sad. Some aros grapple with being aro, but for many the main reason that being aro can be frustrating is other people invalidating our romantic orientation.
Scarlett: We can still love, just not necessarily romantically. Our feelings are valid and we shouldn’t be made to justify ourselves because you don’t understand. By all means, ask to educate, but please don’t ask to argue.
Steph: That we are real, that we exist, that we our identities are valid and that we also experience unique and substantial oppressions. Erasure isn't a privilege, and it causes long term mental health issues which we can't get support for. There are also real dangers of abuse, hatred, sexual assault, harassment and/or stalking. We're not accepted in society or within our own communities. As soon as this is accepted, we will have a chance to change all of that.