I discovered this morning that undisclosed third parties have been pestering my mother about why neither I nor my sister are dating. At the respective ages of 23 and 19, so the logic goes, we MUST surely desire romantic relationships (and by extension, sex). And since these people are seeing no evidence that we’ve pursued such relationships, they feel inclined–even duty bound–to find out what’s wrong.
There are a number of things wrong in this situation, and none of them have to do with my own and my sister’s choices not to date at this time. First, there’s the presumption that everyone should or would know about our relationship statuses, which strikes me as a bit invasive, not to mention heteronormative. (I believe that some of these questions are from extended family members whose only information comes from our answers to the “met any nice boys lately?” question, which doesn’t necessarily rule out us dating non-boys.) But more to the point, it’s incredibly amatonormative. What exactly is wrong with a nonamorous lifestyle? Why should anyone be that concerned about whether or not I date? Yet the mere thought that I might simply choose not to date anyone throws people into a tizzy.
My mother assures us that she tells people “It’s not that they’re not interested, they’re just too busy with their education.” She’s trying to be kind with that. I suspect she’s also protecting herself from the too-bizarre possibility that maybe we just don’t want to. I’ve said that I’m not that interested, but I still don’t think she gets it–she thinks I just don’t want the difficulty and the drama. Which, I suppose, is true, and a perfectly valid reason for nonamory. But it’s conversations like these that remind me that one of these days I’ll have to have a second coming-out if I don’t want to be hounded to death about my lack of relationship prospects. My parents know I’m bi. My mother still expects me to date men. They don’t know that I’m on the aro and ace spectra, or even what those things are. And that conversation will be hard enough without distant relatives and family friends concern-trolling my parents about my life choices.
Have you had trouble with people’s reactions to your relationship status and history? How do you prefer to deal with them? Tell me about it in the comments!
I find romance confusing. In the abstract, some aspects of it appeal to me: emotional intimacy and support, companionship, having a stable partnership. I enjoy well-developed, true-to-character romantic storylines, and I’m as much of a shipper as the next person. But for myself, I can’t quite understand how it would work. I spent a long time wondering how other people made the seemingly arbitrary decision of who to date. Did they just pick someone good-looking and go for it? That seemed unlikely to be pleasant. Someone they wanted to get to know, then? It still didn’t make sense. I couldn’t imagine acting in such an intimate way (and I’m not even talking sex) with anyone I wasn’t already close to–and in that case, why risk ruining a friendship?
I realize now that I don’t experience romantic attraction in the same way as the average person. I occasionally get ambiguous maybe-romantic, maybe-platonic attraction to people I’m getting to know, but I very rarely have a true crush on anyone. The two major exceptions I can think of were both distinguished by some heavy-duty limerence. This was the main thing that convinced me my feelings were romantic; it was also deeply unpleasant. I’ve had a few other minor attractions that could probably be classified as romantic, but they’ve been fleeting.
As far as romantic love goes, I’m not sure how it would be qualitatively different from other forms of love, aside from the elusive attraction component. I have felt, and continue to feel, deep love for one of the people to whom I’ve been romantically attracted. We were already fairly good friends before the attraction began, and it took root during a period when we were building a good deal of trust and intellectual/emotional intimacy. But I perceive my love for her as an independent entity from my romantic attraction and limerence. Indeed, it acted in opposition to them in some ways. That love actually prevented me from acting on my romantic attraction, because I knew that any declaration would bring up stressful recent history for her, and probably damage our friendship. Now that I no longer feel attracted to her in the same way, I still love her deeply, companionately, and (I’m fairly certain) NOT romantically. I could still see us as partners, but more in a platonic way.
So I’m still not quite sure what romance is, or how it works in real life. But I feel a lot better about that confusion now that I know the aromantic spectrum exists. It’s good to know that I’m not somehow defective, that there are others who don’t “get it,” that some are interested in prioritizing platonic relationships. The idea of forming a (queer)platonic partnership feels so much more comfortable and less daunting than going through confusing romantic rituals over and over in order to find a relationship I may not even want. I will probably experience romantic attraction again. One of these times it might even lead to a romantic relationship. But for now, I’m ready to stop beating myself up for something I don’t feel, and start doing whatever makes me happy.