What’s in this article?
- People who identify as aromantic don’t experience (romantic) love.
- Aromantics still experience love, but in ways we typically don’t culturally value as frenetically as we do romantic love.
- Family and marriage laws may be adjusting to accommodate other LGBTQ+ groups, but aromantics find themselves with no choice but to be conventionally married.
Have you ever watched one of those wedding reality shows where there’s always a bride who goes absolutely nuts when there’s one tiny little thing about their wedding that doesn’t go the way they want it to?
The legendary Bridezilla is often mocked online for her, ahem, overwhelming enthusiasm for marriage. Men, women, and non-binary pals are quick to judge her for caring too much about flowers or a dress. There’s even that one “not like other girls” girl who swears up and down she doesn’t care about the ceremony at all.
It’s hard not to care about weddings when media and society tell you throughout your growing years that love is all you need or that love is the end-all and be-all of your existence. Bridezillas, in a way, are just symptoms of a culture that constantly tells women that their primary goal in life is to get married and have children. To these women, weddings are the turning point of their lives — a sign that they’ve made it as a woman because someone found them desirable enough for marriage.
If you want to get more serious, these frustrations with proving one’s desirability are part of why we have incels, men who turn to sexual assault, misogyny, and violence against women as “retribution” for their loveless, sexless lives.
But those are cishet problems. Or, to be more specific, alloromantic problems. Because for the aromantics, people who don’t experience romantic attraction, Valentine’s Day isn’t a reminder of how loveless you are, but how everybody else thinks that way about you.
What Is Aromanticism?
Aromanticism is a word used to describe the romantic orientation of people who don’t experience romantic love. Unlike demiromantic people, who can still feel romantic attraction towards friends, aromantic people feel zero romantic attraction to anyone.
This is the simplest, easiest way to explain it because even aromantics have a hard time defining what it’s like without comparing it to the experience of romance, a nigh impossible task given that they don’t feel it themselves.
So the people over at r/Aromantic resort to descriptions.
“For me, identifying as aromantic was fairly clear cut. I know that I’ve never felt anything along the lines of feeling infatuated with someone. I took a while digging and asking a lot of allo people what romantic love felt like to them because I wanted to make sure, and nope, sounded like if I had felt it, I should know. And I don’t, so I guess I haven’t felt it. It’s actually a larger part of my orientation and identity than being bi/pansexual, because that’s just physical. Aromanticism is the emotional part of me that’s been buried and rejected by society and made me feel broken.“
The few spaces, mostly online, that are available to people who identify as aromantic are often shared with asexuals under the umbrella term of “aroace.” When you start looking for definitions of LGBTQIA, the A mostly only stands for “asexual.” This space sharing happens in even the most niche queer subreddits, forums, and Discord servers. While it’s not uncommon for subgroups of the queer community to share platforms and spaces, aromantics are in a unique position: they share their space with a group that’s repulsed by sexual attraction.
This isn’t to say that asexuals are hostile to aromantics, but that the two of them couldn’t be more different. Asexuals experience romantic love, but not sexual attraction. Aromantics experience sexual attraction, but not romantic love. Throw in the complication of sex-repulsed asexuals and there’s just no room for aromantics who don’t also identify as asexuals.
Aromantics also struggle with something we’ll call “public relations problems.” Like bisexuals, aromantics have been accused of “having it easy” and not belonging to queer spaces because they typically pass as cishet.
For perspective, only 19% of bisexuals interviewed by the Pew Research Center are out of the closet compared to 75% of gay and lesbian people. Think of how much lower the coming-out rates are when you identify with a (non)romantic orientation that you have to desperately explain does not make you a psychopath.
Most people can’t comprehend a way of existing that isn’t similar to their own experiences. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual are summed up as “either/or and both,” but understanding aromantics requires us to decouple romantic love, sex, and the desire for companionship.
What Aromantics Can Teach Us About Love
Aromantics have a wide vocabulary for describing love. Though they don’t feel romantic love, they’re more than eager to show how they love the people in their lives in other ways. Instead of crushes, which are romantic in nature, aromantics have squishes. A squish is someone you have strong platonic feelings for and are emotionally attracted to.
Aside from a squish, who is the unironic special friend of the aromantic, many aromantics surround themselves with a tight-knit group of friends for companionship. Others direct their emotional energy towards family members, a passion, a cause, or themselves.
In a world where we’re bombarded with ads pressuring us to find a significant other for Valentine’s Day lest we look like loveless losers, aromantics show us that love is everywhere and that there are ways to experience love outside of romance. Tell that to that one friend who always gripes about how unlovable they are.
Aromantics also remind us of the many kinds of love, as the ancient Greeks understood it. While the most aggressive bits of Valentine’s Day advertising focuses on eros (sexual passion), ludus (playful love), and mania (obsessive love), aromantics point us towards the value of philia (deep friendship), storge (family love), and philautia (love of the self).
If that makes you feel like the many aros on r/Aromantic and hundreds of little aro communities who are so sick of Valentine’s Day right now, here are a few alternatives that remind you that you’re loved and lovable even if you don’t have a romantic date planned.
Valentines Day Alternatives for When You’re Sick of Valentines Day
If retail therapy is your thing, you might want to mark your calendar for November 11 which is when people in China celebrate Single’s Day. If the date is too late for your tastes, trust me, you’re going to want that extra time for saving money because Single’s Day is celebrated with shopping. A lot of it.
Single’s Day celebrants in 2016 helped one online shopping company make over $5.75 billion. But if rampant consumerism isn’t your thing, just do anything you would enjoy. Heck, move it to whatever date you want. Nothing is real. The planet is dying. You are the main character of your story.
For the aromantics reading this, you’re going to love Ystävänpäivä. This Finnish holiday is also known as Friendship Day and is the country’s platonic version of Valentine’s Day. Unlike many of the other Valentine’s Day alternatives, Ystävänpäivä doesn’t seem to carry any connotations of woe-is-me singlehood. It’s just a proud celebration of love for your best buds!
There’s also International Quirklyalone Day which its creator says isn’t an anti-Valentine’s Day or a sad “I’m single” holiday. The pseudo-holiday is meant to celebrate all kinds of love, even self-love! Now that’s a message we can all get behind.
That said, all these fun little alternatives to Valentine’s Day don’t change the fact that aromantics have no choice but to enter marriages of convenience if they want to enjoy any of the legal benefits of marriage.
Loveless and Lawless: Aromantics Slip Through the Gaps of Family Law
A Supreme Court decision changed the lives of thousands of queer couples in 2015 after it declared gay marriage legal in all 50 U.S states. Like the heterosexual marriages that had been legal for centuries before it, gay marriages gave married queer couples special legal rights and privileges. They could avail of a marital tax deduction, file their taxes jointly, and make legal decisions on their spouse’s behalf.
As the LGBTQ+ community celebrated, no one seems to have asked if the aromantics needed anything.
Look, I’m not saying there shouldn’t be any additional legal benefits or rights granted by marriage because they do serve a purpose, and trying to untangle them all (if one is so inclined) will take centuries of legislation and court decisions. As the popular meme puts it, ain’t nobody got time for that.
But when I had to explain to a small group of aromantics that marriage isn’t just a contract because of societal reasons but because there are actual legal obligations and rights granted by marriage, they made me recognize how unfair it was to them and their squishes that they had to be married to enjoy the legal benefits that alloromantic people do.
Or, as one of them graciously put it, “Wtf? That’s bullshit.”
Of course, the “easy” solution is to simply enter a marriage or domestic partnership with someone. But the LGBTQ+ community has pushed for the right to marriage for years because domestic partnerships don’t grant them the same full range of rights they would enjoy if they had the right to be married.
Before gay marriage became legal, a queer couple’s only real choice was a marriage of convenience or a domestic partnership. That’s still the reality for aromantics today and if there’s a romantic orientation equivalent to compulsory heterosexuality, this is probably it.