“How can you be with her when she doesn’t love you?”
“She does love me, in her own way.”
That is as simple as it should be – yet, it rarely ever is. Aromantics may not ever experience romantic attraction (although some do) but that doesn’t mean that romantic relationships are necessarily off the table. Aromantic people can be in relationships (whether sexual, platonic and/or romantic) but what makes it difficult is the stigma.
All eyes are on aros, or at least that’s how it feels
Aromantics are often talked about as though we just need to find the right person and then we will be ‘fixed’. This belief is so toxic and so prevalent that entering a relationship can feel like giving up part some part of our queerness – even when we’re with someone of the same gender. When society wants to erase aromantics and make everything a love story, then it feels like a concession to queerphobes to begin to try to explore relationships. Aro people can have relationships – in a way that supports aromantic identities (of which there are many).
It is possible to have a positive and supportive romantic relationship with someone when love is unrequited in a romantic way. There are many kinds of love. Aromantic people can still deeply care about their partners, but those feelings might not conform to societal expectations.
What is required is constant navigation based upon communication, but that’s exactly what should be happening in all relationships anyway. It’s often queer people who prioritise communication when writing about relationships, but having open and honest conversations should make up the foundations of every relationship. With aromantic partners, it is understandable that with the emphasis society puts on romantic love, they might not feel good enough. But that pressure from society isn’t based on anything valid.
Aromantic people aren’t more likely to cheat, to get bored or to be worse partners than anyone else. The relationships can be just as important. It’s okay not to be loved romantically. Relationships are looked at as though someone is entitled to another person’s entire identity. Such an expectant belief means that aromantic people are looked upon as unruly and too independent. We’re not supposed to lay claim to our partners. There’s stigma for the partners of aromantic people, but they also must be allowed to explore relationships how they want. Intimacy, respect and affection can be just as prevalent in our relationships.
Conversations are needed
Some aromantic people may fluctuate with their feelings. A person may be okay with romantic displays in some situations but be repulsed in others. But everyone has boundaries, and this is no different. Not all aros are romance-repulsed by any means, and far from all are touch-averse but it is important to have an open dialogue about boundaries. All aromantic people are comfortable with different things in a relationship.
Aromantic people may also be polyamorous and have multiple partners. However, there’s a common myth that partners of aromantic and/or asexual people require multiple partners to satisfy a need they’re not getting with just one. This is a-phobic trash. There is nothing lacking when it comes to the relationships aro and ace people have. All of their relationships are just as queer, just as beautiful and just as valid.
In a society weighted against aromantics, it is incredibly difficult to find people willing to embark on a relationship
What plagues relationships is the stigma that people outside of the relationship push. There are constant whispers, doubts, and questions from the cynics who don’t believe aromantic people are whole. Yet, on #TeamShip there will be well intentioned (but no less harmful) insinuations that love has ‘saved’ the aromantic partner or that the relationship is somehow even more romantic for overcoming the perceived barrier of aromanticism.
Such narrow minded ideals can cause serious harm. Not only do they put intense pressure on relationships, but in some cases aromantic people are at risk from experiencing intimate partner violence due to arophobia. They may be asked to prove their love, threatened verbally or even violently. There are those who have even experienced sexual assault, as abusers use it as a way to claim ownership and as to ‘correct’ their identity.
In a society weighted against aromantics, it is incredibly difficult to find people willing to embark on a relationship. Many have doubts – thinking that they will be cheated on or never feel good enough. Yet, the relationships which are pursued can work for everyone. Aromantics don’t deserve to be isolated or consigned to being single forever (if they do want to explore relationships).
What we need is to centre radical honesty and dialogue in our relationships, and all of them. Only then will we be more accepting of different identities and different relationship types. This isn’t just about aromanticism, but about how we all approach our relationships.
Stephanie Farnsworth is a freelance writer and journalist. Her writing focuses upon identity and intersectional feminism.