Pandora's Box: The stigma surrounding aromanticism

Anonymous Why are you crying? Please stop crying.”

I panicked. Pure and simple. Tears were streaming down my sister’s face, and I didn’t know how to stop them. Heck, I had no clue why she even started crying in the first place.

Okay. Maybe that’s not entirely true.

Everything had been going fine up until two minutes ago. My sister and I sat, side by side, watching a rom-com. She let out a dreamer’s sigh — as she’s wont to do when she watches these flicks — and asked, “Don’t you wish some prince would come sweep you off your feet like that?” The question was clearly rhetorical.

I responded anyways, a twinge in my gut. No matter how many times I’ve said it, the twinge appears. In some bizarre way, that twinge has steadily become my constant companion.

“Actually, no. I don’t.” The silence that followed nearly choked my next words. This wouldn’t be the first time I’d come out. It most certainly wouldn’t be the last. I knew I had to, but telling my family [...] the uncertainty nearly killed me. What would my dad’s reaction be? My mom’s? My sister’s? They would support me—they always support me—but things would change, as much as I wished they wouldn’t. “Sorry. Don’t you wish someone would come sweep you off your feet?” The apologetic smile on her face gave me courage, so I pressed on. “I mean, I’m aromantic.” And then, she was crying. I didn’t get it. Why, when I told her that I didn’t just find men attractive, did she just smile and go on with her life? Why was this different? I asked her as much. “I just want you to be happy!”

Oh. That.

Throughout my life, I’ve felt some pressure to be in a romantic relationship, or at least aspire to be in one. Everywhere I look, it seems as if the world is saying I can only be truly, deeply happy if I find that “special someone.” I’ve done the dating thing. I’ve been in relationships. They don’t feel right to me, and it has taken me a long time to realize that’s OK. But it took even longer to realize that I’m not the only one who felt this way. Sure, somewhere deep in the back of my mind I must have realized I wasn’t the only person who didn’t care for romantic relationships. It’s not something people talk about a lot though. Up until about three years ago, I didn’t even know there was a word to describe the way I felt, let alone one adopted by many other people.

But do orientations like aromanticism deserve to be discussed to the same extent as other, more common non-heteronormative ones? Hell yeah.

I’ve had plenty of assumptions cast onto me. I have rewarding relationships with both friends and family—my aromanticism doesn’t change that. I have had spectacularly bad romantic relationships, but that speaks more to my poor social skills than being “unlucky in love.” No, just because I’m aromantic does not automatically mean I am also asexual (I happen to really like sex). And, no, I don’t feel like I’m lacking something or missing out on something.

While I can’t say that every other aromantic has had to say things like this to close friends, family, or even strangers, I can guarantee I’m not the only one. I can’t tell you how many times someone’s said to me, “When you get married...” as if it’s a given. This assumption that monogamous relationships, or even just romantic relationships in general, are practiced by everyone is all around us, in the little things. For instance, I’m honestly shocked when I see a movie that doesn’t involve a romantic subplot (if it’s not already the main plot). Seeing romance in movies doesn’t upset me, but when it becomes hard for me to name more than five protagonists that aren’t romantically involved with someone or seeking to become so, it makes me feel... not as if I wish I wasn’t aromantic, but it makes me long for a world where others are like me. The thing is, I do live in a world where others are like me. I know there are other people who are aromantic, but I also know it is rare to see someone explicitly aromantic in the media.

Even if aromanticism isn’t as prevalent as other orientations, sexual or romantic, extending the dialogue to regularly include it is important and valuable. It’s important for me to recognize that identifying with a romantic orientation or sexual orientation does not mean that everyone else who identifies with one of these terms is exactly like me, nor does it mean they define that term in the same way. It’s valuable to confront heteronormativity and look at the ways in which it influences not just us, but those around us. I’m tired of people assuming I’m straight, that I’m interested in romance, that I’d be happier only if _____. But I know that people can change their minds.

I remember my sister’s tearful words, “I just want you to be happy,” because they speak to a prevalent issue in our society. There is an assumption that happiness is a result of X, Y, or Z, and only X, Y, or Z. But I also remember telling my sister I was happy, and I remember the smile and the soft “oh, okay then” she gave me in response. That moment may not have been a significant milestone in the grand scheme of things, but to me, it was proof that, through discussion, I could begin to challenge constricting social hierarchies and norms, and—as clichéd as it sounds—make a difference.