This is a reply to Saavok’s post “Aro-Relationships”: https://aceofspadessite.wordpress.com/2016/01/18/aro-relationships/
(Originally this was gonna be just in the comments on that post, but then I realized I was writing an essay, so… :P)
When asexual people talk about being in a sexual relationship regardless of being ace, there are a lot of different things that come up.
- Being asexual spectrum “only” means a lack of sexual attraction to their partner, or sometimes even only “limited” or “lower levels” of sexual attraction. They still have desire for sex. They might even have attraction.
- Having no desire for sex doesn’t mean they don’t “feel good” when touched in sexual ways
- They don’t get anything out of sex except for the fact that their partner gets a lot out of it, and this serves to bring the two people closer together/feel emotionally more intimate too, or otherwise is a kind thing to do for their partner
- The sex is a negative thing for them. They didn’t feel like/realize not having sex ever while in a relationship is an option, and that’s why they’re having it. Or they were under the impression that their partner is “sacrificing” by having sex so rarely, and they feel like they owe it to their partner to have sex sometimes. (Especially common for aces who don’t know they are asexual, who may not have even heard of asexuality, but also happens elsewhere too.) Perhaps they know how important sex is to their partner, so they try to have it, but their partner feels unloved when they have sex
But a sexual relationship is a more clear thing to define than a romantic relationship. It literally means a relationship where sex is happening. Sex may have some discrepancies of what it means, but it’s not that broad of a category.
What does a romantic relationship even mean? No one really can define it, despite people certainly trying to. A relationship where “romance” is happening? A relationship where people are feeling romantic feelings/strong feelings of infatuation and/or being “in love”? Or a relationship where a certain set of criteria are being met? Like in a sexual relationship, where people having sex is the criteria that makes it sexual, in a romantic relationship, is it the commitment to exclusivity? What about polyamorous people and where do they fall into it? Is it just the commitment to the other person, regardless of exclusivity? What about queerplatonic relationships then? Is it the kissing? Is it the hand-holding?
Because a romantic relationship is so hard to define, it’s hard to go to that next step and talk about being in a hypothetical romantic relationship when you, as an aromantic person, are missing at least one of the factors that most “typical” people use to help define their romance. Aromantic-spectrum people who are more gray-a can of course still have everything and then be in a romantic relationship. They feel the feelings they “need” to for fewer people, but they still feel them. OR for some aro-spec folks, they feel the feelings in a more ambiguous way, or they maybe aren’t sure if they do feel them or not, but still, they can’t definitively say they’re not feeling any of it.
Most allosexual, alloromantic, monogamous folks often define their romantic relationships as romantic based on a combination of the sexual stuff, the exclusive stuff, the commitment, and the feelings they have for the person being different than what they feel for friends.
They also define them as romantic because they don’t know of anything else to call a relationship that has monogamy. Or they don’t know anything else to call a relationship with commitment. (They don’t know a term like queerplatonic partner.) Or because if you have romantic feelings for a person and you are in a relationship with them, that relationship is of course romantic, you don’t even have to call it that, just saying “in a relationship” has it all implied.
I think often, the real thing that makes a relationship romantic, especially for asexual and/or aromantic folks, even for poly folks, is deciding that it is. Asking “can we call each other boyfriend/girlfriend/significant other now?” and getting that confirmation from a partner. Thinking of your relationship as equivalent to the other romantic relationships you see around you. And the thing that makes a relationship not romantic, even if it does have a lot of the things that typical romances have – as Sennkestra said in a comment on the post, “companionship, support, resource sharing, socializing, etc.”, is that when you think about your relationship in comparison to the other romantic relationships around you, you think it contrasts. You think it’s different enough for whatever reason that it’s important to you that the relationship not be called “romantic”, you think if an acquaintance were to think you were dating that person, your instinct is that the acquaintance is wrong. Etc.
Relationships can certainly be romantic without the feelings, and most aromantic people who write about having dated prior to realizing they were aromantic certainly do consider the relationships they were in at those times as romantic relationships. People who are dating or married and are soon to break up or soon to get divorced often also, at least currently, lack romantic feelings toward their partner — in fact it can be a common motivator to end the relationship. But the relationship itself was still romantic. It was romantic because it was conceived of in that way, because the non-aro partner did have those feelings, because at one point in the past both parties were in love, or for a number of other reasons.
So… getting back to your post…
What I haven’t seen a lot of (hardly any, almost none) is an openly aromantic person participating in a romantic relationship. The individuals involved would not necessarily be getting the same things out of the relationship, someone would feel romantically fulfilled by the relationship, and someone else would be platonically fulfilled.
So I guess I think it’s certainly a good idea that more people talk about this as one of many possibilities! I think you’re right that aros could knowingly enter into a relationship that they deem romantic in nature despite whatever they feel (or don’t feel) for their partner, and honestly, one person could be romantic and feel one-sided attraction for their aro partner OR both partners could be aro, either way the relationship could, potentially, hypothetically be romantic. Yes.