Why “Romantic Orientation Does Not Apply” Does Not Cut It (For Me)

This is my second submission for the August 2016 Carnival of Aces, which was themed around Naming It. And yes, it’s September 1st now, so I’m late. I apologize. Please enjoy the post below!

Sure, people don’t have to apply* the split-attraction model to themselves if they don’t want to. That’s what the vast majority of supporters of this model say – only use it if you want to. If it feels right.

And if I’m having a lot of trouble coming up with any identity label that feels right to me other than just “asexual”, then maybe I should consider myself to simply be asexual, end of story. Maybe I should not apply the split attraction model to myself. Maybe that’d be the easiest, simplest solution. Maybe that’s all I need to do.

But there are a lot of reasons that it makes sense for me to want to apply it to myself.

One of the main reasons is that I am a member of a group (the online ace blogging community, specifically) where most people seem to apply a romantic orientation to themselves, and if they don’t actively claim one, with time they tend to eventually accept that they are aromantic – by default, by nature of not dating, etc.

Another reason I feel like I need a romantic orientation is because, while I know I am cisgender (female), I need to clarify exactly why I’m not “het” in the way the “aces aren’t LGBT” discourse on tumblr lately has been going, talking about “cishet aces” to… at their most generous, only mean the heteroromantic aces. Because at this point in my introspection, one thing I do know deep down is that I’m not heteroromantic.

Now “not wanting to be marked as cishet” is not just me trying to be “a special snowflake”, although I’ve let that cross my mind. No. That’s unfair to me and so so many other aces.

I support heteroromantic aces and the very different people who are heterosexual yet aromantic too, and I don’t believe they count as “cishet” in the “you’re completely privileged, face no discrimination nor oppression, and are not at all queer” kind of way the ugly so-called “ace discourse” on tumblr these past few months has been framing it. Heteroromantic asexual people are still within the LGBT+ framework as asexual people, as people who are “only” romantically attracted to people, regardless of the genders of the people involved in this attraction.

But my personal truth is much more complicated, and I want a label that feels correct for me – a label that perhaps captures all that complexity. Being able to name my experiences is important. Being able to find a community of people with similar experiences through us all adopting the same name would also be so special. Names have power, names have specificity, once a name gains traction names can help others understand us. Names are amazing tools and names can help us feel like we belong somewhere and are not perpetually lost.

It’s not so obvious where I fall when it comes to a romantic orientation. Finding the right label has not really happened for me yet.

I’ve written before about being wtfromantic, mainly back in 2014, most notably here and here… and more recently I started claiming to be both wtfromantic and aromantic at once. But that doesn’t negate the fact that finding a name that describes exactly where I fall in terms of that nebulous concept of “romantic attraction” and in terms of who I would potentially be open to dating is important to me, so for some reason I can’t stop thinking about it.

On tumblr, I recently took to describing myself in the following way:

In addition to being asexual, I am on the aromantic-spectrum – specifically I consider myself wtfromantic/aromantic-ish in terms of feelings and I’m starting to realize in terms of behaviors, maybe I’m bi or pan-platonic (I’ve seen other people describing themselves homoplatonic for being women who would only want a woman as a queerplatonic partner), or even biromantic/panromantic because of who I might “date”.

It took me some time to get to ANY kind of conclusion on romantic orientation, even after figuring out my sexual orientation at age 23 (less than 3 years ago), and I still am fairly confused.

I was in a queerplatonic relationship for four months between February and June of this year (2016). I had slowly been coming around to considering my partner my “boyfriend”. So… idk where I stand on all of this.

I consider myself aro ace in a broad sense… but it’s clearly very COMPLICATED for me and please forgive that.

I shouldn’t have to ask hypothetical readers to “forgive” me when it comes to how I personally identify, but it’s hard sometimes to not feel like the more confusing my identity is for other people, the more words I use to describe it, etc, well… the more of an imposition I am maybe being on those around me by just existing.

And practically speaking, in casual conversations with online acquaintances (and with in-person ace acquaintances too, thanks to the local asexual meetup group) I have lately called myself either aro ace or “Aro-ish” ace, and the fact that I’m aro or at least aro-ish seems quite relevant, especially when it comes to my interpretation of romantic relationships in fiction – which is one of my most common discussion topics with my online acquaintances. (I’m heavily involved in fandom, fandom meta, etc.)

I don’t usually feel like explaining quoiromantic or wtfromantic in the moment, or even explaining what I would personally mean if I identified as gray-aromantic, but aro-ish? That seems like it kind of conveys most of what I want to in a lot of cases. Mainly because what I really would want to convey… would derail the entire conversation.

Why I don’t just embrace greyness is another interesting question. I think the problem is that to me, greyness expresses an “in-between” – like what I experience is right in the middle of romantic and non-romantic, or that I do experience romantic attraction sometimes, just with less strength or less frequency than average but definitely more than full aromantics. I think it’s valid for people to identify as gray-romantic or gray-aromantic for any reason, but I also don’t feel like identifying a way that I suspect would be misleading and make people assume things about my experiences that simply are not true.

As I explained in one of my posts for the June Carnival of Aces,

…importantly, why does it so often feel impossible to properly be “out” in a way that makes me feel fully respected, accepted, and also understood? Because that is what I want. I have this huge desire for the world, and especially the people I care about, to understand me in a deeper way than they do if they are assuming I’m straight, or if they’re guessing I’m a lesbian, or whatever they may or may not be thinking depending on what they know about me.

And well, romantic orientation is a part of this. This post, Asexuals aren’t “just like everyone else, minus the sexual attraction” continues to come back to haunt me, okay? Mainly because of how I’m quoted in it haha. No in all seriousness, I can’t stop thinking about that blog post even though it’s been 2.5 years. And a bunch of other related sentiments posted around that time. Even today, lately, I see (ignorant) people wondering why aces need to “come out” since “no one cares what you [don’t] do in your bedroom” or “no one cares if you’re not having sex”, and while not-being-sexually-attracted-to-anyone does in many cases lead to not-having-sex, being asexual means so much more than the not-having-sex part. Sometimes people can be ace yet have sex or desire sex, and sometimes the aces like me who are sex-averse and decidedly won’t be having sex for the rest of their lives might actually relate more to those aces than to many abstinent or celibate allosexuals. Because “not having sex” is not actually what defines how living with an asexual sexual orientation feels for so many of us.

“Romantic attraction” is so poorly defined, so it is possible that technically I don’t experience things very differently than some people who identify with alloromantic orientations. But if experiencing romantic attraction for a person means:

  • wanting to kiss
  • wanting cuddling/non-sexual touch like hand-holding
  • bed sharing
  • wanting an exclusive, monogamous relationship with them where things like “Emotional cheating” might exist
  • wanting everyone to definitely recognize you as girlfriends, or girlfriend boyfriend if you have binary genders, or as romantic partners

Then I don’t experience any of it.

I feel like my non-monogamous tendencies might be more because I’m aro-ish or because I’m asexual than because I’m actually poly independently of these things.

I feel rather uncomfortable at the thought of people thinking I’m in a normative romantic relationship, but that might be because sexual feelings if not sex itself are assumed to be involved, as well as things like kissing and I don’t like that kind of invisibility and erasure of my life. Kissing seems sexual to me, and chaste kissing (like a peck on a cheek) I haven’t experienced enough to know if I’d enjoy it or not on a regular basis from someone.

If romantic attraction can include:

  • wanting to talk about this person to other people you care about
  • finding yourself to feel positive emotions after spending time together
  • feeling like you “love” someone and care deeply about them

Then I’ve felt romantic attraction for many people in my life, including my family members. Which doesn’t sound right.

When I read accounts from biromantic or panromantic or otherwise queer aces who want to date people, they usually report having obvious feelings of “crushes” on people of “The wrong” gender even early on, that their crushes were clearly different from “just” friendship feelings, and strong enough that they were sure they were not-straight.

Any time I’ve considered dating a person in my life, considered kissing or touching someone, considered building a future and maybe one day considering adopting/raising kids with them… it’s been very thought out and planned. The first guy I had a crush on I remember not having a crush on until my mom put it in my head that I should have a crush on a boy because I was 11, I was old enough. The second guy I had a crush on I think I desperately wanted to be closer friends with, in hindsight, and the fact that cross-gender friendships were discouraged in my small town and same-gender friendships were the norm meant I was able to be much closer with girls than boys. At age 22, the first guy I kissed, the first guy I decided to date… he was someone I decided I was compatible with and it was all very practical and methodical. I waited a long time after starting messaging back and forth with him on OkCupid before I felt “ready” to date him. And my first boyfriend? I was excited by how quickly we clicked as friends, but I’ve felt the same way with friendships made at ace and at atheist meetup groups with people of a variety of genders, and actually have felt similar with online friendships made over things like fandom. Not every time, but every single thing that might count as romantic attraction that I’ve felt seems indistinguishable for me from friendship or even family dynamic feelings.

If friendship flirting is a thing, and you can feel this way toward friends, or even cousins/aunts/uncles whom you don’t know as well as you wish you did, toward people with such a huge age difference that you might never consider a partnership (romantic nor queerplatonic) with them like teachers or children when you’re an adult… if all these feelings can make you happy and can influence your actions but they can “count” as non-romantic a lot of the time, then they probably can “count” as non-romantic all the time, right?

So okay. Then what, I’m an aromantic asexual person who wants to date. Am I cupioromantic? The word is barely used, Googling turns up disappointing results, but it seems to mean “a subset of aromanticism to describe aromantic people who desire a romantic relationship”.  This post is one of the best discussions of the term I can find, and I strongly relate to this section:

I always thought that I was just really practical. Like, I would (and still do, actually) think about and consider people as romantic options. Like, here is a set of criteria for the future partner I want (e.g. Catholic, politically similar, wants to live in Seattle, etc.), what available people fit into this? And then I would convince myself that I was romantically attracted to them (i.e. had a crush). But, as far as I know, this is not actually romantic attraction.

However I don’t really want to identify with a term where no one will know what it means, and I don’t like the sound of cupioromantic. Besides, why do I like the idea of framing a relationship as an atypical friendship or a queerplatonic partnership so much more than considering myself in a sexless romance? Why does it feel like what I really want is a strong bond that is decidedly non-romantic?? What am I so against when it comes to romance? Honestly, your guess is as good as mine. I’m not sure I’m really 100% against a romantic relationship for myself. But I also feel much more comfortable saying a queerplatonic partnership is what I am looking for than to claim I’m asexual and sex-averse, kissing-averse, touch-indifferent, and looking for romance.

Some days I feel a little demiromantic — which is at least a term some people use!! And which might be understood!!

But mainly I feel like that term makes a lot less sense to me than demisexuality for some reason. I get being demisexual, because I (at least to some extent) get what it is that a demisexual might feel after a strong emotional connection. But if you already like this person as a friend, what is it that makes your romantic attraction for them, when it’s devoid of sex, different? If it’s just a sudden strength of your feelings, I doubt I’ve felt that, but it is true that after I realize I like a person as a friend, that might be when I start considering the possibility of if a future raising kids and living with them might ever work out in a million years? It’s not obsessive fantasizing, but maybe you could stretch it to call it fantasizing.

The theme of this Carnival of Aces was naming it, and for a long time now, for years really, I have felt a kind of desperation to name my experiences when it comes to desiring partnership yet not really feeling romantic attraction and “Gray-aromantic”, “cupioromantic”, “pan-platonic”… none of these are ringing for me as really quite right.

Maybe one day I won’t feel like I’m doing aromanticism wrong by so strongly desiring partnership (and being open to having more than one committed partner, because monogamy doesn’t really mean much to me personally!!).

I guess for now considering myself “aromantic but desiring partnership and a co-parent for future adopted kids” as well as a “Sex-averse asexual” is what will have to do. I guess I can’t just have a single, specific name for my experiences, but maybe that phrasing is concise enough, and clear enough. Maybe naming my romantic orientation isn’t as important as I had been making it out to be in my head, or maybe I found the name many months ago, aromantic, and I was just resisting the term for a long time for the same reason I resisted asexuality for a long time – internalized amatonormativity & compulsory sexuality, for starters, and also confusion over the concept which aromanticism described?



*I would highly recommend reading this one. 😉 https://sqbr.dreamwidth.org/350309.html It’s a perspective I’m glad I stumbled across just now while writing this blog post and Googling for posts about the split attraction model…

10 thoughts on “Why “Romantic Orientation Does Not Apply” Does Not Cut It (For Me)

  1. It’s funny, because most of the things you listed as possibly romantic attraction that you don’t experience are also…things I don’t necessarily experience as part of romantic attraction. But I’m greyro, so I think I’m probably hanging out in the same general neighborhood as you. (I’m really intensely utilitarian about relationships as well, which people tend to find off-putting if they don’t know me, for example.) I have a feeling that what I refer to as romantic attraction is not necessarily what other people are experiencing when they talk about romantic attraction, but I keep using the word because it’s useful and meaningful to me. So I guess the question becomes…is the word useful and meaningful for you? And, if not, what kinds of concepts are you trying to get at that you can’t with other words?

    (Also, just in case you haven’t already seen it, I always recommend Sciatrix’s post on why you should care: https://asexualagenda.wordpress.com/2015/03/03/why-you-should-care/)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for your comment. 😉 I don’t know what I’m looking for, really, or why the words that are useful to you can’t just be useful to me too. It’s nice to know I’m not the only super utilitarian about relationships person though. 😉

      I do really love that “Why You Should Care” post a lot too. It’s so well explained and is basically my life, and also it’s very often relevant, you’re correct!! Haha.

      I’ve probably seen every single thing posted to The Asexual Agenda since around early or mid-2014. I mean… unless 1 slipped through the cracks?? And older stuff is the only stuff I may not have seen yet, lol. But even the older stuff I’ve backtracked a read a lot of the time. I am one of the biggest fans of The Asexual Agenda as a blog.


      1. Yeah, I definitely understand words that are useful to other people not being useful to you, even if you’re hanging out in the same general vicinity. Like, queerplatonic is a suuuuper useful word for a lot of my friends, but it’s never really seemed that helpful personally, despite my being in relationships that pretty much are dictionary definition queerplatonic. Sometimes words just don’t fit, even if you can make an argument for them fitting. And sometimes the right word comes into your life at the right time, so it works for you even if it might not work for others in the same situation as you. Words are super personal, and that’s okay!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m questioning my romantic orientation. On your list of ‘romantic things to do’
    wanting to kiss – yuck, no. I didn’t like my Mom kissing me as a child, and kissing still grosses me out
    wanting cuddling/non-sexual touch like hand-holding – yes
    bed sharing – no, I want my own bed
    wanting an exclusive, monogamous relationship with them where things like “Emotional cheating” might exist – yes, I want someone who is mine in a way that they don’t feel that way towards anyone else. And I don’t want them having sex, either, even though I’m sex-repulsed I couldn’t accept them going outside the relationship for sex
    wanting everyone to definitely recognize you as girlfriends, or girlfriend boyfriend if you have binary genders, or as romantic partners – meh, I don’t care what others think. But I do want some kind of commitment ceremony, probably not a wedding but something similar

    Liked by 1 person

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