I wish it were more acceptable in this world for people to live life without romantic love—without having it, without wanting it, and without waiting around for it. What tires me most about our cultural orientation on romantic love is the idea that, even if we don’t have it or want it now, romantic love is ultimately going to make its way into our lives at some point in the future, and it’s going to change everything. What sort of message does that send to people who—whether they want to or not—have never found romantic love? Not a very positive one, I can tell you that.
I’m approaching my mid-twenties now, and to this day I’ve never been in a romantic relationship. If I’m being honest, I don’t know that I’ve ever wanted to. For years, I chalked it up to the assumption that I just hadn’t met the “right person,” but I never asked myself what the “right person” even means. Does it mean great chemistry? Does it mean compatibility like you’ve never seen before? Does it mean being able to envision a future together with this person? And are you supposed to actively date so you can find this person, or is this the sort of thing you leave to serendipity like in a romantic comedy? Before I realized I was some combination of asexual and aromantic, these were the questions that occupied my mind.
The “right person”—the idea of a soulmate or the romantic partner you’re going to spend the rest of your life with—may not exist for everyone. That’s okay.
It doesn’t mean you’re never going to have meaningful relationships with people. Platonic relationships are just as meaningful. As someone who doesn’t experience attraction and doesn’t date, my most meaningful relationships are with my friends, and I reject the assumption that my relationships with my friends are somehow less than simply because they are not romantic in nature. And I may never understand what it’s like to be in a romantic relationship, but to describe such a relationship as the pinnacle of human happiness seems awfully limiting and exclusionary to those of us who don’t share those same desires.
I’ve never felt like my life was incomplete simply because I was single. Sure, in my younger years I romanticized the idea of finding a romantic partner, the way many of us are conditioned to, but I never felt unhappy without one. Despite my relative satisfaction with my life, I spent the greater part of my youth wondering if I was missing out on something by not dating, by not actively seeking a partner. That feeling, alongside the sexism and compulsory heterosexuality that influenced so much of my childhood, made me question whether there was something wrong with me—something that made no one else want to “choose” me when other folks didn’t seem to have the same problem.
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Looking back, I now realize that the reason I never dated is simply because I never wanted to. Yet, I felt insecure about not dating because I thought it reflected on who I was as a person. I thought it reflected on my attractiveness to others, not just in terms of appearance but also in terms of personality and all the other social qualities people seek in a partner. I also thought that dating—because it felt so normative—was a signifier of having a healthy social life, and I felt inadequate for not meeting that standard.
Realizing now that asexuality and aromanticism are just as much part of the human experience, I feel a sense of relief and liberation in knowing that there was never anything wrong with me to begin with. I just didn’t understand at the time that my relationship with attraction and sexuality was different than what was socially prescribed.
Still, not dating as a twenty-something adult presents its minor annoyances in everyday social interactions. Every family reunion for me involves the inevitable, “Are you dating anyone yet?” followed by the equally inevitable, “Why not?” I can only imagine that this type of questioning will get worse as I become older and my relatives become increasingly concerned that maybe I really won’t be getting married after all. Friends who are close to me generally understand that I don’t seek romantic love or sex in my life, and they don’t say anything to presume otherwise. But there are a lot of other friends and acquaintances who, despite how well-meaning they may be, simply don’t understand.
Sometimes I’ll say things like, “I can see myself being single for the rest of my life,” as a way to describe my general orientation towards romantic relationships. People usually interpret that statement in two ways: it’s either seen as defeatist, as if I’m lamenting that I’ll “never find someone,” or it’s a reflection of how closed off I am to the idea of ever meeting anyone. In reality, when I say I can see myself being single for the rest of my life, I’m expressing my indifference to romantic relationships. There’s no value statement there. I neither actively seek or actively oppose romantic relationships, but I know for a fact that for much of my life, I have not felt the attraction that is often required for such relationships to form. The prospect of being single for the rest of my life doesn’t thrill me or terrify me or evoke any strong emotional reaction out of me. It’s simply an acknowledgement of how I connect to people, and romance doesn’t factor into that equation.
The pressure to “find love” is woven so deeply into our culture that it’s hard to avoid. It’s more than just the romantic comedies that depict romantic love as the happy ending, or the heteronormative coming of age novels about a teenage girl meeting the boy who changes her life. It also shows up in the way we talk, the way we comfort each other with statements like, “You’re going to meet the right person someday” or “Anyone would be lucky to be with someone like you.” And for some folks, it shows up in the way family members poke and prod about our relationship status and express concern about our prospects for marriage.
Since discovering asexuality and aromanticism, I’ve gained a much better understanding of myself, and so the external pressure to “find love” doesn’t bring me the same self-doubt and insecurity it once did.
For the sake of everyone who is navigating their relationship with love, sexuality, and intimacy, though, I wish we’d end the presumption of romantic love as a necessity and acknowledge the myriad ways people can have meaningful, fulfilling relationships outside of it as well.
[Feature Image: Person with long brown hair stands outdoors wearing glasses, a white t-shirt and two necklaces with a small smirk on their face. They are standing on the street as a train passes in the background. Pexels.com]