I am convinced that if we dismantled what appropriateness looks like in everything, from individual behaviours to work or personal relationships, we will find heteronormative roles at its core.
Never mind the lack of terminology to describe meaningful relationships outside of friendship, romantic or sexual partners. For what other reason would it be that cishet couples dominate representation in all matter of media? Or that it is deemed necessary for intersex people to be assigned one of two sexes at birth? Or when people imagine the CEO of a company, they imagine a man in a suit and tie? Or that mandates women wear dresses as admissible event attire?
Society has an impression of what appropriateness looks like in any given situation, so anything or anyone else that is even superficially different, is othered if not dismissed. At times, habitually, which makes it scarier. Unfortunately, this phenomenon seeps into our personal lives all too readily.
I am about to go into the subject of my header but, as all things should, I will begin with a caveat.
Trigger Warnings for this post include romantic orientations, mention of sex and dating, as well as relational dissolutions. This post was published with the informed consent of the partner in question. This post is a personal recount and not intended to frame aromanticism in any way.
In a previous blog post, I reflected on my dating exploits as a plus size, Asian woman. What I think I neglected to mention is one of the motivations behind said exploits, which I am now justifying as the satisfaction of the relational development required of a woman my age. Until this point, I was oblivious (perhaps partly by choice) to the underlying impetus behind my desire for experience. Basically, no one says that a 23-year-old woman, single for much of her life with no marriage or kids in the horizon, is ever appropriate. At least, in my neck of the woods.
Granted, some of that pressure is the fault of my own internalisation, but if you’re about to say anything along the lines of “oh you’ll get there, you just need to drop 20 pounds“, please excuse yourself now.
This is that story.
Sometime last year, I matched with someone on OK Cupid. He is, at this moment, the most important person in my life. Shortly after we started chatting, there was a very clear spark and connection between us that, to me, filled a gap that I had longed to fill my entire life.
The most cliché statements can sometimes speak the loudest truth. I came to learn that when I realised there was something about him that made me feel different. Aside from his charming humour (which he will thank me for saying), our matching political inclinations and obsession for true crime, he insists on being communicative of what we want, how we want to be supported and especially on consent. He prioritises consent even in our non-sexual interactions. Aside from being clear about our individual comfort level and needs, he also makes sure I am properly able to share personal issues. He is an active listener who provides exactly the kind of support I need without having to ask for it, whether it‘s a listening ear or advice. He never presses me to do or say anything I don’t or shouldn’t want to. He makes triple sure that I am safe when I drink. In this way, he takes care of me and makes me feel important in ways that I had forgotten to myself. I am going to stop before this starts sounding like an overblown love letter or a dating CV, but you get my point. This is why I started catching feelings for him.
He did all of that when we were still just friends. By virtue of our highly communicative nature, we got into talking about taking things forward and soon started what we labeled as an open relationship. I cannot remember exactly why we decided on an open relationship, but it isn’t to keep our options open or anything like that. I think it was because we did not want to assume the level of commitment expected of the usual romantic relationships.
Eventually, though, that fizzled out. Let me attempt to tell you the TLDR reason why.
I mentioned our aversion to the high level of commitment expected of romantic relationships. Unfortunately, I’d already been sold on the sweep-me-off-my-feet true love narrative. I was on a quest for a constant and that narrative brought me into a specific idea of what that should look like. It looks like regular vocal declarations of love. It looked like cute good morning texts. It looked like romantic, coupley gestures worthy of a viral tiktok. It looked like that is what I should want.
He initiated the break up when we started becoming more honest with our feelings. The dissolution broke my heart but I agreed because it was the right thing to do.
Aromanticism and Our Quasiplatonic Relationship
While I am not a fan of labelling people, it is important to understand the terminologies with which people identify as it can often characterise their lived experiences. Like sexual orientations, people have romantic orientations, and they are not the same. The majority of people are romantically-inclined and heterosexual. People who identify as aromantic experience little or no romantic attraction to others. For example, someone may be aromantic but bisexual. That means they are sexually attracted to both sexes, but not romantically attracted to any one. Another example would be a romantic person who is asexual. That means they fall in love as traditionally romantically defined, but do not experience sexual attraction.
What constitutes romance is different for each individual. For example, kissing may be purely sexual to someone but romantic to someone else. That also means that each individual may distinguish romantic relationships from non-romantic ones in very different ways. For some aros (as aromantics are affectionally called), holding hands may not feel right, but it may feel okay to others. Aros should not be misunderstood as devoid of love. They attain love and closeness from friendships and other intimate connections that they feel comfortable with.
Right now, our relationship is best described as quasiplatonic.
In essence, a quasiplatonic relationship is the technical term for a ‘soulmate’, minus all the romantic or sexual overtones. It describes a closeness that goes beyond normal friendships, that is equal to a traditional romance, but carry no expectation for romantic signifiers. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t have them if you wish.
I suppose I should share what it is like falling in love with an aromantic. The thing is, I really don’t know. We have yet to have the conversation about what we are, or whether there is any monogomous expectation or not. At times, it can get difficult as I work through my own perspective shifts about what love means to me. Aside from the fact that losing my connection with him is more painful, that introspection is a journey I should and need to walk for myself – if anything.
From this experience, though, I think the key is this – let’s not use labels or heteronormative concepts of appropriateness to coat our opinions of others, of our relationships with others, or of ourselves. Let’s stop assuming that the primary definition of the word ‘relationship’ should have any romantic or sexual expectations.
I have searched for so long for a constant, and now I have it right in front of me. Still, I used so much of my time and mental capacity on attempting to define this connection, but unless it affects my wellbeing or our ability to support each other, it shouldn’t matter. Even then, if it does affect our relationship or me as an individual, it is only a call for greater honesty and open communication, not a tearing down of each other’s boundaries just to establish new ones that look appropriate to everyone else but ourselves.
I think we deserve some grace from these societal ordinances, don’t you?