The Marie Interludes, Post I
“Romantic attraction: the desire to be in a romantic relationship with a specific person.” This was the definition I found everywhere on the internet when I tried to figure out if I was aromantic. In fact, this is still the most prevalent definition I’ve seen of romantic attraction, despite it being nearly useless. Of course wanting a romantic relationship makes sense if you feel romantic attraction. But what does that mean? What does the wanting feel like? And no, the constant follow up of “you’ll know it when you feel it” is patently unhelpful as well. If I just “knew what it felt like,” I wouldn’t be asking questions.
Sexual attraction is defined as “the desire for sexual contact with a specific other person,” which seems more concrete to me. There are certain physiological responses a person has that makes it clear that “yes, sex with this person feels good and okay and safe.” But romantic relationships? How does that work? How does one even define a romantic relationship, when so many people have different ideas about what it should look like? Is it wanting to go out on dates? What if you’re super introverted and hate crowds? Is it being showered with gifts, or quality time, or physical touch? That depends on your love language as much as some attraction, doesn’t it?
Needless to say, I was confused what romantic attraction even was. Even when I asked my friends what it felt like for them, I got the same tired answers I’d found on the internet. No one seemed to know what it felt like, internally, emotionally, and physiologically. So, after a few months, I decided to call it quits and just drag my romantic labels along with my sexual attraction labels.
I first noticed I was an oddball in my early adolescence. At thirteen and fourteen, my friends were getting crushes, talking about romance, and arguing over which celebrity was the hottest. I assumed they were precociously hormonal, and we were all far too young for that nonsense. At fifteen, they started flirting with boys and sneaking first kisses. I started to wonder why all of them were so obsessed when I wasn’t. At sixteen, they were dating, and breaking up, and talking about sex. I was having a crisis.
When I told my friend about my weird relationship to relationships, she introduced me to the term demisexual. This is an identity on the asexual spectrum defined as “no sexual attraction unless and until a close emotional bond is formed with another person.” There is also demiromantic, a sister identity to demisexual that is exactly the same but replace all the sexual attraction with romantic attraction.
My first reaction to the concept of demisexual was the dumb, tropey “but why is this considered queer, isn’t everyone that way?” And then I thought about it. And then I realized. The things we usually see as normal are the things that are normal in our lives. The reason I thought demi was normal was because I am demi. It would just take me another three crises to realize that.
I did ID as demi/demi for six years, until I ran across a post that listed more attractions than the typical sexual and romantic ones you see discussed. This post included aesthetic attraction, which is “appreciating the appearance of a specific person, without desiring any physical, romantic, or sexual contact with them.”
At this point, I’d continued to vacillate about whether I was really demi or not, despite IDing as such, because I could understand people being “handsome” or “beautiful.” I assumed this must be some form of sexual or romantic attraction since that was all anyone ever talked about. But when I discovered aesthetic attraction, I had a eureka moment. THAT was what I’d been experiencing all these years; appreciating people’s physical appearance, without ever wanting sexual contact with them.
After that, I IDed as aroace. Not because I’d thought about my romantic attraction much, but because my label for sexual attraction had changed so I just pulled the romance along with it. This time, instead of almost immediately attaching to a new identity, I mourned over the realization I was aromantic. While I was comfortable being (a sex-repulsed) ace, since the thought of doing sexual things with any real person horrified me, I was a hopeless romantic.
I’d always liked the fluffy romances in Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction, the thrill of the warm butterflies, the logic melting kisses, the comfort of a soulmate who’d be with you forever. Even back at fourteen when I rolled my eyes at my friends’ crushes, I secretly yearned for the day I would have that thrill. Until I gave up on ever feeling it, because as far as I knew, I’d never felt the “desire to be in a romantic relationship with a specific person” before.
Until my girlfriend gave me an aro crisis.
Early last year I decided to get on dating apps. Weird choice for the sex-repulsed aroace, I know. But, after various life events, I realized the minimal emotional support offered to me by my allo* friends wasn’t enough. I wanted a life companion, someone to share copious quality time with, talk to about anything, and mutually support each other. So, since all my friends were busy with their allo dating drama, I gave in and decided to try these dating apps myself. Me being me though, I didn’t go into dating looking to actually…date people. (Told you I’m weird.)
I went into it with the expectation of finding a Queer Platonic Relationship. These are common among aces and aros, as they are a non-standard option for those who don’t fit neatly into allo society’s view of romance and partnership. The basic idea of a QPR is that it’s a close, usually life partner type relationship, but can exist without the typical trappings of romance and sex society expects of life partners. Since aces and aros don’t feel the typical attractions to other people, and often aren’t interested in performing romantic or sexual acts without said attractions, many will choose QPRs if they want a long-term relationship.
This was the idea I went into dating with–of finding a QPR, a life partner who would be closer and more committed than a friend, but not expect to have a typical romantic/sexual partnership. Since I was a hopeless romantic despite IDing as aro, I matched with a few alloromantics because I was open to a more traditional looking romantic relationship, so long as my partner knew I wouldn’t be able to feel the attraction itself. My dealbreaker was allosexuals–though I know aces and allos can be in happy, healthy relationships together, my sex-repulsion convinced me not to go with a partner who would have to “sacrifice” their sex life to be with me.
After many short lived conversations, interspersed with a few longer-term ones, I met a fellow ace writer. We bonded over our shared sex-repulsion and love of YA fiction, and rather than stop talking after a few days, we kept up the conversation, moving from text to video call without even a full day break in the conversation. Of course, this was Sable. After about two months, we became girlfriends, though we used the term loosely since we were technically in a QPR–something Sable had agreed to, despite admitting she did feel romantic attraction to me. While I liked her a lot and was growing closer friends to her by the day, I had no such feelings. No surprise though, since I was aro.
Then our first month of dating rolled around, and Sable sent me a card for our anniversary. This was three months into us knowing each other, talking daily, watching shows, and eating dinner together. The card she sent was very sappy and romantic, and reading it gave me happy, fluttery feelings that I’d rarely felt before. I loved it, but didn’t think much more about how I’d felt after I read through it the first five or six times.
Near the end of our second month dating, she said “my Marie” during a conversation, which gave me the same warm butterfly and brain melty feelings I’d gotten from the card she’d sent. Though I’d already felt it, I started thinking about it more and mentioned the sensation to her. She said that was how she felt when I flirted with her. I joked maybe I was demiromantic, a label I’d previously identified with.
Thus started a weeklong aro crisis, where I polled not one, not two, but seven of my alloromantic friends plus watching videos about attraction on the internet. While I’d done something similar to this before, this time I didn’t ask how they described romantic attraction (since that had give me the old “you want to date them” response). Instead, I described the times in my life I’d felt those weird not-quite-platonic seeming emotions I now noticed around Sable:
- Being extra excited to see/hear from them
- Vague sensation of missing them when not actively talking
- Warm fluttery feeling in stomach around them
- Brain melty when complimented by them
- Random thoughts about kissing them
- Hugging, cuddling, etc with them feeling nice
The responses I got to my list? “Welcome to romantic attraction, my friend.”
So, yeah. The most accurate representation of romantic attraction came not from videos or posts about identity, but from the fiction books I’d been reading all my life. If I hadn’t been so sure they were exaggerating the sensations of romantic attraction, I probably would have realized I was demiro a lot sooner–like at 17, when I had that super strong platonic bond with Kaidence the librarian. Or, not so platonic bond. Or crush. I had a massive crush on her. Something I admittedly wondered about at the time, before conveniently shoving it in a closet and slapping a platonic label on it because she was 25, unattainable, and married to a man while I was, you know, a questioning 17-year-old girl.
After feeling romantic attraction to my very attainable, very available girlfriend, I reconsidered my feelings and realized I was feeling romantic attraction to her. That might explain why I went from never considering physical contact with Sable, to thinking about it…a bit more often. And being okay with it. Maybe even hoping for it. Also why I rarely considered kissing my friends, or was disturbed by the idea, but was excited when I thought about doing it with Sable.
It was perhaps ironic that the first label I identified with, demiromantic demisexual, turned out to be half true. The timeline it takes for romantic feelings to kick in, and the limited number of friends it has attached to, puts me closer to the aro side of the spectrum than the allo side. But though it took over a year of monthly contact with Kaidence, and three months of daily contact with Sable, I definitely feel romantic attraction in a textbook demiromantic way. Or perhaps I should say, in a fiction book way.
*Footnote: Allo, short for allosexual/alloromantic is the term for feeling sexual/romantic attraction easily and often; the “normal” form of attraction; opposite of asexual/aromantic. (This is your last vocab lesson for the day, promise.)
Post 71 in Socially Unacceptable: The Daily Life of a Queer Schizophrenic Wreck (2022–Present)
This is post 1 of the Marie Interludes, where I hijack Sable’s autobiographical series to share my perspective on some parts of our life together, as well as post about my own socially unacceptable existence.
For the whole series, follow this link. Or to visit Marie’s sporadically udpated blog, follow this link.