I was 16 when I had my first boyfriend. We were everything you’d expect of a first relationship: awkward, bumbling, young. I’d known him for years. I cared about him deeply. When we broke up only a month later, I had a whole list of reasons to justify myself, reasons I wholeheartedly believed.
“I wasn’t ready for a relationship.”
“I was going through a tough time.”
“Our life goals just didn’t align.”
I couldn’t bring myself to say the truth. One week into the relationship, every cell in my body itched to leave it behind.
Now, three years later, I know why. I am aromantic. I don’t think I have fallen or ever will fall in love. Frankly, I don’t really think about falling in love at all.
For those of you who don’t know, asexuality is a sexual orientation describing those who experience little to no sexual attraction. Likewise, aromanticism is a romantic orientation describing those who experience little to no romantic attraction. I happen to be both, but many people are one or the other.
Aromanticism is just beginning to emerge as an accepted label. I’ve experienced a sort of emotional whiplash from how LGBTQ+ spaces have turned away from furtively mentioning aromantic people to having a recognized Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week celebrated openly for a week every year beginning the Sunday after Valentine’s Day.
Aromanticism is just beginning to emerge as an accepted label.
Still, despite the increase in awareness, the most common response I receive when aromanticism or asexuality is brought up remains something along the lines of, “I don’t get it. How … does that work?”
Being aroace, for me, is not defined by what I’m lacking because I lack nothing. It isn’t the sad, cold existence many people assume it is. It’s just me looking up at a moon that reminds me of a smile. It’s just me digging up four-leaf clovers on campus. It’s just the way I am.
For a long time, I stumbled along ignoring this part of me. I had this vague, unknowable thing haunting me, and I wrapped it all under one identity: asexuality. I would reassure myself, “I must love differently because I am asexual.” I would tell myself, “I’m asexual, but I can still love. Someday, I’ll be married. Somehow, I’ll be happy.”
Realizing I was aromantic brought me calm in stormy seas. I remember listening to my friends talk about the crushes they’d had. With every chorus of agreement over their shared feelings, I sat in silence thinking, “This isn’t how it is for me. This isn’t how it ever is.”
I’d known about aromanticism for three years at that point, but I had actively run from the label. As an asexual person, I always told people that I could still love. I could still be happy. Being aromantic as well would mean I didn’t even have that.
Turning to meet and find it waiting for me was not as world ending as I’d expected. While my friends shared a laugh over their history of romantic escapades, the roar of confusion that had been building in me for years suddenly and wonderfully quieted.
Turning to meet and find it waiting for me was not as world ending as I’d expected.
In the year that followed, I slowly came out to a few people around me. I’ve learned that, to many other people, aromanticism is an alien thing, something to be wary of or to prod curiously at.
I catch people trying to package the identity into more palatable terms. They fumble with words they don’t mean and bend terms they don’t really understand. They ask me if I can imagine myself with a queerplatonic partner. Will I ever go on a date? Get married? Have I ever even been kissed?
There are so many ways to ask an aromantic person if there’s some way for them to stop being aromantic, and I’ve been asked them all. Truthfully, I don’t know, and I don’t care.
I don’t know if I’d ever kiss someone if I loved them enough.
I don’t know if I’ll ever get married, have sex, have kids.
I don’t know the answers to questions that weren’t relevant to my life until someone asked them.
These were questions other people wanted answers for and never questions I genuinely cared to answer myself. I don’t consider these questions relevant to my aromantic experience beyond the fact that I’ve decided not to bother thinking about them at all.
Realizing I was aroace did not give me the answer to those questions — it gave me the freedom to abandon those questions. It gave me new, more startling, questions. In online forums full of aromantic people, young and old, questioning and certain, the questions were not, “How can you possibly be happy?”
Instead, I was asked, “What do you want?”
I love talking to other aromantic people. I love listening to the loveless aros who are bold enough to confront who they are in a world that demands the opposite. I love hearing about partnering aros who have managed to craft relationships that work for them despite the pressure to call it friendship or call it dating or not call it anything at all. I love learning about the stereotypes and the contradictions and the many things between.
When I first realized I was aroace, loneliness overwhelmed me when I thought I was doomed to be abandoned for greener pastures. Ever since finding my footing in my identity, I have never once felt lonely again. I’ve found the life I want. I’m making my way to the future I want, too.
Ever since finding my footing in my identity, I have never once felt lonely again.
In a crowded room surrounded by strangers or alone in Memorial Glade beneath a dark sky, I feel contained. I feel like I hold the crescent moon in my hands. Or maybe the world is holding me, breaking my fall even when I have bad days. I don’t feel lonely. I don’t feel alone. I feel loved, and it’s the simplest kind of love that doesn’t demand I love anything back.
It’s Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week here in the aromantic community.
To anyone questioning or afraid, here I am to tell you that anti-love has never been the aromantic person’s lot in life. Loneliness is not your predetermined destiny. If you want them, there are people who will love you. If you need one, there’s a community for you.
To the aromantic and asexual people out there who have lived their lives the best they can, thank you for being that community for me.
And to everyone, the world is brilliant like the smile of the moon. I love you, and I don’t.
Contact Courtney Le at [email protected].