Defining romance

Most allosexuals don’t ask themselves what romance is. The concept is understood at an almost instinctual level.

For them, it is common sense. Romance is something more than friendship. It is sometimes confounded with sex and sensuality, and the little and not-so-little steps leading up to that kind of relationship. It is courting, and fostering love in one’s partner. It is showing that you think of them; that you love them. These feelings come through with small gestures, surprises, gifts, and special events.

When one keeps their friends at arms’ length and is only intimate with their partner, the divide is clear and there is not confusion to be had.

For people on the ace spectrum, romance isn’t as clear-cut.

In the case of asexuals, once the expectation of sex is removed from the equation, the structure of an ideal relationship becomes blurry. The end goal is different, uncharted most of the time. There is often a desire to get close, really close, but in a way that doesn’t fit the social norms of intimacy, leaving the allosexual questioning whether the relationship is going anywhere.

In the case of aromantics, sex might or might not be an issue. When it isn’t, there is still this sense of disconnect between the two partners’ goals. An aromantic might not care for gifts, courting nor special occasions, although that doesn’t mean they are any less invested in their partner. They can love in their own way, but be put off by constricting social norms dictating the “proper behavior”.

For both of them, there is a disconnect between romance as it is understood at large and what they feel comfortable expressing.

There is very few examples in media of an intimate relationship without romance. Goku from Dragonball Z is married to Chi-chi, although he doesn’t act towards her like the rest of the cast towards their own partners. He treats her as a friend, with no intimacy to speak of beyond having children together. Love is never one of his motivations, as opposed to Vegeta who does show moments of love towards Bulma.

One of the better representation I found is in the school-life romance Bloom into you. The manga doesn’t have one, but two characters who are aromantic, both of whom have vastly different feelings towards romance.

Yuu, one of the two lead characters, never felt any attraction to anyone. At first, she had an idealistic view of romance as the one she picked up from novels, although she was disappointed when her feelings fell short of her unrealistically high romantic expectations. While she does get into a relationship with the other lead with the hope of understanding attraction, she cannot return the same kind of love Touko gives her. Yuu is uncomfortable with displays of affection and doesn’t initiate them, not because she is anxious— as would most romance heroines— but because doing so wouldn’t be honest of her true feelings. As the manga progresses, she does develop strong attachment and love for Touko, but even after she confesses, Yuu still struggles to define it.

Maki, the other aromantic character, is fully content watching relationships from afar. He has no desire to get involved in one, and is rather disappointed when he becomes the object of someone’s crush. He doesn’t have romantic expectations nor does he hope to discover those feelings, as opposed to Yuu. He is quite happy as a spectator.

Maki’s case is particularly relevant when considering the Oxford Dictionary‘s definition of romance :

1- n. A feeling of excitement and mystery associated with love.

2- n. A quality or feeling of mystery, excitement, and remoteness from everyday life.

Maki does show excitement towards love as a concept and the mystery of a new relationship. From his seat as a spectator viewing other people’s romance, he is distanced from his everyday life. Romance is very much special to him, just so long as he isn’t involved. Does that make him romantic?

The AVEN wiki doesn’t offer any insight into romance. It lists a few non-sexual activities which could be romantic such as holding hands, dinner dates, movies, long walks, cuddling and more, although these activities could just as easily be sexual or platonic for different people.

The way I see it, activities don’t define the type of relationship; rather it is the intent of a person when doing those activities that does.

When courting— the step most commonly thought as romantic— the intent is to get the other person to fall for you. The actions one takes to charm another are usually outside one’s everyday life, which ties back to Oxford’s second definition. The one courting put themselves in favourable situations to impress and draw the object of their affection to them, through mystery and excitement.

There is usually deliberate thoughts put into fostering one’s partner’s emotional connection. While this definition may sound like manipulation, it is more a ritual both partners agree to be a part of. Longer romantic relationships would then see both partners foster each other’s love through little gestures that bring back this mystery and excitement.

While I’m comfortable with the above definition, it does leave me in a little bind. Either I am romantic with everyone I consider a close friend or family, or I’m platonic with all of them.

I give deliberate attentions to all my relationships in the hope of fostering affection, trust and intimacy. I don’t do it in the hope of marriage nor a primary relationship, but rather to build a family of choice of people I myself trust and am affectionate towards. The form each relationship takes is less important to me than the knowledge these people will remain in my life long term in some way, that they will stick by me if things get difficult.

Is this romantic?

Most of them would say it isn’t. That it is just a friendship, since the divide between friend and partner is so often implied. I’m not their partner, so what else would it be?

I’ve found my answer when I discovered the term “queerplatonic“. I am comfortable aiming for the grey area between romantic and platonic. If some prefer to use the platonic label, so will I, and if others are more secure with the romantic one, I’ll follow suit, but my feelings will remain the same. So long as these people are around when I need them, I am satisfied.

Descriptive vs Prescriptive

In this blog, I use labels of all kinds: asexual, masochist, grey-romantic, polycule, cisgender, etc. This needs to be made clear:

I am describing my own current situation, not prescribing others how things should be.

Labels are meaningful in the sense that one identifies with them. They let people communicate aspects of their person clearly to others where otherwise they would have struggled with the lack of vocabulary. If someone identifies with a label, if they find a community of like-minded individuals through it and if they share experiences that others identifying as such can relate to, then they are a part of this community. This is as true of transgender people (who should be accepted as the gender they identify as regardless of their physical appearance or whether or not they transition) as it is of agender people, non-binary, top, slaves, solo poly, and whichever other term these people use to describe themselves.

There is a trend common in the cis/het community that one should meet certain criteria to be worthy of a given label. They could, for example, refuse to refer to a transman as a man because he still presents as a woman, or they could dismiss an asexual person’s sexuality based on the fact the latter enjoys and seeks physical intimacy.

This mentality also come up in some elitist cultures, where one owning the label dictates that only those matching their own experience are fit to do the same. Gays saying one isn’t truly gay if they had sex with a partner of the opposite gender; slaves dictating that one cannot be a true slave unless they relinquish control of their bank accounts; trans people dismissing other trans people who didn’t get a certain list of surgeries; masochists requiring tolerating a certain level of pain to be a real masochist; the list goes on.

This is the prescriptive approach, and it is damaging to the community as a whole.

It restricts the use of a term to an arbitrary set of conditions which excludes people whose experience would be a valuable asset to the community. More than that, it causes doubt and uncertainty for those on the edge, those who are exploring their own needs and feelings and who need to try these labels to see if they fit them. At the more restrictive end, this mentality breeds frustration, discrimination, neglect, and even emotional abuse. It hurts to be told one’s feelings are not valid by the very people one looks up to and identifies with.

As I write this blog, I will define what these terms mean to me. I will give my relationship model, and describe my feelings and my life as they are now, not as they aught to be. I am not coming at this from an objective point of view, and neither should it be taken as such. Other people may have different definitions of these labels, and they may live a different life than I do while still identifying as a kinky poly ace transwoman. Their experiences and definitions are as valid as mine. Theirs should be used in the context that they relate to their stories and experiences, and mine to my own.

All I will do is describe. Make of my experience what you will.