[This post was featured on GayYA, discussing the importance of aromanticism in young adult literature.]
I thought I was broken.
These are words I’ve heard time and time again in my inbox or on posts explaining aromanticism. For over a decade, I thought the same thing.
Two years ago, I was twenty-nine years old and scrolling through tumblr when I came across a post describing aro people. I’d seen many posts about asexuality, and often thought that the description was how I felt – except for me it was not about a lack of desire for sex, but about a lack of desire for being in love. As I read about absence of romantic attraction, everything clicked. With every example of what an aromantic experiences or doesn’t, I felt more and more understood.
For years, I had worried that my personality disorder was to blame for this in some way. I was confused when people in the borderline community were at a loss when I asked if anyone else felt pained watching romantic movies because they couldn’t feel that way. The automatic response anytime I brought up my troubles with these films to others was that’s just how it is in the movies, but even so, I still had no frame of reference for romantic love and didn’t know why I was so upset by not feeling what the characters I saw in movies or read about in books felt. I thought that surely I was supposed to want that feeling, because all my life I was reading about people sick with love and seeing people on screen falling hard and fast.
Being introduced to aromanticism was like a long overdue hug. It was as if I could feel myself becoming whole; the pieces of me that had felt increasingly fractured the longer I was married and felt as if I couldn’t love my husband the way a wife was supposed to were starting to come together. It was a life-changing realization. I wasn’t broken. It’s just the way I am. After realizing I was aromantic, I looked back to see if there had been any clues when I was a teenager, and I didn’t have to think too hard. I never wanted to date. The one boyfriend I had was because my mother was worried that I wasn’t interested in relationships, so I gave it a try. When he said he was in love with me, I panicked and broke it off. When other friends said they were in love with me, I sat them down and assured them they weren’t in love with me, and explained why it was impossible that they were. I was so uncomfortable with relationships or the concept that someone could be in love with me that I didn’t even date the guy I wound up marrying. While living in different countries, at nineteen years old I married a friend I’d known since I was eleven without having been on a single date.
It suddenly felt so obvious. Realizing that being aromantic was an actual thing, something else became clear – the novel I’d written two years before was about an aromantic’s struggle. The story centers around my main character as she tries to figure out what she can and cannot sacrifice of herself to fit someone else’s ideal of love. When people asked what my book was about, I’d told them it was an anti-romance. A girl in her late teens is physically attracted to a friend, but finds herself inexplicably yet strongly resistant toward his desire for them to get married and have children. Shortly after recognizing I was aromantic, I pulled my book as only a few people had read it at that point, promising others who had shelved it on goodreads that I would revise it and release it again on my author page.
In addition to an aromantic who enjoys sex, in my novel there is a character that is aromantic and asexual. I now know how important it is to be clear in the intention I had for these characters, and thought it was my duty as a writer to take them down and rework some of the story to better reflect these underrepresented orientations. I didn’t know that I was aromantic when I wrote that novel, but now I see it’s a clear reflection of my own hesitations going into relationships. Answering questions about aromanticism on my blogs has made me understand the importance of casually viewing a fictional character as aromantic, and showing that romantic love isn’t the only kind of love; people can love deeply and not desire anything above friendship. Platonic love is still love.
Representation is immensely important, especially for young people who are struggling with identity. Seeing yourself reflected in a novel or on screen does so much for your sense of self and self-worth, no matter what age. As a writer, I hope to bring more of that to the page, because I wish that I had known at sixteen that not experiencing romantic attraction was not only okay, but completely normal. Not only including aro and aro/ace characters in literature, but writing stories about aromantic characters from their perspectives validates readers’ orientations and might make a reader who is lost in their identity feel less alone. It’s important to me that people understand that you can be aromantic and never want to be in a relationship. You can be aromantic and want to be in a platonic relationship. You may even want to get married and have kids despite not having romantic feelings toward your partner or would be fine with it even though it was never on your radar as an important life goal. You may want none of the above. Any of those scenarios are normal and should be presented in healthy, positive ways. Reaching out to young readers who are constantly presented with romantic ideals and giving them the option to read stories about platonic love and love for friends and family tells them that their worth is not measured by their ability or desire to experience romance. Real, honest, actual love doesn’t exist in only one form.
You’re not broken.