There has to be more focus on romantic pressure and the very real threat of romantic abuse.
Content note: This article features discussions of amisia, queermisia and abuse.
Amatonormativity – the idea that to be in an exclusive romantic relationship is a universally shared and desired goal – is one of the very foundations of our society. The pursuit of romantic love dominates films, songs and even our TV shows, shown by the ever-popular Love Island.
Love is everywhere, or at least one very specific form of love. But romantic love is not all that we need. Some people may never experience romantic attraction but because of our obsession with romance, people are left feeling isolated and just plain wrong for not desiring romantic relationships. Aromanticism is steadily gaining more awareness, but most people still aren’t aware that people who don’t experience romantic attraction exist.
Erasure and invisibility in society can lead to a silencing of people’s identities and the very real issues they may face. One of the greatest assets to the queer community has been the ability to study identities and prove that certain people face discrimination or certain barriers or strife in certain areas. Knowledge is central to acquiring rights and recognition. Yet, one identity being left behind is aromanticism.
There are few studies on aromanticism and what aromantics face. Without data or any kind of public awareness, society (including the queer community) may risk wrongly assuming that aromantics don’t face hardships or aren’t in any risk groups. This may not be the case. Stand Up Magazine spoke to aromantics on their lives and the issues they face due to attitudes toward their identities.
What the survey found.
Aromanticism is such an unknown identity that there are few spaces to reach aromantics. Queer venues in real life almost never cater towards aromantics, but there are some online spaces where people can connect. However, the general lack of spaces means it is incredibly difficult to be able to connect with aromantic people. Nevertheless, 63 aromantics participated in Stand Up Magazine’s survey on their experiences. The final statistics were surprising.
When asked whether they had ever experienced hatred or negativity toward their aromanticism from other people, 73.02% responded yes. Asked whether a partner had struggled to understand their aromanticism, 72.58% said yes. Asked whether anyone had ever refused to accept their aromanticism, 64.52% said yes.
Further still, 74.60% of aromantic people who took part in the survey said that they had been pressured to enter into a romantic and/or sexual relationship. More worryingly, 36.51% said that they had experienced intimate partner violence, and out of 60 people who responded specifically about intimate partner violence, 5% said that they had experienced intimate partner violence and that it had been blamed upon their aromanticism by their partner.
30.16% of the total 62 respondents said that they had experienced stalking. Well over a half of respondents – 61.29% – said that they felt their boundaries were violated in a romantic relationship by a partner or partners. Finally, over one third – 33.87% – said they had experienced behaviour where the person tried to “correct” their aromanticism. Attempts to “correct” aromanticism can include (but is not limited to) assault and harassment.
Given the obscurity of the aromantic community, and the low number of participants in the survey, it is difficult to know how reflective these figures are. However, the high percentages of people who have experienced romantic abuse, difficulties in having their identity accepted and hostility are alarming and suggest that much more focus is needed to explore what the aromantic community faces.
What aromantic people said.
Aromanticism can be a complex identity to navigate. The lack of general awareness about the identity means that many more people could be aromantic but have no idea about it, or even know that there’s a word for those who don’t (or rarely) experience romantic attraction. Yet, aromantics can have difficult processes to navigate. The general assumption that everyone experiences romantic attraction can lead to people making unwanted advances, or partners being completely confused, or feeling rejected, if the person they are with reveals they are aromantic. It can also lead to unwanted questions from family, confusion by wider society and occasionally, absolute condescension, telling people they will ‘change their mind’. One respondent, Samantha Edwards believes that the lack of understanding can compound to cause greater issues for aromantic people.
“Thankfully, more and more people are gaining awareness of the smaller parts of LGBT+, including aromanticism,” Samantha says, “but while people know what it means, they don’t really talk about what we face. Also, a lot of the problems we face aren’t just towards us. A lot of non-aromantics face some of the same things we do. Abuse, people not respecting boundaries, people not handling rejection well, etc. So people might not see it as an aromantic issue when it is.
“Not many people know what it is, and when they do, they don’t really understand it. People may accept it, but they don’t get it. I’ve had to explain to lots of people what it was in many different ways and they still didn’t understand. To me, it’s simple. Just a lack of romantic attraction, what more is there to get? But it’s not that easy to understand apparently. I assume it’s because since they feel romantic attraction, they don’t get how there are people without it. And there’s not much representation in media so it’s not getting much awareness. Then there are the people who tell you that you’re just making up names for yourself. Yeah, no. Not much understanding in society right now.
“The stereotypical ‘happy life’ usually includes being married and having children,” Samantha says. “That’s the normal goal. So for people who don’t want marriage, they may feel like their life will never be meaningful. People are always asking us why we don’t have a partner or when we’re planning on getting married like that’s the most important thing in life when it isn’t. Not wanting these things may make aromantic people feel alienated or weird. If romance was less prioritized, aromantics wouldn’t feel like they’re different from the world.”
“If romance was less prioritized, aromantics wouldn’t feel like they’re different from the world”
The obscurity of aromanticism means that it can be something that alloromantic people simply don’t understand or accept. This can put aromantics in danger, and make navigating their identities that much more difficult.
“I’ve had a few people ask me out and refused to accept that I was aromantic when I told them,” Samantha says. “They told me it was impossible. That there’s no way I can’t like anybody that way. Then they continued their advances and only stopped when I raised my voice to tell them no, or when someone else stepped in. One time I was in this friends with benefits type relationship with someone. I told them from the start that there was no chance of something more. It was fine at first, but as time went on it got more relationship-y. He kept trying to kiss me even after I told him I don’t like it. He wanted to cuddle when I told him no. He’d leave me lots of romantic voicemails. Holding my hand whenever we hung out. I kept telling him that these things made me uncomfortable but he wouldn’t stop so I eventually ended things.
“I believe it was a romantic violation,” Samantha says. “We discussed the terms of our relationship from the start. What we want, what we don’t want, what we’re comfortable with, etc. I told him that I was aromantic and that there was zero chance of our relationship ever going forward. He said that was alright. And he did that stuff anyway, even after telling him it made me uncomfortable. I had to remind him several times of our rules, but he still broke them. He treated me like his girlfriend, and that’s not what I signed up for when we started this relationship. Near the end of our relationship, he confessed that he had romantic feelings for me, and I knew I had to get out then. That was the last straw. He said that he knew I was aromantic and that I wasn’t going to feel the same way, but he can’t help but want more from me. But I couldn’t give him more. He said our relationship wouldn’t change, but it changes everything. So we ‘broke up’, if that’s what you call it in this situation.”
There are few conversations around romantic boundaries. Language is often mocking or derogatory about aromantic people, such as saying they only want to ‘chuck and fuck’. The fear of being called cold, or viewed as cruel can make it difficult for aromantic people to articulate their boundaries, but it also means that situations can be heavily weighted against them in a society that deems it unreasonable to not want to experience romantic connections. Julian* believes that society’s focus on romance causes aromantic people to be at risk of isolation.
“All of society is pretty much built around romance,” Julian says, “and there’s absolutely no awareness of how alienating that is to so many of us to whom these experiences are completely foreign and incomprehensible. Aromanticism as a whole, as an issue to be problematized and perhaps politicized, is pretty much at its fetal stage. I feel like us aromantics are starting to come together in online communities because the internet has that power to bring people together around experiences that would otherwise just be close to impossible to even communicate. So we’re starting to share experiences and build a community and we’re not yet entirely clear on the exact range of issues we’re particularly susceptible to face.”
Julian believes that the lack of understanding isn’t specific to aromanticism, but that most people don’t fully understand the concept of romance to begin with and that is what makes conversations about romantic identities go awry.
“I’d say people don’t even understand romance to begin with,” says Julian. “People treat romance like this innate, very objective/material, self-evident experience – and so the cultural component in creating this notion of romance, this whole set of emotions and actions that can be understood as romantic, are overlooked.
“This became clear when I first started exploring my identity as aromantic. Because I talked about it with some people, and they were like, ‘But how come you’re aromantic if you’re in an intimate relationship? Don’t you love your partner? Don’t you feel this urge to care for them and make sure they’re happy and to spend time with them?’ And pretty soon, those (alloromantic) people would be confused too, because I asked them in return: Well, do you really think there’s one type of love? Don’t you love your friends, your family, your pets? Don’t you care for your friends, and want them to be happy and want to spend time with them? And they were like ‘Hmmm yea but… It’s different!’. My point being, the more I question them about the nature of their own experiences, the more they realize that when they put their feelings into words then the lines become way more blurry.
“And that’s just it: everything seems so obvious and self-evident because we were all raised to see the world in that way, and for most people that worldview fits their experiences and feelings and needs. But when people like us, aromantics, start questioning the ‘a priori nature’ of these world-views then it becomes clear how nothing about human experiences and relationships can be understood as clear-cut boxes and categories. We impose these boxes, but then after decades and centuries of thinking in that way we come to believe the boxes were always there, when in fact any aspect of being human is a wild, chaotic cloud of so many possibilities. And this could be said of a lot of other things, certainly of the whole LGTBQIA+ community as a whole.
“So my point is, society as a whole has very specific discourses that classify human experiences and determine how you can be and act in a valid and acceptable way. And the romantic discourse is one that’s really embedded all throughout society and our everyday lives, and we really have a long way to go in terms of achieving a greater understanding of experiences and identities that don’t fit those discourses.”
“Nothing about human experiences and relationships can be understood as clear-cut boxes and categories”
Julian believes that the emphasis on romantic love is so embedded in society that it is given far more importance than other forms of love – and this has a huge impact of those who do not experience romantic attraction.
“Romance is not just perceived as universal, it is perceived as inherently more important than any other types of feelings and relationships. And for aromantic folks, time and time again that means losing deep connections with people you’ve spent a lot of time with (friends or otherwise) for romantic interests that have been around for days or weeks. Not that short-term relationships are inherently less meaningful, but there’s just a mismatch between needs and expectations from relationships and, arguably, it’s just overall an unethical approach to relationships to abruptly drop a relationship for another with little to no adjustment or communication.
“If you wanna prioritise one relationship over another, that’s okay, but not as a default. Not as a free pass to treat friends like shit because that’s just the expected way of things when a new romantic interest emerges. The very idea that platonic relationships are inherently less important is very toxic in general, but it especially affects aro folks. Because the connections that to aros can feel so deep and fulfilling are to others a temporary stepping stone into what is commonly called ‘something more’ – meaning, a romantic relationship – with or without us. Society in general desperately needs healthier views on relationships, and to start deconstructing normative views of romantic and sexual monogamy that are at the root of abusive relationships and the marginalization of aces and aros.”
Julian’s process of exploring their aromanticism was long, and at a point when they were in a relationship. The discussions around romantic attraction that followed were surprising to their partner, and in contrast with their partner’s ideas about them.
“When I first started exploring my aromantic identity I was already in a several-years-long intimate relationship with my current partner,” Julian says. “At first, it was a bit of a shock to my partner and it was certainly a challenge to my relationship. Particularly because when I was younger I might’ve ‘appeared romantic’, especially when first developing this intimate relationship. I now understand that this was just me reenacting the available narratives in society about how to navigate relationships, and not me expressing feelings in a way that was genuine or intuitive to me.
“My partner just reacted with many questions like, ‘how come you’re aromantic if you were so romantic in the beginning of our relationship? Does this mean you don’t love me?’ It took a lot of honest and open communication, and also a lot of reassurance that being aromantic doesn’t mean I’m incapable of loving and that this relationship was still very important to me. And so far it has ended up improving our relationship, because it has made clear that love isn’t this very obvious, self-evident thing to be taken for granted, but a complex set of emotions that occur in the course of a relationship that require constant communication and management of needs and expectations. And I think that’s a much healthier approach to a relationship, any kind of relationship, regardless of whether or not you’re aromantic.”
The revelation that Julian was aromantic had a huge impact on their life, and around communicating what they wanted from a relationship.
“By the time I first started exploring this part of my identity I was going through a lot of frustration, anxiety, and depression. I just felt trapped in a relationship in which I felt my partner and I weren’t in the same wavelength in terms of how we described and understood our feelings towards one another (among other things that were going on). That made me absolutely repulsed to romance – any expression of romance anywhere just reminded me of how everyone else seemed to experience feelings and relationships differently than me, how everyone else seemed to feel so comfortable about things that were making me so depressed, and I just felt lost and broken. After realizing I was aromantic and after my partner and I have been processing that change in our relationship for a while, I find I’m no longer as repulsive to romance and, according to my partner, I’m even ‘more romantic’ now. And that’s also something people need to understand: attraction and action are two different things. I don’t experience romantic attraction, but I may be able to adopt some ‘romantic actions’ that my partner tells me makes them feel appreciated and loved. I’m still aromantic, these things I do may not even be perceived as romantic by me, but they’re important to my partner. And really, this is just a healthier approach to relationships in general: don’t just adopt society’s dominant narratives about how you should be in a relationship or how you should love; instead, communicate openly in your relationships and find out what is important for the other person specifically to feel valued and important.”
Julian experienced hurtful comments when they came out, and as a result, has avoided revealing their aromanticism to other people.
“When I first brought this up with my partner, I heard some pretty nasty stuff that was very hurtful. I was told I was cold, I was loveless, I ‘just wanted to fuck everyone’, and stuff like that. I get where all that came from, but at a time I was really lost and depressed, it was very hurtful.
“Other than that, I avoid abuse or discrimination altogether by not coming out at all. At least for now, I’ve chosen to be closeted as a way to preserve my privacy and my safety. But I have mixed feelings about that because I know that indirectly, I’m contributing to the very erasure and invalidation that my community is a target of. It gives bigots a reason to tell us, ‘well you’re not actually oppressed you don’t face any discrimination or marginalization for not experiencing romantic attraction’. I will say this much though: even if we’re closeted, there’s not much privilege in having to hide who you are from others in order to keep yourself safe or avoid invalidation, and there’s certainly not much privilege in feeling lonely and broken because so many people say ‘romantic love is what makes us human’ and stuff like that. It’s more subtle, no doubt, but no less real.
“I remember my partner saying shortly after I came out, ‘well you’re so romantic today I don’t understand how you say you’re aromantic if you can be as romantic as this’. I don’t think they were ill intentioned but it felt like they were trying to suggest that ‘I could be normal if I tried hard enough’.
“Another significant example of this happening is when I argued for hours with one of my closest friends about how, in their words, ‘queerplatonic is a redundant and unnecessary word because the concept of best friend already exists and means the exact same thing’. It was very frustrating to try to explain that it’s about more than semantics, it’s about linguistically carving out a space of our own to build a community around shared experiences that aren’t forcibly framed in the dominant amatonormative framework. Her argument wasn’t ill intentioned but it was certainly ill informed and tone deaf. It was a clear example of how pervasive this impulse is to force us into the dominant narrative, this impulse to fit the ’round aro pegs’ in the ‘amatonormative square holes’. And I get that allos find it hard to understand, but it’s just not the same thing. Because to them a best friend is still at the end of the day ‘just a friend’. You don’t go on a dating app looking for a ‘best friend’ and people will understand that you expect to develop a long-term relationship, a potential life partnership, or a sex partnership, or co-parent partnership, among so many other possibilities.
“Carving out our space linguistically means subverting amatonormativity and explicitly materializing new ways to navigate relationships outside of the normative societal structures. And this is culturally all so new that for aromantics more than for everyone else there’s a very serious need of openly communicating and constantly navigating and negotiating the boundaries, expectations and needs within our relationships.”
Jay* also agreed that there was a severe lack of understanding of what aromanticism is in society. Jay also felt isolated due to the fact that after coming out, people would stop their own pursuits of relationships even though Jay wanted to explore relationships. Jay has also had partners wonder whether romantic love “was blocked” due to a past or childhood trauma. Jay even heard comments such as: “You’ll feel differently when you’re older/meet the right person”, “you mustn’t really like/love them then” and “don’t you have a heart?”
Jay says the lack of awareness about aromanticism – including lack of representation in the media – has increased the sense of isolation.
“I have very intense and committed aromantic relationships that are almost never represented in the media,” says Jay. “I don’t see myself in the characters in most love stories, and before I learned about arospec I thought there was something wrong with me for not having the same sorts of feelings as other people, especially when they were in love. It made me question whether I truly loved others, and other people questioned that about me too. My relationships are not understood by most people. I feel I can’t talk about the details of my relationships with most people, especially if they involve non-platonic elements. This is hard, especially when there are problems in my relationships as it can feel like I have no one to talk to. If one of my relationships ends people generally don’t understand that it is as heartbreaking for me as any kind of breakup. I feel alone in my grief and misery, and misunderstood if I try to talk about how much it hurts. Also, people have a tendency to be dismissive about aromantic relationships and may question whether you actually truly love that person, which I find hurtful. I may not have romantic feelings for someone I love, but I’d take a bullet for them.”
“I may not have romantic feelings for someone I love, but I’d take a bullet for them”
Ayelet Enisman has experienced aromanticism, and perceptions of it, also having a profound experience on close platonic relationships. This dates back to childhood, showing the significant impact the lack of understanding of aromanticism can have.
“I have never wanted a romantic relationship, so I didn’t have one, but it did influence my platonic relationships,” Ayelet said. “Even as a child, I knew I viewed relationships differently, and asked people what the difference is (the earliest time I remember happened when I was 11). While I didn’t want a romantic relationship, students who went to school with me kept asking me who do I like romantically and didn’t believe me when I said ‘no one’ and kept pressuring me to tell them into telling them, which was very frustrating, because I did tell them the truth, and telling them names of people I loved platonically wasn’t enough for them to let me go.
“…They thought I didn’t want those people to know about my crushes on them because I was shy. I am very shy, but I didn’t see a point in having a romantic relationships with those people. I thought I’ll want to have a romantic relationship with a person I have a crush on in the future, but not now (I thought it was because I was young, since it happened in middle school and high school, but I’m 25 now and I feel the same). They also tried to push me to get into a romantic relationship.”
The lack of understanding extended to Ayelet’s family.
“….I also got bad reactions from people I love and from my mother,” Ayelet said, “and had a lot of explaining to do when I came out. People tend to think they are helping me when they say that I need a boyfriend, but I don’t need anyone romantically. I do want to live with a person (or people) that I love deeply, as much as people who are in love with each other, and I believe there is nothing that can’t be done out of platonic love, but the difference is important for me (It feels like my love for my twin sister), and it doesn’t have to be a man. That influenced my relationship with my mother greatly. She believes I need to have a romantic and sexual relationship with a man, although I don’t want relationships like that, and it doesn’t have to be a man.
“In the past, my mother kept forgetting me coming out to her, again and again. Our fights are getting worse when they come, and it seems like she’s starting to remember, even though she doesn’t want to, because she doesn’t want to deal with those things and accept me the way I am. She yells at me for not necessarily needing a man, but also for not wanting what she views as a normative relationship. I thought she would like the idea of me living with a person that I love like I love my sister, but the truth is far from it.
“My mother isn’t accepting it at all, and the fights with her are getting more and more common. It happened with some other people who were close to me, especially one person I loved deeply, who kept telling me that aromanticism doesn’t exist, and made my internalized hatred much worse than it already was. It’s in the past now, but it felt terrible. Regarding romance, I had one person who went to class with me as a child and as a teenager who tried to pressure me, from time to time, with the help of others. but I never came out to people I tried to turn down.”
Ayelet has also been subjected to targeted hate for being aromantic (aromisia).
“I was also targeted at Pride parades, and, mostly, on an online dating site. I was there so I could look for people who wanted a relationship that is similar to the one I want, or don’t mind me loving them platonically when they love me romantically, and will accept me not referring to them as my romantic partners and being non-monogamous. I got hate messages because I’m aromantic (and also because of my asexuality and viewing myself as genderless). People don’t believe me that I’m not incapable of [romantic] love or that I don’t love less than alloromantics.”
“I was also targeted at Pride parades”
The focus on romantic love in society has led Ayelet to believe that this puts aromantic people at risk of feeling isolated and developing a hatred of themselves. It can be a particularly confusing process for aromantic people who aren’t romance repulsed and actually enjoy typically romantic activities, but still don’t experience romantic attraction.
“This focus [on romantic love] can make aromantic people hate themselves for not experiencing romantic attraction, or experiencing it only on low levels or rarely. The focus on romantic love in media made me think I’m a super romantic person, because I love love stories, but it made me think that I can’t be aromantic, both because I love those stories and because I want to do things like the things the characters do (sailing during the night, watching the stars, having long hugs, going to events with a plus one, etc.). It fueled my internalized hatred of myself.”
Ayelet had considered seeking professional mental health support but has deep concerns that any mental health practitioner may wrongly view aromanticism (and asexuality, and being agender/without a gender) as something to wrongly ‘fix’ which could have a deep and severe negative impact.
“This focus [on romantic love] can make aromantic people hate themselves”
Neil has only, in recent relationships, identified as aromantic and believes there is complete confusion in society about what being aromantic really is.
“I don’t think there’s an understanding of aromanticism as such,” Neil says. “The cultural archetypes that are associated with a lack of desire for romantic relationships are also not an accurate reflection of aromanticism as most aro people understand it; people who don’t seek romantic relationships tend to be seen as either “emotionless” and lacking love or empathy, or “pathetic” and not having appropriate social skills or otherwise not being desirable enough to find romantic partners.
“I think the prioritization of romantic relationships harms everyone. It devalues friendships and any other sort of relationships; people are judged for prioritizing even very close friendships over their romantic partners. Combined with really unhealthy perceptions about what constitutes romantic behaviour (e.g. pursuing someone until they give in, putting up with abusive behaviour as a demonstration of love/trust, the idea that someone who loves you will know what you need without you telling them, the idea that ‘spontaneity’ and lack of communication in sexual encounters is more romantic), prioritizing romance can be very damaging even to alloromantic people. The idea that romantic relationships are superior to other relationships can even contribute to rape culture, as with the concept of being ‘friendzoned’. I do think that this, coupled with the general lack of awareness of aromanticism in popular culture, negatively impacts aromantic people.”
“The prioritization of romantic relationships harms everyone”
Neil’s current partner is understanding of what it means to be aromantic, but in past relationships Neil has found that has not always been the case for partners.
“The relationship immediately before my current one, my partner had a lot of narcissistic personality traits, and would either get very mean or freeze me out* when she wasn’t getting the type of attention she wanted. (*i.e., completely ignore me and stop talking to me for as long as she was still upset with me. I have had multiple partners behave this way.)
“Since I didn’t identify as aromantic until about three years ago, it’s difficult to say whether any abuse was targeted toward my aromanticism, but the behaviours I might say now are related to my aromanticism did cause me some difficulties. I also had a partner who would tell me what a terrible person I was and that I didn’t really care about her, and would often accuse me of ‘prioritizing [school, friends, etc] over her’ and get upset with me for it. In spite of this, she didn’t leave; she just continued to try to manipulate me and accuse me of treating her badly and not caring enough about her. She would also tell me that no one else would put up with me like she did, that I was a terrible and undeserving partner. I think that she would’ve been abusive, jealous, and controlling no matter what, but my ‘lack of interest’ was something that she latched onto. I also had someone who accused me out of nowhere of ‘only wanting sex’ and not engaging enough romantically, and abruptly ended the relationship and cut off contact with me, which was really emotionally difficult to deal with at the time.”
Neil has also experienced hurtful behaviour from friends, and one in particular refused to accept the boundaries which Neil had asked to be respected. She didn’t respect what being aromantic meant.
“I’ve also had an experience where I met someone who I had told from the start I was aromantic, but who repeatedly asked me to date her. Every few months, she would ask me if I was “ready to date her yet.” Each time I said no, and told her that if I ever did somehow become interested, I would tell her myself. Each time she agreed not to ask me again and to wait until I brought it up, but soon enough she would always ask me again. Eventually, I told her that I felt this was disrespectful to me and that I didn’t want to spend time with her anymore, because I couldn’t keep dealing with that. It’s a shame, because I really enjoyed this person as a friend and would have liked to keep being friends with her.”
Neil considers whether there can be such thing as romantic abuse. Sexual abuse, and enforcing sexual boundaries gets a lot of attention in society (and still not enough) but romantic boundaries are so rarely spoken of. Neil believes that there is a case to say romantic abuse does happen.
“I don’t have a clear definition of it on my own,” Neil says, “but I’m sure that some kinds of behaviour exist that could be called ‘romantic abuse’. I’ve definitely had past partners withhold affection when they didn’t get the type of attention that they wanted. Maybe the example in the previous question about the partner who used my aromanticism to convince me no one else would want me and thereby to keep me in the relationship with her would be romantic abuse?”
“My experiences have influenced the way I process my identity,” Neil says. Specifically, I struggle a lot with the idea that my experiences of abuse in romantic relationships may somehow have had an effect on my ability to engage romantically with other people. Maybe I’m not aromantic, I’m just too traumatized to risk acting on romantic feelings or being in a romantic relationship. Maybe the trauma damaged my ability to feel romantically toward other people. Most of the time I feel confident about identifying as aro, but when I start having thoughts like this, I can get insecure in my identity, or feel a sense of loss at potentially having lost the ability to form healthy romantic relationships because of relationship trauma. I have to remind myself that regardless of where it came from, my aromanticism is real now and it’s a valid identity to hold, even if some of the events in my past have affected that identity.”
“My aromanticism is real now and it’s a valid identity to hold”
Neil has found few sources to seek support. Aromanticism is so heavily shrouded in ignorance that few support outlets or resources have been created for aromantic people in mind. Yet, when understanding is lacking among peers, there should be a safety net for aromantics who are struggling.
“I’m a member of a support group on Facebook and I have a few friends that I can talk to about it, but overall I think it’s hard for aromantics to find support for issues related to aromanticism,” says Neil. “Because people who aren’t aromantic don’t really have the perspective to understand where we are coming from. I have one friend who, when I talk about concepts or feelings related to aromanticism or how being aro affects my life and worldview, has cut me off multiple times saying ‘we get it, you’re aromantic.’ I’ve had the experience more than once of people responding dismissively to me talking about struggling with being aromantic, probably due to the idea I mentioned above about aromantic behaviors being a choice.”
Lisa Perkins revealed that she had been stalked twice, and believes that she was targeted because of her aromanticism (and asexuality).
“The impression given is that people who are Aromantic have less relationship problems as they often don’t seek romantic relationships,” says Lisa. “While in one sense this may be true, my experience has been the opposite. I have been stalked twice by two different people.
“The first time was in 2005 before I identified as AroAce. I had suffered a family bereavement, which was extremely traumatic and I was in a vulnerable position as I was still in shock and on short term sick leave. The Church I was attending at the time provided a ‘pastoral visitor’ for people in need and it was this person – a woman who was married with an adopted child of her own, who stalked me.”
Lisa said that at first, the woman had been supportive and had revealed she was bisexual, but that the situation soon changed.
“I was the first Church person she came out to – during one of her pastoral visits to support me, which was basically an abuse of her position – the benefit of hindsight! In some of her visits she would question me over my sexuality (which was frankly none of her business) but she was insistent and just could not get her head round the fact that I wasn’t interested in anybody, whilst she would recount the people she had seen that week whom she fancied.
“When I eventually told her I no longer needed her ‘support’ she would not let go and would use her position as a pastoral visitor as an excuse to text and phone me all hours of the day and night and turn up where I lived. She would also try and put her arm round me to ‘comfort me’ when I wasn’t upset. It was like she had fused herself to me against my will. She backed off eventually after being confronted with the help of my Church Minister who said he thought she was trying to groom me.”
The second experience of stalking led to Lisa taking severe measures for protection.
“In 2009, I moved house and found a new church (which was one of several churches grouped together),” Lisa says. “Little did I know that there was somebody based at one of these churches who just so happened to work in the same building as me (an open plan building with around 3000 other people). I didn’t even know who he was (a married man with 2 kids) but he quickly worked out who I was and one day he came and joined me at lunch. I was polite but I didn’t really have anything to say to him as I didn’t know him but a pattern soon developed that he would turn up to lunch most days. I tried changing the time and venue of my lunch-break but he would turn up, to the extent that I ended up hiding in the toilet during my lunch-break. He would also turn up outside of work too – at the supermarket on a Saturday, waiting on the same train platform as me to catch the train to work, in spite of him living nearer to another train station.
“I spoke to my line manager and Church minister and decided to confront him one lunchbreak. He told me that he had previously stalked ‘a couple of other women in their late 30s’. I fed this back to my line manager and church minister.
“I was left alone for a couple of months but he simply changed his pattern of behaviour and instead I was put under surveillance all day at work, to the extent that my work colleagues (who I had said nothing to) were concerned for my personal safety. With the benefit of hindsight I would have gone straight to the police but it is hard to ‘prove’ you are being stalked in an open plan office, especially when stalking is a course of conduct rather than a specific event. Also I questioned whether this was really happening as I had been stalked once before. I spoke again with my line manager and church minister and the stalker was ‘spoken to’ on an informal basis by them.
“After this I had no problems for a year and my stalker changed employment. However one day, out of the blue, I had a phone call from my church minister. ‘New evidence had come to light’ about my stalker. This resulted in a church safeguarding risk assessment being carried out and an indefinite police harassment order being issued after I eventually went to the police.”
Lisa says she wasn’t told what this new evidence was discovered but she says that she’s now friends with someone else who claims to have been stalked by her alleged harasser.
“It would be fair to say that this has dominated my life,” says Lisa. “After the stalking had stopped I ended up challenging the Church authorities for several years over how things had been handled as mistakes were made. It was only last year I finally felt I had closure.
“Last October, I took a sabbatical and ended up moving Church and job and decided to try and work out who I am now as this had turned my life upside down. It was only during my sabbatical and having time to reflect that it occurred to me that maybe I was seen as a target by both stalkers because of being Aromantic. I only look at people as friends or acquaintances. Anything more in a relationship simply doesn’t feature on my radar as I am unable to experience either romantic or sexual attraction.
“I suspect they ‘knew’ that I would take them at face value – as ‘happily married’ with children and with their own lives, so somehow I was easy prey and unsuspecting of their motives… Stalking however is insidious … and I was subtly violated over a long period of time. By the time I realised I was a victim it was difficult to break free from their claws.
“By the time I realised I was a victim it was difficult to break free from their claws”
“What I do know is that in spite of this, I am still really comfortable as an AroAce. Even more so now. I have dealt with stalking (twice) with the help of the authorities and with friends and family, but primarily as a single AroAce. Not only that, but I even ended up working with the Church authorities and I wrote an anonymised case study which was used to help train Church Leaders in how to deal with stalkers and support victims (legislation for stalking as a criminal offence only came into force on 25 November 2012). This has made me stronger in who I am and as an AroAce. As the asexual character, Todd Chavez in BoJack Horseman would say ‘Hooray for me!'”
A community struggling to move forward.
There is so little data or public interviews available about aromanticism that it is really difficult to know where the community stands and just what aromantics are really facing. Without a concerted effort from researchers, academics and activists to give a spotlight to this underserved community then progress risks never fully materialising.
The aromantic community is several years behind even the asexual community in terms of recognition, and the asexual community is around perhaps a decade behind the bi and trans communities, none of whom receive anywhere near the levels of support or investment they need. But the aromantic community is steadily growing online, and this new age of social media has allowed marginalised voices to be access platforms that in different eras simply didn’t exist. Stand Up Magazine’s research is by no means definitive, particularly when the surface has barely been scratched, but it does start to give insight into what aromantic people may be experiencing. It’s time now for the aromantic community to be listened to. For people to seek out their stories, and to offer support and solidarity.
* Indicates where names have been changed to protect identities.
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