Growing up, I didn’t always know that I was aromantic. I didn’t even know that people could be wired to not feel romantic attraction to anyone. All I knew was that I was different from my sisters and my girl friends and most of the people around me. I mean, in the Philippines, there’s so much value placed on romance and romantic relationships. There’s literally a word that encapsulates romantic excitement, kilig.
Everywhere you look, romance is, well, romanticized. Our cinemas and TV networks are perpetually saturated with rom-coms or romantic dramas; celebrities can literally capitalize on their will-they-won’t-they relationship with another celebrity (known as “love teams”) for years (seriously you can build an empire out of a lucrative love team alone); our music industry is flooded with songs of heartbreak and heartache so much that it’s hard to find a song that deviates from that; really, I can go on for days.
In a culture that literally commodifies kilig,you can imagine how difficult it was for me to figure out my own identity when I realized (very early on) that I didn’t seem to feel what most of the people around me felt about romance. I’ve never even felt kilig. Ever.
But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.
Before I go on, I think it’s important for me to first define what it means to be aromantic and clarify some things that people often misunderstand about the aromantic orientation. First and foremost, aromantics basically don’t feel (or very rarely feel) romantic emotions. The aromantic spectrum has all these variations like grey romantic (people who feel romantic attraction in very specific circumstances), demiromantic (you need to already have en emotional bond with someone before you feel romantically attracted to them), and so on. Personally, I identify as just generally aromantic.
I’d like to emphasize that I’m aromantic not because I’ve never fallen in love but because I’ve never (and possibly never will) experience romantic attraction towards anyone. That means that I’m not just waiting for the “right person” to come along and teach me how to love. It’s honestly really irritating and offensive when books or movies use that trope – a character never expressing any romantic notions or interest in romantic relationships… until The One™ comes and shows them the way – because it furthers the harmful idea that everyone wants a romantic relationship and those that say they don’t just haven’t met the right person yet. It’s never just a person is satisfied with the way they are and don’t really see the need for a relationship.
There’s also this weird but unfortunately common misconception that us aros are just dysfunctional or depraved in some way because we don’t care for things that are generally considered romantic nor crave for a romantic relationship. There’s nothing about aros that needs fixing. We’re not missing out on any crucial life experience and it’s honestly infuriating when people insist that we are. Also, yes, we do have the capacity to love just like everyone. Romantic love is one flavor of love. I and other aros just don’t care for that flavor in particular.
Moreover, it’s important to distinguish between aromantics and asexuals (people who don’t experience sexual attraction). Not all aros are aces and vice versa. There are aro-aces but the two aren’t synonymous with one another. While I’m still sort of figuring out my own sexuality (definitely not straight, I can tell you that), I can say that I’m not asexual.
Now, it bears repeating that there is nothing sad or tragic about being in the aromantic spectrum. In fact, while I can’t speak for every aro out there, I can say that I’m perfectly content with my orientation. I don’t envy alloromantics (those not in the aromantic spectrum) or resent them. I know and accept what I am, even if it might be a little bit difficult to explain to most people.
Of course, it wasn’t always that way. It took me until I was 16 or 17 to learn all of this. Before that, I just assumed that I was doing something wrong and that if I don’t get my act together I would never be happy or normal. Hell, even my Psych 1 instructor told us that it’s impossible for anyone to not feel attracted to another person at any point in time. To think that a college instructor who had a degree in psychology (at the very least an undergraduate degree) yet still subscribed to the idea that everyone’s sexual and romantic identity is uniform… yikes.
I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t used to feel profoundly lonely before I learned that I was aromantic. However, the loneliness that I used to feel back then wasn’t because of lack of romance in my life but because of lack of understanding of why I couldn’t be like everyone else. When I was in third grade, I was in a circle of girls who were all whispering secrets about their crushes and I unfortunately couldn’t contribute anything because I had no boy in mind. The other girls kept pressing me to spill, sure that I was just playing coy. But as I continued to insist that I really had no crush, they just got more and more annoyed. I remember being so perplexed as to why they wouldn’t believe me when I said that I didn’t like like any boy in our class. I also remember being confused and a little hurt when they’d sit around in another circle without inviting me that time around.
When the same thing happened in sixth grade (different gaggle of girls this time because I had changed school in 4th grade), my friends somehow got it into their head that I had a thing for this one boy in our grade. I didn’t, to be honest. They teased me about it and, rather than denying their assumptions, I just went with it, having learned my lesson some years before. While I knew that my friends probably wouldn’t abandon me for not conforming to their standards, I was still a little hesitant to sort of “out” myself as a little different or, at the very least, boring. Seriously, nothing thrilled my friends more than stories of other people’s romantic exploits.
By the time I made it to college, I had more or less figured out that there was something not right about me. I mean, I could chalk it up to personal preference whenever I’d recoil at the idea of sitting through a romance flick or picking up a romance novel. I could (for a time) blame my youth for my ignorance and disinterest for love stories. I could even assume that it was my bedrock level self-esteem that stopped me from being interested in anybody in that way. But as time passed and I gained some level of emotional maturity, I realized that difference of tastes doesn’t account for the fact that I don’t get the same thrill others get when a couple does something cute on TV; my age and inexperience doesn’t explain why I never yearned for a love story of my own especially when I got to the point where I “should” have had prospects of a romantic relationship; and my incredibly meager self-esteem might be the cause of 90% of my problems but it sure as hell wasn’t the reason why I have never been attracted to anyone before.
Fortunately for me, I had gotten into Tumblr at around the time I was starting to realize that there was more to my indifference to romance and imperviousness to kilig. While I admit that Tumblr might now do more harm than good to the mental health community, in its earlier years (before it became into the toxic cesspool of bad advice and the worst takes on literally anything), Tumblr was the first place I stumbled upon the term aromantic. When I read up on what the term meant, I swear I felt a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. I was so relieved to find out that I wasn’t the only one who felt the way I did about romance. I wasn’t alone!
Learning about the aromantic spectrum gave me a whole new perspective on life. It freed me from years of fear and dread. However, while I recognized that there was nothing wrong with my lack of interest in romance and romantic relationships, that doesn’t mean that I could escape everyone else’s fixation on it. Seriously, it’s almost insane how just about every story in every medium centers or heavily focuses on romance. I remember back in high school we watched a stage play about the life of a saint and, guess what? She had a love story too! AND SHE WAS A NUN! I’m sure the stage play took some liberties with the saint’s history and the romance B plot was probably there to appeal to the younger audience but still… there’s just nowhere to run, man.
I’d like to point out that I don’t hate romance. The central message of love stories actually fascinate me. Two separate individuals finding solace and inspiration with one other to a point where their lives are comparatively better together than alone – that’s pretty interesting stuff. I appreciate a good romance when it convinces me that there is value in the two individuals’ relationship, beyond just the physical attraction and satisfaction I mean. Unfortunately, most of the really popular romances aren’t very convincing to me. They either rely on tired old tropes like love at first sight or aren’t fully fleshed out. And let’s not even get into the really problematic aspects of some popular romance tropes. Even though it’s 2019, the controlling, self-centered, abusive male love interest is still a thing apparently.
Again, I don’t hate romance but I am a little uncomfortable with how society is so obsessed with it. Even when authors want to concentrate on the actual story, oftentimes their editors or someone in the process convinces them to add in a romantic subplot, a love triangle perhaps, so it’d be more palatable to a wider audience. Marie Lu’s Legend trilogy apparently started with two male leads and didn’t have a romance until Lu was persuaded to change one of the main characters to a girl (note: the article linked only shows that the book started with two boys but not that there wasn’t any romance. If I remember correctly, I got that info from the author interview that came with the paperback copy of the book). Also there’s Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games trilogy that originally didn’t put much of an emphasis on the Peeta-Katniss-Gale love triangle until her editor asked her for more of it. And those two are just the ones that I know and confirmed through very basic research.
Honestly, it’s sometimes frustrating to me as an aro to always be surrounded by stories of romance. I actively skip books that mostly involve romance but still can’t avoid it in my reads. No matter what genre, there’s always at least one minor romance subplot, and that’s if I’m lucky. I mean, at this point, I’m used to it, more or less. I’m not too pressed about it but still… I just wished there were more stories about other forms of love. Friendship stories, in my opinion, are so much more profound and way cuter than romance stories.
Rant aside, there are books that mainly involve a romance (though not necessarily a romance book) that I enjoyed. Ashley Poston’s Geekerella and Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl had romances that were solid and believable so I could understand why the two characters felt for each other the way they did. And L.M. Montgomery’s Anne Shirley books had the slowest of the slow burns so that when it finally happened, it was incredibly satisfying.
In closing, since the title has “and other alien terms” I guess I should include at least two more Filipino words about romance other than kilig. Here’s one that just refuses to die: hugot. Again, there is no English equivalent to this term, mainly because it’s a slang. The word itself is tagalog (and bisaya) for “to pull” or “to tighten” but it’s generally a nebulous term for a statement or quote with deeply emotional undertones, almost always involving a failed romance.
At this point, these hugot lines are more humorous than self-serious though. People, aros and alloromantics alike, got tired of it pretty quickly.
And then there’s the bisaya word, maoy. Again, this is a word that originally just meant being sad or in low spirits but in recent years it’s now more closely associated with the despondency following a breakup or heartbreak. If you look up “maoy songs” on Google, you’re directed to articles that list the best breakup songs to listen to.
This post isn’t nearly as focused as I’d like but, honestly, I kind of wanted to just share a few of my experiences and sentiments as an aromantic. I didn’t want to get in too deep into the topic of how hyperfocusing on romance can be harmful for everyone, not just aros, because that’s a pretty hefty thing to unpack.
If you’ve ever felt a lack of interest in romance like I have, please know that there’s nothing wrong with you and that you’re not alone. Romantic love isn’t the end all and be all of love and of life and to hell with anyone who insists otherwise.
That’s it from me, I guess. I just recently finished The Heart Forger by Rin Chupeco so I’ll be back on my book blogging bs in a couple of days. Thanks for reading this whole thing. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the aromantic spectrum. It’s not as discussed as asexuality, I know, and I hope that I’ve enlightened you in some way on the topic.