They’ve been labelled heartless or deluded, but an increasing number of people don’t conform to the concepts of true love and marriage. Though that doesn’t always mean not having sex.
To some, the thought of not feeling romance may initially seem a little strange. But, for Juliette Arnold, a 19-year-old French psychology student, it is completely natural. She is part of a growing number of people who identify as “aromantic”.
Aromantics define themselves as not feeling any or few romantic inclinations towards other people. “For me, being aromantic is simply not having any, or little, romantic attraction,” Arnold says. “It’s not ‘not having feelings’.”
Some aromantic people realise their identity during their teenage years. “I’ve identified as aromantic since people at high school started getting into relationships, really,” an aromantic women, who wished to remain anonymous, tells me. “At first, it was sort of this, ‘OK, but why would you want to do that?’ feeling.”
For others, the label came later. Brii Noelle, a 26-year-old parent of two and aspiring healthcare worker, only realised after she started trying to date.
“My friends set me up with one of their friends and we hit it off. He was nice, and very good looking, and kind of hit all of what I would look for in a partner. Only problem was, as time grew on, I felt absolutely nothing for him.”
She began to feel that it was unnatural for her to be involved with others in a romantic relationship. “After that, I did a lot of research, and looked back over the years of dating people and realised that I’m not sure if I ever felt more than just ‘comfort’ and platonic love when dating anyone.”
Similarly, Arnold initially struggled with the concept of aromanticism before she became comfortable. “Coming to terms with it was hard. I had to rethink every misconception I had about love,” she says, questioning whether her feelings were romantic, sexual or platonic. It took her several months after being introduced to the idea by a friend before she accepted it.
Many aromantics are also asexual, which means they experience little to no sexual pull towards others. “Intentional or not, online aromantic communities seem to be overwhelmingly asexual by default,” says Mark Schmidt, a 27-year-old from Michigan.
But not all of them are. Schmidt founded a Facebook group for aromantic people who do feel sexual attraction. The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.
“I have never advertised my group,” says Schmidt, “[but] it seems to be growing exponentially through word of mouth.”
Schmidt’s group is just one space catering to aromantic people. There are a wide variety of Facebook pages, from Aromantic Non-Asexuals to Happily Aromantic, as well as blogs dedicated to aromanticism on the social media site, Tumblr. Their members number in the hundreds.
While predominantly young, they have many different backgrounds, including different gender identities and sexual orientations.
“I am happy for the internet making it easy to find and create communities of people with similar disinterest or disgust with romance or romantic feelings,” Schmidt says. “People often seem ecstatic to realise there are others like them when they find my group. It’s really rewarding to see that happen and I want to see more of it.”
These online communities can help aromantics overcome the stigma attached to rejecting romance. “People think that I ‘just haven’t met the right person yet’, which is, of course, not true,” says Arnold. “I have found the right person – myself”.
All the aromantic people I speak to tell similar stories: tales of being accused of delusion, or heartlessness. Noelle says that’s not the case: “I’m not cold or a prude just don’t feel any romantic feelings for anyone, and I don’t want to be in a romantic relationship.
I still have a huge, sensitive heart. I watch Hallmark movies about true love and marriage, and cry at those!” One of her favourite films is the 1987 fantasy The Princess Bride.
But where does this stigma come from? Schmidt thinks society privileges romance over all other forms of love: “An obsession with romantic love is clearly the norm in western culture. I get the sense that most people hold romantic connection as somehow superior to all other forms of human connection.”
However, all three are keen to stress that they do not lack non-romantic love, or close relationships. Schmidt, who grew up in a conservative, religious household, has partners and friends with whom they share strong emotional bonds. Arnold loves her family, friends and pets; the majority of Noelle’s time and attention is taken up by her “two amazing little girls”.
Despite the intense social pressure to experience romance, aromantics have one message: it is OK if you don’t. Arnold is proud to not relish the idea of a romantic relationship.
“I will maybe never fall in love, I will never get married, I may spend the rest of my life alone with my hundreds of cats in my big country house – but I am not mad about it,” she says.
“I spent a long time thinking I was the way I am due to mental illness or just being broken,” adds Noelle. “But being aro is just as normal as being anything else.”