So, I have some other posts in the pipeline (believe it or not) but I want to get this out of the way first because otherwise it’ll confuse my following posts. I thought it’d be short, but it actually turned into one of my longest posts all of a sudden.
I don’t understand romantic attraction. Not in the “I’m wtfromantic” sense, though I’ll get back to that, but in the sense that my mental model of the world does not, and never has, included the concept. No non-a-spec people I’ve ever known have ever talked about anything remotely similar to it, except for crushes, but crushes never seemed like something people considered important for initiating a romantic relationship (although they seem to generally conform to people’s romantic orientations). Even the alloromantic aces I know don’t ever actually talk about romantic attraction. The only people who ever talk about it are strangers on the internet, and I’m confused.
In my experience, romantic relationships seem to usually be initiated by what could be called “romantic desire”, which can be linked with sexual or other attraction and often includes feelings of romantic love or limerence. Basically, people date who they ‘like’. But people talk about romantic attraction as if it is something other than this, and I don’t understand.
I’m not saying that anybody is wrong, of course. I just don’t understand, and I can’t decide if my confusion is because I’m the only one who doesn’t understand this, or if in actuality it’s not a very widespread concept at all. Neither option seems likely, and yet, I’ve never seen anyone ever address a confusion quite like mine.
Well, except for some wtf/quoiromantic people talking about their own orientations. I’m not wtfromantic, I’m aromantic. I can say that with confidence. What I can’t say is that I “do not experience romantic attraction”. I don’t know what it is. I’m still, fundamentally, not absolutely convinced it exists as what I would call an attraction. So, sometimes I read what wtfromantic people write and I feel a bit of resonance—this is a confusing concept to me as well. But, in the end, I’m still not wtfromantic.
Part of that is that I have never cared whether I feel romantic attraction or not. My internal definition of romantic orientation has never used that concept. It still doesn’t, despite an apparent community consensus on the definition I quoted earlier.
I identify as aromantic because:
- I don’t want a romantic relationship.
- I don’t have crushes.
- I don’t feel romantic love.
- I can’t empathize with fictional depictions of romance.
- I don’t experience romance itself.
None of that has anything to do with attraction. I’m not claiming to be right, or that anyone else is wrong, but I can’t shake this idea that the only reason why that definition gained what level of consensus it has is because people feel that orientations have to correspond to attraction. I never thought that attraction was a fundamental part of what an orientation is, so when I identified with the concept of a romantic orientation (aromantic) I never adopted a model of romantic attraction to support it, because it didn’t need one and the concept of attraction didn’t feel useful to me in this instance.
The only sense in which I do have any mental model of “romantic attraction” is in my understanding of crushes. I’ve never had a crush, but it’s certainly hard to get away from the idea, so I’ve picked up on some details. Crushes seem, for most people at least, to be a whole mess of feelings, including limerence and some form of attraction, commonly towards someone whom the subject does not know particularly well and with whom they do not have much consistent interaction. Certainly there is an attraction in there, but is it actually what people are talking about when they refer to romantic attraction? That doesn’t quite seem to line up for me. People don’t talk about it like that.
I guess what I’m most confused about is, what is romantic attraction an attraction to?
Sexual attraction is an attraction to bodies, at least most of the time.* Crushes seem like an attraction to an internal conception of a person, which is my explanation for why they mostly occur toward people whom the subject doesn’t know well. Aesthetic attraction is an attraction to appearances (and not necessarily of people—most objects of aesthetic attraction as I experience it are inanimate (e.g. art or vistas), or cats. It’s probably something in the way they carry themselves.). Alterous/emotional/platonic attraction (these may or may not all be exactly the same, but they’re similar in this functional model) is an attraction to personalities, as I understand. But, what is romantic attraction to?
This model has adequately accounted for almost every type of attraction I’ve ever heard anyone talk about, except glaringly for romantic attraction. (And sensual attraction, but in that case I think it’s just that I don’t know much about it in the first place. Nothing I know of it is inconsistent with this model, at least.) But, as I said before, almost nobody except strangers on the internet ever talks about romantic attraction. So it wasn’t a big deal. Doesn’t stop it from being confusing, though. Again, I’m not saying my model is better than yours, I’m just saying that my model seems to be working just fine for my purposes.†
It’s also not a rock-solid classification scheme, and different types of attraction can be to the same things. It’s not a one-to-one or a one-to-many mapping, it’s a many-to-many mapping. The only thing which I can’t map is romantic attraction. People tell me that it should be in the domain, and yet there is nothing that it maps to in the codomain that I can see. Is it a case of my model breaking down fundamentally, or is it a case of people not explaining this particular aspect?
Maybe romantic attraction is differentiated primarily by how it feels—but, feelings are notoriously difficult to communicate, and I find it hard to believe that everyone would be able to agree on which of two attractions which are functionally similar to label as romantic. If it were that, then I’d hear about people talking about how they experience romantic attraction-like feelings in multiple distinct ways, but I don’t see much of that, at least in comparison to the discussion of these other concepts, so I don’t feel like that’s it either.
Edited to add: I omitted a rather glaring detail from this treatment, because I forgot about it while I was writing. Of course, there’s another functional model of attraction, by which romantic attraction could be distinguished. It might be that what makes attraction romantic is in that it instills a desire to act in a romantic way. In fact, this is a common definition. But, I don’t know that it resolves all that much, because people hardly agree on what romantic means in relation to activities either. And in any case, I’m still unsure about the attraction part of this, as opposed to simple desire.
In summary, I don’t understand anything about romantic attraction, and this lack of understanding makes me worry that I’ve misunderstood something fundamental about what attraction is at all.
Edited to add: There are a couple of posts which I should really include links to, and rather than actually rewrite anything to naturally include links, I’m just going to put them here. It’s slightly better than a comment. https://asexualagenda.wordpress.com/2019/02/28/aro-ish-permanent-questioning-the-aromantic-community/ is highly relevant, and in fact this post is partially a response to the ideas Elizabeth was discussing. http://godlessace.tumblr.com/post/182919967258/aromantic-vs-asexual-definitions is also relevant, as it questions the consensus definition on romantic orientation I quoted above.
* Sometimes people say that demisexuality is attraction to personalities, but that’s not how it works for me. It might work that way for some people, but I usually hear that description from non-demi people, so it kind of looks like a misconception. For me, it’s still an attraction to bodies; it’s just that that attraction can only really develop secondarily to something else. (What exactly that something else is is not entirely clear-cut.) I like to look at my partner’s body, and what goes through my head isn’t “I am attracted to the person whose body this is”, it’s “wow they’re sexy”. It’s just, they’re one of very few people who are sexy, and all of them only became sexy after I got to know them.
† I should get back to it in another post, and elaborate on my thoughts, since I’ve not seen anyone else in the ace blogosphere really codify a model like it. But it seems to be more or less similar to the implicit models the allo people I know use.