It wasn’t by design that I discovered being aromantic, or “aro” as one might say: I happened across the description in the demographics section of an otherwise-unrelated survey on, of all things, Star Trek. As I was wrapping up the survey, with the usual questions about age, gender identity, and so on, I came across the word “aromantic” among many other self-descriptors with which I was certainly more familiar: “lesbian,” “gay,” “bisexual,” “transgender,” “asexual,” and so on.
Being a student of language, the term itself didn’t confound me – but I was intrigued. As I sought out information, I came to a startling realization: it was me. I was it. “Aromatic” was everything I had always felt and believed about my own situation, about who I was and how my history interrelated … how had I never found this word before? How had I never known I was, well … incomplete without it? The human capacity for labeling things – including ourselves – is frankly boundless, but how, in 38 years of living, had I never happened across this too-perfect word to describe my feelings (or, occasionally, my lack thereof)?
Speaking of labels, and language – what is “love,” truly? In English, we take a concept that is multi-layered in complexities, fraught with social and emotional expectation, and condense it to a single word: LOVE. The Ancient Greeks had many words for the various concepts of what we in English refer to as “love”: agape, unconditional, spiritual love; eros, physical love; storge, the devotional love of family or experience; philia, “brotherly” love; philautia, love of self; and xenia, the love shown to those from elsewhere, or hospitability. These were not mutually-exclusive concepts – they connected, interplayed, and combined to form all of the variety of the human condition that can be expressed by one individual for another, or for many others, or for one’s-self.
I have always been keenly aware that my life was oriented towards my family and friends. Involving myself in what society would classically define as a “relationship” – a monogamous, lifelong partnership – was never something I felt connected with, or drawn to participate in. This is not for lack of trying, throughout my young adulthood and even up until about a year ago, I would conform to the generalized expectations of “dating,” and occasionally find myself “involved.” But inevitably, such relationships would always break down irretrievably – not for any singular reason, necessarily. I have often described my experience in a standard-issue relationship as something of a roller coaster: excitement for the ride to come when you strap into the car, anticipation as you climb the first hill, exhilaration at that initial thrill, and then … that’s it. The handful of times I experienced this carnival ride were almost all destined for failure – not because of anything that was or was not done, per se, but because I was not hard-wired from the beginning to desire it. I know this now – I wish I had known it before.
In the weeks since I first became aro-aware, I have learned so much from others in the community: the breadth and depth of individual experiences and individual understanding is astounding, and frankly all-encompassing. While surely gatekeepers exist – as they do in all things, sadly – the wonder of learning that there are so many variations on this particular theme is encouraging to me, particularly. Some are asexual as well as aromantic; others find joy in partnerships with others who are also aro, or frankly with those who are alloromantic. Still others find multi-faceted experiences between friends, family, acquaintances that defy easy description – the overarching point, in which I take greatest comfort: all are valid. All are worthy of being understood.
For my part, this journey of self-discovery has been liberating. I no longer feel compelled to wedge myself into some societal expectation that neither comports with nor defines who I am. I am free to put aside the notion that I am somehow broken, or inadequate; what’s more, I can channel my energies more effectively towards those people I do love – my friends and the family that I keep closest. Discovering the truth about aromantic orientation is something that has granted me the healing and internal approval that I had long lacked. I know, of course, that not everyone understands what this means – but that’s OK. Part of my journey is helping to educate others, and even though I am new to the experience myself, I am hopeful that I can bring some level of awareness of what it means to be aro, to those who seek to understand. What matters most to me, now, is that I have gained insights on my own state of being, and mental and physical welfare, that I never could have gotten to otherwise. It is my hope that others feel the same, as they come to discover as I did: the direction to happiness and self-realization lies imprinted upon the compass of their own heart.