In one of the episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation the ship’s resident impenetrably serious and analytical android Data tries dating a crew mate who shows an interest in him. It goes about as well as you’d expect and the majority of the episode’s humor is based around Data’s inability to comprehend romantic relationships even after creating a subroutine for that exact purpose. Did I laugh when watching that episode? Absolutely. However, the reasons for my laughter were most likely not what the writers intended. Instead of laughing at Data’s analytical approach to love, I laughed because in fact it was extremely relatable.
The first time I knew I most definitely wasn’t straight was when I was sixteen. When asked to choose between two leading characters in Oblomov, one of the Russian classics, I said that actually both guys were rather unappealing, since one was nice but lazy and the other one was unrealistically perfect. Hence, the logical choice would be to choose neither and just make it on my own, thank you very much. My classmates, however, were mildly shocked by the coldness of my choice. It was too analytical, they said. That’s not how you do it, they said. It’s simply because I haven’t had a crush, they said, so I did the only thing that seemed appropriate at the time: chose a conveniently unavailable musician to get a crush on. Did it work? It’s really hard to say. Probably because you don’t choose a crush and then give it up after a year and a half because you become bored with it and need to focus on getting into university. Yes, really.
So after getting into university, I sat down and did what else – analyzed my past experiences and logically concluded that I was most likely bisexual, since I wasn’t exactly repulsed by any gender. That conclusion, however, didn’t last very long and shortly after virtually throwing up after my first and only so-called date with a guy, I concluded that I must probably be gay. That assumption lasted longer. Long enough, in fact, for me to get a girlfriend. I mean, everyone said we’d make a good couple, so I should ask her out I guess. And then the right thing to do would be to meet her friends. And ask her to stay the night. And write her more or less regularly. And get her a Christmas present. And take her out because it’s Valentine’s day and that’s what couples do at Valentine’s day. And write to her during quarantine. And Skype each other because that’s what couples do. And worry when she doesn’t reply because that’s what you do when you’re in a relationship. What do you mean, she broke it off through Messenger? She could’ve at least called. That’s what you do when you date someone for nine months, right? Ah well, to be honest, at least that way I wouldn’t add my depression to her own and also now I have more free time and can shamelessly occupy the second half of my bed with books and toys...Wait, what do you mean, that’s not how you deal with a breakup? Do people really cry and eat copious amounts of ice cream in real life and not just in bad romcoms? What can this possibly mean? Am I aromantic in addition to being asexual? But...It’s not like I don’t want a relationship. I mean, it’s alright I guess. In movies, that is. And tv shows. And comics unless it’s Aquaman falling for a dolphin. And in real life as well but when it’s other people but me...I don’t know. I mean everyone likes someone, right? Right?
This here is called amatonormativity or a belief that everyone wants or needs a romantic relationship in their life. It is perhaps less known than heteronormativity but it is just as sneaky and insidious. German philosopher Theodor Adorno said that in a way certain ideas and thought patterns are given to us by the media since our very childhood. Exactly the same thing can be said about romance. Try to remember the last media you consumed that didn’t have a romance in it. Or remember a famous aromantic person. Challenging, is it not? In the same way it was challenging for me to realize that when it comes to romance, “no, thanks” is indeed an option. In the same way aromantic was the hardest part of my identity to explain to some of my friends and family than potentially being gay, which, considering my mother’s conservatism, is rather ironic. Finally, being aromantic was the most difficult thing for me to accept about myself. After all, it is hard to break down something that you were trained to believe in for years.
Help, however, tends to come from the most unusual sources. Like Star Trek and the aforementioned episode. Shortly after watching it I sat down and reminisced, as any self-respecting philosophy major does. Did Data’s failed attempt at dating make him a bad person? No. In fact, it was actually good and noble of him to realize that romance wasn’t his strongest side and bow out. Did he loose out by the virtue of botching that romantic relationship? Once again, no. From his point of view, he gained valuable knowledge and experience. And finally and most importantly, did his lack of romance make him utterly and completely lonely? The answer yet again was a resounding “no”. In fact, a two-parter episode revolved around the crew going on a dangerous time-travelling mission when it was assumed that he was to die. Even if he himself was very nonchalant about it, everyone else was willing to die to save their friend. He had friends and that and not romance made his life full, complete and unique. And it can be the same for me.