To be aromantic in a decidedly romantic world

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Graphic by Sie Douglas-Fish.

The end of the world is always so romantic in the movies.

I had just finished Don’t Look Up, Netflix’s much-debated apocalypse-satire, when this realization came to me. At the end of the film, the main characters are gathered for a home-cooked meal. Leonardo DiCaprio’s character has reunited with his wife. Jennifer Lawrence and Timothée Chalamet play odd, but endearing lovers. And yes, it’s sad that the world is about to blow up. But it’s also romantic, and poetic, because they’re dying together, in the arms of the people they love most.

Rogue One is the same, the lovestruck rebels watching their planet explode like most couples watch the sunset. As Contagion comes to a close, the raging pandemic is temporarily forgotten, the focus shifted to some teens slow-dancing in a living room for their “prom.”

I think about the end of the world a lot these days. With atmospheric rivers and forest fires now fixtures of the B.C. climate, total destruction of the Earth during my lifetime doesn’t seem so far-fetched. The romantic ending part does, however.  

You see, I’m something called ‘aromantic.’ Haven’t heard of it? Few people have. It’s exactly what it sounds like, though; I simply don’t experience romantic attraction. Don’t get me wrong, I find people attractive, and I love my friends, my family, my cat, but I have never desired a significant other. Weird, huh?

When I was a kid, I used to think I had a hormone deficiency. I was living in a world of playground crushes, cooties, cooing over fictional couples — and I understood none of it. The problem, I decided, must be medical, a chemical imbalance in my body that stopped me from catching feelings like everyone else. I told my friend this hypothesis once, and she agreed. I was just, we decided, weird.

On my 17th birthday, one of my best friends asked me out. For the next week, I nursed a constant, low-level panic attack. I couldn’t figure it out. He was cute, we got along great, but I didn’t want anything more. I tried to calm myself down. Everyone dates, I told myself. This is normal, you’ll be okay. I didn’t feel okay.

A few days later, he tried to talk to me in class, and I felt so sick I went home. At the bus stop, as I waited for BC Transit-shaped deliverance, I remember sobbing to my friend.

“I think,” I said through my snotty, ugly, tears, “that I might be aromantic.”

My acceptance of the term was slow: I wanted to know all there was to know about the orientation, to match every aro “symptom” with my myriad “ailments.” Google provided little help, so I did most of my research on the Instagram explore page. The problem here, of course, and a problem that I believe impedes much discourse on queerness, is that there is no one way to be anything. One person’s life as gay, or asexual, or indeed, aromantic, will not, and cannot be a carbon copy of their comrades-in-flags. When I put my phone down, I was alone again, lying in my bed, staring at the ceiling, trying to decide who I was.

I’ve been out to my friends for almost three years now. I tell most coworkers, classmates, the like, if it comes up. Responses are mixed. One guy, who I realize now was into me — straight guys don’t usually ask presumed-straight girls to the movies just for fun, do they? — told me flat out, “That’s weird.” 

A good friend told me I was “lucky,” as if it were a blessing to never have that special someone, to constantly dodge potential affection, to know I’ll never marry or have a nuclear family. The majority of people, of course, are just politely confused. “It’s like asexuality,” I tell them, “but for romantic attraction.” Most importantly, I assure them that I’m not a robot, “I still love people, just not like that.”

Compared to most people in the queer community, I am quite priviledged. No one wants to take away my right to marriage, or gender-affirming surgery. Still, every time I come out, I want to vomit. It’s like I just performed at an open-mic night to very tepid applause. They didn’t hate me, they thought I was weird. I’m weird, aren’t I?

I’m not out to my parents. Don’t get me wrong, they’re loving and supportive, but I’m still scared. I’m scared that I’ll come out to them, and they’ll look at me with pitiful smiles, and tell me I just haven’t met the right person yet. Mostly, I’m scared that they are, in this fictional scenario, completely right.

Afterall, how do you know what you are when you know nobody like you? Sure, Saoirse Ronan’s 2019 Jo March was most definitely aro — her telling her beautiful BFF Laurie “I don’t see why I can’t love you as you want me to” is possibly the most relatable thing I have ever seen — and okay, singer-songwriter Moses Sumney publicly identifies as aromantic, but in my real, physical world, I am alone. So yes, sometimes — late at night, or in the middle of a breakdown, or even when I’m explaining to the nth acquaintance that no, I’ve never had a crush — the doubt creeps in.

Today, though, I will push that away. I do not need to prove myself. I am not lucky, I am not weird, I am just aro. I am, I am, I am.  

When I was 17, I came out to my best friend. She, in turn, made me an aro flag bracelet. I still wear it, it’s cute. To this day, she remains my ride-or-die, I’ll-be-there-for-you BFF. I love her like a sister, like a personal hero. I love her like I love everyone who’s important to me: truly, madly, and platonically. If I am around for the end of the world, I wouldn’t mind spending it with her. 

This article has been published anonymously to ensure that the writer has control over when and who they want to come out to.