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What It Means To Be ‘Aromantic’

This romantic orientation involves little to no romantic attraction to others and exists on a spectrum

Partners sitting at breakfast table on their phones

Despite what you may see in the movies, the greatest moments in life don’t always revolve around falling in love. For people who are aromantic and experience little to no romantic attraction to others, that may ring especially true.

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Instead of swooning for a crush or pouring their energy into romantic relationships, people who are aromantic often receive joy and fulfillment from other areas of their lives and other aspects of their relationships, should they choose to be in them.

And while having a relationship may not always be a main motivator for someone who is aromantic, they’re still capable of experiencing platonic affection and establishing relationships with lifelong friends and platonic partners in the absence of romantic interest.

Psychologist Dawn Potter, PsyD, talks more about aromanticism and how it affects relationships, along with signs you may identify as aromantic.

What is aromantic?

Commonly referred to as “aro” for short, “aromantic” is an umbrella term for a romantic orientation in which there’s generally little to no romantic attraction to others. Although there’s a common misconception that someone who’s aromantic may have difficulty experiencing or expressing affection, that’s not always true.

If you’re aromantic, you may express affection in different ways or value different aspects of relationships beyond “traditional” romance (if you’re interested in relationships at all). And just because you’re aromantic, it doesn’t mean you’ll never experience affection, never fall in love or never have healthy, sexual relationships.

Aromantic vs. asexual

Aromantic shouldn’t be confused with asexual. Although some individuals may identify as both asexual and aromantic, asexuality is a sexual orientation that generally refers to someone who has little to no sexual attraction toward others. But people can (and do) have sex without falling in love all the time — including people who are aromantic. That’s just a normal part of being human.

Beyond traditional ‘romantic love’

Beyond the physical aspects of courtship, people also strike up relationships and start families for all kinds of reasons. In fact, there are different types of love and ways to support your partner(s) beyond what we think of as romantic love.

“In the bigger realm of psychology, we conceptualize love as meaning several different things. There’s passionate love, which includes sexual attraction, and there’s companionate love, which is more about intimacy, closeness, romance and appreciation for your partner that takes time to develop,” discerns Dr. Potter.

“In long-term relationships, passionate love generally tends to decrease over time and companionate love tends to increase over time. But a person who is aromantic is probably less inclined toward developing passionate love and more inclined to developing companionate love.”

That means someone who’s aromantic is less likely to fall head over heels for someone or even experience feelings of a fleeting crush. But what’s more likely to occur is that, over time, someone who is aromantic might establish lifelong partnerships with people they feel intimately close to and vulnerable with.

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Aromantic signs

As with other aspects of ourselves like gender identity and sexual orientation, people come to understand what aromantic means for them in different ways. According to the Aromantic-Spectrum Union for Recognition, Education and Advocacy (AUREA), some common experiences or signs that you may be aromantic include elements like:

  • You have a hard time telling the difference between platonic and romantic affection.
  • You don’t want a romantic partner and don’t get excited about the idea of starting a romantic relationship regardless of whether or not you have sex.
  • You want a partner but are uncomfortable with certain romantic gestures or public displays of affection.
  • You have never fallen in love or have never had a crush and find the idea unappealing or get confused about why other people make such a big deal about romantic relationships.
  • You have fallen in love or have had crushes, but it’s only happened in certain circumstances and on rare occasions. You weren’t always seeking it out.
  • You’ve tried to be in a romantic relationship and found you weren’t interested in it or you didn‘t enjoy it.
  • You have a hard time reciprocating affection and romantic feelings for other people. When you do, it sometimes feels forced or like you’re doing it to please your partner.
  • You often feel your partners love you more than you love them.
  • You don’t always notice when others are flirting with you and/or you sometimes flirt without intending to.
  • You experience feelings of anxiety, apprehension, guilt or shame when someone expresses romantic love or affection for you.

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“People who identify as aromantic likely experience feeling invisible when everyone is saying things like, ‘We need to get you a boyfriend or girlfriend,’ or ‘How come you haven’t settled down yet? Aren’t you sad? Aren’t you lonely?’” explains Dr. Potter. “Most likely, if they are filling their lives with the kind of relationships they do want, they’re not lonely and they don’t desire a different type of relationship than whatever they have.”

The aromantic spectrum

Like asexuality, aromanticism exists on a spectrum with other subtypes that evolve based on a person’s lived experiences and how they feel in relation to their romantic orientation.

“It’s important to acknowledge that aromanticism is a spectrum in the same way that it’s important we remember that LGBTQIA+ people exist,” advises Dr. Potter. “When you live in a world that’s heterosexist and you’re LGBTQIA+, you can often feel excluded and you may not feel represented because people make assumptions all the time about who your partner may or may not be.”

Some common identity terms that are used within the aromantic community include:

  • Aroflux: This term describes someone whose romantic orientation changes over time but generally stays on the aromantic spectrum. So, you may not normally desire romantic relationships or affection, but there may be some days or weeks when you do desire some aspects of those things.
  • Demiromantic: This term is reserved for anyone who only experiences romantic attraction after developing an emotional connection with someone. So, someone who’s demiromantic may be more likely to experience romantic attraction with someone like a best friend or a long-term partner if they’ve already established an intense, emotional bond with them.
  • Frayromantic: Also known as ignotaromantic, this term describes someone who may experience intense romantic attraction for someone they barely know, but then that attraction fades over time as they continue to get to know them better. This identity can be understood as the opposite of demiromantic.
  • Grayromantic: Grayromantics fall into the gray area of the aromantic spectrum between wanting and not wanting romantic relationships and romantic interests. You may identify as grayromantic if you experience fleeting or weak romantic attraction on rare occasions and those feelings are unreliable or confusing to you.
  • Lithromantic: If you’re lithromantic, you may desire romantic relationships and experience romantic attraction toward others, but you don’t always necessarily feel that affection needs to be reciprocated or present for a relationship to work. In some situations, if you were to start a relationship with someone you’re romantically attracted to, you may discover that when that romance fades, you may lose interest in the relationship.
  • Alloromantic: This term describes anyone who experiences romantic attraction and is not on the aromantic spectrum. Similar to allosexual (which describes anyone who experiences sexual attraction), it’s an important identifier to be aware of because it normalizes the variability of our lived experiences. When we recognize that alloromantic individuals desire love and aromantic people do not, we recognize that you are valid and supported regardless of your romantic orientation.

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“When we don’t pay attention to these communities and we are alloromantic and allosexual and we say or think things like, ‘Look at that poor single person, they are sad and lonely,’ that’s not helpful because then we’re not seeing people for who they really are,” recognizes Dr. Potter. “That’s psychologically damaging to people in these groups, and we should normalize and support their existence.”

Can aromantic people fall in love?

Aromantic people can love others, but the idea of love in aromantic relationships often takes on different definitions of love that exist beyond the traditions we associate with pop culture romance. Love, in these instances, is often not the main motivator in relationships and it’s not something of a priority in many cases when it comes to providing value and meaning to someone’s life.

Remember, a person who is aromantic may not be interested in having a romantic relationship at all. Instead, they might prioritize and value the freedom of being single and independent. That form of self-love on its own is just as valid and self-sufficient for those who are aromantic and have no desire for romantic relationships.

“Many people perceive a loving committed relationship to be the way to obtain happiness and fulfillment in life, however, this is not a universal truth,” explains Dr. Potter. “People can and do find happiness and fulfillment in their friendships, family relationships, in work, in leisure, and with their pets. It is important not to infer that someone is single because they have a problem or that being single is a problem for them.”

Other aromantic individuals might establish long-lasting, platonic relationships with life partners or prioritize close friendships over romantic connections instead. In these relationships, partners may live together, combine their finances, purchase homes or co-parent children the way anyone else would in an alloromantic relationship. The difference is, rather than invest in traditional romantic gestures and the romance of it all, partners in these kinds of very real relationships may prioritize familial, companionate love and other aspects of their relationship that support their chosen family values.

“You’re doing things romantic couples do, but just not having that subjective experience of love or romance and romantic attraction, however that person defines it,” explains Dr. Potter.

“Maybe a person has a partner that they live with. They may not necessarily be in love with them, but they’re still very close like you might be to a friend. Your partner may not be a roommate; they’re a life partner.”

How to support someone who is aromantic

We live in a digital world where we’re often confronted by the idea that we must find our true love lest we be faced with a lifetime of loneliness. But the reality is, we don’t need romance or relationships to live healthy, fulfilling lives as long as we take care of ourselves, honor who we are and support our core values.

Aromantic people are faced with stigma and misconceptions about what it means to be in and without a relationship. If you know someone who’s aromantic, you can be supportive in a few different ways:

  • Respect their romantic orientation. Believe someone when they tell you their romantic orientation, and don’t be dismissive of their reality. If someone chooses to share their romantic orientation with you, chances are they’ve been thinking about it for quite some time and have already processed how they feel and come to understand what it means to them. Show gratitude by thanking them for sharing that personal information with you and let them know that you support them.
  • Meet them where they are. Be open to what they’re telling you and listen to what they have to say. It’s OK to be curious and want to ask questions as long as you don’t apply pressure to the situation. No one owes anyone an explanation for why or how they identify when it comes to their gender or romantic and sexual orientation. If someone feels comfortable sharing more information about their personal lived experiences and how they came to understand their romantic orientation, they may do so. But they may not always feel so open when it comes to providing such personal, intimate details, and that’s OK.
  • Honor their healthy boundaries. Everyone should strive to uphold healthy boundaries in every relationship, regardless of how they identify. Someone who’s aromantic may have hard lines when it comes to rejecting romantic gestures or advances or interacting with media and social situations involving romance and romantic relationships. If you’re unsure about someone’s limitations or boundaries, you can simply ask them if there’s anything you should avoid that makes them uncomfortable or if there’s anything they need from you that would offer additional support. Let them guide you on what’s acceptable, and then work to honor those boundaries.

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The bottom line?

Recognition and respect go a long way in promoting happiness and a strong sense of self. When we support one another and appreciate people for who they are, down to all the wonderful things that add to their diversity, people experience markedly improved outcomes in their physical, mental and emotional health and well-being. At the end of the day, that’s what loving anyone is all about.

“When a person identifies themselves as aromantic, it can be a huge and scary step. It‘s actually a very countercultural thing to do,” acknowledges Dr. Potter. “The pursuit of romantic love is central in much of our entertainment media and it is a huge piece of a lot of people’s formative years. To say, ‘Actually, I am not interested in that’ can be difficult and freeing at the same time. So, it‘s important that we respect other’s ability to decide for themselves how and if they wish to have relationships.”

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