While asexuality means you do not experience sexual attraction, people who self-identify as aromantic do not experience romantic attraction to others. While many aromantic people also identify as asexual, identifying as one label does not mean the other is automatically implied. Aromantic people can enjoy sex without romance, and asexual people can enjoy romance without sex. Three anonymous people who identify as aromantic explain what the word means to them, their experiences, and what they wish people knew about being aromantic.
How old are you?
Woman A: Twenty-nine.
Woman B: Nineteen.
Man A: Thirty-three.
You identify as aromantic. What does that mean to you?
Woman A: It means not having a desire to be romantic or even think about doing romantic things with someone.
Woman B: I'd say it's a constant feeling of being a part of and apart from human interaction. I can be in the moment and not be with the person. I can see myself looking at us, hearing them, and still wonder if this perpetual state of living in third-person omniscient is lonely forever. Not in the sad way, more like, Should I not bother saving up to buy a queen bed someday?
Man A: Hanging out with people is cool. Sex is cool. Pretty robotic when it comes to "romantic" feelings. When I'm away from people, I don't miss it. When I am with them, I do enjoy myself.
Do you also identify as asexual? How do you define the differences?
Woman A: I also currently identify as asexual. My understanding of the difference between the two is that aromantic means you're fine being in friendships with no romantic strings attached whereas being asexual means you have no desire to have sex.
Woman B: For all the times I've had sex, I was only in bed doing the business because I wanted this person to never stop liking me. I wanted them to want me again, regardless of the fact that I didn't want it at all. I'm not a specialist and I don't want to say I'm asexual. But it's safe to say sex isn't instinctive to me; it's just another thing I've weaponized for manipulating the relationships in my life. My one coworker who's had a massive crush on me insists I'm a sociopath. He's working toward his PhD so I think he knows his shit.
Man A: No. Sex is good. Asexual [would be if I weren't] physically attracted to women. I like to look and touch. I just don't attach any romantic feelings. It's hard to describe a feeling you've never had before or understood. It's like asking someone allergic to chocolate if they miss not having it. I hope that makes some sense.
Have you always been aromantic?
Woman A: I have internally identified as asexual and aromantic for about the past year now.
Woman B: When I was eight, I started to pine after my best friend. I was in love and he was going to be my boyfriend. I had butterflies for every Valentine's Day chocolate box he'd hidden in my desk when his friends weren't looking. I went to sleep every night wondering what it'd be like to hold his hand and begging the universe to have him pass me more notes in class. On my 12th birthday, he asked me out. On the day after my birthday, I stopped talking to him. I flicked every note he'd leave on my desk off when he wasn't looking. He was very attractive but he seemed ugly now. Somewhere in that, there's a connection to the question.
Man A: Yes. I never really felt that way toward women. I've always liked to look and touch, just felt or had that romantic bond with a woman.
Do you tell friends/family?
Woman A: I do not tell family or friends. It's my choice and my body. I do not feel like its even something I need to mention.
Woman B: The relationships I have with my family and friends are as carefully crafted as the ones I have with lovers. So no. The magician never reveals his tricks! Granted, I've lived with my family long enough for them to have accused me of being cold, indifferent, or too scheme-y for my own good.
Man A: Hell no ... I'm very private about myself. My shit is mine to deal with. I don't want to put that burden on anyone else.
Do you talk to partners about being aromantic?
Woman A: I am currently married. I told my partner [recently] and they didn't say anything.
Woman B: It's weird. While I've only had one partner, I have dated and gotten dangerously close to other people. I never mention my lack of regard for their emotions due to the shortage of mine, but I tend to drop hints and hope they save themselves. My ex-partner—who's very smart and has gotten to know me better than I know myself all on his own—never mentions my indifference to emotional stuff. Actually, he called me dramatic once. Like I said, there's hope.
Man A: No. And probably never would. I just stick with flings or short-term stuff I get from Tinder. I never act or give the impression I want something long-term. That would be cruel.
If so, what have their reactions been like?
Woman A: I do not imagine that it will be brought back up again. I believe my partner doesn't want to accept this, or is seeing if this is a temporary phase I'm in.
Woman B: Like I said, there was never a verbal exchange. I definitely owe him explanations to this day. But after all the emotional abuse, he left. To me, it felt like abandonment. You wouldn't think aromantics could achieve that feeling, but a little part of me had hoped someone would bear-hug me out of this hole and not mind that I wasn't hugging them back.
Do you date or have sexual relationships?
Woman A: I do not currently have any sexual relations, nor do I have any desire to. However, I do enjoy the idea of meeting someone new and potentially making a new friend in a non-sexual way.
Woman B: There's the guy with a cool rooftop who smokes me out and listens to all the music I can't share with real people. There's the guy who bought me one mocha latte and hasn't called me back (I "accidentally" left one of my very good books in his car in the hopes that he'd read it and understand, and he just doesn't deserve it). There's the guy who still feels like a stranger to me but for the last nine months has been my go-to for gallery openings, movies, food dates, etc. I don't like him, but I definitely love him in the "let me take care of you, you need me. Also why don't you actually love me yet?" kind of way. And most importantly, there's the ex-partner I still text and is (maybe) the reason I maintain distance with everyone else, but is also someone I don't want to have to see in person. Like ever again. That would be me facing my problems (me) head-on.
Man A: Yes. I hook up with women from Tinder and OkCupid. I make it pretty obvious I am just looking short-term and to not expect anything long-term. They're pretty OK with it and I've never had any girl get too clingy... yet.
How does being aromantic affect your dating life day-to-day?
Woman A: N/A
Woman B: I make eye contact with every guy, and not the regular kind. It's heightened by their interest in me and turned weird by my obvious discomfort. I definitely enjoy it though. I get a real kick out of train rides and all the Wall Street daddies that play the game with me. When they offer me their card and I SUPER POLITELY, gently, innocently, shake my head and decline, everyone on the train will look at them with distaste and then I know I've won.
Man A: Hard to say. It's not like I went from feeling stuff to not feeling stuff and can compare the two. I live my life like most normal people. I get up, work out, go to work, and then am either alone for the evening or hanging out with friends or with a girl I am hooking up with.
What makes somebody attractive to you?
Woman A: Someone with ambition and drive to help change the world.
Woman B: I like guys who can make anyone laugh. I like guys that are so comfortable with being, they make me—someone with really good posture after years of ballet—sort of sit into myself and forget I'm even sitting. Like, I could be anywhere with them but wouldn't know because I'm laughing with my eyes closed.
Man A: Physically? I like girls with slender frames and long dark hair. Personality? I like girls that are independent, outgoing and know what they want out of life. They don't play games and are direct about sex.
What makes somebody unattractive to you?
Woman A: People who feel the need to put someone else down in order to make themselves look good.
Woman B: If I'm not laughing, you're not attractive.
Man A: Flakiness. Clingy. No sense of humor. Saw a girl a few times that laughed three times total and it was a fake "hah." Was very agitating to be around. Any excess weight (Yes, I'm evil. This is anonymous, right?).
What about romance is unattractive to you?
Woman A: Having to deal with another person's expectations. It’s just too much to care for and think about.
Woman B: Romance is a lot of compromise and consideration. I don't like having to put up with people's insecurities. For the most part, I like spending time alone. I don't mind having someone sit next to me, but I start to get itchy when it becomes obvious they need my attention, praise, or time. I guess I need people to be OK on their own for me feel OK with them.
Man A: It's not that it is unappealing, it's that I don't feel that way toward women. I find candles and dinner just kind of pointless. I don't see how that enhances stuff for me or should for you. I get that is what some people like and I don't begrudge them for it. I'm just not wired that way.
How do you define romantic?
Woman A: Doing things that let another person know you care and providing attention to them.
Woman B: I don't know. Intimacy?
Man A: Wanting to marry someone and care for their needs, as well as yours. Caring about someone other than yourself.
Do you prefer to date other aromantic people?
Woman A: I prefer not to date altogether. If we are going to go have drinks and conversation about life, in general, that’s cool, but I don’t take anything further than a conversation.
Woman B: Definitely not. Or maybe? I know I need validation, but too much of it upsets me. But if they give me that kind of affirmation, I peace out. I guess it's like, If you like me, you must be losing the game every day. Now I pity you.
Man A: I like women looking for short-term-only stuff. I don't ask for that specific term though.
If so, how do you find them?
Woman B: I don't look for anyone.
Man A: Tinder/OkCupid.
What are the biggest misconceptions about aromantic people, in your opinion?
Woman A: I think it should be talked about more in the same space as the LGBTQIA community.
Woman B: I think people assume aromantics to be inherently inconsiderate of other people's feelings or selfishly motivated. They equate someone saying, "I want nothing from this relationship other than sex," or, "I just want someone to watch movies with but not kiss," as saying, "I am a people user. You're no good to me other than serving this purpose and this purpose only." It's not like that at all. Not wanting a relationship to the extent that a romantic does doesn't make me a bad person. Why is it considered selfish to only expect a little bit from relationships? Why is it not considered selfish to expect someone's attention, time, affection, and gifts at all times of the day?
Man A: That we're just emotionally broken and can't be fixed. Look, I like the way I am. I know what I want out of life and like it a lot. I'm not broken and don't need [to be] fixed. You can't say that for a lot of people.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.