'The Pandemic Taught Me I Am Aromantic, But I Still Want To Have A Family One Day'
Aromanticism, in which people experience 'little to no romantic attraction,' is an orientation that is seldom spoken about. Different to being asexual – aromantics may still feel the jolt of sexual attraction – it generally means that being 'in love,' as it's understood in mainstream culture, and as opposed to feeling deep, platonic or familial connection, isn't on the cards.
Here, writer Jasmine Prasad details how she came to identify with the label, and what that might mean for the reality that she wants to become a mum, one day.
It was all going pretty well at first. A great Hinge chat turned into two long, drunken Zoom dates and hours of conversation over voice notes exchanged via Signal, which turned into a socially distanced real-life date.
Through this IRL encounter – my first attempt at dating after months of UK lockdowns – though, I internally confirmed a thought I'd always had: that I simply don't feel romantic attraction like other people do. That 'fizz' or 'butterflies' people speak about? I've never had it with anyone, ever.
This time was no different. While I really liked this guy – he was so cool, like a real-life Peter Kavinsky – the attraction was akin to that I'd feel to someone who went on to become a great friend. Driving home, I came to a conclusion. I was sure that I was aromantic.
What is aromanticism?
If you've never heard of this label, you're not alone. Aromanticism is defined as 'experiencing little to no romantic attraction,' according to Alex Munroe, Outreach Co-ordinator from the volunteer-run initiative, The Ace and Aro Advocacy Project (TAAAP), and a bisexual aromantic woman herself.
While there is little data or scientific research identifying how many people identify as aromantic, a community has rallied around the term. Online platforms such as Reddit and Facebook host spaces for aromantic and aromantic-questioning individuals that reach as many as 30,000 people.
'Aromanticism has less to do with how much or how little you experience romantic attraction, and more with how a lack of romantic attraction affects your personal life,' Munroe continues. The term gives validity to those who aren't that interested in romance, in a world that's geared towards it.
Importantly, aromanticism exists on a spectrum. Some aromantics would rather not have a partner, whilst others might choose to engage in more committed, intimate relationships that don't necessarily involve romance. Some identify as 'grey' and enjoy certain romantic activities. What's more, aromantics can be hetero, homo, bi or any of the myriad sexual orientations.
Can you be aromantic and feel sexual attraction?
Some aromantics also identify as asexual – in which someone doesn't feel sexual attraction or have an interest in sexual activities – but others, like me, do experience sexual desire. We're referred to in aromantic circles as 'allosexual aromantics'.
I've known about the aromantic and asexual communities since I was a teenager and came across the terms while using social media site Tumblr, but wasn't sure if I qualified as a part of it. This first post-lockdown date forced me to rethink this. The deep-seated anxiety I had from even imagining a future where this person – or anyone – might become my long-term, exclusive, significant other, rather than just being a casual presence in my life, gave me my answer.
Over the years, I've dissected my complex feelings towards romantic love with my best friends and struggled to understand precisely what made it different from the deep love I experience in other contexts.
I could never find it in me to figure out how a crush was supposed to feel compared to a deeper connection, and at what point I should rethink that connection as a romantic one. For me, romantic attraction, as distinct from a sexual charge or a deep friendship, has always felt like an unsolvable puzzle.
The realisation that I am aromantic, though, followed another pretty big one: that I desperately want to be a mum, one day. At the time, three years post-graduation, powering through a fun, creative job in fashion and just about to start a Master's programme, I had never before stopped to think about where motherhood might fit in later on. Everything changed when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the country entered its first lockdown.
Like a lot of people, I found myself with a chasm of time in which to reflect. Three months in, amidst a steady rotation of work, walks and weekly Houseparty calls, my favourite cousin gave birth to a baby girl. I fell in love with her as soon as I watched her blink up at an iPhone camera in a video from the hospital.
I hadn't expected to feel such a rush of emotion, but soon afterwards, the prospect of becoming a parent started to occupy major space in my brain.
I found myself poring over fertility statistics for hours. I researched egg freezing and IVF methods, created projections for where I'd want to be in my career when I got pregnant and quizzed my mother about her own fertility journey, in which I learnt that, following intensive chemotherapy for breast cancer, she hit menopause early, at 42. (In the UK, the average age to stop having periods is 51.)
Although this was likely a result of her treatment, I was still alarmed at the reality that menopause – and, with it, the ability to get pregnant without help – can hit so young. As my mum is a first-degree relative of mine, my chances of being diagnosed with breast cancer are doubled at the very least, according to BreastCancer.org. There was a possibility that I could go through early menopause and be unable to conceive in my early 40s, too.
Finding data that showed the drop in average female fertility after age 35 also bothered me. I'd always vaguely imagined that getting pregnant would be easy if I ever did want it to happen – a simple case of having unprotected sex and waiting to see when I next missed my period – but the reality seemed starker. Although I am still in my 20s, I felt that, if I didn't plan ahead now, motherhood might become a pipe dream.
Every realisation was compounded by the fact that I was also in the middle of a two-year celibate period. After undergoing jaw surgery that left the look and feel of my face altered, I vowed that I'd abstain from sex and dating until I was fully healed and ready to get back in the game.
Where I initially thought I'd be able to ease slowly back into dating and have more of the fun experiences I'd had throughout my early 20s, the pandemic made everything more complicated, as it has for many young single women.
Lockdown was quickly stealing a year of my life and compressing my carefully drawn timelines. I conceded that I'd have to start dating again sooner rather than later, and much more seriously, once lockdown lifted. I wanted to get back into the flow, but I also hoped to build an idea of where a relationship and children would fit in my future, too.
While I wasn't planning on finding the man who would father my children straight away, I felt I'd at least need to start looking with that goal in mind, to allow space for missteps, break-ups and whatever else life chose to throw my way. I didn't realise then that two Zoom dates and one in-person encounter would be enough to learn that romance simply isn't for me.
This has changed how I think about my quest to become a mum. Instead of trying to find the father of my kids, I can, instead, figure out how I can actualise this dream outside of the 'typical' route.
I'm not the only aromantic person who wishes to be a parent. According to Emily Karp, one of the co-founders of TAAAP, who identifies as grey-aromantic asexual, it can be hard to find parents who are openly aromantic. But that doesn't mean they don't exist at all.
'[Having children] is not incompatible with being aromantic,' she says. 'If you want to love children, that's not about romantic love.' Karp does, in fact, hope to have a child one day and is currently considering fostering with a platonic co-parent alongside other options.
Ettina, an aromantic grey-asexual woman, is trying to conceive via a sperm bank at the moment. 'I'm planning to co-parent with my parents and maybe my brother as well,' she says.
Some solutions I'd considered before having these conversations included doing a Mindy Kaling and having babies without ever telling my friends and family who the father is, or openly trying to find a known sperm donor. I didn't realise there were so many options for women looking to have children outside the traditional '2.4 kids and a husband' family structure.
Being an aromantic woman doesn't necessarily mean I'll need to raise any children I do have alone. Regardless of romantic orientation, many people find ways to co-parent and conceive outside of relationships, making arrangements with loved ones, acquaintances, or even others in support groups who share similar values and life plans.
Equally, if I choose to be a single mother, there is an abundance of resources and organisations to help me through that process, too.
I'm 25 now, and now feel that I can take my time working out which route I want to take. But embracing my aromanticism has made me feel better that my future family probably won't look like a classic nuclear one.
Wanting kids and wanting a romantic relationship are not mutually exclusive, and I'm glad to have come to terms with that.
4 Key Signs That You Might Be Aromantic
Identifying as aromantic is profoundly personal and individual – there is no one-size-fits-all. Below are a few signs you might want to consider if you think aromanticism might speak to you.
You're not inclined towards romance
If the traditional hallmarks of romance – weddings, promises of undying love – in life or movies and TV don't excite you, or if they actively make you uncomfortable, this could be a sign. Indeed, some aromantics identify as 'romance-repulsed'.
'If you don't feel the urge to marry a cute person or have someone call you "baby" and use pet names, those are quite common feelings in the aromantic community,' says Munroe. 'You might think, oh, I've just got better things to do than seek out romantic activities that look like that,' she details.
Your intuition tells you something is 'off' in situations that revolve around romance
Munroe notes that you should pay attention to 'that mystery feeling that something isn't quite normal here, but I'm not sure what it is,' particularly when those around you might be talking about romantic feelings.
In general conversation, you've likely heard sentiments which the aromantic community would call 'amatonormative.' The word, coined by marriage philosopher and professor at Rice University, Elizabeth Brake, refers to the assumption that long-term, exclusive romantic relationships are the norm and the apex of all relationships in our society.
Examples might include someone you've just met asking you if you're dating anyone as part of small talk, or family members presuming you might one day settle down with a romantic partner and putting on the pressure.
Pay special attention to how you feel when these assumptions are made. Do they cause you discomfort or sadness?
Dating/ relationships feel like something you 'should' do
Rather than feeling an innate drive to go out and date, you do so because of actual or implied external pressure to do so. When it comes to relationships, 'we often feel like we "should" be doing something or acting in a certain way, iIt's all to do with what we see in media, what we see in culture,' says Holly Roberts, Couples Counsellor at RELATE. Your feelings towards romantic attraction might not necessarily follow those same scripts.
You date to try to 'find' romance
'If you're getting into relationships where you're like 'this will be the one that makes me feel normal, this will be the one where I'll fall in love,' that's definitely something to note,' Munroe explains.
'If you're going through the motions of dating and hoping that it'll all just click, and you'll feel that romantic pull, but it never does click, that could also be a sign,' she continues.
An important caveat:
You might feel like the above points align with your experiences and feelings and want to use the 'aromantic' identifier. But, if you feel like the term doesn't fit your identity, that's ok.
Put simply, you could feel all the above things and still not identify as aromantic. 'At the end of the day, labels are meant to serve us in communicating our identities, needs and desires to other people,' Munroe says.
'If saying you're aromantic helps you to assert something about who you are as a person, you're entitled to use it and to assert that thing. Think about how much the term is useful to you. If at some point down the line, you might feel like you don't identify as aromantic anymore, that's fine too! As long as it helps you in the moment to express who you are.'
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