Wren Dennehy used to describe themselves as ‘terminally single’, but after years of experiencing little interest in the romantic side of a relationship, they looked into what it meant to be aromantic…
I used to identify as terminally single. My romantic history is scant and fraught with perilous, dodgy dalliances. With the exception of one relationship, I’ve never been able to stay the course with any of my partners. This has led me to the most Gen Z of questions: could I be aromantic?[restrict]
I could launch into a detailed paragraph on what it means to be on the aromantic spectrum here, but instead I’m going to refer to one of the great aromantic icons of the queer cultural canon: Samantha Jones. Up until season six of Sex and the City (before she meets Smith) she is constantly asserting that she doesn’t need the baggage that comes with a relationship. Her sex life is rich and full, her career is thriving, she has friends who love her, she’s on top of her game across the board. I can’t help but wonder: Am I just a Samantha Jones? WillI I find my Smith Jerrod who will snap me out of my aromantic ways and make an honest womxn of me?
It’s now ten years since the end of my one-and-only ‘serious’ 14 month relationship. I can’t discredit that, it was a genuinely happy time in my life. In a way I’ve spent the intervening years trying to rediscover who I was in 2012. Trying to work backwards to find the recipe for what primed me to be in, and stay in, a monogamous romantic relationship. But I’ve come up short. Research is still ongoing and the tiny scientists in my brain are growing increasingly more frustrated. At this stage I fear they might take industrial action.
Being a fat and (latently) queer teenager, I missed out on the romantic and sexual milestones I saw my peers surpassing. I internalised the message that this meant I was inherently unlovable and indeed, unfuckable. Smash cut to me at 21 having just come out as bi riding half the world, learning that I was, in fact, rather fuckable indeed. But the love part evaded me. I would trawl dating apps and moon over crushes, often being on the front-foot about asking them out. However none of these relationships ever amounted to much.
The pattern usually goes something like this: The early stages of these relationships are heady, dopamine fuelled flings. The teenage me, desperate to be loved and accepted resurfaces and I guzzle the validation offered by my partner. My boundaries go in the bin and I give myself over to the pull of the fizzy excitement of new love. I am soft and tender, vulnerable to a suspicious degree. Inevitably, there is a turning point where I undergo an unwilling transformation from soft bellied puppy to a narky, withholding dragon with the ability to scorch my beloved. From this point on, I’m masking to an extreme degree. It feels like I’m playing a part, going through the motions of what I think love is. I appear to my partner to be all in- whereas in reality I always have one eye on the door. What appears to feel like freedom (from observing happily coupled friends) feels like a cage.
In my platonic relationships, I place a high premium on shared vulnerability. It’s the foundation of my most meaningful and loving relationships. But romantic relationships feel too exposing, they invoke a sense of nakedness that feels unsafe. There’s a necessary softening of boundaries in a relationship that makes me antsy. I like to share and to show on my own terms but not to be seen or be known. Maybe the root of this feeling is the fear of the Scooby Doo mask being ripped off and having the monstrous reality of my inner self revealed to the person I care most about.
Aromanticism exists on a spectrum, with other shades along the way including ‘greyromantic’- where romantic feelings arise infrequently and ‘demiromantic’ – people who only experience romantic attraction to people they already have a strong emotional bond with. There are also trauma patterns and attachment theory to examine here. Both of which influence where a person sits on the spectrum. At the moment, my money is on me being greyromantic or something akin to it. I have a sense that this identity might not be immutable, that it might morph and change as I move through life. My therapist certainly seems to think that these issues are workable and that I can get myself to a place where being in a stable relationship feels free and easy.
Having engaged with this quandary my results are inconclusive. I’ve found however that placing myself somewhere on the aromantic spectrum has given me a framework to understand how I behave in relationships. It’s also taken away the massive weight of feelings of inadequacy or being broken in some way. My anxieties around feeling abnormal have given way to a comfort at the levels of love that I already have in my life as a single person. The platonic relationships that I’ve cultivated are exceptional and I feel loved, secure and supported. The societal pressure to be loved-up has lost its power over me. There’s a prevailing mindset that there’s a hierarchy of love, with romantic love being the zenith but I would argue that all love is equal. The growing love I have for myself is my first priority.