I Am This: Demi-Romantic

This post originally appeared on my Tumblr in 2014. It has been updated and edited for clarity.

This is the newest label that I am trying out. I suppose I’m not 100% sure that it fits quite right, but that’s the beauty of being able to determine who I am for myself. [UPDATE: I have since adopted this label as part of my identity.]

I know it’s pretty cliché that the journey of self-discovery is more important than the destination, but I’ve been learning over the past few years that often sayings become cliché for a reason.  One of the best things about this being a new label that I’m trying to sort out for myself is that I get to showcase my process of finding a label and determining whether or not it’s something that applies to me.  

For those not familiar with the term, the AVEN (Asexuality Visibility and Education Network) defines demiromantic as:

“a type of grey-romantic who only experiences romantic attraction after developing an emotional connection beforehand. Demiromantics do not experience primary romantic attraction, but they are capable of secondary romantic attraction.”

Hey look! It’s a subtype of something else.  Let’s look at what a grey-romantic is:

“a person with a romantic orientation that is somewhere between aromantic and romantic.

For example, a gray-romantic may:

  • Experience romantic attraction but not very often.
  • Experience romantic attraction, but not desire romantic relationships.
  • Desire relationships which are not quite platonic and not quite romantic.”

Well, that certainly sounds like me.  I have experienced romantic attraction to people, but it’s been very few and far between.  I like the idea of having a romantic relationship with someone, but actually having a romantic relationship is something completely different.  I think some of this has to do with the socialization of women and little girls as they are growing up.  From skipping rhymes and folded-paper fortune-tellers to romance compatibility scores with the latest boy band members in teen magazines, girl are taught from a young age and encourage amongst themselves an obsession with whom they will grow up to marry.

Even accounting for the hetero-normativity and buried queer-phobia propagated by magazines marketed to teenage girls, girls are expected to want marriage someday.  I’m sure that very few people are unfamiliar with the term “life-partner”.  Romance is something that is sold in movies, books, television, and comics so often that it isn’t just the basis for one genre, but several.  And that isn’t a new innovation in our entertainment.  There are elements of romance spanning ages of literature, and it isn’t restricted to the English works (if the translated works I’ve read have been faithful).

I’ve had a disdain for romance to varying degrees depending on the day and my life circumstances for a number of years.  Mostly, I’ve attributed it to a bitterness that comes with a handful of failed relationships, the model of my parents’ marriage, and just the general cynicism of my generation.  But I’m not sure that using those excuses has been entirely fair.  To attribute to bitterness a viewpoint that developed or began to develop in my early teens is pretty dismissive of the rest of my life and viewpoints.  Sure at times I can be pessimistic; but the majority of the time I am idealistic, hopefully without being naïve.  I strive to be a realist, and overall I think I do a pretty bang-up job of it.  So to corrupt an overused quote, I’m not going to attribute to bitterness that which can be attributed to being different.  I try not to be outright malicious in my mockery of romance.

One aspect I have difficulty accepting in claiming the label of demi-romantic is the Nice Guy™ that may play a role in this.  Nice Guysare problematic for many reasons, and I don’t want someone to be able to use a part of my identity as an excuse for their underhanded behavior. My sexuality is important to me, and if I don’t view someone as a potential sexual partner, there is a very good chance that I will never view that person as a potential romantic partner.  My tastes vary in who I find sexually attractive [also see my post in this series “Pansexual”], and although I have preferences, I don’t typically rule anyone out as a sexual partner based 100% on their looks (I’m all about the vague intangibility that is ‘chemistry’).  Most of the time, I have found that by the time I am close enough with someone (usually one of my friends) to find myself having romantic feelings about them, I have long since ruled them out as a potential relationship.  This could be because I have ruled them out as a sexual partner or because the circumstances of our lives, dreams, ambitions, and/or worldviews are too conflicting for me to believe that a romantic partnership could work between us.

Dating can be a bit of a challenge with my pattern of feelings and behavior.  I have had a few recent relationships result from online dating, with various successes and failures.  A few of the people I was involved with were pretty romantic from the beginning.  One I slept with right away, and decided that due to sexual incompatibilities I couldn’t continue a relationship.  One I slept with only after a few months of dating, because we were taking things slow to try to build a connection.  I had difficulty with this, and in the end the relationship ended because even though we were sexually compatible, I mostly treated her more like a friend than how most people treat new lovers or romantic interests.  These recent examples are pretty typical of my previous dating history [UPDATE: this pattern has also continued since the original writing of this post].  Unfortunately, when I am the common denominator in my relationships, I ultimately placed all the blame for these break-ups on myself for one reason or another.  The isolation and sadness that resulted from these failed relationships sort of made me think that I am going to be alone forever.

There’s a cathartic feeling of relief that I sometimes experience when I claim a new label, especially one that identifies an area where I am different from the people close to me.  My brain, lovely monster that it is, likes to tell me that I’m broken.  I suppose in some regards I might be, but every time I find out that other people are like me, even if I don’t know those people, it makes me feel a little bit better.  I love my friends, but that occasional disconnect where we simply don’t understand each other is heartbreaking to me.  I still have a bunch of work and self-discovery to do around this label.  Specifically, I haven’t really given it a test-run, I’ve simply applied it based on my previous patterns of behavior and I need to look at how I operate with a working label to see if it is a true fit.  I may not experience romantic love the same way as the majority of the population, but knowing that can help me approach relationships in a way that works for me.  I’m not broken, bitter and incapable of romantic love; the potential is still there that someday I may be involved in a long-term romantic partnership with someone.  But either way, at least I know myself a little better.

UPDATE: I have since adopted this label and become comfortable in it. Knowing that I will develop romantic feelings only after developing an emotional bond with someone has given me more self-awareness to bring into my relationships. I still generally rule out potential partners based on a lack of sexual attraction or chemistry, but I am careful in how I approach those sexual relationships that I hope will develop romantic feelings.