A lot of people see being asexual and/or aromantic as sad, or something to be pitied or fixed. In reality though, the kinds of things we question and discuss regarding social expectations actually benefit everyone, whether specific individuals are aspec in any way or not. And obviously, since I’m writing this as the introductory paragraph to a blog post…I’m going to explain exactly what we can offer if you’re willing to listen :P.
But first, a couple relevant terms I haven’t used much yet on this blog. Much like we use heteronormativity, we have the words allonormativity and amatonormativity to indicate the assumption that everyone likes and has sex, and the assumption that everyone wants a monogamous romantic relationship (which is seen as emotionally superior to friendships and such).
Okay, on to aspec-y critiques of society that would benefit the allo readers out there. As per what’s apparently my new usual, it’s a little over 1,000 words, so if you’re short on time, the final subsection is a TL;DR that you can skip ahead to.
Toxic relationship habits
Our society sees a romantic partner as a higher-value relationship than friends, family, etc., and this can lead to toxic relationships. Although it may be fine for some people (remember, very little is true for everyone), one person often can’t satisfy all our needs as social creatures, and expecting them to do so can strain and damage your relationship. And isolating someone is a classic trait of abuse – treating a reliance on only a partner as “romantic” and something to aspire to is downright dangerous in some cases because it can cause people to overlook red flags.
Amatonormativity can also cause us to miss out on the richness of social life by downplaying the value of other relationships besides romance. We have self-love, family love, platonic/friend love, queerplatonic partners, love for our pets, affection for our drinking buddies from work, love for the natural world, general appreciation for other peoples’ existence… A culture that only emphasizes love in a romantic sense, tells us that friendzoning is a negative thing, tells you that if you’re partnered you shouldn’t hang out with friends of a different gender because you’ll be attracted to them, etc., causes a lot of people to miss out on the richness and reality of social life. We talk about romantic break-ups all the time, but what about the pain of parting ways with a best friend? What about having a healthy amount of self-love? Romance is simply one kind of attachment among many, and shouldn’t be seen as inherently superior to other types.
Oh, and toxic expectations
The other sub-section was getting so long that I decided to make this a new one, but following that, allonormative and amatonormative expectations can put undue pressure on even people who want to be sexually and romantically active. “Virgin” is sometimes treated like a slur. People sometimes pick or stay with partners based on a “better than being single” mindset rather than because they truly want to be with that specific person. Not being able to easily find a partner leads some people to have low self-esteem.
If you personally want a partner, either sexually or romantically, than you can absolutely feel sad or the like when it’s hard to find one. If the majority didn’t want partners, I probably wouldn’t be writing this :P. But no one should feel less-then, shamed, or pressured – or guilt or shame or pressure others – for not being sexually active by college, or being single in their 20’s, or the like. We should all, no matter our orientations and as long as mutual respect and consent is always present, be able to do what we want, when we want, without feeling bad about failing some arbitrary “rule” about partnering up.
Understanding why you seem to be multiple things at once
You may have heard of the split attraction model. Basically, it says that romantic, sexual, and other types of attraction (such as aesthetic and sensual aren’t inherently the same). Although they line up for many people, some have different sexual and romantic orientations. This is why some people are both ace and aro, while others are just ace or aro (or lie at different points on the spectrum for each). However, although we talk about it the most, this is not exclusive to the aspec community. A person can be heterosexual and biromantic, or pansexual but homoromantic, and so on. If people outside the aspec community don’t know about this, there may be a fair number of confused peeps out there trying to figure out what exactly they are.
Opening up possibilities for your relationships
Ever notice how damn many cheating-partner stories you hear? In my personal opinion, I suspect a lot more people are polyamorous than they realize or are willing to admit, and everyone would benefit if it were more socially acceptable to discuss the possibility of open relationships, multiple partners, etc. instead of blindly assuming that a single, exclusive partner is the only way to operate. This is another thing aspecs tend to talk about more. Since different interests towards sex and romance can make relationships more complicated, aspecs tend to be more aware of and okay with polyamory, non-romantic partnerships like QPR’s (queerplatonic relationships – to give a simplified definition, a relationship that functions in many ways like a romantic one but lacks the romantic feelings), etc. Although of course a polyamorous relationship or QPR is not for everyone, I think the world would be a better place if society as a whole recognized such relationships as normal and acceptable.
Although they sometimes affect the aspec community more strongly, societal norms and expectations like allonormativity and amatonormativity can hurt any and everyone. They encourage people to accept toxic behaviors and expectations, neglect the full richness of being a social creature by only valuing romantic relationships, and force people into relationships they may not be truly happy in because other options aren’t presented.
Because we aspec peeps operate outside those norms, we’re better positioned in some ways to see how they operate and the harm they cause. We’re more aware of split attraction, and of opportunities for fulfilling relationships, and relationship possibilities, that others may miss. It’s hard to see what’s operating underneath the surface of your own culture’s behaviors if you do fit in regarding the main points. What we know and discuss can benefit the lives and well-being of tons of people, not just those who are aspec, if those people are only willing to genuinely listen.
That’s all for today, folks! Standard disclaimers apply of course: the aspec community isn’t a monolith, and statements I make about what we know or do shouldn’t be assumed to apply to every random aspec person you meet on the street; this is an argument about people having the knowledge and societal freedom to honor their own, individual desires and NOT an argument that everyone should stop trying to find partners; etc. etc. Any thoughts? Don’t hesitate to drop them in the comments!
P.S. If you find this interesting enough to want to read more in-depth, I highly recommend Angela Chen’s book Ace: What Asexuality Reveals about Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex, which is basically Asexuality 101 but with a “how does this stuff help society as a whole” twist.