“For me, unlocking romantic attraction is tough. Most people say that love is a heart thing, but for me, it’s a head thing. I have to think really hard about it.”
Most of us are familiar with terms used to describe the various romantic and sexual orientations. But while you might know their definitions and probably have friends or family members who identify as such, what do you understand about aromanticism? Spoiler alert: it’s not the same as asexuality.
If you’re not sure, there’s no need to feel bad. The last study on aromanticism way back in 2016 found that only 1% of the world’s population identify as aromantic, so it’s not talked about much. Still, it’s important to shed some light for those who are in the midst of discovering themselves and are feeling, well, just a little different.
I sit down with 25-year-old Heather Seet, who identifies along the aromantic spectrum, to talk about her personal journey as an aromantic in Singapore.
But first, what exactly is aromanticism?
To put it simply, if you identify on the extreme end of aromanticism, you don’t experience romantic attraction to other people – though you can experience sexual attraction. This differs from asexuality in the sense that asexuals can experience romantic attraction minus the sexual attraction. Of course, as with all sexualities, this exists on a spectrum – meaning that experiences differ from person to person. Aromantic individuals can have the capacity to feel romantic love, but they likely feel it differently than others do.
How does this work? Theresa Pong, founder and counselling director at The Relationship Room, shares that in aromantic relationships (where one or both individuals identify as aro) couples can still develop a deep emotional connection.
“This is when partners in a relationship are able to connect with each other beyond physical attraction,” she says. “With the establishment of an emotional connection, they’re able to feel safe with each other, therefore establishing a strong bond that allows them to enjoy emotional and physical intimacy.”
“Identifying as an aromantic doesn’t mean you don’t love people, or cannot have love in your heart for other people,” Heather says. “If love is a continuous spectrum, I think most people see platonic love one one end, and romantic love on the other. If they like someone, their feelings will probably lean closer to the romantic side, and there’s a clear crossover mark. But that’s not how it works for me. In my experience, there’s no clear crossover mark, and the way I experience love – romantic or platonic – is fluid along the entire continuum.”
A moment of realisation
For Heather, the fact that she experienced romantic attraction differently than others didn’t occur to her until her early days in university. “I attended an all-girls school for most of my life, and even when I was in junior college, most of my classmates were female (as I was in the arts stream) so I didn’t have much interaction with boys until university,” she says.
The first time she realised she could be aromantic was during a conversation she had with her mother. “We were talking about my really good male friend and how he’s such a great guy,” she shares. “I told her how fantastic he was, how much I liked him, and how I’d like my future boyfriend to have all his qualities. I even thought we would be great in a relationship together. But when she asked me if I was interested in him, I said no.”
That was when realisation hit. For most people, that’s the point they start developing romantic feelings for others. However, she felt no spark – and this was something she consistently experienced with the boys in her life.
When love is a head thing, not a heart thing
While Heather did date and have a couple of romantic experiences in university, they didn’t come easily. “I don’t feel like I need a romantic relationship, and it’s not something I seek out,” she says. “As I identify along the aromantic spectrum, unlocking romantic attraction is tough. Most people say that love is a heart thing, but for me, it’s a head thing. I have to think really hard about it.”
Though she is currently in a happy long-term relationship, she shares that it took quite a bit of time for her to decide if she was really in love with her boyfriend. “When someone confesses to me, I feel responsible to give them a proper answer, especially if they’re a good friend. So I go and seek my feelings – and this can take months for me to figure out.”
When she guessed her boyfriend, whom she was friends with at the time, might have feelings for her, she had to ask herself some serious questions. “At that point, we had been chatting for four months. I put my hand on my heart and asked myself if I had feelings for this person. The answer was no,” Heather laughs. “I asked myself if I would feel sad if we stopped talking tomorrow. And the answer was also no. But I did like him as a person, and I enjoyed his company and felt comfortable around him. So I thought I should give myself a chance to see if I could come to love him, since I knew I did have some capacity to feel romantic attraction.”
Once she decided this, she took him out to a cafe, looked him in the eye and said, “I don’t like you, but let’s date.” It took another four months for her to decide she loved him in return.
Labels can be liberating
Sure, some of us may feel that putting a label on our romantic or sexual orientation can be restrictive. But for Heather, finding out she’s aromantic was a liberating experience.
“I’ve been asked why it matters so much to me, but I think labels can be very clarifying. Knowing that I identify along the aromantic spectrum has helped me to find people with common experiences, and explain to others the complex situation that I’m in – especially if it’s in dealing with a heartfelt confession from a friend,” she says. “Because they’re important to me, I want them to know I’m not just rejecting them. It’s harder for me and I need the time and space to think.”
For those currently in the midst of discovering their romantic or sexual orientation, this is what Heather has to share. “It doesn’t matter if you’re different, just enjoy life and enjoy finding out more about yourself! Have conversations with those around you, and know that you don’t need to know everything – it’s okay to admit you’re unaware.”
Always remember: aromantic or not, if you meet people who are unkind, find good-hearted souls to surround yourself with!