Dating without romance? How aromantic individuals describe their lives

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There’s a pretty typical mold for modern-day, conventional relationships. Two people meet, fall in love and plan to spend the rest of their lives together. But what happens when someone’s unconventional feelings hijack that plan?

For many people identifying as aromantic — that question is something they have to navigate on a daily basis.

How does aromanticism differ from asexuality?

According to the Aromantic-spectrum Union for Recognition, Education, and Advocacy (AUREA), aromanticism is defined as a romantic orientation, which most commonly describes people who experience little to no romantic attraction to others.

According to the AUREA, asexuality — a term used to describe someone who experiences little to no sexual attraction — doesn’t necessarily have to go hand-in-hand with aromanticism.

There are aromantic people who are asexual. But some do experience sexual attraction, as they consider romance and sex to be separate types of attraction.

22-year-old Leviya Francesca lives in the D.C. area and identify as aromantic. She said people who are aromantic “don’t really have that desire for a relationship at all. At least in the traditional sense.”

“For me, personally, the idea of kissing somebody or holding hands and stuff (with someone who) I’m not already extremely close with … that just makes me want to throw up,” Francesca said.

Others who identify as aromantic may feel repulsed by romance itself. The label appears to be applied in different ways by those who say they identify as aromantic, with AUREA’s definition only loosely defining the group’s boundaries.

Romance, according to AUREA, is often alongside infatuation and a desire to form a romantic relationship with a person.

Dating in DC

Francesca said dating as an aromantic in the D.C. area can be challenging, but she doesn’t doubt it would be that way anywhere.

On dating apps, Francesca said she typically indicates that she’s aromantic in her biography.

“I get a lot of people who are into me, and then ask like, ‘What does it mean in your bio, that you’re like on the aromantic and asexual spectrums?’ And then I explain it, and then they don’t want anything to do with me,” she said.

But she said that change of heart can be a good thing, as it weeds out any potential matches who wouldn’t accept her for who she is.

Another problem she notices affecting aromantics in the dating scene is how the culture changed post-pandemic.

“They want to move really fast,” she said of potential partners. “Which is kind of something that I’ve never been able to do.”

That’s something she attributes to how COVID-19 isolation impacted people’s relationships.

Feeling like an outcast

A huge misconception about aromantics, according to Francesca, is that they can never have a relationship or feel love. For her — she wants a life partner.

“That sounds like I want to get married,” Francesca said. “But it literally just means I want to live life with you.”

Even within the queer community, Francesca said aromantics often feel like outcasts. She said in her experience at pride celebrations, she’s had trouble finding vendors selling any kind of aromantic merchandise.

“They all had the asexual flags, but none of them had the aromantic flag,” Francesca said.

She thinks that can be partially attributed to confusion and misconceptions surrounding the identity that was only given a proper name in the early 2000s.

“It’s such a big spectrum. And I think people don’t really understand that it isn’t just black and white. You either feel (romance) or you don’t.”

Aromanticism on a spectrum

That’s especially true for individuals, such as 57-year-old David Theil, of the San Francisco Bay Area, who identifies as “grayromantic.” He said it’s rare for him to feel strong romantic attraction toward someone, but it’s not impossible.

He would meet women on dating apps, such as OKCupid, who were interesting, attractive and shared values with him.

“We’d have a great time, but I just wouldn’t feel drawn to them in any way at all,” Theil said.

He only came to identify as grayromantic in the last few months when he first discovered the term.

“I found a book called ‘Hopeless Aromantic,’ and then read a lot on Reddit,” Theil said. “I realized, ‘Wow, there are things from my past that I really have in common with a lot of people here that I didn’t ever know anybody else to have that experience.'”

But Theil said he falls into a gray area on the aromantic spectrum. Although there have been points in his life where he’s fallen in love or felt romance — and understands the appeal — it’s much harder for him to achieve.

For him, discovering that he is in the gray area of the aromantic spectrum later in life means he does grieve the likelihood of a traditional, nuclear family experience.

“The ideal (situation for me) would be that I’d be madly in love with somebody,” Theil said. “But, barring that, just being companionable with somebody and having a sex partner and doing things for them that I know make them happy — because that makes me happy.”

But he understands why others may be averse to the idea.

“Heck. I mean, if I was dating somebody, if I was looking for a partner, and somebody told me they were aromantic, I mean, that’s a red flag,” Theil said.

Common misconceptions

Francesca said a common misconception about aromantic individuals is that they don’t have relationships or they are never in love. But those identifying as aromantic and asexual can still have relationships or fall in love, even if it doesn’t look “normal.”

“It’s important to just recognize who other people are and respect their feelings and their identities,” Francesca said.

Another common misconception that Theil sees is that aromantic individuals don’t want to date because they’re depressed. Or for younger folks, it’s a phase they’ll grow out of, both of which Theil said are false.

“The bottom line is, just listen to people and accept that they might not be like you are,” Theil said. “When they say something that doesn’t jive with your understanding of the world, just either let it go or be genuinely curious about and ask what it’s like for them, instead of making assumptions.”

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Grace Newton

Grace Newton is an Associate Producer at WTOP. She also works as an associate producer for NPR Newscast. Grace was born and raised in North Carolina but has lived in D.C. since 2018. Grace graduated from American University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minor in art history in 2022.

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