The other day Natalie Reed wrote a post about how the idea that “I always knew” is standardized to trans narratives. The people who “always knew” are considered to be “more” trans, or something. This both masks reality (as people subtly change their narrative to fit better with the standard) and delegitimizes people whose narratives are too far from the accepted standard. I think this thing with having a narrative standard happens with asexuals and aromantics to some extent as well, although aces don’t have to deal with an outside establishment trying to define the narrative standards, as trans people do when dealing with medical gatekeeping.
One of the things I hear fairly often is asexuals saying “I’ve never had sex” or aromantics saying “I’ve never dated”. Of course, this is only problematic when these statements are used as proof that the person saying them must be asexual/aromantic or to delegitimize asexuals/aromantics who have had sex or dated. Behavior is a very different thing than orientation. This is important to remember. There are plenty of asexuals who have had sex or who even enjoy sex and this does not make them any less asexual. Likewise for aromantics who have dated. The simple fact is that there is a very wide variety of different ace narratives and any standardization of one particular type of narrative at the expense of another is a disservice to the whole community.
This idea that aromantics never date is actually one of the things that kept me from considering that I might be aromantic for so long. I’d heard “I’ve never dated” or “I dated someone once, but it was awful” from so many aromantics that I thought I couldn’t possibly be one because I’ve been in at least half a dozen romantic relationships. But the thing is, and I can’t overstate this, behavior and orientation are two different things.
I do think it is a bit unusual for an aromantic* to have been in so many romantic relationships, though, although I think in my case there are some very specific quirks of my personality and upbringing that contributed to this. For one thing, I always assumed I was straight until I discovered asexuality a couple of years ago. I had always been taught that being straight is the “right” way to be and that other sexualities are a “lifestyle choice”. Having no particular attractions that might have contradicted the way I was taught, it really didn’t occur to me to question. It was just assumed that I would eventually find a nice Christian man, fall in love, date, kiss, get married, make babies, etc.
However, this would probably not have led me to date so much just because “everyone does it” except that I am also kind of oblivious, especially to certain social things (for example, I am completely oblivious to flirting). I didn’t quite realize that there is supposed to be some special attraction to a person before you are supposed to date them. Someone would ask me out, and I would say “yes” even if they were not a person it would have ever occurred to me to want to date. Or, perhaps, it is more that I could think of any person of the “opposite” gender (again with the “being straight is the ‘right’ thing” bullshit) as a potential romantic partner if they showed interest in me. I think I was more “in love” with the idea of having a relationship than I ever was with any of the people that I dated. I couldn’t tell the difference between strong feelings of friendship and romantic feelings, presumably because I didn’t have any romantic feelings. But the lesson from society was that everyone has romantic feelings, so I would assume that some other type of feeling was romantic.
Besides, I did get crushes, or so I thought. Having been introduced to the idea of a “squish” (a platonic crush or friend-crush), I’ve really been questioning which of all the “crushes” I have had were actually squishes and which were crushes. I really can’t figure out quite what the difference is between a squish and a crush though. One possible explanation for this is that I have never had a crush. In my immature, ignorant, everyone-is-supposed-to-be-straight world view, though, I would only call something a crush if it were directed towards someone of the “opposite” gender (which is about the kind of rationalization I would expect if the “I’ve never had a crush” theory were correct). Actually, now that I think about it, I totally had a squish on my older brother’s girlfriend when I was in middle school. I would think about her in a “wow, she is awesome/special and I wish she would spend more time with me because I really enjoy talking to her and look forward to the times when she will be around” sort of way. But when I had the same feelings for a guy I would assume they were romantic and then pursue or fantasize about a romantic relationship because that was what you were “supposed” to do when you “liked” someone of the “opposite” gender.
So, basically, I dated people because that was the normal thing, and I assumed I was like everyone else, and I really did not realize for a long time that I was not. I think it is easier for that to happen when a person simply lacks the usual romantic feelings that people get and is socially oblivious or doesn’t have any particular issue with any of the things that usually go along with romantic relationships. Is it really even unusual for aromantics to have had several different romantic relationships before figuring out they are aromantic?
* Actually I identify as wtfromantic (I like to pronounce it “what the fuck romantic”), but I sometimes simplify this to aromantic when I do not think that the specific nuances of why I identify as wtfromantic are important. I identify as wtfromantic because I cannot quite figure out the difference between romantic and non-romantic and cannot therefore specify what the fuck my romantic orientation is. Although, I think I must be either aromantic or grey-panromantic because I do not seem to have any particular gender preference, and if I were not at least somewhere on the “aromantic spectrum” I would have probably figured out what romantic means by now. If this whole paragraph just seems like a bunch of jargon-spewing, you’ve already discovered one of the main reasons that I just say I am aromantic, sometimes.
Edit- My generalizing about past relationships in this post only applies relationships I had before I knew I was asexual (or trans). I have been in one romantic relationship since then, and it was very different (in a good way) from my previous experiences, partly because I had learned more about myself, partly because I had learned to communicate more directly, and partly because I had started to shake off my preconceived notions about how relationships are “supposed” to be. I had more than one conversation specifically about asexuality with my girlfriend at the time.