With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, romance is on everyone’s mind. I bet you’re busy buying chocolates and getting a reservation for the perfect date spot to surprise your loving partner. And if you, unfortunately, don’t have anyone to wine and dine yet, you’re frantically searching for the perfect person to be your valentine this year before it’s too late.
That is… unless you’re happily single and aren’t looking for a romantic partner. That viewpoint is so often overlooked at this time of year, isn’t it? In fact, romance is pushed on us as the only option during almost every moment of the day.
People are conditioned to not only seek out but expect romance as a part of their lives, and those expectations are taught early. You may have seen cringe-worthy baby clothes with phrases written on them that imply romance before they can even talk, like “Ladies’ Man” or “Lock Up Your Daughters.” You’ve heard mothers gush about a normal interaction between two toddlers just because one is a boy and one is a girl. Parents talk about “when you have a boyfriend,” or even “when you get married,” as if this is something everyone knows will happen eventually. The movies we watch as children often have a happy ending for the protagonist that includes “getting the girl,” even if it feels tacked on because the movie hadn’t centered on the characters’ love lives until those final moments: falling in love is a necessary part of a happy ending, a box to check off.
This type of clear-cut thinking ignores the many people who don’t want romance in their lives. Aromantic people are those who don’t experience romantic attraction to others, not because they don’t want a partner at a certain point in time but because they just aren’t wired that way. Just like gay people are born attracted to the same gender, aromantic people are born without romantic feelings at all. They can still feel platonic love and familial love, but they don’t feel a romantically motivated pull to anyone around them. (This is a simplified explanation of course, feel free to do more research!) The equivalent of being straight in this case is “alloromantic,” describing the majority of people who do feel romantic attraction.
While many of us are aware of the concept of heteronormativity– when society normalizes straight relationships and in turn alienates gay people– we may not notice the amatonormativity that normalizes needing romance. This can make it difficult for aromantic people to realize that they are in fact aromantic, because of the finality of statements like “I can’t wait until you get married!” that imply a romantic outcome is inevitable for everyone.
I experienced amatonormativity often as an aromantic child, and it was confusing and nerve-wracking because I thought I was the only one who felt this way. Sure I’d never had a crush, but that just meant I was a late bloomer or hadn’t met the right person- or so the adults around me would say, over and over. So instead of admitting I didn’t get it, I’d fake romantic attraction to fit in, claiming to have crushes on fictional characters or unattainable celebrities to use as leverage during my peers’ conversations about love. Sometimes I would even mistake friendship for romantic attraction: we’ve been taught from the moment we were born that we must have a crush on someone at some point, so this desire to be close to someone must finally be that moment. It can’t just be platonic. (It didn’t help when my classmates would insist that I, a feminine-presenting person at the time, couldn’t just be friends with a guy. Ultimately trying to think of him as a crush instead of a friend just made me sad for a reason I couldn’t pinpoint back then, and our friendship eventually dissolved as a result of that peer pressure.) Overall, there is a lot of anxiety about if something is wrong with us as aromantic people, especially because aromanticism has remained so unknown in the mainstream while other queer identities like being gay or transgender have slowly become more recognized.
Amatonormativity directly harms aromantic youth, making them think they must conform to what is expected of them. They’ll likely try dating and find it strange or even upsetting, but assume it’s a problem they need to fix rather than a societal pressure they don’t have to follow.
However, this is damaging even for alloromantics who simply may not want to pursue a romantic relationship. Romance is often presented as a “when,” not an “if,” something that will happen to everyone at some point in their life. Anyone not in a relationship is perpetually asked when they will enter one by friends and family, as common of a catching-up question as how school is going or if you have a job yet. Focusing on work over romance is seen as a sacrifice (especially for women) even when the person is successful and proud of their accomplishments as if being single is some sort of failure. All of this eventually breaks down a person’s confidence in themself as an individual and makes them think that they can only be truly happy if they have a romantic partner.
As obvious as it may sound, you don’t need romance to be happy. Relying on a relationship with another person to feel “complete” or “accomplished” is not healthy. Although it will be hard due to how deeply ingrained these ideas are, it’s best for your own sake to start unlearning them. If you’re alloromantic and struggle to feel whole without a partner because of this type of ideology, here are some tips: Don’t be scared of being single. Don’t define your life as the periods when you’re in relationships and the “gaps” between them. Evaluate your feelings and needs before entering a relationship, instead of jumping in because you’re used to always being in one. Celebrate your individual successes. Take time for yourself, even when you are in relationships, rather than spending all your time glued to your partner’s side. Identify the things you really enjoy doing and don’t let yourself sacrifice those hobbies for another person.
If you suspect you may be aromantic, this is the time to stop letting other people tell you what to do. You know yourself best. If being single is what makes you happy, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Whether you’re spending it with a romantic partner, a platonic partner, or just treating yourself, Happy Valentine’s Day.