I turn 30 in less than two weeks and I’ve only been in one “relationship.”
I was 19 when I met Greg on Grindr. I understand now that the way I felt about Greg is the way I often feel about intimate partners: We enjoyed each other’s company, I found him physically attractive and I could be physically and emotionally intimate with him, but we lacked that “spark” I so often hear about when it comes to romantic partnerships.
I never had even had a crush on Greg; I just enjoyed his company and was excited to finally be in a relationship, this thing that so many people seemed to be after.
We were together for just shy of three months before he broke it off. Right before we split, my dad asked me if I loved Greg. I struggled with the question because it wasn’t something I had even considered. I wavered for a while before I finally said, “maybe ... probably” — less because it was how I felt and more because it seemed like the correct answer.
I’ve tried dating a number of times since, but I could never find that warm, gushy feeling, the romance that I’d heard others describe as they pursued new relationships. I enjoyed talking with new suitors and was sometimes attracted to them, but the idea of being in a romantic relationship felt stifling and inauthentic.
Eventually, I realised I was aromantic, which means having little or no romantic attraction to others.
Romance, like gender and sexuality, can be understood as a spectrum. There are folks who fall hard and quickly, easily developing crushes on others, and there are people like me, who simply don’t gravitate to those feelings easily or at all. I am open to the possibility that one day I will have a crush or fall in love, but so far it hasn’t happened.
Not all aromantic people are asexual. I’m surely not. And aromantic people still have love in their lives; they just get it outside of romantic relationships. My life is full of love from my friends, family, even my intimate partners — it’s just not romantic love, that special bond that’s so difficult to put into words (especially as a person who’s never experienced it).
The fact that I have gone the entire decade of my 20s without being in a traditional romantic relationship is often met with a sense of confusion from my peers. This used to feel alienating, but today I know that it isn’t because of some personal fault. The traditional approach to committed relationships just isn’t for everyone.
Since I still crave physical intimacy and sex, I enjoy having partners I can explore those elements of myself with. But our relationships don’t come with many of the same feelings or tethers that a romantic relationship typically would.
I find it challenging to date in a traditional sense. In my mid-20s, after recognising that I was aromantic, I found the term “quasiplatonic relationship.” Quasiplatonic relationships are not romantic but still involve a close connection, often beyond what we may see in a friendship. They may or may not involve sex.
While these might not look like the “traditional” versions, some aromantic people have long-term partners. Some cohabitate and even get married. Seeking out this kind of relationship was a challenge for me, however. Trying to find another person who was a good fit, and who was also looking for a relationship that wasn’t traditionally romantic, started to feel just as restrictive as shooting for a committed romance.
Over time, the idea of seeking out and being with a single monogamous partner also began to feel extremely limiting. Nonmonogamy wasn’t really a conscious choice I made; rather, it eventually clicked that there was no other option for me. As an aromantic person with different relationship needs than most, having multiple partners who could offer me a number of different things felt most conducive to my identity as I was beginning to understand it.
Eventually, I stumbled upon the phrase “relationship anarchy,” which to me means my relationships have a more fluid structure, without hierarchical differentiation between sexual, romantic and platonic relationships.
After a decade of trying to fit inside one specific box society deemed “correct,” I’ve found solace in stepping outside of it and creating my own box, one that works for me.
Today, I have a number of relationships in which I embrace varying levels of intimacy. Some are mostly physical; others feel more like close friendships. We’re invested in each other’s lives, we hang out together ― some on a regular basis, and others simply when we can make it work ― and sometimes we share physical intimacy. I now understand that I operate best by simply letting things flow and figuring out naturally how a person fits into my life.
This year I started a relationship with a man who is in an open marriage. This dynamic feels comfortable for me, in that we can share a connection without there being broader romantic expectations — we aren’t necessarily aiming for anything bigger. We’re focused on the now, whatever we end up cultivating together. We talk intimately about our lives and goals. We do things that friends would do together. Sometimes we have sex, but it’s not an integral part of our relationship either.
I consider myself single, and I prioritise my relationship with myself first and foremost. After the one with myself, some of the most valuable relationships in my life are those I have with my platonic friends. Most of my spare time goes to my best friend, and my relationship with her often feels the most profound and connected.
As a queer nonbinary person who is attracted to folks of all gender identities, I’ve begun to see the idea that we are all meant to have a single romantic partner in our lives as outdated, part of a rigid cisheteronormative system that exists to uphold traditional family structure.
I don’t want children and I’m not sure I ever want to get married, so for me that concept has often felt fraudulent. There’s nothing wrong with preferring traditional monogamous relationships, but humans are complicated, and the idea that all 8 billion of us should treat relationships in this one limited way ignores how expansive our identities can be. It’s selling our species short to insist we all conform to such stringent guidelines, and it ignores history and culture to claim that this has always been the case.
I currently have no desire to date, as I pretty much have everything I need. I am always open to new relationships, but I don’t have guidelines for what they “need to” offer me. It’s simply up to me and that other person to decide what works best for us.
As I write this essay, I am preparing to fly to my home state of Colorado to celebrate the weddings of two longtime friends. I love to see those I hold close find what they need and affirm it. I think romantic love is beautiful, and I’d love to experience it for myself one day. I also accept that maybe it just isn’t in the cards for me.
I am open about my journey to give others like me, who have struggled with the standard relationship models, permission to venture out and explore their own paths. If there’s one thing my 20s have taught me, it’s that many of the rules and guidelines we have in society are arbitrary. I get so much validation from those in the younger generations who decided early on that they would go their own way, and from older folks who throw away the rulebook they’ve lived by for the majority of their adult lives.
I also admit that I don’t have it all figured out. I’ve settled on a dynamic that works for me today, but I leave myself open to any possibilities that present themselves as I journey through life, rather than comparing my experience to that of others. I can’t wait to see what lies ahead.