You’ll fall in love with someone the moment you least expect it. You might have toyed with the idea of dating, or gone through periods of wanting to find someone, without that someone ever showing up. But just when you have come to terms with the idea that you’re actually very happily aromantic and single, and that you probably never will find yourself in a romantic relationship, or any other sort of partnered relationship, it’ll happen. It’s just like your mum told you it would happen when you were a teenager – at the most unexpected time possible.
It’ll be different to everything you imagined growing up – especially given that you’ve never been in a relationship before. It will even be different to everything you’ve learned by talking to other people in relationships. Loving another person isn’t anything like it is in the movies – it’s quieter and deeper and stronger, and you haven’t experienced anything quite like it before. You might not always know exactly what sets this person apart from everyone else, this relationship apart from the other important relationships in your life. But you know, instinctively, that this is a person you’re in love with, who makes you feel things you didn’t think you ever could or would.
You will probably never lose the feeling that you don’t know what you’re doing. Not in the beginning, or the middle, or at the end. The hardest thing about being ace and in a relationship is that nine times out of then, there will never be a path or a script or a map to consult along the way. Other people’s guidelines often won’t feel useful to you, won’t apply to you. For all the hype about relationships, people don’t really tend to talk very much about the details. And aces especially don’t really talk about being in relationships. Regardless of what your relationship ends up looking like, you’ll most likely find yourself forging ahead into brave new territories. It’s not always easy. But it’s worth it.
Being in a relationship doesn’t amount to a checklist of things you want and don’t want. It means being in a relationship with another person, who has their own personality and desires and experiences and insecurities. Whether they’re ace or not, they’re still different to you, and that’s not something you can or should want to control. Sometimes you’ll have the same ideas and desires and feelings about things. And sometimes you won’t. You can both be ace and still be completely different aces. And that’s ok – you just have to muddle through as best you can. At realise at what point you need to stop muddling.
Sometimes you’ll have very clear ideas about what you want and what you don’t want. And sometimes, you will honestly have no idea whether you like or want something or not. Maybe that means you’ll get up the courage to try it out. Maybe you never will go there. Both are perfectly, absolutely ok.
You might even change your mind about things. Just because you tried something once doesn’t mean you’ll ever have to do it again. There is no relationship escalator that you have to ride all the way to the top in order to be considered a success. There isn’t even a ‘top’ to arrive at. There are no bases, or stages, or steps along the path to a Proper Relationship. Even if it were possible to ‘go backwards,’ it would not be the end of the world it’s made out to be. And that works in reverse as well. It’s ok to also change your mind about things you might not have been into once. And it’s ok to need a bit of time to make up your mind. You might, you might not.
Sometimes you won’t know how to explain why you feel the way you do, or why you like or dislike something. You’ll feel uncertain and confused, and frustrated by your own uncertainty and confusion. But you don’t always have to be able to explain what you’re feeling. Yes, sometimes it can be really helpful for your partner if you can explain where you’re coming from and what exactly you’re feeling. But sometimes you have nothing more to explain than that you have to follow your gut, and you end up just confusing yourself and your partner even more. You might never figure out the best way of handling this sort of thing.
Sometimes you’ll feel like screaming at the aces who talk about what their ideal relationship would look like, at their checklists of what exact things they’d do and wouldn’t do, at the endless hypothetical discussions that actual, real life relationships never seem to feature in. Because you’ve realised now that being in a relationship means that things are endlessly more complicated and wonderful and nuanced than checklists alone will ever be. That people and feelings and opinions and boundaries can all change, sometimes in ways you’d never anticipated. Some things might always stay the same, but other just aren’t that simple.
And then, you’ll probably feel guilty for wanting to scream at other aces, because you also know that everyone has the right to as many dreams and ideals and experiences as they want. And really, these people are your community. They’re probably the closest you’ll find to someone who actually gets what you’re doing and how complex it all is.
Some days will be amazing and wonderful, and you’ll feel like you’re on top of the world. And some days you’ll feel sad and frustrated and guilty. You’ll question why you’re doing this, if it’s worth all this. In that regard, your relationship is just like everyone else’s. You’ll learn and you’ll grow like everyone does. Most of all, you’ll learn to see when the bad starts to creep up on the good, and when it’s time to fix it, or let go. Even though you’ll always feel at least a little bit uncertain about that last bit.
Just because you’re ace (and your partner is too) doesn’t mean your relationship won’t have the same issues many, many other relationships have. Sometimes the thing that breaks a relationship doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that you’re ace, but is something that could have happened to absolutely anyone, ace or not. Or sometimes your particular brand of aceness may have had something to do with it after all. You’ll ponder that question for a long time yet.
When a relationship ends, you still won’t have a map for how to cope. You might feel like the advice and consolation other people offer make no sense, don’t even apply to you. You might not want to find the person who is ‘just right for you,’ or even think that such a person could exist. You might doubt if you’ll ever be in a relationship again, or want to be in a relationship again. You might wonder if you’ve made the right decision, or where things started to go wrong. You’ll have feelings you never really knew existed. And you’ll get through those feelings in your own way and in your own time. Even if it feels difficult and lonely.
You’ll probably feel like you’ve failed. Yourself, your partner, the rest of the ace community. You might end up doubting your orientation and your identity all over again. (Though in the end, you’ll decide that you’re really still the aromantic ace you were before.) All that is ok. And it will pass, in its own time. You’ll just have to remember that no matter what, you aren’t a failure. That you are who you are, even if who you are changes. And that you don’t have any obligations of the ace community – no matter how visible you are, or how hard you try to be a good community member.
Disclaimer: Guys, if it’s not obvious to you – this is my experience we’re talking about here, not the monolithic experience of the aro ace community. Just saying.