Things I Wish I’d Known About Being an Aromantic Ace in a Relationship

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.

21 thoughts on “Things I Wish I’d Known About Being an Aromantic Ace in a Relationship

  1. This is probably pretty inspirational to people who’ve been in relationships. The style of writing is certainly lovely, and you’ve painted some real-seeming images.

    But to me, a budding little maybe-aro grey-ace?

    “You’ll fall in love with someone the moment you least expect it,” right at the top of an article about aromanticism, comes across as really invalidating. Like, yeah, sure, maybe I will. It seems pretty plausible. I might even be in love already. But I get enough of the “You will! You WILL! It’ll be magical!” from all the non-aros in my life, thank you very much?

    And “Sometimes you’ll feel like screaming at the aces who talk about […] their checklists of what exact things they’d do and wouldn’t do” is… Well. I don’t know. You’re right, real-world relationships are more complex and subtle than anyone’s theory. But if I make a list of ace-related things I refuse to do in a relationship (I haven’t actually done this, but if I did), then what I mean is that I actually refuse to do those things. The list would be composed of dealbreakers. And someone telling me that I’ll compromise one day… That reeks of disregarding my most hard-set boundaries. It creeps me out.

    Yeah. Sorry, I don’t really want to criticise your post — you’ve clearly exposed a bit of your heart here, it’s based in your actual lived experiences (when all I’ve got to go by is theory), and it’ll be helpful for a lot of people, I’m sure — but it claimed to be for aro/aces and I’m seeing other aces calling it beautiful and it just… It hit my aggro buttons, and I wanted to explain.

    1. Hi, Atosen,

      Thanks for your comment. I feel like I should clarify a few things about this post.

      First of all, this is a personal and reflective piece, and as you say, a piece that is written from my own experience as an aromantic ace. It’s a post of things I wish I’d known about myself, and what being in a relationship would entail for me. When it comes to ace writing, the things I post to my own blog tend to be more personal posts of this nature (I’m also a writer at The Asexual Agenda, where some of my more theoretical/political writing goes). The use of second person here is purely a stylistic choice (present me speaking to past me), so I’m definitely not intending for this to be read as a ‘this will happen to all aro-aces in exactly this way.’ (That would be silly.) One of the things I like about the ace community is that we’re all so different, and we all have such different experiences, even though we all also have some level of ace-ness in common. My experience written here is one aro-ace experience, but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s the aro-ace experience.

      In response to your second point, two things: First, I’ve been part of the ace community for a while now, and one of the things I (and many other people) have noticed is that for all we theorise about relationships, we don’t actually talk much about being in them. This is an absence I’m trying to contribute something to, by sharing some of my own experiences openly (even if it’s not necessarily feeling like the easiest thing in the world at the moment; hence some of the stylistic choices). It’s something I’d like to see a lot more of, people sharing their experiences. So that is a bit of the background to why I sometimes feel frustrated about the conversations that are happening in the ace community.

      Secondly, I am absolutely not claiming that your boundaries will ever necessarily change. Checklists can be extremely useful in figuring out where your boundaries are and what you might be interested in trying vs. what is a dealbreaker. (Checklists aren’t always solely comprised of dealbreakers either.) My experience with boundaries has been that they are sometimes – not always – flexible, too. I found that in a relationship, there were certain things I was happy to experiment with a little, and other things that I was not happy to ever experiment with. As I say multiple times in the post, you should never feel any pressure to try something, or like something, or keep doing something just because you tried it once. Sometimes things will change in ways you didn’t necessarily anticipate, and sometimes they just won’t. Either is perfectly ok. The only thing that I want to share with other people reading this post is that changing your mind (of your own accord) is also ok, and that it doesn’t make you any less ace or any less aromantic or any less anything.

      I hope that addresses the points you raised somewhat; if you’d like to talk more feel free to reply in another comment or drop me an email. 🙂

      1. Thanks for the reply. That actually allays my concerns somewhat.

        I knew on an intellectual level that this was a personal reflective piece, but, I guess, because it hit my buttons, I responded viscerally — it certainly LOOKED like it was about a monolithic aro/ace experience, with the title and the second-person prose. Though I do agree these are good stylistic choices and I’d’ve done the same thing. Knowing more about your intentions and the style of this blog helps put me at ease.

        I’m still a little leery of “screaming” at people’s checklists, but then, well. It’s the kind of thing I get worked up over. Nuance is an important thing everywhere else in life, but when it comes to a person’s boundaries… The idea of flexible boundaries is kind of alien to me (how is that a boundary at all?). If I care enough / am being assertive enough to lay down a boundary, an explicit “I do not want this thing,” it’s because I feel critically unsafe or exposed. That’s not ever going to be up for negotiation.

        But people always try to negotiate anyway, don’t they? And then I cave (because of course I do), and I have an awful experience that I regret, and the other person pats themself on the back for broadening my perspectives. So even the suggestion of being “realistic” or “brave” or “experimental” and relaxing my boundaries is at best obnoxious and at worst threatening.

        So that’s a bit of my backstory, I guess. It’s simply different from yours, and that’s okay.

        Anyway. You’re absolutely right that we need more conversation about what it’s actually like in a relationship. Thank you for contributing to that supply! In fact, I hope you don’t mind if I poke around your blog a little more for advice on that topic.

        Cheers for the reply.

      2. “‘You’ll fall in love with someone the moment you least expect it,’ right at the top of an article about aromanticism, comes across as really invalidating. Like, yeah, sure, maybe I will. It seems pretty plausible. I might even be in love already. But I get enough of the ‘You will! You WILL! It’ll be magical!’ from all the non-aros in my life, thank you very much?”

        I get that this is a personal piece about one person’s experiences (or I do now, at least, after reading through the comments), but this was also my initial reaction. That, and a bit of confusion. I really don’t understand “falling in love”. I suppose it is something you have to experience yourself to really understand? Or is one person’s “falling in love” even the same thing as another’s? How do you even know you have fallen in love? I don’t really get it.

        It is good to see a personal account and not just theoretical talk, though. Theory is great and all, but it’s not so useful if it’s divorced from actual experiences. I have tried to figure out what sort of relationship(s) I would like to be in, but I honestly don’t know. I suppose I will have to make it up as I go along?

      3. There will probably be a lot of making it up as you go along, Midori Skies. And as for not understanding what falling in love is meant to be, well, I’m there too. I don’t think any two people’s falling in love will ever be the same! It took me a while to even figure out that that was happening, because it certainly wasn’t like anything I’d expected or seen on TV or read about.

        TBH, I find it incredibly strange that I’m responding to comments that say I’m basically just perpetuating the whole romance-centric, love-is-the-most-magical-thing-in-the-world narrative. I get just as frustrated about that as every other aro ace! There seems to be this funny divide, though, between people who will jump to criticise any rhetoric about love and relationships, and people who will talk about being aro ace and end it with ‘but just because I’m aro ace doesn’t mean I can’t fall in love or don’t want a relationship!’ So I’m not really quite sure what to think in general. I guess all I’m trying to do is put one experience out there, so that maybe other people will read it and think ‘yeah, I can see bits of this,’ and other people might say ‘hmm, this isn’t really me’ and maybe even be encouraged to write about their own experiences. I guess next time I’ll make sure to make the ‘my experience!’ disclaimer more obvious.

  2. This was honestly wonderful to read. Thanks. =)

    I’m also an Aromantic Ace but I’ve never actually been in a relationship. People around me are accepting of my orientation but due to the fact that I’m an aro, they all seem to have come to the conclusion I’ll never want/be in a relationship with another person. And it’s not something I’m desperate for or anything like that. It’s just something I’ve always considered would be a nice experience. And your words have given me a sort of hope I didn’t know I needed.

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