It is part of my series on Growing Up Platoniromantic.
platoniromantic – unable to distinguish “romantic” from “platonic” feelings and/or experiencing “friendship” and “romance” as the same thing
The thing about being platoniromantic is that, until very recently, there was no vocabulary to describe it. Growing up, I knew there was a thing called “sex” and another thing called “love”; I knew they were different; and I knew that “love” was very important to me, while “sex” was something I could take or leave. I also knew there was a thing called “romance”, but it seemed mainly a euphemism for “sex” or for the non-sexual elements in a sexual relationship. I wasn’t romance-averse, but, like sex, it held a secondary place in my hierarchy of needs.
As I went through adolescence, I was increasingly confused by the mixed messages I got about how I should feel towards people. On the one hand, songs, movies, and literature all celebrated passionate attachment and lifelong devotion. On the other, people never seemed to expect me to experience these emotions or to understand me when I expressed them. When I talked about the relationships that mattered to me, people would either assume the relationship was romantic, or ask why I was making such a big deal about someone I was “just” friends with.
Gradually, I became aware that my lack of interest in sex made me different from those around me. I would come to attach the labels “asexual” and then “demisexual” to this difference. But that only told part of the story. It only explained what I didn’t feel. Not what I did.
When I tried to talk about what I did feel, vocabulary always failed me. “Friendship” was too weak a word, too commonly applied and too easily dismissed. “Crush” had a distinctly sexual quality; it applied to select relationships, but did not begin to cover the range of emotions I felt. “Love” was simultaneously too strong, too weak, and too specific, used either in an overly narrow sense that only made room for sexual relationships, or an overly broad sense that covered everything from New York to rock ’n’ roll.
When trying to explain my feelings to myself, I used my own lexicon. With the range of platonic vocabulary so narrow, I often appropriated terms from romantic relationships. I wanted to “date” people as friends. I had non-sexual “crushes”. I found myself “falling in (platonic) love”. And then, I frequently got my “heart broken”. Words like “squish” and “queerplatonic parntership” didn’t exist back then. Instead, I made a kind of parallel vocabulary that mirrored sexual-romantic relationships, but without the sexuality. I thought that meant they were also without romance.
When talking to others, I remained cautious. Using my lexicon would only confuse them, or require more explanation than most people had patience for. My language was my language. It didn’t seem to mean anything to anybody but me. Meanwhile, I continued to assume that every time someone used the word “romance” they meant “sexuality”. I disavowed all suggestions that I might have romantic feelings for my friends.
Finding the asexual community gave me a space where non-sexual bonds could be taken seriously. However, as far as romance went, ace discussions only added to my confusion. The community was apparently divided into two factions: the romantics and the aromantics. Since I had always equated “romance” and “sex”, I couldn’t imagine what “romance” would be outside of sex. Maybe that meant I was aromantic. On the other hand, I felt strong emotional attachments to both men and women, attachments that went beyond what most people seemed to consider appropriate in a friendship. Many of the activities associated with “romance” – cuddles, love-letters, long walks on the beach – appealed to me. But others, such as marriage, were things I could only imagine doing with a sexual partner. Was I biromantic? Grayromantic? I experimented with some of these terms, but none of them felt quite right.
My first clue out of the romantic/aromantic dichotomy came when I took the Ace Community Census in 2014. Under the heading of “romantic orientation” were all kinds of options, including “WTFromantic”. I had to look up what it meant, but as soon as I understood, I identified with it. Yes! I thought. I’m WTFromantic. I just don’t get this whole “romance” thing!
The real moment of revelation, though, came a short time afterwards, when I was applying for grad scholarships. I’d decided to write about the subject of “romance” and how asexuality complicated our understanding of it. I would postulate an asexual definition of romance and show how a relationship could fit it without being sexual. With years of experience in the ace community, I assumed the first part would be easy.
The more I thought about it, the harder it was to come up with a definition of romance that made sense. Nothing felt right; nothing resonated with my emotions. Every time something occurred to me, I thought, But surely that’s just regular friendship! I mean, I’ve done and desired and felt all those things with friends. And I never considered the relationships romantic!
And that’s when it hit me. Like a person who looks at a colour-blindness test and sees one number instead of another. I had experienced romantic feelings all my life. I just had no line separating them from friendship, and I never had!
Discovering this threw my whole life into a new perspective. It explained everything from my distaste for shipping to my failed attempt at dating to my high-school heartbreak to my current inability to work things out with my best friend. It helped me to understand that, instead of being perverted, immature, or ignorant, I simply saw the world differently. My way wasn’t wrong. It was just one that other people would need help understanding.
Within a year, I discovered the word “platoniromantic” and immediately adopted it. Having the label was not as important as understanding the principle, but it did mean I finally had a word to describe it. I’ve discarded the other labels, now, and only use this one. It captures the fusing of platonic and romantic more clearly than “grayromantic”. It’s less rude and easier to say than “WTFromantic”. Most importantly, it’s an affirmation rather than a question. “WTFromantic” and “quoiromantic” sound like someone asking what romance is and trying to figure it out. That was me for a short time, and so those labels fit me. But not any more. I’m not trying to figure out what “romance” is; I know what it is: another word for “friendship”. Yes, some relationship elements may fit better with the “romance” label and others with the “friendship” label. But they’re all part of the same affective system.
So, hello, nice to meet you, I’m Ice-Tea. I’m demisexual and platoniromantic. That means that I sometimes experience sexual attraction, but that what other people think of as “romance” is just another part of what I call “friendship”. It’s good that you understand that up-front. It’ll save us both a lot of confusion.