Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week Series: Day 8 – Previous Posts: Introduction to Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week Series – The Excitement and Frustration of Being “Alone” – Actual Love – Being Surrounded by Something You’ve Never Quite Understood – On Writing Aromantic Characters in YA – Discovering Aromanticism – Broken, Villains, or Punishment – On Aromantic Visibility in YA
by Ren Oliveira
If you asked me to summarize what it felt like growing up as an aromantic person, a single memory would come to my mind immediately: my friends talking about boys and crushes and romance while I sat at the edge of our group in complete silence.
This memory would come with an acute feeling of awkwardness, of hey, maybe I should be interested in this followed by a but what should I say? I would steal glances at them, trying to think of something, anything, that would keep the conversation going only to give up seconds later, sighing, and turn my attention to whatever book was in my lap. It happened often.
Back then it felt like everyone was reading the same script, but mine was somehow wrong, with words out of order and phrases that didn’t make much sense. It was still possible to understand it, of course, but it required effort and concentration, and at the end of the day it still confused me. Something was missing, and I didn’t know what it was.
Growing up reading YA felt more or less the same.
At first, I didn’t even know that YA books existed. Here in Brazil they exploded thanks to Twilight when I was 13 or 14, so adult books were all I had for years (I started reading a lot pretty early) and my favorite genre has always been fantasy. In comparison, YA books were much more welcoming, with tons of girls as the protagonists back when I still thought I was girl. I didn’t feel like a complete intruder anymore.
But that awkward feeling was still there, nagging at me as I read about people falling in love over and over again, about how romantic love was so very important. The girls I had started to identify with after years of reading only books about boys and men always distanced themselves from me in end, and I couldn’t see myself in them anymore. I had to squint and to concentrate to understand the script. It left me tired and dissatisfied.
I wasn’t as welcome as I thought I was, in the end.
I can’t remember the first time I heard that teens are really intense, full of hormones, or that teens fall in love all the time and are extremely dramatic about it, but by the time I was a teen myself, that message had already wormed its way into my mind. And it was never true for me; being asexual as well as aromantic, my teenager years were… calm. Quiet. There were no crushes on classmates or teachers, no love triangles (or love interests), and almost no drama. And, somehow, I felt like I was wasting every single moment of them.
I wasn’t enjoying my teenager years (and, you guys, they don’t come back!). I wasn’t living my life. I would regret it later, people told me, because I wasn’t being a real teen. I had no idea of what to do – how does one even become a real teen, anyway? –, and so I waited and hoped something would change. Needless to say, it never did.
Nowadays, though, I see a similar message coming from some people on the YA community when YA is criticized for (supposedly) having too much romance. Teens are like that, they say, love triangles or just falling in love is what it means to be a teenager. And sure, for some it is, but I was a teen too. I turn 20 this month. It wasn’t that long ago. I can still remember it very well and there wasn’t any romance or any crushes. This lack of romantic feelings didn’t make any less of a teen.
And teens like me are everywhere. Some of us will never fall in love, others will do so only under specific circumstances, but every aromantic person’s experiences are different from what is usually seen in mainstream media. I, for one, still love romance. I still have lots of ships and I still read tons of fanfiction, but there is a dissonance. I can’t and won’t ever understand crushes or love at first sight, but give me a demiromantic character falling in love or aromantic character in a queerplatonic relationship and I’ll be the happiest person on the planet. Others dislike romance and don’t want to have anything to do with it, and it’s okay. Our experiences are valid, and they matter.
Sometimes I wonder how different my teen years would have been if I had found a single aromantic character in the books I read. What it would be like to read about a teen who felt just like me, and still saved the world. Maybe I would’ve stopped waiting and hoping something would change. Maybe I wouldn’t have cared when people told me, it will change when you get into high school, and then when I got into high school, it will change when you get into college, as if there was something fundamentally wrong with who I was or how I felt.
Now that I’m in college they kind of don’t know what to do with me or what to tell me, but that’s fine. I know now what was missing. It was just a word, but some words are powerful. Some words change how you see yourself and how you see the world. Some make everything right, or just right enough that the script doesn’t seem as confusing anymore.
Aromantic was one of these words for me. It wasn’t an ending, something that solved all of my problems, but it was a beginning. And, sometimes, just a beginning is enough.
Ren Oliveira is a nonbinary Brazilian aspiring writer of fantasy who is currently majoring in Psychology. Ze is aromantic and asexual, and a fan of elves, angels and dragons. You can find zir on Twitter at @_renoliveira.