Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week Series: Day 2
There was a horrible moment in realising I was aromantic where it hit me for the first time that the majority of my life plans had gone out the window. Where I’d been taught there should be experimentation and heartbreak and marriage and a happily ever after, usually with some flowers or flowery language involved, I suddenly realised I didn’t want any of it, really. All these experiences, these plans, these expectations for the rest of my life didn’t feel right. And it was terrifying.
I assumed that my life was going to be empty – I was going to die alone, or be miserable or some nonsense, and fiction didn’t teach me any better. The general agreement in YA is that some paranormal pretty boy with a bad attitude would be able to ‘fix’ me, and give me the key to my future happiness. And if that didn’t work, I’d be a villain (which isn’t great), the irrelevant side character killed off for shock value (significantly worse), or some mystical spinster who only turns up for a chapter’s worth of divine exposition (cooler, but also likely to be doomed). If what I read was to be believed, I was going to live devoid of all love, fun, and meaning.
For some reason, it didn’t occur to me, or any of these authors, that friendship exists.
It’s only been recently that I’ve actually realised how rare genuine friendship is in a lot of mainstream, heteronormative YA, particularly where girls are involved. Female protagonists in these books are restricted to very limited, very romance-oriented friendships. Female friends are there almost solely to discuss potential love interests and discourage the lucky protagonist from shying away from relationships, and god knows male friends are a love triangle waiting to happen – in short, everything is arranged to allow the protagonist’s love life to become her only life, with minimal outside interference. But that’s not, and never has been, how friendship works.
There were two series in particular that made me realise what I’d been missing. Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle and Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology both center around groups of friends who bond and grow together, solidifying into families as their stories progress. There are romantic subplots, yes, but they never undermine any of the unique, individual platonic bonds between the characters. It’s beautiful, and natural, and it feels so real that you have to wonder: why isn’t this everywhere? Why isn’t this what everyone’s doing? Out of all the books in my bedroom – and there are many of them – I can only think of a handful with strong, fulfilling friendships like those, but there are also only a handful without any kind of romantic involvement.
Aromantic representation, anywhere on the spectrum, is practically nowhere – intentional, insightful rep especially – and god knows I want it. I want to see myself in the characters that I love and the stories that inspire me. But we’ve got a while to wait until there’s even close to enough, and until then, there’s another barrier that needs to be beaten down: the idea that friendship is somehow lesser than romance. It’s exhausting, and it’s everywhere, and until it’s at least partially gone, people are still going to assume that being arospec is some sort of tragedy when it’s not, it’s absolutely not.
So, I want friendships. I want casual friends who keep each other sane through the couple of classes and inside jokes they share. I want ride or die, inseparable from childhood best friends. I want found family, touchy and borderline-romantic friends, friends who never stop laughing together, friends who sit awake for hours just talking. I want the friends that everyone wants to have, and the ones everyone has, and the ones that make you feel okay when nobody else really can. If anything can convince the rest of the world that aromantics are okay, that we’re happy and fulfilled and loved in ways that matter, it’s this. And hopefully, with a bit more of it in stories, it can convince a few of us who’re doubting, too.
Ruairi lives in Scotland, and spends most of the time wishing they were either somewhere else, better represented, or taller. They’re currently drowning in novel ideas and schoolwork, but they occasionally post their most coherent thoughts on either their twitter (@mindhowyego) or their blog (https://mindhowyego.wordpress.com). Interests include dragons, fantasy, and anything gay.