What is aromanticism, and what is it like to be an aromantic? Peter McGraw speaks to Jessalyn Dean to answer those questions.

Listen to Episode #126 here


 

Aromanticism

During the Solo Salon in Lisbon, I had a chance to meet an online friend with who I have been connected since the early days of Solo, Jessalyn Dean. She is my guest and we’re here to talk about aromanticism, the experience of having little to no romantic attraction to others. She is a financial literacy and tax consultant based in Amsterdam. She spent her teenage years and twenties searching for the one, only to realize once she found him that it wasn’t what she was meant for.

She got off the relationship escalator in 2017 and now lives her life as an aromantic relationship anarchist by using autonomy as a compass and removing hierarchy from all of her relationships. She’s working towards early retirement and traveling full-time as a solo nomad. I hope you enjoy the episode. It’s a fascinating one. Let’s get started.

Welcome, Jessalyn.

I’m happy to be here.

You know this already, but it bears repeating. People are single for a lot of reasons. Some can’t find the right match. Some are not interested in dating or a relationship. There’s a large number of people who are not interested in finding someone at the moment. I did an episode way back in the early days of the show about asexuals.

That is, people who lack the desire for sex. Hence the “a” in the sexual. We are here to talk about aromantics, which are people who have little to no romantic attraction to others. I want to make a note that asexuals and aromantics or asexual aromantics may still have relationships. It doesn’t preclude them. Is it fair to say it changes the dynamic?

Absolutely.

Are you aromantic?

I am. In some cases, I might use the phrase gray romantic. In others, I might use aromantic. We’ll probably get into a little bit of detail about the difference, but I strongly use aromantic.

Why don’t we get into that difference because it’s a nice tease? Is aromantic little to no interest or is it no interest?

It is little to no interest. Gray romantic is in the questioning phase. Maybe you’re a little uncertain as to where on the spectrum of romanticism you land because we know that life is not a binary. Gray romantic is a nice phrase to say somewhere, not on either end of the extreme.

It is still further out from maybe the average.

That’s correct.

I think this is a fair question. It’s one that I don’t have a good answer to. What does it mean to be romantic? I asked that question in part because we know people who are like, “I’m such a romantic,” but you rarely have people say the opposite and yet they exist.

The way that I start reacting to that question is to first say that there’s a difference in my life. I’m not a psychological expert on this topic. This is coming from my own personal experience and having spoken to other people on the aromantic spectrum. There is a difference for me between romantic love, other love or non-romantic love, and romantic experiences. For example, I can experience romance, but I do not experience romantic love.

Let’s slow down here. First of all, I have this saying about in the land of the blind, the one-eyed woman is queen, the one-eyed man is king, the one-eyed person is king or however you want to say it. You are my queen or king now. It’s surprisingly difficult to find an expert on this because it is not well-studied. It’s less well-studied than asexuality.

You’ll serve the purpose here as a friend, as a member of the solo community, and as the person who planted the seed to talk about this. You made a distinction between romantic love, other love, and romantic experiences. Let’s start with other love first because we’re going to move on from that quickly. That’s the love that I feel for my friends, sister, and so on. That’s pervasive and it’s common. We’re not here to talk about that.

I can’t speak for the whole aromantic community, but most people that are aromantic would say they experience love or other love. Undisputed in a sense.

A person who is aromantic is not that they lack the capacity to love. It’s overwhelmingly the case that they feel love for other people.

An even stronger connection to its presence in their life.

I could see that because if that’s the type of love that you experience and you don’t have the experience of romantic love.

It holds a higher place in your day-to-day life.

If I can editorialize for a moment, my argument is if I ruled the world, I would elevate other love. I’m not seeking to diminish romantic love, but I would elevate other love with the desire to put it on par in the same hierarchy. There’s then romantic love and romantic experiences.

This is circling back to your original question which is what is romance? This is how I distinguish the world when I explain to people what it’s like to be or feel that I’m aromantic. When I wake up every day, I experience love for people. If there’s a person or a friend lying next to me in my bed, I feel love for them when I wake up, but I don’t feel romantic love. I use other love as a baseline for existing. I liken romantic love very much to adrenaline. I do not live in a permanent state of adrenaline. It happens. It’s exciting. There’s a dopamine hit, and then it subsides.

It’s those butterflies and the excitement of life. It’s almost like getting caught up in a whirlwind of sorts. There is an arousal element to it but not sexual arousal. I do know the nature of romantic love tends to be finite. It often runs a course. I’m not an evolutionary psychologist, but the argument around this is that it serves an evolutionary purpose, which is to get people to have sex and to keep them bonded at least long enough for there to be a child produced and so on. It probably fits this idea of like, “Don’t rush into anything.” It’s the classic, “Go at least four seasons before you elope.” That romantic love is working hard to bond people.

When I wake up each day, I do not feel the romance. I do not feel romantic or anything. If there’s a person lying next to me in my bed, they could be what you would say a friend in normal life. I live in a small apartment. When friends come to visit, I say, “Come sleep in my bed with me.” We are unlikely to be having sex, but I could wake up next to my friends.

I feel love for those people, but I do not feel any romantic feelings for people. I do enjoy romantic experiences. The adrenaline rush is like jumping out of an airplane. I love that adrenaline rush. This is back to my earlier comment, which is there’s a spectrum of aromanticism. Some people have a complete repulsion to romance. They are disgusted by it.

I feel that way about romantic comedies.

Me too.

I’m being hyperbolic.

I’m not repulsed by the actual idea of romance. Without having studied this, I believe there are some biological components that I lack in my body. That means I don’t experience romantic love and I miss that. I wish I had it, which is different from being repulsed by it. I yearn to experience romantic love and I simply don’t.

Why do you want this thing? Have you ever had it?

In my younger years, I would have thought I was experiencing it, but now with 20/20 vision, I can reflect that that was not it. I grew up in the Disney era, where I was sold that this was the pinnacle of a successful life. The marker of a successful life was finding your one and only, falling in love and dying together. Especially in my teenage years and in my twenties, I was pursuing that because I wanted it.

It’s such a common narrative. You’re not given an alternative narrative. It’s either you do this or you’re a failure.

You’re lonely and you can’t live a life. That’s not lonely without that counterpart. I was chasing that in my teens and twenties because I wanted it.

Chasing in my teens, I’m not sure. It was so far away that it didn’t even feel within reach, but in my twenties, I wanted a girlfriend and I wanted to fall in love. That’s something that I certainly wanted to do. I ended up eventually doing it. I’m not aromantic, although I have my opinions about all of these things and question some of their usefulness.

As a younger person, you were pursuing this. You were raised on Disney. The thing about it is that I make fun of Jane Austen on the show a lot. I have a friend who says, “Peter, Jane Austen is to be admired. She did a lot of things that are great and creative.” I can acknowledge that. One of the insights that I had was the rise of romantic love is a rise of liberation in some ways for the following reason. For a lot of human history, when you married someone, you had no say in who it was that you were marrying because these marriages were arranged. This continues now in some parts of the world.

It’s a contractual obligation, and someone else has decided that contract for you.

Parents in particular. I’ll do a little callback. I did a fun episode on Indian Matchmaking.

I saw that. I haven’t listened to it yet but it’s on my list.

You have to imagine that romantic love exists independent of marriage. You might have been put together and bonded with someone who you don’t feel romantic love for, and that person down the street, the butcher, the blacksmith or the young maiden, you did feel that. Now you live in a world where you’re forced into infidelity if you’re going to do this. The rise of love marriages allowed you to fall in love and marry the person and have both. The alternative arranged marriage is incredibly compelling.

You touched on an interesting point. It is this idea that society has told us that who you are sexually attracted to is also who you are romantically attracted to.

For most people, they are one and the same. They ought to be. When I talk about the relationship escalator, one of the hallmarks is this idea of consistent, romantic and sexual monogamy.

They can’t be disconnected from each other. In fact, they can. For some people like myself, the whole romantic part completely falls off. A relationship with another human can consist of largely three components and it’s anyone, not just me. Those are companionship, sexual attraction or sexuality, and romantic attraction. Society has told us that you should find somebody that satisfies all three of those at the same time.

Years ago, in my self-discovery of who I am, I realized those could be disconnected and taken apart. Where I seek companionship can be different from where I seek sexual satisfaction, attraction or companionship. It can be different from where I seek romantic experiences because I don’t experience romantic love, but I do love a nice little walk on the river, cuddling and holding hands. I brush them off after two hours when that feeling has gone away.

Let’s talk about this discovery. You’re coming out of sorts.            

Yeah.

At least you realized there was something that wasn’t working. Talk about how did that happen?

Some people feel a need to come out and make a proclamation of something. I’ve never done that.

I’ve known you for a long time. I didn’t know you were aromantic.

I talk about it and if people pick up on it, they do. It doesn’t define so much who I am that it never needed a proclamation. I also grew up in an environment where being different in this way would never change my family’s view of me. It didn’t feel like it was ever needed.

You didn’t have to be in the aromantic closet. Can I make an observation? I’ve known you for a while now. This is our first time ever meeting face to face. When you said you were aromantic, I wasn’t surprised. I don’t know. Little surprises me anymore about people’s unconventional life, their proclivities and what turns them on.

There’s so much heterogeneity in the world, and much of it is hidden because of the lack of acceptance. If someone was like, “I like when someone does this thing.” People are aghast about that. I’m like, “Right on. It sounds good, consent, no harm, go for it.” When you said that, something vibed and it just made sense. I also know your perspective more generally about sex, dating, etc. It at least suggested that romance and sexual attraction can be disentangled for you.

That’s a much better answer that you gave than saying, “Jessalyn, you seem a bit robotic.” That has been said to me before. It has been said to many aromantic people before.

It sounds like there may be some behavioral indicators that someone is aromantic. In the same way, there may be behavioral indicators that someone is on the spectrum, like they have Asperger’s, autism or something like that. Do you think that’s true?

It’s less than you would think. If you go to YouTube and search, “Am I aromantic?” You’ll find very little content. Maybe seven people on YouTube. What most of them will say is, “There’s not a clear way to know, but here are some of our own personal indicators that were sort of flags,” or not red flags but flags when you look back in time. The one that made me laugh was Nik Hampshire. That is his name on YouTube. He has a video where he talks about, how do I know if I’m aromantic?

He talks about his own experience of having treated relationships almost like an equation where he would try to plug this thing in and see if it would work. He would like someone, and that didn’t work. He would try a different number and see if the equation would work out. I had such a laugh when he said, “If you are calculating if you’re in a relationship or not, you’re probably aromantic.”

The reason that made me laugh is that I had this relationship back in 2009 with a guy. I rarely ever fought with anyone I dated. We had a big blow-up fight that kept bubbling up. I ended up making a spreadsheet. There were rows, and those were each of the issues I had identified. Each column was him and me. I sent him this assessment of the argument and what I thought was causing it. When I tried to discuss the spreadsheet with him, he would not discuss it with me.

Did he find it offensive or threatening?

I think it’s this incredibly bizarre experience when someone tries to make a calculated assessment of the argument within an Excel spreadsheet.

You and Charles Darwin have something in common. Maybe the case of Charles Darwin was aromantic because he created a spreadsheet to decide whether he was going to marry or not.

I knew that of the few indicators. If you make spreadsheets or calculations, you might be aromantic.

You’re having this discovery. Was this in your 30s?

I am 37 now in 2022. Around the age of 30 to 31, I had spent all of my teens and twenties pursuing my future husband and failed. I would date men for three months, and it would not work out. Probably my first ever relationship indicator that something was off was I was living in Australia. I had been dating a man for 8 or 9 months. We had never said, “I love you.” We just enjoyed each other’s company and companionship. I told him I was moving back to the United States. He said, “I’m in love with you. I want to come with you.” I looked him dead in the eyes and said, “No.” At the time, I thought it was this feeling of if I’m not 100%, I’m 0%.

You wonder why people say you’re robotic at times.

I have made that joke about myself, so I can take it. Other people might not be so welcoming to the robot joke. That was in my mid-twenties. Around my late twenties, about around 30 years old, I met the one. I met that guy. By all accounts, he was perfect and checked all the boxes, rocket scientist, beautiful. I don’t want children, but if I changed my mind and decided to have them, he would be a good dad. Funny, best friend.

Did you have sex?

It’s great, fantastic.

He passed the interview.

We moved in together. We were on the relationship escalator. I had everything I had been wanting. I realize this is not at all what I thought it was going to be. This feels uncomfortable for a number of reasons. I tell that story a little bit to also differentiate. I think you’ve been witness to this before. You and I were having a chat once with some other people. I mentioned my aromanticism and what that is. Someone else in the room said, “You just haven’t met the right person yet.”

I’m glad you brought that up.

I did meet the right person. This isn’t a case of someone having been scorned so much in their life that they gave up like, “I’ll never find it. It must not exist.” I found it and realized I didn’t want it. It was not serving me in the way that society had told me that it would.

It’s not like you wanted to stop having sex with this person. It’s not like you stopped wanting their companionship.

We remained the best of friends.

This ability for people to understand that these three elements may be correlated, they may be connected for the average person. For example, when you’re having sex with someone, you often enjoy their company and companionship. When you’re sexually attracted to someone, that may put you in a place where it allows romance to develop or vice versa. We can talk through all the permutations of it.

I’ve had this experience. I’m going to sound terrible saying it but it’s true. I’ve had sexual partners that after we have sex, I want to be alone. I have had sexual partners who, after we have sex, I want them to stay with me. Those that I want to have with me, I have more romantic or companion feelings for in that sense.

In the same way, I’ve had romantic partners that are great companions, but the sex is fine and vice versa. People who are the sex are out of this world, but the other things aren’t there. Recognizing that this is a possibility can be empowering for someone because I’m guessing that when you start to figure out this, you stop feeling crazy.

I stopped feeling crazy. In the world of people that I could craft relationships with, the sky is the limit. You have an episode about asexuality that you mentioned earlier. Your guest has a YouTube video. He has a TED Talk about asexuality, which I find incredibly beautiful. I am not asexual. I enjoy sex very much. David is almost the opposite of me. Not in a clearly binary way, but he desires and seeks romantic relationships that do not contain sex.

He has a family. He’s romantically connected to at least one person in that family. I don’t remember the details of it.

That’s a permutation of relationships that I never even dreamed I could be a part of it many years ago. It’s beautiful all the different ways I can relate to people now when I realize that relationships can contain those parts and that different relationships can contain those parts.

It’s to choose your own adventure. I feel like singles, especially ones who are seeking unconventional relationships, have this choose your own adventure opportunity. It’s nice to hear you say this in this positive-sum world because I don’t think that’s obvious. Here’s why. Many people want to ride the escalator because that’s the only way to do it in their opinion and experience.

They don’t know anyone else who’s not striving for the same thing. There is a subset of those people who would be better served. Relaxing some of the criteria for it. What you’re saying is, “Yes, most of the world wants this, but there’s a lot of other people out there who want various permutations, sex, romance and companionship.”

It is something that would better serve them. I have a great example, a friend of mine. When I met him, I was still on the relationship escalator. I hadn’t realized this disconnect between companionship, romance and sex. I believe they were all the same thing and I wanted all three things. This individual did not tick all of the traditional boxes, and then you discard them. You say, “I can’t have a relationship in the way I want, so they’re friends.” Back then, I would have said, “Just friend.”

I’m going to friend zone this person. That’s the other one that people say.

It is discounting. Now that I view the relationships that I have in this different light, I realize I can have that relationship with him in different permutations that serve us. Now all of my relationships are elevated because there isn’t this one that had to tick every box and sit on this pedestal above the others.

Before we go too deep into this, there is a class of people who are single by choice. They’re not seeking a relationship. We don’t know because the measurements are pretty blunt. We don’t know if they’re not seeking romance. They may be seeking an asexual relationship or some type of companionship that’s not classic friendship, an intimate, platonic, a cuddle buddy or something like that. I do want to point this out. You can imagine the classic loner. It doesn’t mean they’re aromantic necessarily, but romance is not something you need to live. You don’t need it to survive. It’s a value add.

In my twenties, I would have disagreed with you, but I agree with you now.

Moreover, there are a whole bunch of people who are not seeking any relationship. They’ve had romance in their life. They’ve had sexual intimacy. They’ve had the companionship of a “life partner.” For one reason or another, that doesn’t exist anymore. Their partner dies. They get divorced, whatever it is, and they’ve moved on from it. You wouldn’t classify that person as aromantic.

They have the potential for it. Maybe someone would come along and stir that up, but what you’re referring to in the same way that asexual is referred to is this lack of desire, biological, psychological and wired in some way, in the same way, that someone who is gay or lesbian might say, “I was born this way. I’m wired this way.”

We speak about that from our own experiences. There are little experts to no experts in this field. It’s not like this has been studied when you speak to people. They are speaking from what it feels like within them.

It’s shocking how little good information is there. I think it’s a nontrivial number of people. The best evidence for asexuals is 1 in 100. That’s not the highest. I suspect it’s higher. If you go off of that, 1% of people perhaps are aromantic.

Maybe the survey question needs to be, “Have you ever been told you’re like a robot?”

The problem is that it also correlates with other things that are there.

I did get told that. When I was in that relationship that I mentioned, the one that was everything that I had hoped and dreamed for, we were dating together and we were in a friend group. I bet if you ask those friends now, “Is it surprising to you that Jessalyn is aromantic?” They would all go, “No.” Looking back on those scenarios, I remember we might be in a bar having brunch, and this couple is all cuddled up and those public displays of affection.

I’ve done that. I’ll admit it.

Even when it’s not strong PDA, there’s this public display of romance. Even if it’s not physical touch and affection, there are public displays of romance that I rarely display with my partner. People would say, “We didn’t even realize you were dating.” The word robot would be used. If we want to do a survey to find out the 1 in 100, we ask, “Have you ever given the calculator or the spreadsheet? Have you been told you’re like a robot?”

I do like holding hands.

Until my hand gets sweaty, and then don’t touch me.

You hand over this calculation. Was that received warmly?

No.

Did you make your move? Does this person come with you? Did I misremember? You were moving to another country, and he’s like, “I want to go with you.”

We’ve covered at least 3 or 4 different relationships in my example. That one did not get a spreadsheet. That was the one where I said, “No.” I looked him in the eyes without any feeling of connecting to my heart in any way and said, “No.” He cried.

Of course, because he loved you. There’s loss there.

I can’t even pat him on the back. I don’t even know how to respond to it. There’s nothing in my core. It’s like I’m a computer program looking for the file that tells me how I respond, and I didn’t know. I just left the room.

Is that because of a lack of experience or a lack of intuition?

It’s more a feeling of not wanting to lead someone on. One of the difficult things about dating is when you tell someone that you are aromantic, many times, they don’t believe you. Back to the earlier comment, “You just haven’t met the right one.”

It’s hard because if you’re asexual and you tell someone, “I don’t have any inclination to have sex, arousal, all these things that, or you could even be repulsed by it.” It’s hard to know what that’s like because you’ve never experienced what that’s like. The best you can do is go, “You know what it is like when you’re stressed with school or work and your libido goes away. You’re not interested in going on a date. You need a quiet night to yourself. Imagine feeling that all the time.”

There’s a human component to knowing how to have empathy for people and being able to comfort them. At that age, I didn’t have that. I certainly have that now, but there’s a fine line that you’re going through in those dating experiences of wanting to be clear about who you are. I didn’t know that at the time, and I did not mislead that person into thinking there might be a chance.

What’s the dumb and dumber?

You’re saying there’s a chance. In this example, I didn’t leave the country for another 2 or 3 months. I still had to finish my contract. During that time, we stayed together and kept dating until I left. He would start doing these overly dramatic displays of affection like when Valentine’s Day came about, he got the limousine, a teddy bear, chocolates and a bracelet.

Knowing you, I can’t even imagine.

It’s horrifying, isn’t it?

He thinks that would work.

It was like he opened a book called things women like. It was like, “Page one, try this.” There’s a difference between displays of affection and love languages. You can have a love language with a friend, as an example. There’s a difference between that and experiencing romance, romantic love, and those sorts of things. It’s hard to disentangle those concepts. When I tell a lot of people that story about that guy, people don’t relate to my side of the story. They could picture themselves as that guy. As you said, “There is not an easy way for people to understand what that’s like to not experience it.” At the same time, I wish that you did and that’s just me.

There’s this feeling of missing out.

I’m like, “I wish I loved you, and it’s not just you.”

You’re like, “This could not happen with anyone.”

This can’t happen with anyone, and I wish it could.

Do you still wish it could?

With that person?

No, in general.

Let’s say there’s a 20% feeling. It still looks like a nice thing. We’re in the beautiful city of Lisbon. Walking around, I see these romantic couples having what looks like a beautiful time. Even when I’m with friends, I will look at that and go, “That looks nice.” I can do those things. I can go on dates, share romantic experiences, and have a little flavor for two hours before I say, “That was enough. I’m filled up.”

Seeing those movies like The Notebook, where these people had this romance all the way to the end. It looks like a nice thing. We also all know that those are rarely the actual story of the majority of people that enter romantic relationships and romantic marriages. As I get older, it drops more the desire that I wish I felt that way.

Have you had the heartbreak associated with the end of a romantic relationship?

Yes.

I like to talk about features and bugs. A bug might be a lack of romantic love in your life. The feature is the feeling of devastation that can happen when you’re rejected or there’s infidelity. I have experienced both. I experienced the joy and the wonder of falling in love with someone. Honestly, I put this heartbreak on the same scale of the grief that I have felt when I’ve lost a loved one. I’m not exaggerating when I say that.

It’s the physical symptoms, prolonged sadness, yearning and so on. People say that it’s better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all. There’s a part of me that goes, “I’m not sure.” There are times when I’m like, “I’m not sure that was worth it.” Maybe I have a different perspective now because I don’t think of the end of a relationship as a failure per se. You said you had that heartbreak.

20/20 vision is fantastic because I can reflect back on a thing now and tell you what I think about it now. At the time, what I felt I was experiencing was heartbreak. Have I experienced heartbreak? Yes, because, at that moment, that’s what I thought it was. Now, when I look back and reflect on it, the times that I felt were what I know now as a feeling of failure, a feeling of when is it going to be my time, when will my turn arrive? It wasn’t necessarily loved that I was feeling heartbreak specifically about that person, but I felt I wanted romance. Why can’t I have it? When will it be my time? It is like a mourning and a deep grieving feeling for romance as a concept.

Let’s continue your evolution because this is useful. As we talk about your story, people are learning stuff along the way. You start to have this revelation. In the last few years, you have embraced this as part of your identity. I assume it affects the way you go about dating, who you date, and how you communicate with these people. How so?

I have a dating profile on Tinder. You’ve seen my Tinder profile.

Not on Tinder.

You’ve reviewed it. You’ve given me feedback.

I’ve done some punch-ups.

It doesn’t say on there that I am aromantic. It’s not a thing that I’m hiding. It’s more that people don’t understand it. It will cause confusion. It’s not worth explaining until I’ve even had a couple of dates with someone and see if it’s worth it.

Also, when I share a perspective about dating apps and profiles. That is A, keep it positive and B, talk about what you want rather than what you don’t want.

I wouldn’t say I don’t want romance but I like what I do want. Dating is tough in the sense that most people are looking for their one and only forever person.

Their ride or die, their partner in crime, their person, their forever, or even their better half.

You’ve done an episode about Relationship Anarchy before. I’m not going to go into the depths of relationship anarchy. There is an episode for that, but I am also a relationship anarchist, which further complicates dating. We’re going to try to zone in on the aromantic component for now. The relationship anarchy component is the one that makes dating more difficult and being non-monogamous.

For a person who’s reading this now who hasn’t read that, this is an approach to relationships in which the people involved agree on the rules, expectations and parameters of the relationship. You get to design. I call it relationship design. I don’t want to mansplain this but if you’re reading this, and please fill in the details, you get to design. The difficulty in that is you have to have these honest conversations. Most people are not well versed and they’re not adept at articulating what they want.

We don’t have good language in words to even describe it.

I am pursuing this in my own life. It’s empowering and exciting, but it’s not a script. You and I could have this because we have some experience. We know about it. We have a lot of the language and so on, but when you’re introducing a new person to it, they need to be open-minded. They need to be good communicators. They have to have some insight into what they want and what they don’t want.

I have to be in the mood and willing to do the emotional and mental labor to bring them along.

You’re often doing this early. Sometimes even before you’re sure that you want something with them and so on.

I have to decide how much labor to put in. The reason this distinction of relationship anarchy is relevant is because every aromantic person’s experience is different. We’re just speaking about mine. You could meet an aromantic person who’s not a relationship anarchist. Most are probably not. They are seeking a person to be with that is a companion. This aromantic person might be a sexual person. They might be monogamous. You could have a monogamous sexual aromantic person that wishes to find a person and be married to them for the rest of their life.

They may like some romantic experiences along the way.

Maybe none. My relationship with anarchy and nonmonogamy add another layer of complexity to all the different components.

One quick PSA, I don’t know the correlations between being asexual and aromantic. Don’t assume that just because someone is asexual, they’re aromantic. If someone is a romantic, don’t assume they’re asexual. Hearing you say this is interesting because you’re pointing out rightly the challenges of doing this, and yet you see the world in a positive-sum. You think of abundance rather than scarcity. How do you reconcile the challenge and this abundance focus?

I view every relationship as being valuable to me. Because of the relationship anarchy, I have effectively said that there will not be a single relationship in my life that takes priority over all of them so I need to find this one thing that can be put on the pedestal because nobody is put on the pedestal. I have these two friends that are married. They live across the street from me. They are family to me.

I have keys to their apartment. They have keys to my apartment. The man in the relationship even jokes openly that I’m like his second wife. If that was the only relationship I had for the rest of my life, I would be completely satisfied. Any addition to my life or any new relationship is a positive experience. There’s a limited amount of time in my days. It’s not like I can add an endless number of people to it.

You have a lot of love to give. It is something that I talk about a lot.

I live in Amsterdam. I live in Europe now. I’ve been here for five years. I joke that I’ve fled the United States and that relationship to rediscover myself and my purpose in life when being married was no longer the purpose. I’ve been enjoying that journey. What I have found, and I’m going to make a generalization that is simply based on my experience so far.

I know exactly what you’re going to say, “The Europeans are better about this than Americans.”

The Dutch and the Germans are much better. This isn’t a thing I say, but other people say, “Dating Germans is like dating robots.” I’m like, “Sign me up.” They’re not like that, but it’s culturally.

We’re not dating Germans at all. You’re not going to get a lot of robots. They don’t need this show as much as my American counterparts.

I love dating the Germans. There is a more open attitude toward designing relationships in a way that you want, but there’s also a different cultural experience of how people express romantic feelings and romantic experiences with each other. I picked a great part of Europe to flourish.

Did you choose it for that reason or were you pleasantly surprised?

I was pleasantly surprised. This is quite complex because of the relationship anarchy component. I’ve been quite pleased to find in Europe that the fact that I’m aromantic is a non-issue. I’m not criticized for it. It doesn’t come up. Nobody says to me, “Jessalyn, I need more romantic attention from you. I don’t feel that I’m getting this thing from you.” It works fine.

It certainly works better if you’re non-monogamous. A lot of monogamous people are looking for that one person to do those three things, companionship, sex and romance. If you’re non-monogamous, then you can have some people for the sex, some people for the sex and romance, and maybe even some people for just the romance in a sense. It removes some of the pressure. You’re like, “You’re going to be this connection in my life.”

It’s a relatable, funny story, the one you told earlier about the women gathering together that you had and how you’d been romantically or sexually attached to a number of them before. Sometime in 2021, I was at a get-together at the apartment of a man that I dated in the Netherlands. There was he and five women. We were staging it because of COVID.

I forget what the reason for the gathering was, but I had a lovely couple of hours with him in these four other women. As I was riding my bicycle home, I laughed to myself when I realized the composition of women that were in that room. There was this man that I had a sexual friendship with. There’s no romance attached to that relationship. Two of the other women in the room are lesbian friends of his who were pregnant with his baby or his spawn, as I say. He has no parental rights. He’s just the contributor of the sperm.

There is that lesbian couple, and one of them was pregnant. There was another woman in the room that is his girlfriend with whom he shared romance and sex, and there was another woman in the room that was his ex-girlfriend. There is no more sex or romance. I’m like, “All flavors are in the room together.” It didn’t even occur to me until I was leaving.

I bet he’s a charming fellow.

He’s very charming. I love that I now live in a world where it didn’t even occur to me, and it’s beautiful.

The word that comes to mind is liberating. Let’s talk through a little bit of the blocking and tackling. Let’s set aside the anarchy stuff. That’s a next-level type. For the aromantics out there, I’m sure there are some. Some of them might be realizing for the first time that they are aromantic, not even knowing that it was a possibility. They always thought there was something wrong with their wiring. What advice do you have for them? Where do they begin as they contemplate this part of their persona?

They can find one of the seven people. Nik Hampshire is the one I enjoy. He has only ten videos. They’re quite short and informative. He’s warm and welcoming to the idea, even though we don’t experience romantic love, we still know what society expects of romance. When somebody is feeling a certain way, maybe they have romantic feelings for us, but we don’t feel them back, we understand how that feels for them and why they would be sad about it. It’s not like we have some complete ignorance.

There are enough stories out there to know that they could feel rejected.

It’s a thing I wanted at one point. Just hearing the word aromantic already enough, something clicked for me. There are some interesting websites. In your episode on asexuality, there may have been a reference to this website. It’s the AVEN, Asexual Visibility and Education Network. Somewhere within that content, you can find references and content to aromanticism.

I am sexual and aromantic. Some people might be asexual and aromantic, or they might be asexual and romantic. That website touches on a lot of that. That’s where I spent a lot of my time. I was reading through other people’s experiences, and all of this checkbox is going off, “This is all relatable. That is exactly what I’ve experienced.” Every person’s story is different. It’s not like, “That’s a complete replica.” That was where I spent a lot of my time and started becoming comfortable that aromantic was right because you’ll also find it on those websites a lot of other terms.

I have a bunch of them listed here. I’ve been reluctant to go through them all because you can get your head spinning.

I felt that because there was a period of time when I thought, “Maybe I’m bisexual. Maybe I’m a lesbian. Maybe it’s because I’ve been dating men. Maybe that’s it.”

As a younger man, when I was struggling to make the relationship escalator work, I never felt an attraction to men. I never thought about a man while I masturbated. I sat down and thought about it. I was like, “Am I gay?” I owed it to myself. Should I explore this idea because I’m “failing” according to the norms of the world with these women? It’s deep down inside me. I’m pushing it down. I’m suppressing and whatever. The answer was no. I allowed myself to contemplate it, but the triggering factor was the challenge.

I wish I was a lesbian or bisexual. Women are babes. I wish that I was attracted to them. I’m just not and I’ve tried.

What about talking to your partners, talking to your friends, perhaps telling your family if it’s relevant? You were saying that your family is accepting of whoever you are. You have that fortunate state.

I randomly talk about stuff.

You could give people this episode. It wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

The talking to your partner one is interesting because when I was having this discovery, I was in a relationship with the one that by all accounts should have been the outcome of one and only forever or my better half.

In your case, the other half.

That conversation is difficult because when you’ve been in a relationship with somebody where you’ve been saying, “I love you,” I don’t want to say it’s a performing romance, but in a way, it’s a display of performance. It seems like you knew that you were faking it at the time, which I didn’t. I was following the romance script that society had given me.

If all of a sudden, one day you say to your partner, “I don’t have this type of love for you,” that could be heartbreaking for someone, especially if the whole time you’ve been saying this other thing or displaying things in a way. I think that was the most difficult conversation for me. I found it easier to talk to friends that were in the LGBTQ community that has gone through what we described as these periods of uncertainty, exploration and questioning.

New identity building.

They may not be people that arrived at an outcome of being a romantic but they know what it’s like to cycle through, “Is it this?” Those are good people to reach out to. You don’t want to burden a single person with their emotional labor. I do find that a lot of people that have been through this before enjoy sharing that experience with other people to help them.

They had people who advised them. Two other things. What’s more likely to be the case than someone being aromantic is that you know someone who is, and if you’re reading this, how do you go about supporting an aromantic friend, lover or family member?

If somebody is aromantic, I’m not speaking for everybody, there’s a greater likelihood that they have elevated your relationship together. It is an incredibly high value to them. It’s probably of high value to you as well. The best way I can describe this is with an example. When I tell people, “I’m doing this thing, I’m having this event, I’m celebrating this thing, and I want you to be there,” it means a lot to me that you do come. Many times people are dismissive or dispose of invitations to things that aren’t from an aromantic or asexual partner.

I would say the times in my life that I’ve felt the worst being aromantic were those times that I told people, “I want to celebrate this thing. It’s important to me that you’re there to celebrate it with me.” If they said they couldn’t come, I can’t be mad later, but they’re saying they can come but something better came along, “My husband’s parents are coming.”

The flakiness factor. Those are the moments when I feel the worst like, “I wish I was a romantic person so I have that one.” It’s like somehow being romantic is the one thing that you have to have in common to be a reliable person. If you have any romantic friends, understand that there’s a heightened level of being let down if you’re flaky.

In part because of a flatter hierarchy.

To me, that is the way my friends can support me. The other one I think we touched on a few times. Don’t say things like, “You just haven’t met the right one.” It’s insensitive. You can ask questions. Those are always fine. I don’t mind being asked, “Did you ever consider that this was it? How did you figure out that that wasn’t it?” That’s a valid question. It’s asking about my experience of discovering from A to B.

I’ll add one, and this works for almost anything. You say, “Jessalyn, how can I support you?” There are different ways to support people. They might say, “I need someone to talk to. I don’t need anything. I just wanted you to know. Can you help me get some help?” It is asking someone that.

There’s a related point that I want to touch on, which comes up in the discussion briefly. I don’t think we’ll get into it in-depth. Some people will ask, “Are aromantics LGBTQ?” Nik Hampshire on YouTube has a video about this. You can go watch that. Many people that are gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans have experienced oppression in their life, like societal oppression and many things that they’ve needed to fight back against. I don’t know every aromantic person in the world. The people that do put out content about this will largely say, “I’ve not ever felt oppressed or in any way made less than in society because I’m aromantic.” That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. There’s this sort of weird feeling.

It might be a little bit on an island. It’s a big tent but there’s little known about this relative to these other identities and experiences that there’s still a lot unknown.

I don’t seek out community. I don’t need a group of people because back to the oppression part, it’s cool to talk to people about it.

You might fit or you might not fit with that community if you’re seeking support.

I do talk to that community and my friends about aromanticism.

My guess is that the community is more supportive than the escalator.

Back to the point about if you’re unsure, that’s a great community to talk to because they’ve been through the experience of questioning. My point to your question about how can someone help? Sometimes it’s not the help that I need per se or feeling like I’m less than in society. That’s the way that I am. I love that we had this conversation. I think we’ve covered a lot of great points.

I brought this up to connect the earlier episode to this one because they’re both understudy and important. Also, single people are more likely to be aromantic or asexual because it can inhibit the typical progression that happens that is there.

They might be feeling rejected by partners or society. They typically could be single.

Thanks so much.

Thank you.

Cheers.

 

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About Jessalyn Dean

SOLO 126 | AttractionJessalyn Dean is a financial literacy and tax consultant currently based in Amsterdam. She spent her teenage years and 20’s searching for “the one” only to realize once she found him that it wasn’t what she was meant for. Jessalyn got off the relationship escalator in 2017 and now lives her life as an aromantic relationship anarchist by using autonomy as a compass and removing hierarchy from all of her relationships. She is currently working towards early retirement and traveling full time as a solo nomad.

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