A lot of people picture romantic love as beautiful and passionate. There are scenes of people holding hands, doing sweet things for each other, and otherwise being cute and lovey. It’s all a mask, you know. I’ve seen the other side of it, and it’s one of the ugliest things I’ve ever had the misfortune to lay eyes on.
No, I’m not a rejected lover. I’m aromantic, which means I never fell for it in the first place. I don’t experience romantic feelings at all. In fact, the very thought of being romantically involved with someone turns my stomach. It’s a Clockwork Orange type reaction, where the guy was brainwashed to fall ill whenever he heard a certain song. In my case, it happens every time I try to picture myself in a relationship.
I can remember the day that my aromantic feelings first came to the surface. It was in ninth grade health class when the teacher gave us a marriage and family unit. Of course it was a bunch of heteronormative bullshit. There was no mention of gay and lesbian relationships, and there certainly was no discussion about asexuality and aromanticism. In fact, we were told that such things were wrong and unnatural.
The day it happened was the day of the unit test. The teacher asked a completely inappropriate test question. He wanted to know what we looked for in a life partner. I felt my ears burn, then my shoulders tightened with rage. It took everything I had not to rip up my test right there and walk out, after a good smack across his busybody face. I was pretty sure answering, “I don’t want a romantic partner,” would be considered a wrong answer. The audacity of the question was more than I could handle, and I put, in bold letters, “None of your damn business!” He didn’t dare mark it wrong.
He was popular in the middle school, but I couldn’t stand that teacher. He used to show those stupid Mormon and Christian videos in class where everything is predictable and stupid, and it’s supposed to provoke an emotional reaction. Really stupid shit like “the Mailbox” and “the Gandy Dancer.” (Google them and you’ll see how stupid they really are.) And he’d cry every time.
According to some of the teachers, this guy liked to hand out gardenias to the girls at graduation and cry. It’s not the only reason I didn’t attend the ninth grade graduation ceremony, but it was a big one. I left school two days early and remember rejoicing because I wouldn’t have to deal with him or his flowers. (Being agender and being forced into a female role didn’t help.)
I’ve hated him ever since he asked that test question. He was one of those sappy sorts who believed that there is someone out there for everyone, even the ones who don’t want a partner in the first place. According to him, it was unavoidable destiny, and everyone eventually fell into the trap. Sometimes I wish I could go back to that school, find that teacher, and say, “Ha, ha! My very existence proves you wrong!”
So what made me aromantic? Was I born this way? To be honest, I don’t think so, in my case. There were plenty of experiences to make me hate romance. Let’s start in the obvious place.
I remember the night of the Big Fight well. We were eating dinner, and Mom and Dad were firing nasty jabs at each other over the table. This soon turned into a yelling match, which didn’t provoke much of a reaction from me because they had been screaming at each other for years now. Tonight, however, the yelling became so loud that the windows literally rattled in their frames.
I remember going to my room without a word. No one said goodnight, no one bothered to see if I went to bed. They were too busy yelling at each other. The fight eventually moved into the bedroom, where it got even louder, if you can imagine. Eventually Mom kicked Dad out.
It was late at night when he came into my room holding his hairbrush and toilet kit. He told me that he was going away, and he was going to live at Audrey and Leo’s house. He spoke of these people as if I knew who they were, which I didn’t. I’d never heard the names before. Not that he gave a damn.
The next day, and for several days after this, I got angry with people who were trying to convince me that it wasn’t my fault. Of course it wasn’t my fault! I never thought it was in the first place! Dad was the one who moved out, not me! So where were the adults getting this from?
Strike one for romance. Mom and Dad were supposed to be in love, but they weren’t. No, Dad had to go and get together with some college student half his age while he was still married to Mom. He once tried to convince me of all the reasons why he did it, but it didn’t take away from the fact that he not only cheated on Mom, he exposed her to whatever germs he caught from his girlfriend. He could see that he wasn’t convincing me, so he stopped.
But that wasn’t the end of it. No, he had to parade his girlfriend in front of us for three years. He decided to move across the country with her, and we rarely saw him after that. Of course, it served him right when she dumped him and he was forced to move out of her house.
Dad decided that he was going to come back to the family, his tail tucked between his legs, but he had ulterior motives. I guess being dumped by his girlfriend was a blow to his ego, and he had to build himself up again by cutting us down. The person who came back was a monster, whom I have already described countless times.
The way he treated Mom was appalling. He was constantly insulting her, forcing her to walk on eggshells for fear that he would explode. He never hit her, but his words were just as bad. It was a complete nightmare for everyone involved, and I was convinced that Mom would eventually dump him again. But she didn’t.
She didn’t leave him when he yelled at the whole family for four hours for leaving him “the ugly pieces” of taffy, or when he screamed for two hours that his kids should refer to their parents as “sir” and “ma’am.” She didn’t leave him when he made me stand at attention for over an hour and smacked me whenever I scratched at flea bites. She didn’t leave when he dislocated my shoulder and beat the shit out of me for forgetting a note from school. Nor did she go when he slapped me out of my chair for messing up on my decimals homework. Or the time he hit me in the face right in front of her.
Why? I knew why. I’d found the letter years ago. She once wrote it to Dad but never gave it to him. In the letter, she spent a lot of time talking about settling some of the problems they’d had for so long, all the while dropping hints that she wanted to be romantically involved again. He did these things to her and her kids, and she still thought she loved him! I had no escape. No one did.
As I type these words, I still feel the rage that I felt when I really thought about that letter. I was being abused because of love. I was being beaten and verbally punched because she didn’t want to leave her childhood sweetheart. Because love conquers all, I guess. Strike two for romance.
But that was abuse, you say. Not all romance is like that. Maybe you think it’s not romance at all, and you’d be right. It was some sick perversion of romance. It’s what happens to romance when you leave it out in the sun too long and it turns rancid.
I don’t even like being hugged, because Dad made that poison, too. He used to demand hugs and kisses, and if you refused, he would get angry and physically force it, sometimes to the point of physically hurting the target to get their affection. This often happened after an abuse session, when he insisted that a hug and kiss would make it all better. Now they feel dirty to me.
Don’t hug me. Don’t kiss me. Don’t touch my hands. Just don’t.
Dad had a way of making everything feel dirty. I remember him cracking jokes about me being pregnant someday. He said he wanted to be there to see me give birth because he wanted to see how funny I was in transition labor. I felt sick that night.
The psycho was a big contributor to my aromanticism, but he’s not the only one. There have been many times I’ve had promises broken, or I’ve been left holding the bag, because someone put their romantic partner before anything else. And these weren’t just annoying, trivial things, either. There are many times I’ve been left virtually treading water and desperately trying to keep my head above it because someone I counted on wasn’t there. I don’t know how many times I’ve been screwed for the sake of “love.” Strike three, you're out!
Mom once asked me what was wrong with that? Why was it wrong for someone to put their romantic partner before anything else? She thought it was a beautiful thing. Yeah… That explains a lot.
Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with being devoted to your romantic partner. There is nothing wrong with loving them deeply, but when you start doing what I describe above for the sake of that person, something has gone wrong. You don’t screw over or abandon people for the sake of your lover. That’s not love, that’s selfishness.
Yeah, I guess it makes me a little aromantic. It gives me that Clockwork Orange nausea reaction. It makes me want to punch a certain man who cries over sappy movies. Because I’ve seen under that heart-shaped mask, and it’s really ugly under there.