Romantic Orientation 101

6 Jan

This is the post I should have written before my last one. The technical definition of (a)romantic is interesting, but only for people who are already informed about that aspect of asexual theory. This post is for all you poly and kinky people who have no idea what this idea of romantic orientation is.

AVENwiki defines romantic orientation this way:

Romantic orientation refers to an individual’s pattern of romantic attraction to men, women, neither gender, either gender, or another gender.

This concept came about due to a subset of asexual people who, while they didn’t desire a sexual relationship, nonetheless wanted to establish romantic relationships, often with a specific gender. The traditional sexual orientation labels are obviously insufficient to describe such a person, so a parallel series of romantic orientation labels was added. Thus, someone might be asexual and homoromantic, or asexual and panromantic, and so on. The parallel to “asexual” in this schema is “aromantic”, someone who doesn’t experience romantic attraction to anyone.

This is obviously crucial for the asexual community, as this is often the only criteria for choosing romantic partners. But I think that sexuals, especially in the polyamorous community, could also stand to gain a great deal by considering this model.

Recognizing the equal legitimacy but different features of romantic and aromantic people is by itself, quite helpful. One of the problems that led to J and I separating is our mismatch in romantic intensity. It went unnoticed for a long time, because I was willing to do things that I knew would make her happy, but ultimately I was not romantic enough for her, and she was too romantic for me. Poly people are all about knowing oneself and one’s partners, and this gives us another thing to add to the list of considerations and negotiation topics. Aromantic people shouldn’t be scolded for not being romantic enough, but neither should romantic people be deprived of their romantic needs and desires. Luckily, a romantic/aromantic match is not nearly as problematic in a poly relationship as in a monogamous relationship, as the romantic person is free to seek outside romance, but that is a need that it is useful to identify and work to fulfill.

Another important consideration, in my opinion far too under-appreciated in the poly community, is the possibility of compartmentalized orientations. (I believe I stole that word from Asexual Curiosities, but I’m not sure.) [Edit: slightlymetaphysical informs me in the comments that this is a misuse of the term. Help me come up with a better term?] If it’s possible to be asexual and homoromantic, then it is probably possible to be heterosexual and homoromantic, or any other combination. J, in fact, is currently wondering if her longtime identification as pansexual (or bisexual, in the past) is a misinterpretation of a more complicated compartmentalized orientation. Being able to identify compartmentalization seems like it would be quite useful in a poly context. We are all about getting different sexual and emotional needs fulfilled by different people, and this offers us a way to think about that. Someone who is solely sexually attracted to women might find that they are deeply interested in a non-sexual romantic connection with a man, and possibly even not interested in such a relationship with a woman (or any other combination). I have heard lots of stories of people who had very meaningful life relationships with their non-sexual metamours, and I wonder if some of that is due to straight people being homoromantic, and that sort of thing.

Moving past the “simple” labels of gay/straight/pan and to a more nuanced model that considers sexual and romantic attraction separately is a great analytical tool, and offers new possibilities for poly people to discover new and better ways of organizing their romantic and sexual lives to best fulfill the needs of everyone involved. My next few posts will be on demisexuality, negotiated platonic relationships, and community-based intimacy, all of which I believe offer even more tools for the poly toolkit.

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2 Responses to “Romantic Orientation 101”

  1. amnesiac January 6, 2011 at 8:37 pm #

    I just wanted to let you know that I have struggled for years with the term bisexuality or pansexuality, as they always seemed to be the closest of any existant terms that I could identify with, but they both felt wrong.

    What a simple notion, that we can use more than one word to define ourselves. So simple that it never occured to me. I am homosexual and biromantic. That makes so much more sense to me.

    Thanks!

  2. slightlymetaphysical January 9, 2011 at 2:11 pm #

    Hello, again. Good description of what romantic attraction is, and why the idea of one person having lots of orientations is important. I’m thrilled to bits that people like you and the commenter abover are finding this stuff useful. As soon as I’m off my cutting-down-on-blogging spell, I’ll link my readers over to this site.

    Compartmentalised was one of my coinings. I used it in a slightly different way from you, just talking about the model where people have lots of orientations, rather than people who’s orientations don’t align. But then, the word I’ve heard for that is ‘mismatched orientations’, which I don’t really like, for obvious reasons.

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