My relationship with love is deeply influenced by my asexuality and aromanticism, resulting in a complicated, confusing, contradictory mess. It means both a lot and a little to me; I like and dislike considering my thoughts, feelings, and experiences to be love; and outside of aspec spaces I’m rarely included in conversations about love that allow me to fully express myself. Where do I even begin?
Society often treats “love” as interchangeable with “sex/romance”, and from that point of view, everything’s simple: I don’t feel love. However, in aspec spaces, we often see a distinction between these concepts, which adds a bit of complexity. We can talk about multiple types of love, like sexual love, romantic love, platonic love, familial love, and more, and then make a checklist of which ones we feel, right? Except, putting feelings into discrete boxes doesn’t always work, and it’s not always clear that a particular feeling should even go into a box labelled “____ love”. In fact, I often go back and forth and contradict myself over whether something “is” or “does” or “should” or “can” count as “love”.
I’ve felt platonic and familial love before, but those moments when my subconscious decides with utmost conviction yes, this is love; yes, I deeply love you right now are few and far between. Outside of those moments, I don’t concern myself with the question is this love?; I’d much rather use other words to describe my feelings of care and affection towards people.
But at the same time, I like the particular way in which it’s slowly becoming socially acceptable to say “I love you” to friends, because it allows me to influence how society thinks about love. I like it because it’s a way to demonstrate care and affection towards friends without suggesting that the recipient is tantamount to a romantic partner without the romance. I like being able to tell my friends that I love them and have it be understood that my love is not a totality, that it’s not in pursuit of a partnership. My love has the space to be casual, it doesn’t have to be intensely deep, and I think that’s great.
When it’s understood to be platonic, I like being on the receiving end of “I love you” from close friends. However, I have difficulty saying “I love you”, and I don’t really know why. It might have to do with the relationship between me, society, being aroace, partnerships, and love; I want to be able to love my friends in the way that feels most natural to me without being locked into a partnership, but despite the slow shift in meaning and usage, the phrase “I love you” might be too entrenched in the idea of monogamous sexual/romantic partnerships for me to comfortably use it. My difficulty might have to do with how, even when a close family member says “I love you”, I don’t always think of responding with “I love you, too”; I’ve gotten a bit better at saying it, but only after a lot of conscious effort to respond “properly”, and I tend to be the second person to say it, not the first. My difficulty might have to do with something else entirely, or it might be a combination of those and other things. The asymmetry in saying or hearing “I love you” definitely adds some confusion and complication to my relationship with love, but it’s mostly isolated to that one phrase.
Regardless of whether it’s easy for me to tell them or not, the friends and family that make up the people that I love matter quite a lot to me. So when people try to exclude me from the idea of “love”, it hurts because they’re delegitimizing my feelings. They’re saying that they don’t “count”, likely with the unstated implication that my feelings are “less powerful/important”, simply because my feelings don’t fit into the conventional narrative of what love should be and look like. It hurts because, while not everyone shares this sentiment with me, my potential to love and the fact that I do sometimes love is meaningful to me on a very personal level.
But at the same time, that ability to call my feelings “love”, my connection to love, is only important on that personal level. In other contexts, it feels like my love exists on the same level of not-super-important as most other things about me, instead of being placed high upon a pedestal. When someone suggests that love is in some way a core component of being human, I’ll lean as far as I can into how my asexuality and aromanticism disconnect me from love to try to get them to stop their dehumanization, to realize that their rhetoric and way of thinking hurts real people. I don’t consider it voidpunk per se, since the focus isn’t about rejecting my own humanity; rather, it’s just a peculiar instinct to put myself directly in harms way in the hopes that doing so will stop the harm altogether. And when people insist that I can still feel platonic love, when they deny me my agency to opt out of the idea of love, I disavow any platonic or familial love to lean even farther into my disconnection from love. At the end of the day, I wouldn’t exactly call myself a loveless aro, but I so readily group myself with them when they face dehumanization that I wouldn’t really call myself the opposite of “loveless”, either.