Feb 14, 2018

What does love feel like? Does it feel like the rush of blood when you see someone special? Is it a sudden tough yet pleasant feeling within your chest? Is it a warm feeling as if the sun kisses you gently? Does it resemble an electric feeling when two knees (or shoulders) touch together? Does it feel like an andante or a staccato? Or is it really a vague feeling in your gut that we call “butterflies in the stomach?” And now that I think of it, why does it have to feel like butterflies and not bees? Those assumptions could probably be all right or maybe they’re all wrong. If you’d ask me, I would never know what to say because I have never fallen in love—or to be more correct, I have never felt romantic attraction.

Everyone around me seems to have caught the lovebug at one point in their lives—a batchmate who rekindled with an old friend and fell in love, two friends who have been into different relationships before realizing their attraction towards one another, a relationship powered by a dating app, the list goes on. Then, there’s me, a “loveless” 22-year-old who would happily listen to all those romantic stories.

My inability to feel romantic attraction doesn’t mean that I wish to spend my whole life alone. Photo from Happy Together, courtesy of Screen Musings

My lack of romantic feelings is a fact, but it would be a lie if I would say that I have never felt something close to romantic attraction: a crush. Still though, I’ve only had two crushes in my life. The first one was towards my childhood friend. I was just around six years old then, but I knew that what I felt was a crush. She transferred to a different school and she brought what I felt away with her. I went on with life and never recognized that feeling again until my early 20s. This time, it was an attraction to a stranger at first sight. I never really got to interact with him, but it was too intense that I always get nervous for no reason. But then, the intensity dwindled until it’s gone. Was it a waste? I guess not. As my feelings for them dissipate, I realized that they have also taken away that ability to be attracted. I realized that it’s, after all, not a romantic attraction, but a desire for friendship, an interest to explore their thoughts, and an admiration that is beyond romance.

“Oliver, your feelings are shy,” a friend said when I told her how oblivious I am when it comes to the recognition of romantic love. “I feel like I’m not inclined to that feeling, but maybe it’s also because I never seriously liked someone. Maybe it’s just a matter of circumstances, too,” I said. I believe that none of my two attractions worked because (1) the friendship is too important to waste on romantic love and (2) the attraction is not genuine enough for a much deeper pursuit. “I think you have to follow what’s natural. You can’t force feelings and actions, so I think it’s fine to be too careful until you’re not,” she advised. She’s right that romance must develop naturally, but I don’t think my feelings are shy or I’m afraid to love. It’s really just that I don’t feel romantic attraction towards anyone.

The lack of romantic attraction does not mean that I don’t swoon over romantic stories. I also take delight in listening to romantic songs, reading stories about love, and watching films like James Ivory’s Maurice.

To be honest, I never really found the need to confront my feelings toward my lack of romantic attraction. Now that I’m writing about it, it’s quite difficult to comprehend my feelings and the lack of it. I thought that it could be an asexual tendency, but it seems to be more accurate to call it an aromantic tendency. Aromanticism, simply put, is when one does not experience romantic attraction. Aromantics still love, but the love they feel is filial. While they do not experience romantic attraction, aromantics could still seek partnership and physical affection. Often, friendship is enough for them. But there is also a term called “queerplatonic” relationship. It’s not exactly a romantic bond, but the parties involved feel a deep connection towards one another. Or in Carly Rae Jepsen’s words, “We’re not lovers, but more than friends.”

I am not exactly sure if it’s right to consider myself aromantic, but it seems like it’s where I stand. One time, I tweeted that romantic love is a social construct, an easy way to live life. If you decide to go on without romance, people may question you as if you’re breaking rules. It’s as if you’re not normal when you don’t experience romantic love. It’s as if they’re telling you that finding your one true romantic love is the ultimate aspiration in life. Elizabeth Brake, author of the book Minimizing Marriage, says that our twisted ideas about romance are encapsulated in the term amatonormativity:

“The assumption that a central, exclusive, amorous relationship is normal for humans, in that it is a universally shared goal, and that such a relationship is normative, in the sense that it should be aimed at in preference to other relationship types” which results in “the sacrifice of other relationships to romantic love and marriage and relegates friendship and solitudinousness to cultural invisibility.”

I don’t aspire to be in a romantic relationship simply because I have never felt romantic attraction towards anyone. At times, I wish some lines I saw in film would figure itself in a conversation one day. After watching the film adaptation of Brooklyn, for example, I thought it would be apt to say the line of Saoirse Ronan’s Eilis that goes like this: “I didn’t really know what to say, but I know what to say now. I have thought about you and I like you and I like being with you. And maybe I feel the same way. So the next time you tell me you love me, if there is a next time, I’ll say I love you, too.” I have also always wondered what it would feel like to be involved in a summer fling as that of Oliver and Elio in Call Me By Your Name. Or Celine and Jesse’s brief snatches of romance in Richard Linklater’s Before series. But there was never a chance. And it’s okay.

I may lack the ability to recognize romantic love or to even engage in it, but that doesn’t mean that I despise love. I believe in love. I believe in the passage from Corinthians about the qualities of love—that it is patient and kind. I celebrate all kinds of love. I’m happy for those who find love and I still get kilig when I see lovely couples, but I also don’t find romance necessary for living. If anything, it’s just a dash of salt to an already flavorful dish.

So, what is it like to live without romance? Well, it’s nothing really special, but I guess it feels good.

Header image courtesy of Screen Musings

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Basagan ng trip: The problem with Valentine’s Day
On lonely nights, I chat with strangers on Omegle

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