I’m currently hanging out with a man I work with, “Steve,” and while at first it started out romantically, it felt forced and I didn’t feel comfortable at all. I explained to him that I’m aromantic, and while he still seems somewhat confused, he’s been ok with toning things down. I’m really enjoying what we have now and have realized that I just want a close friend to have sex with. Ideally, I would like one sexual partner if possible.
The problem is that I’m afraid that Steve wants more but is settling for what I can give him because he likes me so much. I’ve tried discussing it several times, but he usually dismisses it (he’s younger and may not think this is an issue for now). I’m also afraid of what my family and friends will think if I “come out” as aromantic. Should I tell my family and friends, all of whom I’m very close to, or is it my business to keep? And would adult men really just want a friend with benefits situation with one person? Is it fair to ask a man to be sexually monogamous but stay friends? — A Newly-Minted Aromantic
It’s always fair to ask for what you want and what you’re looking for in a relationship (and, yes, of course there are men, like you, who want monogamous FWB situations). It’s more than fair to state up front what you know about yourself — in your case, that you’re aromantic — and what your needs and desires are (and they may change, and that’s OK, too, as long as you are honest with whomever you’re intimately involved with). But just because you are honest about what you’re looking for and what you’re willing to give in a relationship doesn’t always mean that a potential match will be as honest with himself or with you about whether he can meet your needs and whether what you are offering of yourself best meets his needs. And that’s why it’s important to trust your gut and to continually “check the temperature” of your relationship.
It sounds like you are trying to check the temperature by your multiple attempts to discuss the status of your relationship with Steve, and he is continually blowing you off. His dismissal — and outright rejection — of your attempts to get on the same page, so to speak, is not a blanket acceptance of your relationship. It is an avoidance of getting on the same page. And if someone is actively avoiding being on the same page as you, it’s because… well, the two of you simply aren’t on the same page.
Trust your gut on this one. It almost always has your back. (And not for nothing, but it’s always a wise idea to avoid relationship drama with co-workers…).
As for “coming out” as aromantic to friends and family, I would do so only if you feel moved to share that bit of information about yourself. It sounds as if you have a sense of relief over “solving this life-long question” as you put it, and it would seem natural that you would want to share that relief — and maybe excitement? — with those closest to you. And that’s fine. But I would start with the people you think would be the most supportive and the least judgmental about your newly-defined identity. This might eliminate, say, your parents, who could have their own biases that might limit their enthusiasm for you. For example, they may have a long-held desire for you to marry and have children and might find your identifying as aromantic to greatly reduce the odds of that ever happening. Their initial reaction to your news could be sadness or expressions of grief, so tell them the news when you’re in a position to better deal with that. If you want the initial reaction to your news to be more supportive or even celebratory (“Yay! You figured out what you’re looking for!”), choose carefully whom to “come out” to first. And if you don’t feel moved to share the news with loved ones, you, of course, are under no obligation to. This is your business. Share it only if and when you want to.
I think for as much as you wish Zach’s dad respected Zach’s boundaries, you need to respect Zach’s boundaries, too, and that means not communicating with his parents. I’m sure that feels uncomfortable for someone who comes from a respectful and loving family with normal boundaries, expectations, and behavior, but for whatever reason that is not Zach’s family, and it’s not your job to make it like yours (or to “fix it.”). What IS your job, as Zach’s girlfriend, is to support him and to continue building a relationship based on trust, shared values, and common goals for the future.
Support Zach by respecting his boundaries and STOP communicating with his parents behind his back. De-friend them on Facebook (send a quick note if you want telling them that while you hope to one day meet them if that’s something Zach wants, until you do you aren’t comfortable being connected over Facebook). Discuss your values with Zach and what you want in your future, for yourself and for your relationship. Hopefully, in time, Zach will open up about his childhood and his relationship with his parents, but until he does, you have to ask yourself whether enough trust, shared values, and common goals exist between you to continue moving your relationship forward. You certainly don’t have to have all the mysteries of a person solved to love him and build a future together (if a shared future is what you even want), but it does help to know why a person would have so little interest in maintaining a relationship with parents who seem to very much want a relationship with him.
Follow along on Facebook, and Instagram.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at [email protected].
MoeP June 29, 2017, 10:17 am
#1: I am a lesbian. I came out. People see it as a big deal to use that term. I think the simplest way to go about sharing this part of you with your loved ones is, rather than declaring, “I am coming out as aromatic to you,” simply tell them you have realize you don’t see yourself having a romantic relationship, that it isn’t something you want for yourself. Then, explain how you have recently identified with the term “aromantic”. If someone had said this to me, I would be like, “Sure! If you don’t want a romantic relationship, don’t have one!” As far as Steve, well, everyone has known people who have wanted a different type of relationship than they did. It happens for folks of all sexual orientations.
Cleopatra Jones June 29, 2017, 10:20 am
Stop trying to ‘fix’ Zach and his family. If he wants a relationship with his dad,then he will have one until butt out.
TheHizzy June 29, 2017, 10:24 am
LW#2 needs to keep her nose out of his relationship with his parents and defriend like months ago. No way Jose!
Vathena June 29, 2017, 10:50 am
LW2. I’m sure Zach has his reasons for cutting contact with his parents. (Have you really never asked him?) It’s not your place to decide FOR him what kind of relationship he has with them. Maybe you feel bad for his parents now, but perhaps you should feel MORE bad for the abused or neglected child that Zach may once have been. Don’t be that person who thinks you know better than he does. You don’t.
LW June 29, 2017, 11:01 am
Hey Vathena, LW here!
I actually did ask him but it was cut out of my original letter for clarity’s sake it looks like. I did ask Zach why his relationship was hard and he told me it’s because dad has a drinking problem and his parents visibly hated each other. He voluntarily told me that he was not abused or neglected himself (his parents were both very involved) but his father was difficult/toxic to be around.
With that said, I grew up with an abusive father who has made improvements with our relationship and now we are close so I think I might have been projecting on him to hopefully mend things with his father. I know though that his father is not my father and I am not him so I don’t press him on it.
Thanks for reinforcing that I shouldn’t talk to them and I’ll unfriend right now. I appreciate your honesty. 🙂
Vathena June 29, 2017, 1:57 pm
That definitely seems like the way to go – I think Wendy’s script is spot-on too. It doesn’t seem impossible that one day Zach may be ready to have more of a relationship with his dad, but that may require more than his dad is able to give (like not drinking). That’s a process you don’t have any control over. My mom is estranged from her own parents, and even if I don’t completely understand her reasons, it’s not for me to judge. It can also be damaging to someone in that position to have their decision constantly questioned and undermined by other loved ones. (“They’re not so bad/they did their best/you’ll regret it when they’re gone.”) Just don’t fall into that trap. It sounds like you are a thoughtful and supportive girlfriend!
LW June 29, 2017, 2:56 pm
Thank you for saying that, I try to be. :’) And thank you for sharing your mother’s estrangement story too-learning about other peoples’ difficult parental relationships helps me understand and open my mind!
Caroline June 30, 2017, 2:21 am
OP I would suggest you not so readily dismiss his childhood as “not abusive”. The fact that his father is an alcoholic and that his parents fought all the time suggests that his childhood was chaotic and full of tension/fear/verbal abuse. He will minimise that as that was his “normal” and minimising is a survival technique. Don’t re-expose him to potentail trauma “because faaaamily”.
You might find reading about adult children of alcoholics helpful.
Northern Star June 29, 2017, 10:55 am
LW2, if family is important to you, don’t move forward with a man who ignores his parents unless you know WHY. Ask Zach what the problem is so you understand why he goes no-contact. If you don’t understand—I’m not sure this is the right relationship for you because it will be very hard to ignore his pleading parents forever. Just a thought.
LW June 29, 2017, 11:05 am
Hi Northern Star! LW here.
I explained above what Zach’s reasons were to my reply to Vathena. Family is important to me, but I don’t consider “blood relatives” to be necessarily family. I think family is anyone close to you that provides love and support, and can be chosen. Zach believes this too. He wants to have a loving relationship his parents didn’t have when he is married (he wants that path eventually with me) and give his future children the loving relationship he didn’t have with Dad.
csp June 29, 2017, 11:25 am
I totally agree. I would need to know the why and be comfortable with it. How comfortable is he spending time with your family? I mean, he either came from a terrible upbringing or he is a cold person.
But, the fact that they don’t know why he stopped communicating seems like a red flag to me.
LW June 29, 2017, 12:23 pm
I’m sad that his family situation is painful for him but ultimately I am able to accept it because not all parents or family units are loving ones like mine. He hasn’t met my parents yet but he is going to be joining me for the holidays (he is very excited). He has met my siblings and loves them. Also, to be clear he hasn’t cut his mom out. He still texts her and sends her presents from time to time. It’s dad that he has the issue with. And fwiw Zach’s brother has the same issues with the dad too but he ends up having to see him a lot more because they still love in the same city.
Irishgal June 30, 2017, 2:13 am
No…it’s very easy to ignore them. It’s called blocking them on Facebook. The very fact that they gave glommed onto LW1 like this is a red flag in itself about their ability to be respectful.
LW June 29, 2017, 11:13 am
Thanks Wendy for the response!
I think I mostly needed reassurance that NOT responding to them was okay. My own family made me play family therapist a lot so I have this weird feeling of obligation that I need to unlearn. Also, I reread my letter and it looks like I DID leave out that I ask about his parents and he gave me some information so sorry I left that out! I definitely learned a lesson about empathy and boundaries here, I appreciate it y’all.
meadowphoenix June 29, 2017, 12:06 pm
#1: By brush you off do you mean you’re asking if he’s really cool with the relationship and he keeps saying yeah, or that he keeps saying he doesn’t want to talk about? Those are two different things: trust him to be fine with it if it’s the former and he’s probably got a problem with it if it’s the latter.
What do you want to get out of telling people? Support, information, for them to stop asking you when you’re getting married? If you think about that, it’ll be clearer what you should tell them, when, how and who.
ele4phant June 29, 2017, 2:14 pm
I mean this with no judgement, only ignorance and curiosity.
But, what is the difference between a friend you are sexual (and sexually exclusive with) but not romantic with? Maybe I’ve been with my husband so long, but if I had to describe my relationship with him, he is my best friend first, and my sex partner second.
Is it maybe the primacy of your emotional intimacy, and you don’t want that with one person?
I guess, I don’t really understand the difference between romantic and platonic, if sex is in the mix. To me, you add sex to a platonic relationship, it crosses the line into a romantic relationship. Albeit perhaps a casual one. And sometimes you have sexual relationships with people you don’t really have an emotional connection with, but it sounds like LW you do enjoy him as a person?
I guess to me, romance has always been emotional connection + sexual connection, that it could be some third thing disaggregated from the other two is, is a new way for me to look at all the facets of human relationships that can or cannot exist between two people.
Not saying I’m right! It’s just a new way of looking at relationships I’ve never thought of before.
Juliecatharine June 29, 2017, 4:43 pm
I was wondering the same thing; I read the description in the link several times but I still don’t understand how physical and emotional intimacy (friendship) combined with monogamy is different from a romantic relationship. Like you said, no judgment, just ignorance.
Ele4phant June 30, 2017, 10:35 am
Hmm interesting. I will say, I still don’t fully understand the distinction. I’m not trying to negate or police this woman’s identify and lived experience, but as you say, if you have not experienced personally it’s hard to wrap your brain around at first.
Which I think would argue all the more that yeah, she should come out (so long as she feels safe and comfortable). The more people that are exposed to people who are aromantic, well that may mean a more understanding and awareness there will be out there in the world for folks sharing her identity.
I do think while this is an identity that she readily understands, for someone who does have romantic desires and has never thought about them in isolation from sex and emotional connection (like me, maybe like Steve) she is going to need to do some educating not only about what her identity is but how that operationalizes for her potential friends/sexual partners.
I mean, maybe Steve has heard that’s she’s aromantic but they are close friends and they are sexually monogamous, so he may be confused about what will and won’t happen between them.
Does it mean that there will never be physical affection outside of when they are being sexual? Does it mean that while she does care for and like him as a person, she’s never going to want a “person” – the one person she is most emotionally tied to? That living together, getting married – that’s never going to happen for her?
Until aromantism becomes more widely known, the onus may be on her to educate those around her about it, if they are first encountering it. It’s going to be a new concept for a lot of people that the label alone won’t be clarifying.
To her credit, maybe she totally has been super explicit with Steve about what their relationship will and won’t look like and she just didn’t put it all in her letter.
And if she has been clear, and he said he’s fine with and he’s not pressuring her for more, than she should take him at his word. Her job is to explain what she can and can’t give him, not Monday morning quarterback his understanding and acceptance.
Ele4phant June 30, 2017, 10:37 am
Oh my response was supposed to be to dinoceros.
dinoceros June 29, 2017, 5:28 pm
I think the difference is that you’re describing actions and aromanticism is describing a person’s orientation. In the link, it talks about how a person does not experience romantic attraction at all. It’s sort of like how asexuality isn’t the same as celibacy — it’s a person who doesn’t experience sexual attraction as opposed to someone who experiences attraction and chooses not to have sex. Additionally, I think the monogamy without romanticism but with sex is sort of a nuanced relationship type because I think a lot of people who so experience romantic attraction wouldn’t choose monogamy without being romantic (vs. platonic or something like that). I see it as that being “your person.” I have a BFF, but I’m not going to live with her, she has a husband who is more important to her than I am, etc. In the case of an aromantic relationship, even if you do not have the romantic aspect, you might still be that “one” for each other.
I think the reason it’s so hard to grasp is that its dealing with a feeling or draw that one group of people has and one doesn’t have. And it’s very hard to imagine not experiencing a certain feeling that you have always experienced (and that society tells us everyone experiences).
SofiaL July 4, 2017, 1:39 am
As an aromantic person myself, I think this description is rather spot-on. Now, being aro doesn’t dictate all of one’s relationship-wants (I’m bisexual and generally inclined towars open relationships, quite different from LW#1) but as far as I can tell, we all have one thing in common: we grew up feeling “broken”, or at least strange, since we’ve never been in love or had a crush on anyone. Just like sex is a big part of most cultures, especially here in the western world, so is romance. Saying you’ve never been in love is as socialy alienating as saying you’ve never wanted to have sex. The difference between “BFF I have sex with” and “my partner whom I’m in love with” are very hard to pin down because we all have such different ideas of what an emotional relationship entails (even though Hollywood has tried to conform all romantic relationships to be the same). I’ve not yet been in a longterm enough relationship to compare it with a longterm romantic relationship, but I can say that the _start_ of a relationship is very different, and that seems to be where LW#1 is at the moment. When you’re not in love with someone you don’t get the “hyper focus” on your partner that people in love tend to display, which can make you come off as cold and uninterested. In general it also takes us aros longer to decide if we actually want to go all in on a relationship, since we don’t have does happy endorphines egging us on – or we might “jump in too early” with a partner who doesn’t understand what dating someone aro means, since we know it will take us “too long” to decide otherwise. In short, I absolutely think us aro people can have loving, meaningful relationships, but there are a lot of cultural hurdles to get over before one can be started – and sometimes things don’t work out because the partner(s) want something the aro person can’t give (i.e. the hyper focus “you are my universe” kind of love).
dinoceros June 29, 2017, 5:29 pm
LW2: It’s not your place to communicate with his parent(s). That’s fine that you feel like you *should*, but it’s not an excuse for doing so.
MMR June 30, 2017, 8:31 am
I was struggling with this! It was bothering me SO MUCH that she was letting her ‘culturally-ingrained feelings’ direct her actions, when it’s so blindingly obvious that she shouldn’t. This is the perfect response.
LW June 30, 2017, 8:46 am
Hi MMR! It actually wasn’t “blindingly obvious” to me, especially since I asked my boyfriend his thoughts on friending them/messaging them and he said “you can if you want, I don’t mind”. Also I’m not American and this is my first serious relationship, so this is all foreign to me? Just wanted to give some context so you can understand my perspective. 🙂
Also I see a lot of people assuming I talked to dad a lot and to be clear, I didn’t respond to most of the father’s messages (a lot of people are assuming I talk to them frequently, when I actually responded to only two out of….8?). As stated several comments above, I wrote in to get reassurance that ignoring the parents’ messages is okay and I’m glad that it’s acceptable (and that even unfriending/blocking is acceptable too)!
So yeah, WWS <3
Leslie Joan June 30, 2017, 6:44 am
@csp, nobody should be looking to take too seriously a toxic person’s claim that they don’t know why they’ve been cut off or are being held at arms length. When narcissistic, selfish people are looking at what they want or feel they are entitled to, they conveniently leave out their own bad behavior and the rights of others to protect themselves from it. And these people can be very charming when they want something.
LW2 is being triangulated by Zack’s dad. The fact that he’s doing this shows just how manipulative he can be – and it’s all the more dangerous because LW2 is too inexperienced to recognize what’s going on. Triangulation is always an unhealthy way to communicate. It would be one thing to be FB friends with them – though why that ever seemed like a good idea given the circumstances beats me – but something entirely different to let yourself become used to triangulate your boyfriend.
MoeP June 30, 2017, 8:25 am
I am wondering if men come out as aromantic or it is just an assumed part of being a man. After reading all these comments and the original message, I fail to see how this woman’s intimate relationship interests has to mean “coming out” as something. Aren’t there a huge number of people out there who have no desire for romance?
MMR June 30, 2017, 8:40 am
I was thinking the same thing. Like if a man wrote in describing how he didn’t enjoy holding hands, cuddling, etc without using the term ‘aromanticism’, and he did want to have an exclusive sexual relationship, I feel like he would get a lot of feedback about “meeting his partner’s needs” and “learning to express his feelings”. But since this is woman who has found an “-ism” to describe these feelings, it’s seen as acceptable.
This isn’t a criticism of the LW or anything that’s been said, but I think it’s an interesting discussion. Thoughts?
MoeP June 30, 2017, 9:47 am
I don’t think a guy would even be likely to write in because he would just consider what he wanted pretty typical.
SofiaL July 4, 2017, 1:50 am
Hmm, I think you’ve gotten the term “aromantic” confused with “touch averse”. As an aromantic person I don’t at all mind cuddling, I just don’t have crushes or fall in love with people. And while I agree that society places different expectations on men and women when it comes to how we’re suppose to express our sexuality and feelings, we’re still all expected to fall in love. An aromantic man might be more “accepted” by his peers than an aromantic woman, just like an asexual woman might be more “accepted” than an asexual man – but they’re not actually being accepted for being aro/ace; people are just assuming “well, you might not right now, but one day…” Or we get written off as broken or even dangerous (I’ve had people assume I’m a budding serial killer just because I’ve said I don’t experience romantic love). So yeah, a man might have different expectations placed on him, but they’re still aromantic or romantic, exactly like people of other genders.
findingtheearth June 30, 2017, 11:02 am
LW1: I am on the ace spectrum and have found it is just better to be honest with potential partners or hook ups. There is a variety to the spectrum and it can be confusing to navigate.
SofiaL July 4, 2017, 2:15 am
LW#1, fellow aromantic here and I absolutely recognize myself in your “ooooh, that’s what it is!”-reaction to finding the term aromantic. Romance is such a central part of most cultures that one can feel rather alien for not experiencing romantic feelings – but you’re absolutely not the only aro person around! It might take other people (and partners) a while to understand, even if you explain in detail, but usually people come around t it. As for “coming out”, I’d take Wendy’s advice on that. But if/when you want to come, I’d recommened starting with something like “I’ve finally found a word for myself” and then explaining what aromantism is. I guess you, like me, have told people you’ve never been love and gotten the “one day you will”-response, even as an adult. I’ve found that people take my feelings more seriously when I have a word for it. Wishing you all the best, LW!