What is Real Life, non-Hollywood romance?
February 4, 2012 9:47 PM   Subscribe

Please explain romance to an asexual aromantic who's wobbling on the romantic identification. What's the difference between romance and friendship?

I've identified as asexual for several years now, that is a comfortable identification for me. I have enough of a grip on sexual attraction that I can identify that I don't feel it. This question isn't about my sexual orientation, but I just wanted to clarify that I'm not looking for a sexual relationship, and that not having a sexual relationship isn't a problem for me. But it does complicate the romantic thing.

And I still I don't get this romance thing. How do things feel different with a person you want to be romantically involved with vs someone who is a good friend? What are the things/actions that separate romance from friendship? Is the difference just about the Grand Actions of Romance? What's the difference between a 'bromance' and a homo-romantic relationship? Is there any?

I know I want someone in my life, but it doesn't have to be a primary relationship. I think living with a good friend would be enough. But I'm starting to question that a little. I'm starting to think that a bromance is the best format of relationship I'm looking for, (though I'm female and don't particularly care about the gender of the partner). But hey, maybe that's what a romantic relationship is, maybe I don't need to start tweaking the terms? But then again, maybe that's just a good friendship and aromantic (someone who doesn't feel romantic attraction) is the best definition for how I feel.

I'd just like a general breakdown on how romantic relationships feel to people who know what they're feeling.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
How do things feel different with a person you want to be romantically involved with vs someone who is a good friend?

When someone is becoming a romantic interest for me, I think about them all the time. Fantasize about them, imagine us in different scenarios together. Start thinking of all sorts of experiences I'd like to have with them.

Crave their attention, like I start trying to think of ways to get them to notice me, find me interesting, be impressed by me. Get sad when they seem to be more interested in/impressed by another girl, instead. Want to see them all the time. Get super excited when it gets close to a time when I'll see them.

Get nervous around them, care about what they think of me, every action seems to have much higher stakes.

Really want to be physically close to them, touch them, kiss them, etc. Physical proximity to them is really thrilling.

If this progresses to a relationship, and lasts for a while, the nervousness/insecurity about trying to impress them all goes away for me. So does the fantasizing, to a degree, because you can actually live out all the things you want to do with the person.

What stays for me is wanting to be around them all them all the time, and really crave physical closeness with them. If something exciting or upsetting happens to me in my life, this person is at the top or near the top of people I really want to talk to about it. This person is the one I really want with me if I'm going to have a really fun experience, or if I need help getting through something unpleasant. Like if I've broken my leg and I'm in the doctor's office I'd be thinking "Oh, I really hope ___ gets here soon" and I would feel better once they did.

I just feel really attached to them and I would feel really upset if I knew I wasn't going to see them in person for a while. With platonic friends I could just talk to them on the phone or online and be happy that way indefinitely, it wouldn't change our friendship at all not to have a component of physical presence. I would also feel really upset if it seemed like the SO didn't love me as much as I loved them, or they loved someone else more (not counting parents, family members, etc). With my platonic friends, they are amazing, but I know they all have people they love more than me like their own SOs, etc., and I really don't care at all.

This is just me, it will be different for everyone.
posted by cairdeas at 10:07 PM on February 4, 2012 [63 favorites]

Romance is like.... the feeling of having a sweetheart, a darling, a special someone to kiss, cuddle, with whom you want to be intimate. It is having a partner in crime, someone to be trusted and supported who is also sexy.

A friend of mine defined an ideal romantic relationship as a "very sexy friendship" and I'd say that is basically true.

Limerence isn't always a key ingredient in the romance recipe, in my opinion. In fact, sometimes the two don't go together at all. Sometimes that obsessive infatuation stage is just lust with maybe a bit of affection thrown in, but it isn't about actual romance at all. 'Cause limerence and infatuation miss the one key ingredient true romance has: trust. And passion without trust can actually be toxic.

But romance and *passion* can go together beautifully, if trust is present. Limerence, too.
posted by devymetal at 10:46 PM on February 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'd say romance is something alchemic that happens with sexual and emotional attraction. I say alchemic because it's a kind of 'third thing' that happens with both that isn't present with just either.

The thing with sexual/emotional/romantic attraction is that they feed back on each other, so being sexually attracted to someone often makes you even more sexually attracted to them, etc. Romantic attraction is the same, at least for me.
posted by suedehead at 11:23 PM on February 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

That's a great description, cairdeas, one to which I can definitely relate.

As for a bromance, I think that describes a special platonic relationship typical among men who share similar interests, an implicit trust, a complete lack of personal judgement and an unwavering friendship. Like a romantic relationship without any sexual attraction or activity. The difference between a normal friendship and a bromance is the desire to spend time together. Normal friends may pick and choose the occasions in which they will share time/experiences or attend events relevant to only one of the individuals. In a bromance, the simple act of being together is enough to render the occasion irrelevant.
posted by bigZLiLk at 11:47 PM on February 4, 2012 [7 favorites]

One of the most realistic-yet-romantic descriptions of love is "friendship set on fire" (with lust, I guess)... so may be understandable that you don't 'feel' it intuitively. Hm, though there are people who say they're asexual but romantic... that said, I'm not sure if their 'romantic' is the standard definition. Of course, you're free to create whatever definition suits you-- that's what most people do. One great way to see the differences is to discuss a movie or TV show with someone, and get their (and your) opinions on the relationships, even though it's 'Hollywood'; one can extrapolate. For example, Buffy the Vampire Slayer has a nice variety. I'd say my 'ideal' is pretty close to Buffy/Spike (passionate, complementary personalities, transformative, dramatic, a bit unrequited and star-crossed), but most people (including Buffy and possibly even Spike) would be aghast.... They'd insist it's obviously Buffy/Angel (really star-crossed, pure, devoted, tragic and first), and then there are the people who want to scrap it all and say Buffy's a basket-case and Tara/Willow is the 'real' model of love (tender, based in shared interests/qualities, understanding, sweet). Except for the brainwashing part, but no one's perfect. Then there are the people who're into power imbalances with their devotion and darkness, and like Spike with Drusilla.

You won't find most 'ordinary' people defining love by the example of Buffy and Spike (probably good for the survival of the human race), but my point is that this is a 'real life' dynamic of not-so-healthy love, but still a possible relationship style. The bad thing about Hollywood is that it idealizes and takes away necessary blemishes and relationship or personality flaws (certainly not the case with Buffy, I might add). But the reason I love it is that I related to Spike, even though I was a shy, introverted girl when I fell in love. Sometimes love makes you feel ugly, and hopeless, and leads you to see the darkness in yourself. I guess I think that for me, it's impossible to separate love and yearning for the object of love, feeling like they're unattainable even while present. It's easy (for me) to separate Spike's feelings from sex because not being able to imagine touching is part of what creates that gulf. In a big way, for me, love is defined by the fear of loss. You can't yearn for someone if you're not afraid of that distance between you widening. This is real-life, too. People are apt to leave all too easily.

This need and all the stuff it engenders is probably the biggest difference between romance and (bro)romance or friendship; you can have sex with a friend, or a stranger, or anyone (or not). But the burning need to feel connected to someone, feeling joy and sadness solely as a function of whether they spent time with you, smiled or said your name or just acknowledged your existence, becoming fixated on exactly what they're thinking and if they're thinking about you, etc... it sounds like some sort of horrible affliction, but that's what need feels like. In the healthiest-case-scenario, you realize your connection is stable and the attachment stabilizes-- instead of questioning, you trust the person. But the underlying need for connection is as visceral as a child's to their parent-- your well-being depends on their actions, sometimes seemingly on that alone. After being together a long time, like decades, people (especially men) lose the capacity to function without their wives, even. If one dies, so does the other, soon. This isn't something fluffy like 'love'-- it's need. That's why, I think if someone you're friends with needs you (and aren't sexually interested) sex can easily be added, most of the time. Need is the ultimate motivator; human beings follow their needs. Food, sleep, shelter: and sometimes, also "you".
posted by reenka at 1:33 AM on February 5, 2012 [5 favorites]

I'm a (demi)romantic asexual and romance has nothing to do with "lust" or "sex". To me, the difference between the interest in a friendship and a romance is a thinner line than "want to have sex/physical intimacy" or "don't want sex/physical intimacy". Trust is neccessary for both, so that's nothing to seperate by either.
I would define romantic interest as the feeling that you'd give a shit about it if the entire world would hate you, if only this one person likes you.
posted by MinusCelsius at 3:48 AM on February 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm not asexual, but I struggle with identifying the difference between deep, emotionally intimate friendship and romantic attachment. I'm lucky enough to have a few friends I would identify as "best friends", and with them I've had the same kind of "falling in love" feelings when I first met them - wanting to be around them as much as possible, hanging on their every word - and to this day (decades later) I still have this feeling of awe over their brilliance, beauty, specialness, talent, etc. I still occasionally am swept over with this wish to hug them and tell them how utterly wonderful they are. I wouldn't identify my feelings for them as romantic per se, but those feelings (for me) are difficult to differentiate from those I feel for people I am romantically drawn to (for whom I also have sexual desire). So I'm afraid that I don't have a "good" answer for you. In one case, the deep friendship I have is with someone who is the gender & sexual orientation which corresponds with my gender & sexual orientation, and figuring out what this "big feeling" I had for this person (was I in love? did I want to date this person or are we just platonic kindred spirits?) was far more difficult than when I had this "big feeling" for someone who didn't have that gender/orientation.
posted by pammeke at 4:37 AM on February 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

I hope I'm not stating the obvious, but to me (aside from the physical aspects, which admittedly are hard for me to separate) romance is exclusive while friendship is not. You can only have - and you only want - one real romantic interest or partner at a time, but you can have several/many good friends. (I know it's not like that for everyone; I'm saying this because you asked for personal feelings, and because I'm assuming the distinction is complicated enough for you right now without the introduction of poly or open relationships.) I want my good friends to have other good friends - if they were lonely, I'd feel sad for them. But if I was interested in a guy romantically, and he was interested romantically in another girl, I'd feel jealous of her. If I was in a romantic relationship with a guy and found out he also was in a romantic relationship with another girl, I'd be livid, and dump him. So I'd say if you hang out with A, who you really like, today and then hear she's hanging out with B tomorrow, if you're totally fine with that then you like her as a friend. But if your first reaction is "hey wait, what's so special about B? I thought A wanted to hang out with me! Hanging out with me isn't enough for her? Humph." then you like A as something more than a friend.

Incidentally (or not?) I think the exclusivity/jealousy aspect of bromances is what make them such frequent (and often stupid, imho) comedy fodder. Two guys are "just" friends - not boyfriends - and yet they act, in doing everything together and especially in not wanting to let anyone else in, like they're romantically involved.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 7:05 AM on February 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

And btw when I say jealousy above, I don't mean irrational crazy fits of rage or anything - I mean that you feel your special, singular place with someone, your special meaning to them, has been supplanted by someone else. As if that other person is in the position that's rightfully yours. (E.g. if my friend and I get coffee a lot, I won't feel anything if she sometimes goes for coffee with some other woman she's friends with. But if my boyfriend sometimes kisses some other woman, that's a different story.)
posted by DestinationUnknown at 7:15 AM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

For me, romance means I want to go deep inside the person, including physically, and have them experience me that way too. Friendship -- I'm quite satisfied to stop at whatever border we agree upon (different for different friends, and obviously, unstated).
posted by thinkpiece at 7:25 AM on February 5, 2012

Romance without the sex part? Interest plus protectiveness that persists over time. Someone I feel romantic about is someone who is virtually always interesting to me - we can talk about the laundry and I still want to hear it, I can be dead tired and still want to hang out. And I specifically want to do kind things for them to please them; it bothers me if they're uncomfortable on even a fairly trivial level. Both the interest and the kindness are more persistent and intense than in other relationships - that is, with a casual friend I might find them generally interesting but not at 3am, or I might give them a present just because I saw a little thing that they'd like but I wouldn't specially seek out the opportunity to do so.

For me, I'd say there are "romantic" elements in a lot of my friendships - not romantic as in "I have secret crushes on my friends" but there are the same elements of interest and delight that I'd find in a romantic relationship, only weaker and more intermittent, or with someone in whom I don't have especially sexual interest.

Delight - that's romance, I guess. When I take delight in someone's presence and being, when I feel pleasure when they walk into the room.
posted by Frowner at 7:43 AM on February 5, 2012 [5 favorites]

I'm a lot like you ... except married to a normal kinda guy. (It can work.) For me, "romance" just doesn't resonate. Hubby and I love each other and we got there by being just friends at first, then better friends, then realizing we were the best friends we'd probably ever have, so we might as well call it love. (This developed over several months of spending time together working on mundane fixit projects.)

For me, limerence is unpleasant. I've had crushes on a few guys and it was never fun - the fixation and anxiety just wrecked my peace of mind. Going on dates felt like going on job interviews, with the butterflies in the stomach and worrying whether my hair had gone all goofy again. I never feel this way with non-crush friends, including Hubby, even while we were crawling through attic grime laying down fiberglass insulation batts dating.

The difference between friendship and romance/love, to me, is degree rather than kind. I enjoy Hubby's company more than anyone else's, I trust him more, I'll tell him things I'd never admit to anyone else, I have fewer boundaries with him, and I'll do things to please him that I wouldn't do for anyone else because his happiness is more important to me than anyone else's. I still have limits that I won't cross even for him, but they're light-years beyond my boundaries for the rest of the world. Nonetheless, I still think of our relationship as a kind of friendship that's just better than all the rest.
posted by Quietgal at 8:20 AM on February 5, 2012 [5 favorites]

I am not asexual, and I don't really understand romance in a courting sense. Romance, to me, is expressing my affection. I present little gifts, I try to do things for and with. I seem to do this more with a lover because I tend to spend more time with a lover. I think I would define "romance" traditionally as expressing affection toward a lover or potential lover. But in practice the behavior isn't really any different for me from how I am with my best friends.
posted by aniola at 8:31 AM on February 5, 2012

The usual requirements of a romantic relationship are:
(a) sexual attraction (okay, you can ignore this one)
(b) spending a lot more time together than in a traditional friendship
(c) you need to have much more in common/compatibility with a long-term partnership than you do with friends.
(d) you have to have the intention of being very close with them for a long period of time, through all of the various changes that someone is likely to have in life.
(e) living together eventually will (probably) happen, even if you don't get married. This is probably not a factor for you either unless the other party is willing to.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:53 AM on February 5, 2012

To me, a romantic partner is different from a friend because I, generally, want them around a lot more, want to touch them/cuddle them and miss them when they are gone. When something happens, my first thought is to tell them about it (regardless of the actual event). This is different from my friendships because friendships lack the wanting aspect, if that makes sense. With friends, I just spend time with them and hug them and enjoy their company but a romantic partner involves a lot of pre-hangout excitement of "yay I get to see this person and I missed them!".

Of course that's a really blurry line but I don't think that's a bad thing, necessarily. (It may also be an artefact of my borderline demisexual tendencies.)
posted by buteo at 11:00 AM on February 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

I don't know how asexual folks who experience romantic attraction feel--have you tried asking on the forums at Asexuality.org to get some opinions there?--but I can tell you my experience.

I have best friends that I've known a lot longer than my Largely Mythological Husband. I don't think I tell him any more personal or heartfelt things than I tell them; my best friends and I have tons of shared jokes and experiences that I don't have with my husband; I would probably be as quick to respond to them in an emergency as I would to him.

And The Brother and I have a fantastic relationship, and we've been super close for our whole lives. We've got forty-some-odd years of private jokes and shared experiences and we can talk forever about everything. He knows my soul probably even better than my husband.

But I love my husband in a different way. I just need to touch my husband a lot more. We kiss goodnight every morning and he kisses me good morning every morning before he leaves for work. When he and I are watching a movie on the couch, we cuddle together. When we walk down the street we hold hands. Sometimes when I see him after a while apart (like picking him up in the airport after he's been on a trip), I feel my heart go all melty, as if a million puppies and kittens had all stopped romping in the bluebell forest and turn their big liquid eyes up at me in cuteness.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:16 PM on February 5, 2012 [5 favorites]

I struggle with identifying the difference between deep, emotionally intimate friendship and romantic attachment. I'm lucky enough to have a few friends I would identify as "best friends", and with them I've had the same kind of "falling in love" feelings when I first met them - wanting to be around them as much as possible, hanging on their every word - and to this day (decades later) I still have this feeling of awe over their brilliance, beauty, specialness, talent, etc. I still occasionally am swept over with this wish to hug them and tell them how utterly wonderful they are. I wouldn't identify my feelings for them as romantic per se, but those feelings (for me) are difficult to differentiate from those I feel for people I am romantically drawn to (for whom I also have sexual desire).

I'm the same way.

In fact, I find it frustrating that close friendships aren't afforded the "status" of romantic relationships or familial relationships by others. Lucky for me, my SO and I pretty much totally agree on this point; we both have a few other very important platonic relationships.
posted by desuetude at 7:54 PM on February 5, 2012

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