When I was growing up in Oregon, dating and romance just seemed like something that other people did. I actually only ever thought about dating as a teenager when a close friend of mine confessed that they had feelings for me. I wasn’t sure whether I liked them or not at the time, and it wasn’t until I became a high school freshman that I eventually started to consider romantic relationships.

However, as I began dating, I noticed that many things people around me were doing with their partners didn’t seem to come naturally to me. I hated public displays of affection (PDA) and being alone with my partner felt weird.

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I have actually only ever been on one official date, it was at a sushi restaurant and I invited my parents, too. I know that might seem unusual to some, but it felt more comfortable for me than spending time with just my partner. My parents were fine with meeting my boyfriend, in fact they appreciated me sharing that part of my life with them, but I had a feeling my partner, though they didn’t say anything directly, thought it was a bit strange.

For the most part, I would just see anyone I was dating when I was at school or when we spent time together within a group of friends. But I quickly discovered that, of all the romantic things couples tend to do, I hated kissing the most. Although the first few times I kissed someone felt OK, soon after I realized it just didn’t appeal to me and I wondered why people liked it so much. A lot of times, to me, it just felt disgusting.

Then, in my sophomore year of high school, I came across the term aromantic through an asexuality blog on tumblr. By this time I had already broken up with my second boyfriend and for a while, I wondered whether I was aromantic—someone who doesn’t experience romantic attraction. As I was still quite young, I thought that perhaps I was just afraid of dating because my previous boyfriend had ended up being kind of a jerk to me. So, I tried again.

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My third boyfriend was actually friends with my best friend’s boyfriend, and we began talking more after I realized we had PE class in the same period. He was actually pretty nice, but that relationship only lasted about four months.

I still didn’t like PDA and while he was the one I went on the sushi date with, there were times when it still felt awkward being around him. I realized I had felt more comfortable with him back when we were friends. When we were together as a couple, I often felt like I was forcing myself to do things that didn’t come naturally. It seemed I was doing them simply because they were part of “dating someone.” Ultimately, I ended up breaking up with him too.

After that break up when I was 16, I didn’t date anyone for a while. During that time I had a period of introspection and I realized that I was a lot happier being single. When thinking about what my ideal relationship was, it looked a lot more like friendship than a romantic connection. I just wanted someone to spend time with, play games with and cuddle every once in a while. And I already had those things in my friendships.

Unfortunately, my struggle to understand my identity wasn’t over; I still wanted some sort of committed partnership, and while I had friends, often when they found a partner they suddenly had less time to spend with me. I felt that if I had some sort of committed relationship I wouldn’t run into that problem.

By my senior year of high school, I’d heard of queerplatonic relationships and they sounded like the kind of connection that I wanted. They are platonic in nature but transcended the norms of what society thinks friendship is—it’s a more intense connection that doesn’t include the romantic element of a “traditional” relationship.

I had someone in mind who I was good friends with, we hung out a lot and had many similar interests, so I asked them to be my queerplatonic partner and they agreed. This person knew I was aromantic and had previously told me they liked me romantically so I think in hindsight, our queerplatonic relationship was probably never quite going to work—we just had different goals and feelings for one another. The relationship became even harder when my queerplatonic partner eventually told me that they wished that I wasn’t aromantic. Our relationship came to an end that same year, which was probably one of the most difficult times I have had while accepting that I am aromantic.

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I was over feeling a sense of obligation to have a romantic partner, but at the same time, part of me still felt like I needed to be in some sort of partnership.

So although I remember feeling relief when that relationship ended, I was also extremely lonely—it felt like no one really understood me. While most of my friends were occupied with their significant others, I wanted friendships that were on the same level as their romantic relationships while still being just friendships. Around that time, I talked to one of my friends about this and they suggested an app I could use to find an aromantic community.

While the community I found was very small and inactive, through it, I was invited to an aromantic discord server—a type of instant messaging platform. Suddenly, it felt like I wasn’t the only person that felt the way I did. I had a community, and was able to talk to people like me. I felt so much less alone, and learned that it was ok to still want a relationship while not wanting a romantic relationship and that it was ok to not want to pursue any kind of committed relationship at all. I discovered that there are many different ways to be aromantic, that aromanticism and asexuality (not experiencing sexual attraction to others) are not the same and that it’s possible to be aromantic without being asexual. There are many different ways to have, or not have relationships, with others.

Right now, I feel more stable in my aromantic identity, but it took a lot of unlearning certain “traditional” norms to accept myself. The future I thought I would have when I was younger has been turned upside down; I thought I would fall in love with a man, get married and live happily ever after. It has turned out that while I can get infatuated with people and think about them a lot, falling in love isn’t something I experience, and I have discovered that I don’t even connect with men that much either.

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I have wondered whether dating someone other than a guy would change the way I identify. But I don’t think I would, because while my friendships with women and nonbinary people have always been closer and stronger, the aspects of dating I don’t like would have probably just felt as awkward and wrong with them as it did when I was dating men.

I’m pretty content with where I’m at now, at 20. Not only do I have aromantic friends online, but I have some aro—an abbreviation used for aromantic people to describe themselves—friends offline as well. I even live with a friend who is aro. My parents are aware that I am aromantic, but we don’t talk about it too much. I’m not sure it’s something they entirely understand yet.

I’m still figuring out what my ideal relationship would look like, but I would like to live with a bunch of friends or have a group of friends that I see regularly. No matter what happens with relationships, once I graduate college and get a place of my own, I’ll definitely get a cat!

Kieran Hanks lives in Oregon and is an undergraduate studying linguistics. They identify as non-binary and they are hoping to teach English as a foreign language in the future. Hanks is the volunteer coordinator of AUREA (Aromantic-spectrum Union for Recognition, Education, and Advocacy). You can follow Hanks on Instagram @hottest_ramen , on tumblr at hottest-ramen and on tapas here.

All views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.

The post ‘I’m Aromantic, This is What It’s Like’ appeared first on Newsweek.

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