Updated version of article originally appearing here.
Aromantic and asexual-spectrum people often get left of out of the popular theories and convenient graphs about love, lust, and romance. The Triangular Theory of Love is no exception. Theories evolve over time as new information is uncovered. It would be nice one day to have more widespread knowledge out there about all of the possibilities and not merely those open to the chosen few. Aromantics and asexuals tend to get swept under the rug. Experiences that fall outside the romantic norm aren’t well understood and I doubt they’re well-documented. And the largest problem starts with the conflation of passion with limerance/infatuation, or what people most often refer to as New Relationship Energy.
The idea that someone can love someone intensely without feeling romantic or sexual, that someone can remain unbelievably excited about someone for longer than a few months, or that the passion can even grow over time is pretty much unheard of. So many people, whether mono or poly, talk about passion as something that’s like an addiction, that wears off with time, and that can only be felt at the beginning of a relationship. What does passionate nonromantic love look like? How is it different from both romantic passion and companionship? What would you even call it? And is it actually possible?
There has been a steady reintroduction of and recognition that there are more types of attraction than previously thought. Many people are familiar with romantic, emotional, and sexual attraction but may not be familiar with sensual attraction, aesthetic attraction (as opposed to mere aesthetic appreciation), and “intellectual” attraction. The Thinking Asexual has a lovely long list of terms and definitions for all sorts of experiences and identities if you need any explanations. Though they cover many types of attraction and relationship forms, there isn’t much out there to accurately describe enduring connections throughout the relationship, at least without using terms normally related to the most common understandings of commitment, intimacy, and passion.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m both demisexual and aromantic. I’m also noetisexual, which adds its own unique dimension to the ways I experience attraction, love, and passion. I don’t experience NRE and never have. Perhaps some of my long-lasting sexual and and sensual attraction is bound up with my extremely high sex drive and my highly sensual nature. I can only be affectionate, sensual, and sexual with people that I trust, with people that I have emotional intimacy with. There is also this absolutely wonderful comment by Joreth Innkeeper applicable to my experiences of attraction vs action; a summation of the fact that one doesn’t follow the other:
Just as action doesn’t follow from attraction, neither does one sort of love, emotion, or attraction automatically follow from any other. There are as many ways to connect and feel desire as there are people on the planet.
But today, I simply want to go over three types of love aromantic or asexual people (and some romantic and sexual people) may experience but that they may never have had a name for. The point is to expand our understanding about love, attraction, boundaries, and desire so that truly informed consent becomes the norm and not the assumption.
Many asexuals tend to avoid relationships with sexual people and many aromantics avoid hanging around romantic people because of these overly simplified explanations of love, lust, and the built-in assumptions of an end goal along the touch and relationship escalators. Until our experiences are made visible, romantic and sexual people will have problems creating consensual relationships (of any form) with aromantic and asexual people. I also hope that many aromantics and asexuals feel empowered and informed enough to make conscious decisions about how they want their relationships (of any form) to look and what they involve.
As I’ve written before, there are no defaults!
While these new terms are intended to be living terms, and others’ experiences may be different, I’d like to share the sorts of passion I experience and what that’s like.
- The first is what I’d like to call ecstatic love. It’s like the opposite of existential terror. It’s like a deep, permeating existential joy that this person(s) exists. It’s deeper than friendship yet it’s not romantic and not sexual. It feels like being tickled by the notion of this person being alive right then and there. It may or may not fade with time. Often, there’s no accompanying outward sign. It’s just a feeling that underlies all of your interactions with others. It’s like the fierce love you feel for your child but it can be felt for those who aren’t (and without the protective or instinctive elements accompanying it).
- The second I’d refer to as rapturous love. It’s like a slow-building wave. Where infatuation is often accompanied by extreme highs and lows and dissipates after a while, rapturous love grows and grows and grows. The more time passes, the more overwhelmed you feel. It’s a joy that keeps building on itself with time, a fullness and excitement that only increases as time passes. For me it makes me want to touch and/or fuck the person more and more, not less and less. The more time we spend together and the more I know you, the more I want you and enjoy you physically and emotionally.
- That overlaps a bit with resonant love. This one is extremely intimate. It goes down to the core. It is the full recognition of another person as they truly are, with no assumptions, judgments, or deceptions. It is the Holy Moment: it can last for a glance or a lifetime. You are both deeply aware of one another; it’s as if your souls are naked and revealed, when two or more points of the same universal soul meet. I know that might sound a bit religious or spiritual but that’s not what I’m talking about. It can also simply be a meeting of minds: that special rhythm you get into when you both or all understand an idea or each other completely and entirely. If this were Doctor Who, it would be one of the fixed points in time, an absolute. The term brain orgasms also work for shorter holy moments, though it can last much longer.
Many people might only feel it for a moment here or there but it can actually be felt and experienced quite often, if not all of the time. But as the two men in that conversation say, it is not considered polite to have Holy Moments, and especially not with people who aren’t our romantic or sexual partners. We tend to shy away from them because they’re too raw, too honest, too revealing.
There is so much more to love, life, and connection than we’ve been led to believe. There are so many wonderful experiences without name or without recognition that haven’t been discussed. If we are to build our own lives and our own loves, if we are to choose freely what works best for us and our capabilities then we must make sure to actively engage with the evolving landscape. Passion doesn’t have to be limited to infatuation. It doesn’t have to fade with time. It doesn’t have to be romantic to be fulfilling. We are not all the same so why should our love be? We won’t gain a greater understanding unless we release our ideas from the concretes society would have us accept.