“The Rose” and Being Aromantic

 

 

I don’t cry easily. Compared to a lot of my friends, I hardly ever cry at all. It’s not that I don’t experience sadness, but for the most part I just get bummed and depressed and quiet. It’s rare that it gets so much that I actually begin crying.

However, there is one song — one song — that never fails to get me sobbing. Just thinking about it gives me a lump in my throat and my eyes tear up. and that song is “The Rose” as sung by Bette Midler. You know, the one that goes “Some say love, it is a river that drowns the tender reed…” and so on.

…I actually had to stop typing and take a break at that point because my eyes were watering so much.

And now some might ask me “but Dina, what about THAT song makes you cry? It’s a beautiful message of hope and encouragement and light at the end of the tunnel! It’s a reminder to never give up on love even if it hurts. Take a chance on love; it’s the soul afraid of dying that never learns to live!” To which I answer, to me that song is none of those things. It’s a painful reminder of exclusion and lack of acceptance; a perfect sum-up of the cultural narrative I have been struggling against all my life… and a song that seems like it’s rebuking and shaming me for not being able to resonate with its message.

You see, I’m aromantic. I’ve mentioned it here and there, but I think compared to how open I’ve been about my pansexuality, and even about being genderqueer, I haven’t really talked a lot about being aromantic But I am. I am simply unable to fall in love or experience romantic attraction. Now… I can feel affection, familial love and friendship; I’ll coo at cute baby animals and I’ll stay on the phone for hours consoling an upset friend because I care about her. I can feel sexual attraction and desire; I’ll gawk at sexy ladies or hot guys and I have spent some fun naked times with people. But romantic love, capital “L” love, that Big Love that people go on about? Nope, can’t feel a thing.

While it took me until my late teens to figure out my sexuality, and way into my late twenties to figure out my gender identity, when it comes to my aromanticism I have kind of always known. Oh, I didn’t know there was a name for it, but I caught on from an early age that I just didn’t fall in love and probably wasn’t ever going to.

Now, aromantics generally aren’t demonized in the same way trans people or even gay/bisexual people are, but that doesn’t mean the general public is going to be okay with it if you tell them you’re aromantic. Because the general public is alloromantic (essentially a term for people who DO experience romantic attraction) and fucking OBSESSED with romantic love. If you don’t have it you’re a pitiful pathetic loser and probably end up as a “crazy cat lady” who lives alone with 45 cats and shuns all human contact… and if you don’t WANT it you’re either a broken bird who needs to be fixed and shown how wonderful, wonderful, WONDERFUL love is when it’s just with the right person, or you’re a heartless, cold, unfeeling monster.

“The Rose,” like so much of pop culture, essentially tells me that there’s something wrong with me. That I’m too afraid to live, that I’m too emotionally closed-off to share, that I can never feel the sun. I see that message everywhere, and I’m used to it, so usually I don’t even care… but in “The Rose” I get the message in concentrated pill form, smashed directly into my brain. “You’re broken, you’re wrong, you don’t know what it is to be human.” I can’t think of any song that makes me feel more alone and depressed.

It didn’t start that way. I’ve lived all my life not feeling any sort of romantic attraction to anyone, and I’ve honestly don’t missed it.

As a very young kid I had the normal “ewww, yuck” reaction to romance, but that was okay because nobody really expected any different. When I got a little older and puberty kicked in, I still didn’t see the point. I saw other girls go swoony and draw hearts and talk about their crushes and I just didn’t get why they were being so silly. I read a lot of books and watched a lot of movies, but skipped the romance. I stuck to just reading kids’ books for the longest of times because that way I didn’t need to bore myself to death trying to get through the boring romantic parts.

That didn’t mean I wasn’t constantly exposed to romance through pop culture otherwise, though. Rom-coms, TV shows, animated movies, comics, any books that were for an audience older than ten, they were full of longing stares and sighs and kisses and jealousy and romantic drama. Always heterosexual monogamous romantic drama, of course… it was the 1990s/2000s and while the general public was starting to consider that maybe you didn’t have to be cishet to be a person, outside some fun colourful gay dudes and some lesbian action thrown in for sheer titillation, you didn’t get LGBTQ content in mainstream. But the message in all of it was clear: Romance is the only thing that matters. Everyone has someone for them out there, a soulmate or true love or whatever, and getting together with that person is the only purpose of your life, especially if you’re a girl.

I kinda just went “well that obviously doesn’t mean me” and left it at that.

I loved Disney movies as a kid, but I had to just accept the romance part of them… I sort of treated the sappy love songs and kissing scenes as something I had to suffer through while waiting for the funny sidekicks or the cool villain to take centre stage again. I always loved The Lion King. but I remember finding out that “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” was ORIGINALLY an ironic song sung by Timon and Pumbaa, and Elton John instead insisted on turning it into the sappy love ballad we got in the actual movie, I was SO disappointed.

(Incidentally, back then my fave Disney love song was without question “Forget About Love” from Return of Jafar. It was ironic, it was hilarious, it was sung by Gilbert Gottfried… I’d take that over ten “A Whole New World”s!)

Sometimes it REALLY annoyed me. Why was everyone so obsessed with romance? As I entered my teens, people were hooking up left and right, and I just didn’t get it. People got celebrity crushes, and I just didn’t see why. Sure, Celebrity Actor A looks handsome, but he doesn’t even know who I am, why should I really care?

A lot of aromantics, while growing up, pretend to crush on someone just to be like everyone else, but I never did. I was the fat, geeky, artistic girl that everyone thought was weird anyway, so nobody really cared. I had friends and people I got along with, but outside a couple of instances nobody ever asked me who my crush was or if I was together with someone… on the few occasions when I was asked who my celebrity crush was I luckily had the answer ready: “I don’t have any, because I only fall in love with people I know personally.” The other girls respected that… except one who once asked me “girl, don’t you have any romantic feelings at ALL?” And of course, no I didn’t.

I was 15 when my hormones REALLY kicked in. I started getting more interested in sex and sexy stuff… began reading segments from more adult books… and then I seriously masturbated for the first time, had my first real orgasm… it was while I was having a bath, with the hot water splashing against my pussy… and it was like I had opened a floodgate. Overnight I went from being a total prude to being constantly horny with my mind in the gutter pretty much all the time.

Of course I didn’t actually TELL anyone about it. I remember going around the first couple of days afterwards completely convinced that everyone I met could see what I had done and that they were thinking “look at the fat slut who touches herself in the bathtub!” But of course they couldn’t, and I was slowly starting to see that yes, I was VERY interested in sex.

However, what didn’t change was that I still didn’t fall in love with anyone… I was ATTRACTED to tons of people, but I didn’t really want to be TOGETHER with them. Or rather, I didn’t really care.

When I masturbated… and I began masturbating a LOT… I didn’t really think about anyone I knew. And just in case you were wondering: No, I didn’t think of any celebrities or fictional people either. For a while there, while I was struggling with accepting MYSELF as a sexual being, I had even bigger problems accepting OTHERS as sexual beings. If you had sex, you weren’t a person, you were just a fuck machine. When I was touching myself, and cumming, I wasn’t Dina, I was just a fuckdoll whose entire existence was about the pleasure and the orgasm…

…annnnnnnnnd you know, now that I think back on it I kinda see how these early days of sexual exploration just kinda fuelled and strengthened my hypnofetish, especially how I still find mindless sex so incredibly hot.

I’ve written before about this time, when I started watching Euroschlock movies, read erotic novels, discovered my fondness for erotic horror, took my first hesitant steps into the world of internet porn… but one thing that didn’t change was that I still wasn’t interested in romance. Sure, I’d read “romance trash” novels, but they tended to not actually be much about romance and more about the female main character meeting some hot douchebag of a guy who sexually harasses her until they fuck. She starts out not wanting to, and then at the end of the scene she wants more and more. And then he gets a lot more caring and nurturing afterwards. Not really all that romantic, really… but with me that was fine. Whenever the book did start to get genuinely romantic I just skimmed those parts anyway.

When I was 17, after I had accepted both myself and other people as sexual beings and that sexuality was really just part of who you were, I lost my virginity. Which somehow managed to be both a huge deal and not a big deal at all. I might tell you about it sometime… for now I’ll just say that it involved me getting seduced in my own basement, while an Emmanuelle film was playing on the TV…. and that to my HUGE relief it didn’t lead to any romantic relationships afterwards.

I still never felt the need to get romantic with anyone. I perhaps toyed with the thought of what it would be like to be in a romantic relationship, but it always felt so bizarre and unrelatable. For a while I thought maybe it was with romance like with sex, that I just wasn’t emotionally developed enough. My stepmother certainly never missed a beat in telling me how childish I was and how I should grow up, so maybe that was it. Maybe I was just too childish. But… honestly, in that case I was happy being childish.

Unlike many aromantics growing up and going through puberty without ever partaking in all the romance and love stuff their peers are so invested in, I never really thought anything was WRONG with me. It didn’t even occur to me that there might be. From what I could see from my limited point of view, romance was 75% pain and misery, and 25% obsession. Oh, and sex. I liked sex, but I’d rather just have the occasional casual fling, and partake in erotic roleplay on the net, than bothering with all that jealousy and drama and angst that came with romantic relationships. Plus, I was starting to feel like romance turned people into selfish assholes who only cared about being with that one person they’d decided was their One True Soulmate or whatever.

Yeah… because I was a teenager who always saw romance from the outside and never felt anything like it, I got a rather skewed impression of it. And it didn’t help that the ever-present pop culture (which I as a geek was eagerly consuming) built up under the impression. I remember watching The Princess Bride and being SO ANGRY when “Truuuuuuue… Looooove….” was given as the best reason for waking Wesley up from the mostly-dead.

I mean, I was RANTING. “Are you fucking kidding me?! What about helping oppressed people in need? Saving imprisoned animals in a terrible zoo of death? Overthrowing a sadistic and clearly psychopathic king who’s causing death and misery to an entire kingdom?! Noooo, the ONLY good reason to get him back is so he can SMOOCH THE HOT GIRL! And as long as they can BANG, I guess the rest of the world can go HANG! Get BENT! Who the fuck NEEDS you, you self-centered ASSHOLES?!”

Nobody else agreed with me. Or they thought I was taking this too seriously, because “it’s just a fun movie.” But I supposed that was kind of it… the implication that “Truuuuuuue… Looooove….” was the ultimate reason to live made me STOP thinking it was a fun movie.

Now… as I grew older and learned to see people and situations with more nuance, I softened my attitude towards romance and began seeing that, just like it was with sex, it didn’t have to dominate you completely and your love live was just part of who you were. But I still had no interest in it. As i entered my adult years, some family members began hinting that I really should find myself a man… but I actually wasn’t pressured as much as you might think. Nobody tried to set me up with anyone, and since I just tended to not respond whenever they asked “aren’t you going to find someone?” they might just have given me up as a lost cause.

Besides, my sister (who is a lot older than me) ended up having four kids… with three different guys, but that’s another story… and so in my adult years I slid pretty easily into the role as the eccentric and artistic single aunt who drew everyone pictures every Christmas and showed up to babysit every so often. And even though many of my friends over the years settled down in their own relationships (mostly heterosexual, it must be admitted), they stopped trying to set me up. I was doubly happy… happy for them, and happy for myself, because they didn’t try to drag ME into it.

As I approached the end of my 20s I was quite happy in my life as a bachelorette and had no problems becoming a “pepper maiden.”

…And for you non-Norwegians out there, “pepper maiden” is an old-fashioned Norwegian expression for a woman who is still unmarried when she’s reached 30. (Kinda like the Japanese expression “Christmas cake.”) The male equivalent of a pepper maiden is a “pepper journeyman,” and there used to be a tradition here in norway that if you were still unmarried on your 30th birthday, your birthday gift would be a pepper shaker or a pepper grinder. (Thankfully this tradition is dying out; it’s kind of a hurtful gift to give someone and I’ve heard of women who burst into tears because their big birthday gift was essentially just a huge “nyah nyah, no man wants you.”)

And then… I was 28 and working as a cleaning lady, and riding the bus on my way home from work. The driver had the radio on, and I was half-listening to it while reading a book on my phone, when “The Rose” with Bette Midler started playing.

I’d heard the song before, of course. It’s a very well known song, and at the time I quite liked it. The tune was pretty, and Bette Midler had a nice voice. But this time I made the mistake of actually listening to the lyrics… and it sank in what they meant and the song was about. And… it was like EVERY SINGLE jab, direct and indirect, I’d had over the years for never being or wanting to be in a relationship, just hit me all at once. The insistence upon “love” as the ultimate and most profound human experience. The idealization of “love” and likening of it to the sun and to flowers. The depiction of people who are too afraid of hurt to ever learn to live (and by “live” they mean “fall in love” because what is life without romance, huh?). The gentle, slightly patronizing and sentimentally pitying pushiness to “take the chance” because you have to risk the hurt in order to live. The hint that if you don’t seek love it’s because you’re broken. All wrapped up in an intensely melancholic and sentimental package of “poor you, you hurt so much, but don’t you see how happy you could be?”

I began crying. The song just shattered something inside me. I had been cheerfully non-romantic, neither wanting nor needing romance for all of my life… and here I was, 28 years old, sitting on a bus and crying my eyes out because Bette fucking Midler told me I was broken and wrong.

Yes, yes, I know, I know… that probably wasn’t what Bette Midler, or songwriter Amanda McBloom, intended to say. They probably MEANT it as a song of comfort and encouragement, but I’m pretty sure they were both alloromantics and it didn’t even occur to them that anyone wouldn’t desire “love” unless they were hurt or afraid. But that doesn’t make the song feel any less pushy and patronizing for me.

I’ve also seen people claim that it doesn’t have to be about romantic love but can be about any kind of love… but the imagery here REALLY leaves no doubt that nope, the love they’re talking about is the Big Capital L Two Hearts Beat As One Love, the love I can’t experience and don’t really want to experience but which the song tells me is the only real way of living.

It was some time later when I learned the word “aromantic.” And just like when I’d learned the word “genderfluid” my reaction was essentially “there’s a name for it?” The difference was that genderfluidity was just something I’d assumed everyone felt and I was surprised to find out I wasn’t the norm, while when it came to aromanticism I was always PERFECTLY AWARE that I wasn’t the norm. I just didn’t know it was an established thing that you could be… If I thought about it at all I suppose I just thought of myself as “not much of a romantic.”

Learning that I was aromantic was a comfort. It gave me an answer. It allowed me to say “I’m aromantic, I just can’t fall in love” on the rare occasions it came up. And honestly, I still kinda think that not being aromantic sounds hopelessly complicated with all those dating rules and social complexities and who likes who in what way, except if you like them in THIS way that’s bad, and if you like THESE people you’re aiming above your station or you’re “simping” or whatever, and I’m just glad I don’t have to deal with all that.

But when “The Rose” plays I just, for a moment, feel broken and wrong.

So… I suppose the lesson here is don’t ever take it for granted that any experience is universal.

Random posts from the blog: