For a lot of people, romantic orientation and sexual orientation are the same, which is why allosexual people don’t generally bring up this sort of thing unless they’ve heard the idea from the asexual community. The concept may not be a part of asexuality itself, per se, but your romantic orientation can be tough to figure out when you don’t have a hotness meter to guide you.
There are some folks who just know, or have had enough crushes to be certain, but that doesn’t account for all of us. In some ways, defining romantic attraction can be just as fuzzy (or more so) than sexual attraction. Still, you’d think it’d be more straightforward than this.
Before, I mentioned that part of the reason I took so long to realize I’m on the asexual spectrum is that I was hung up on other forms of attraction. I assumed that I was romantically attracted to people of a different gender than mine, making me heteroromantic, a label which… kind of depends on what my own gender is, but that’s a whole different mess. Regardless, that might still hold true if any of the attractions I feel deserve to be called “romantic”. Can’t say for sure if any of them do.
Having thought about it, I know that the feelings I experience toward some people include strong aesthetic and sensual attraction, which is to say, sometimes people are really nice to look at and sometimes I feel compelled to cuddle or stroke their arms or something. These are feelings that I rarely act on because a) asking if you can touch people can seem creepy if you don’t know them well, and b) if I asked and they were okay with it, they might take the interest in physical contact as an indication of sexual attraction or even assume that meant consent to any other feasible interaction beyond what I specifically asked, and… I’d rather just keep to myself than deal with that kind of misunderstanding.
But the question remains, have I experienced romantic attraction? The closest thing I’ve felt is a kind of mild “your face is nice and I kind of want to get to know you” redirection of attention, but that usually goes away or can be suppressed pretty easily. From the descriptions I’ve heard of what crushes are like, this doesn’t sound like it makes the cut. Even in the strongest instance of one of these feelings, I was certain the person in question was someone I wouldn’t have been happy with in a romance, and if I’d been asked out by this person (0% likelihood of that), I would have said No, for certain. In retrospect, the situation fits the description of what some call “platonic crushes” or “squishes”. Not that I understood it at the time.
Let’s see. What else is there to go off of?
In kindergarten, I remember deciding at some point that I should “like” someone. So I studied my classmates and picked a person, whom I then proceeded to dedicate a short story to (it was atrocious), but later I decided to not like anyone anymore because this kid “got in trouble too much” (pretty much my exact thoughts). In retrospect, the whole thing was ludicrous.
I’ve never been in a romantic relationship, and I can’t recall ever having a real crush on anyone, not like the ones that others seem to have. Would that mean I’m aromantic? Maybe, but something about that doesn’t feel right. I’ve always expected to end up married, and being married sounds nice — not the amorous part at the beginning, but further along, settling into older age and sitting around reading together, when the relationship is less about newfound passion and more about closeness and quiet companionship. Preferably we would just skip to that part.
I do desire a romantic relationship, in the abstract — I’ve just never encountered anyone who really set off the mechanism, so to speak. Maybe I never will. Maybe that’s not how it works for me. No problem there. Maybe I’m just an ISTJ heteroromantic. Maybe I will experience conventional romantic attraction at some point.
However, I say that with reservations. The “you just haven’t met the right person yet” line of rhetoric is one often used in dismissing asexuals’ experiences. I don’t want to contribute to that by (in essence) communicating that I’m “a heteroromantic who just hasn’t met the right person yet”. The label of heteroromantic is a little too clean cut for me and not exactly truthful (and also comes with some binarist associations; how do I know I won’t fall in love with an agender person?). Yet it would confuse people to call me “aromantic”, since that implies I’d never want to date anyone, and aros who don’t want to date anyone should have that right respected. Thus calling myself aro would either create the wrong impression about what I want or make people think it’s okay to express interest in dating someone who has already come out as aromantic.
This is all hypothetical, of course. I don’t come out to people very often.*
*I’m bad at it.
Granted, some people who have found themselves in this confusing situation have adopted the label “wtfromantic” (and variations), which is to say they don’t know wtf their romantic orientation is. That’s a cool neologism, and that may be accurate, but I don’t use that one myself, both out of linguistic preference and out of the difficulties of pronunciation.
I don’t have a tidy way to wrap this up at the end. What is it that people say when they’re not sure about their sexual orientation? “Questioning”? For now, I can just say I’m that.