This is a post about two things: relationships, and a relationship.
It’s also a post I’ve been ambivalent about making — or rather, ambivalent about intending as a submission to the August Carnival of Aros. In my last post about the aro community, I discussed my relationship to the aro umbrella as a quoiromantic and came to no conclusions. Just three months ago, I hesitated about even commenting on Carnival of Aros submissions after the fact, worried about to what extent I might be considered an unwelcome intruder. In response to a private post about that concern, Sennkestra, one of the aros who helped launch the Carnival, not only reassured me about that, but also created the present FAQ Page for anyone else wondering the same thing. Under the heading “Who can participate,” that FAQ now extends an extensive invitation to not just confident aros, but also anyone who is questioning an aro identity, anyone who finds some aro narratives useful, anyone who identifies with something considered “adjacent” to aromanticism, and “anyone with any other type of relationship to aromanticism that I haven’t thought to list yet.” To some, maybe that’s overkill. To me, it’s just-enough-kill — just enough to confirm that I’m on the guest list.
With that said, this is a post that I might have written regardless: a reminder about the meaning of the term “relationships” itself & how I use it, plus some reflection on how my outlook on my own relationships has (and hasn’t) changed.
A “relationship” just means a relationship. It is an extremely nondescript and generic kind of a word. It can refer to any kind of connection or sustained link of interaction between people. All relationships are relationships. Which means:
Relationship =/= romantic relationship. I see this use of the term “relationship” all the time, even in aromantic spaces, and I know many of us are used to hearing “relationship advice” used to mean “romantic relationship advice,” but romance does not make a relationship “a relationship-relationship.” It is not the nature of the concept’s truest form. It should not be treated as implicit and inherent in the term “relationship” itself. All relationships are relationships.
And when I say “all relationships,” I mean all relationships, not just romantic & other kinds of partnerships. Which brings me to my next point.
Relationship =/= partnership. The term “relationship” is not just the romance-neutral, more-generic term for personal partnership. “Relationships” is a broader category than partnerships. “Relationships” does not mean “romantic relationships plus QPRs.” Even if a relationship is not a partnership, it is still a relationship. Yet I guarantee you, when the final roundup of Carnival of Aros entries is posted, there will be people using it in this extremely limited way, which is why this needs to be said. All relationships are relationships. And for that matter—
Relationship =/= chosen relationship. The term “relationship” is not restricted to peer-to-peer non-family personal relationships. We also have relationships in life that we did not choose, or that we chose for constrained, impersonal, logistical reasons. Terms like “boss,” “coworker,” “sister,” and “parent” all describe kinds of relationships. All relationships are relationships.
You may be with me so far, but to take this a step even further:
Relationship =/= individual relationship. The term “relationship” is not constrained to relationships in the form of pairs. When I came across this forum thread questioning as “queerplatonic” as potentially amatonormative, I was initially confused. It’s not amatonormative simply to have a name for such things. In queerplatonic’s case, the whole point of the name is to contradict amatonormativity. However, at this point, I would argue that a disproportionate focus on queerplatonic relationships can be considered just one of the consequences of a highly-individualistic outlook. That is, there is an issue when “relationships” are still being considered solely on the scale of person-to-person pairs. Having recognized that, what I’d like to point out is that our personal relationships don’t all always operate on the scale of the individual. The term “relationships” also includes group relationships.
Group relationships seem like they’re hardly discussed in the aro or ace communities as much as individual relationships. A lot of the posts and threads presented on the topic of “relationships”? …are about individual relationships, and usually just partnerships. Groups did earn a mention a post by Siggy back in in May, though, where he wrote “The more common pattern for me is to hang out with large friend circles. Within these circles, I’m a friend to all, but I’m not close to anyone in particular.” These kinds of connections among groups of people are something I could stand to see more people talk about.
And to be honest, that’s actually kind of a recent outlook of mine. If you had asked me ten years ago, I would have told you that such arrangements (or anything of the sort) sound… for lack of a better term, unfulfilling. For me, certainly, the hope of building a close connection with a kindred spirit holds a lot of narcissistic appeal—and as someone who’s used to being easily shut out and talked over, I used to think that groups and big multi-person conversations were basically… inaccessible to me. I thought I had to have conversations one-on-one in order to be heard or feel like I wasn’t getting ignored, because otherwise, the more assertive personalities in the room take over and I become an awkward wallflower. Over the years, though, I’ve ended up learning that I have a greater capacity for joining and valuing group relationships than I’d previously thought, as long as it’s the right kind of group. This realization didn’t hit me all at once, but rather crept on me with successive examples: my group relationship to a local ace meetup group, my group relationship to the beleaguered coworkers at my office job, and, most recently, my group relationship to my grad school cohort.
During my time in that grad program, it was actually bizarre to me how (relatively) well we got along, as a cohort. We were regularly having friendly conversations with each other and looking after each other and everything. I don’t want to talk it up too much or put it on a pedestal or anything — it wasn’t that close — but it was… nice. For someone like me, whose relationship to blood relatives was one best characterized by passive-aggression and screaming, my group relationship to my cohort actually felt the closest to a mutually-supportive family that I’ve ever experienced, even accounting for the fact that not all of us were particularly friends as individuals. There was just this very passive, very quiet sense that we all supported each other. And even that example, granted, is still talking about groups on a relatively small scale. You could also take this idea further.
You could also talk about relationships to community.
This is where I talk about another example, going back to that subject I’ve explored before: my relationship to the aro community.
In some respects, I’m still ambivalent. On the one hand, an aro recently responded to another round of compulsory-romantic-orientation suit of aces talk, which is reassuring. As I’ve explained before, exposure to other people’s willingness to stick up for me is something that helps me find confidence in claiming a connection to a community. On the other hand… there are some things going on with aros that are still getting to me, and I’m not just talking about my growing sense of frustration with flag culture.
For instance, despite taking pains to explain in excruciating detail why it it’s ideologically suspect and just plain a kick in the teeth, I’m still seeing the nonsense term “split attraction model” being conflated with romantic orientation & sexual orientation labeling. I’m talking about choices up to and including reblogging that Historicallyace post that I devoted a whole post to disputing back in March — and this is happening with not just anyone, mind you, but also with people I’ve already had direct conversations with about this. This isn’t just a case of people missing the memo; those are people I’ve explained this to, personally. They know I’ve written about it; they’re aware; they’ve seen it. Did they have unanswered questions? I don’t know; they haven’t asked. So when I don’t have any other clear sense on why people would not take my thoughts & wounds seriously, what am I supposed to take from that? What am I supposed to take from people continuing to naturalize any of this?
Or, hey, set that aside entirely. Why did I feel like the only one in Neir’s thread who was alarmed by the prescriptivism being expressed there? With the assertions like “Just because you have the right to call yourself something doesn’t mean that it’s true”?
Or, no, let’s go bigger. What about the aro heterosexual I witnessed tell a fellow aro that their asexual identity “didn’t make sense,” where I just happened to get a few words in before the thread was deleted? What about all the posts I see pitting aros and aces against each other as if “aces” isn’t a group that also includes some aros? Why do we have allosexual aros talking as if asexuality is a detriment to credibility? Why do I see a post from an aro ace saying things like “aces shouldn’t be giving aro education,” immediately followed by contradicting themselves in the next sentence, as if “aces” doesn’t include aro aces? Why do I feel like I’m one of maybe only one or two people who’ve noticed how often aros discussing aromanticism are using the term “aces” to mean “alloromantic aces“? Let alone how frequently the impact of sexnormativity is downplayed in order to play up the salience of amatonormativity? Why do I have to see allosexuals acting like their aro identity means they feel no responsibility not to come off as anti-ace?
In the prompt list for the Carnival of Aros, Oliver asked, “How has your orientation impacted your relationships to the communities you belong to?” And I’d say my orientation as a gray-ace has impacted my relationship to the communities I apparently don’t belong to, in that I find myself at a loss for what to make of all this.
What I wanted to write here was just a post about all the different things that “relationships” can mean. With the Carnival’s theme of “relationships” this month, it seemed like a fitting entry. What I really want to hammer home, though, isn’t just that “relationships does not equal partnership,” as much as people clearly need the reminder sometimes. That also goes for the aro community, too, and I think it would be easier to shed the habit if we stopped thinking of relationships in such exclusively individualistic terms. Relationships to community seem like a prime example here. I could have just ended the post on that thought, I know. Thing is, if I’m writing this an entry for the Carnival of Aros, then I want to state in no uncertain terms: this doesn’t mean my ambivalence about the aro community has been resolved. Far from it. On the one hand, I could take every callous or eyebrow-raising comment as just an instance of individual choices — but at what what point do we draw the line between an assortment of individual choices and a pattern in the community? As someone adjacent to aromanticism, looking back on everything I mentioned above, what exactly am I supposed to conclude here?