Aromanticism, Aplatonicism, Neurodivergence and Me

Originally, I was going to call this post “Accepting that I was aro was a lot harder than accepting that I was ace, but not for the reasons you’d think” but I’ve been really paranoid about misrepresenting my own experiences recently (**glares at one of my Master’s classes**) so I decided to switch things up a little.

About me

I’m asexual, grayromantic and romance-indifferent. I do tend to think of myself as just asexual a fair amount of the time, because I don’t experience being ace and being aro as different the way some aroaces do, so a lot of the time specifying that I’m grayro as well feels somewhat unnecessary.

I’m also neurodivergent. Last fall, I talked to my therapist about the possibility that I might be autistic and she agrees it’s a possibility. My OCD makes these things complicated by hating the lack of absolute certainty, so a lot of the time I just say neurodivergent for fear of saying I’m something that I’m not. However, it’s a question I’ll unlikely to ever get answered conclusively and there are definitely autistics who self-diagnose with no professional acknowledgement at all, so I guess that for the purposes of this post, we’ll assume I’m autistic.

I didn’t realize I was aro right away. Since I don’t experience an inherent ace/aro split and I knew I had had crushes I assumed I was either heteromantic or biromantic. I realized I was probably aro when I discovered that alloaros existed and noticed that I shared experiences with them, which wouldn’t make sense if I was an alloace. I was initially really freaked out to the tune of “oh, shit, I’m going to die alone.” Interestingly, as an elder ace I’m actually much less certain I experience or have ever experienced romantic attraction than I was as a baby ace, but that realization has made me more quoiromantic not more aromantic.

I’m sure that the general assumption that everyone will fall in love and get married had a lot to do with why I wasn’t happy to realize I was aro, but I don’t think it explains everything because I actually wasn’t too terribly invested in the idea of dating or falling in love before I realized I was aro. In fact, one of the realizations that led to me finally realizing I wasn’t straight was the realization that, “I am nineteen years old, I’ve never dated and I. Don’t. Care.” I’d just initially assumed that my disinterest in dating was another ace thing (I figured that if I didn’t want to have sex with people it would make sense if I also wouldn’t be that interested in dating).

The last, bit of background information: for a while I’ve suspected that I might technically “count” as aplatonic, and I think that the answer to why I was so freaked out when I realized I was aro says as much—if not more—about my relationship with my maybe-aplatonicism as it does about my relationship with my grayromanticism.

Am I aplatonic?

Good question. I have literally no idea and there are a couple reasons for this.

The first is that aplatonic is actually somewhat poorly defined. The original coiner said it was not feeling like you love your friends. By that definition, I’m probably like…grayplatonic or something because I have had friendships where I feel like the word love applies, but most of the time I don’t think it does.

However, that’s an alloace on AVEN. Aplatonic as an identity term is more commonly used in the Tumblr Aro Community. A post from that community gives these definitions:

“Definition 1: Aplatonic is an identity for people who experience little to no platonic attraction such that they rarely experience squishes, or desire to form a friendship with specific people.

Definition 2: Aplatonic is an identity for people who struggle to form platonic relationships of any kind, often due to neurodivergency and/or traumatic experiences.

Another definition which has been attributed with aplatonic, but also disputed as a definition, is this:

Definition 3: an identity for people who do not experience attraction such that they would want a queerplatonic relationship.”

(source)

I am aplatonic by definition 2. As for definitions 1 and 3 the only response I can give is **shrug**. I don’t find emotional attractions like platonic and queerplatonic attraction personally useful concepts so I don’t label them, and therefore don’t know if I experience them or not.

Another reason I’m not sure if I’m aplatonic is because when I first heard about the concept of aplatonism I was very opposed to the idea. Explaining why requires a good deal of background into why I think the term might apply to me in the first place:

Confession: I’m a terrible friend

This is my oldest, deepest character flaw. Literally as long as I can remember, my mom has been lecturing me for not reaching out, for not caring enough about my friends.

This outline post of Char’s defines the term relationship maintenance as “putting time into interacting with the person outside of convenience, being aware of and acting on the emotional needs and interests of the person.” This is what I’d say is the part of friendships that I struggle with the most, especially the first part of the definition about interacting. If you take the difficulty with small talk, the general shyness and the inability to tell when I’ve successfully befriended someone out of the equation, I’m actually not horrible at making friends; my issue is with keeping them after the fact.

Put clearly: I don’t reach out. You know all the texting and calling and setting up of plans and generally hanging out that are required for friendships? I don’t do that kind of stuff. I know I should, but it takes me a lot of time to work up the fortitude to do it—by “a lot of time” I mean weeks or months. Once I do get over the hump of reaching out and some kind of plans are formed, I need time to mentally prepare myself—I’m not a fan of unexpected plans, I need a couple days advance notice—and I spend a lot of time dreading the plans and wishing I could just say home. When the plans happen, I always have fun, but rarely enough fun to outweigh all the dread from beforehand.

In the absence of outside forces, I like to stay home and write or read or go to the library or go on a drive or a walk. I either get lonely in specific awkward situations where I am visibly alone in a group of people who all have friends, or in the long-term (at the idea of always being alone). In immediate, day-to-day life, however, I rarely get lonely. It’s like everyone else gets more positive feelings out of structured interactions with other people than I do.

As I stated above, this problem goes all the way back to when I was in elementary school. When I was a kid my mom used to lecture me for never calling A.—my then best friend—to set up times for us to play. She told me over and over again that I was going to lose this friendship because A. wouldn’t put up with being the only one doing the work in the relationship forever. Ultimately, my mom was right.

As long as my friends and I exist in some kind of situation which forces us to run into each other frequently—having the same classes, being roommates, working together, etc—it’s okay. I actually really enjoy living communally with roommates where we see each other all the time in unstructured, less stressful situations. I was part of a large friend group in undergrad—a welcome improvement from high school—but now that we’ve all graduated and no longer see each other for things like nightly dinner in the campus cafeteria, I’ve lost contact with almost all of them. This includes my roommate who was one of my closest friends for our entire time in undergrad. I’m still in sporadic contact with two friends—incidentally these are the ones where I would say the word “love” applies to our relationship—but that’s largely because they reach out to me not the other way around.

From pretty early on when I heard about the word aplatonic, I was horribly aware that experiences like these might be the ones the people were using this term to describe and I didn’t like it. This is my biggest and oldest character flaw, and it’s one of the things I hate about myself and wish that I could change. My knee-jerk reaction to framing it as an orientation was to reject the implication that I should be proud of it the same way I reject the implication that my OCD counts as neurodivergence, because I don’t think either of these things are something to be proud of.

So what does this have to do with me figuring out I was aro?

Looking back, I think that even though I wasn’t particularly invested in ever being married, marriage functioned as a sort of safety net. I was raised by people who don’t really believe in divorce,1 so my impression of marriage was that it was forever binding, no way out. If I got married that would be one person who would be stuck with me, who I would be forced to stay in close contact with and I wouldn’t be able to drift away from. If I got married I wouldn’t be alone, even when I inevitably destroyed and drifted away from every friendship I had.

I think that this was a big part of why I was so scared when I realized I was probably aro. I wasn’t really invested in romantic relationships to start with, but I’d still assumed I’d probably end up getting married because that was how it worked and I took some comfort from that. When I realized I was probably aro I lost the bit of protection I had from spending the rest of my life alone, because I wasn’t capable of maintaining relationships with people who weren’t stuck with me. I’m not as terrified by it now, partially because I got used to the idea of being aro and partially because I spend most of my time avoiding thinking about whether or not I’m going to end up friendless.

Where do I go from here?

In the last year or so, I’ve come to the realization that this—me being maybe-aplatonic—is probably an autism thing not just me being a lazy, selfish person like I’d always assumed. I once talked about this on a late-diagnosed autistic adults Facebook group I’m part of, and it turned out a lot of other people had the same experience. When I told my therapist about it, she called it “a story I tell myself” and said that if we stopped assuming I innately had the social skills necessary to maintain friendships, I could probably become better at it.

Still, it’s complicated and a bit disconcerting. I was raised thinking of myself as allistic2 which means that I was also raised with an allistic understanding of what autism is which I’m still trying to deprogram. Everyone thinks they know what autism looks like and the idea that autism can actually look like someone like me is something I’m still getting used to. I think that might be part of the reason I’m so leery about stating that I’m autistic for certain, I keep noticing the ways that I’m not stereotypically autistic and thinking that must mean I’m not autistic. It’s a work in progress all around.

I’m also not sure what all of this does with my relationship with the word aplatonic. I’m a lot less opposed to it than I used to be, but I’m still not sure if it’s a word that I want to use myself. I sometimes wonder if my opinions would be different if I wasn’t autistic. If I was allistic, I can see how being able to say “I’m aplatonic” would be really helpful for describing my experience, but given that I’m not I’m not sure that saying “I’m aplatonic” says anything about me that saying “I’m autistic” doesn’t. In fact, I feel like, at least for me, the word autistic says more because it’s not just a what it’s also a why and being able to put a finger on why I’m like this has been really helpful for me.

Right now, I think what I’m going to do with the word aplatonic is the same thing I’ve done with the word quoiromantic and say, “I probably could call myself this if I wanted to, but I think the words I’m using right now do the job fine so I’m not going to change them.” I think that I’ll probably keep an eye on aplatonic discussions anyway because if the post of Char’s I quoted above is any indication, the community is in the process of applying/collating words for concepts that will probably be useful, but for the time being I’m just going to keep describing this experience as “I’m autistic.”

1 I’d say divorce period, but I think my mom is of the opinion that abuse is an acceptable exclusion.

2 Allistic=a person who is not autistic. Sometimes you will see people refer to non-autistic people as neurotypical, but this causes problems because neurodivergent is a larger category than autistic so there are non-autistic neurodivergent people.

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