There’s a lot of confusion about the word “aromantic”. Romantic attraction is defined by AVENwiki as “an emotional response that most people often feel that results in a desire for a romantic relationship with the person that the attraction is felt toward”, which I hope we can all agree is extremely helpful and non-tautological. Some people have invented delightful terms like “wtfromantic” to express their complete inability to describe their romantic orientation. Other people have criticized allosexual aromantics by claiming that they’re “just interested in sex without caring about your partner’s emotions”. Still others have questioned whether aromanticism is even a real thing.

However, I think there’s a very real difference between the alloromantic asexuals I know and the aromantic asexuals I know. So I am now going to gesture towards a useful definition.

(Throughout this post, I will be using the terms “primary” and “secondary.” “Primary” is intended to indicate a very committed relationship; common traits of primary relationships include sharing finances, living together, legal marriage, raising children together, taking care of the other person when they become elderly or disabled, and including the person in all major life plans. “Secondary” is intended to indicate a somewhat committed relationship; common traits of secondary relationships include making an effort to spend time together, missing the other person when they’re gone, making an unusual effort to make the other person happy, and sharing your secrets with the other person. Primaries and secondaries may be platonic or romantic.)

First, a behavioral definition: alloromantic people are those who have at least some primary or secondary relationships in which they desire more sensual behavior (e.g. kissing, hugging, cuddling, massages) than their baseline. The bit about “baseline” is important– a very cuddly aromantic is still aromantic. “More sensual behavior” may mean certain acts– for instance, they may only be comfortable kissing their romantic partners– or how often they desire sensual behavior– you might occasionally cuddle your friends, but snuggle your partner every night. I think this is a useful definition, in that almost all romantic relationships will involve more sensual behavior than baseline, and the aromantic people I know are also mostly disgusted by kissing. However, it’s very culturally contingent– in a lot of cultures, friends kiss– and it doesn’t really get at the base difference. Why are certain kinds of physical attraction romantic?

Second, an emotional definition: alloromanticism refers to the ability to feel the “passion” part of this triangle:

So what is “passion”? You think about the other person a lot. You get excited when you see them: your pulse races, you may flush. You idealize them. Your relationship with them becomes a priority all out of proportion with the amount that you’ve invested in your relationship: some people in the grips of passion have found themselves saying things like “I don’t care if we’re miserable as long as we’re together!” You suddenly find yourself listening to really dumb pop songs and thinking “you know, when I’m joining up the dots with the freckles on their cheeks, it really DOES all make sense to me.” You spend a lot of time looking into each other’s eyes and giggling and saying “no, YOU’RE the cutest.”

The emotional definition encompasses the behavioral definition: the reason that romantic relationships are so cuddly is that one trait of passion is a desire to touch your partner a lot.

Now, this creates a tremendously interesting question: are all primary relationships, after a certain point, aromantic?

The wonderfully-named meta-analysis Does a Long-Term Relationship Kill Romantic Love? finds that we should distinguish what it calls “eros” and what it calls “mania”. Mania is basically obsession– you can’t stop thinking about your partner to the point that it distracts you from anything else you’d like to do. Eros is the rest of what we were calling passion: prioritizing your relationship to a fairly absurd degree; feeling bubbly and happy in your partner’s presence; powerful sensual attraction to your partner. It finds that longer relationships are just as likely as shorter relationships to have eros, but far less likely to have mania. Therefore, for strict accuracy, we should probably take the “obsessional” bits out of the definition.

One interesting result of this definition is that a whole lot of aromantic allosexuals are in relationships they consider to be romantic. In our culture, a sexual primary relationship is typically understood to be romantic; unless you’re at least on the peripheries of the asexual community, you have no concept that those things might be different. I wonder how much cynicism about romantic love is actually aromantic allosexual people engaged in the typical mind fallacy.