Jun 082016

the-princess-brideSo in the process of creating the two Bayesian Conspiracy episodes on Polyamory, I think I may have discovered that most other people have a secret sixth-sense/emotion that I’ve been blind to this whole time. And boy howdy, is THAT ever confusing!

I got in a bit of a misunderstanding about when it’s appropriate to use the term boyfriend/girlfriend (I’m gonna default of female gender for the rest of this, since it’s about me, and I’m basically straight). I had thought that if someone has a friend, and they sleep with that friend with some regularity, that’s basically what a girlfriend is.

When I interact with other humans, my level of “liking” them can be (roughly, with some cajoling) split into two axes – Feelings of Friendship (“liking”), and Feelings of Sexual Attraction (“crushing”). Of course there’s feedback loops between the two. But that’s basically it. The qualitative difference between my best male friend and my best female friend is that “crushing” axis. Since the sexual attraction is what every romantic movie/book/etc focuses on, I used to call this the “romantic” axis, rather than the “crushing” axis.

But that’s not what romance is, I guess?? I was informed there’s a qualitative difference between “friend I sleep with” and “girlfriend.” That if one becomes too good of a friend with someone, they can “cross a line” into a different type of feelings that are called “romantic” feelings. Those feelings are qualitatively different. And NOT in the sexual-attraction way.

I suddenly felt entirely lost. I feel like the guy who found out in his 30s that he has aphantasia, and everyone else in the world can see things with their brain whenever they want, like some kind of super-power! Is there some sort of thing I’ve been entirely blind to my whole life? All I know is that I really like some people A LOT! Suddenly that doesn’t count as love? Then what have I been doing my whole life?

And a number of things suddenly made a lot more sense.

  • Like when I was trying to learn to be social, so I started up a conversation with a guy at a local rock show, and afterwards my best friend asked me “Dude, why where you hitting on that guy so much?” And I was like “WTF? I was just being friendly!” And he said “No, you were TOTALLY all over him.” And I’m all “But… I don’t even like guys. I was just chatting…”
  • Or why I was the only one who was always scarred and hurt when my friends moved away or lost contact or whatever. Every time it was like a chunk of me being ripped out. And it was just me. The friend just moved on, they never made that same connection. Not to the level I had. (I tend not to do that anymore, as a defensive measure)
  • Also why not everyone is just open about everything in their life with everyone else. I am a super-transparent person, and I’m happy to talk about nearly anything in my life with anyone. But I guess that’s a thing people reserve just for one “super-special” person? And such intimate talking with others would reduce the meaningfulness of their conversation with the super-special person.
  • Maybe being uncomfortable with Public Displays of Affection falls into this too?

It’s because all this is stuff that falls on the “romance” side of that friend/romance distinction. I never knew there was a distinction. To me there’s just varying levels of “friend!”

The first thing I did was google “aromantic” and read up on that, because I obviously didn’t have this “romantic sense” other people do. But that doesn’t really seem to fit. A common list describes things like “not understanding what a crush is” and “not understanding why people make a big deal out of crushes and/or falling in love”. I totally crush on people, and I love the hell out of falling in love/NRE. (Oh god… are those two different things too??) Various aromance tumblrs also seemed to focus on the not-having-strong-emotions-of-attraction part, which is the opposite of my experience.

My next thought was “OK, maybe I’m the opposite – panromantic(?)” I can/do get these strong feelings toward anyone, and it has nothing to do with sex. I would gladly marry my best guy friend, as long as we didn’t have to do any sex stuff. And all these tumblrs keep saying aromantic and asexual are separate things.

That makes sense, right? Maybe my mistake was that I confused the word “romantic” as meaning “on the sexual axis” when it should have meant “on the friendship axis”.

But then what the hell is a friend? What does THAT mean to people? And why do some straight people claim that “[straight] men and women can’t be friends”?  Apparently some married people don’t consider their mate their best friend?

Googling panromantic really didn’t bring up much though. Not nearly the same level of stuff as aromantic. Maybe I’m searching for the wrong term? What do you call someone who doesn’t grok the difference between “friend I like a ton, and enjoy sexing with” and “romantic partner”?

Like, seriously, does anyone know?

  5 Responses to ““Romance” does not mean what I think it means?”

  1. I notice the same lack-of-an-emotion, but suspect it’s all a con. Like how everyone pretends to like beer, cf. xkcd.com/1534

    • That sounds a lot like a typical mind fallacy answer, but I think it’s plausible in this case. I’ve heard a few places that romantic love was invented sometime within the last few centuries, which doesn’t make sense if it’s really a natural category of human emotions.

      I’m not sure if the part about it being invented is actually true, and if it is it might still feel like a natural category to most people because culture.

      In any case, I also can’t really tell a qualitative difference in various forms of liking. I can like talking to somebody and like playing games with somebody else, but I don’t think that is very close to the right distinction.

  2. Romance is a cultural construct. It addresses types of fondness we don’t have English words for. If we use the greek words. You describe feeling eros and philia. Romance is the idea composed of pragma, and ludus. It is joy and isomorphism combined into an emotion and it is kinda weird.

    So, a wedding is romantic cause it’s isomorphic but blowing bubbles at a lover is romantic cause it’s joyful. Being less wrong and nerdy we are likely to be poorly socially inculturated and miss the subtlety of it.

  3. I think you might find this Robin Hanson article to be explanatory. http://www.overcomingbias.com/2009/10/sex-is-near-love-is-far.html He thinks that deciding if you are in love is more of an intellectual decision. Because there are a lot of trust issues involved everyone has a different set point where they are willing believe they are in love with someone. I would just guess that your set point is a lot lower than average. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. My guess as to why most people’s set point is higher has to do with not wanting to get hurt when the people they love move away.

  4. If the thing you want is a word, one of the definitions for “Grey-romantic” (there are a handful, because different people have wanted it as a word for their own thing) is not having a distinction between platonic and romantic feelings?

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