Being an Only Child, and Being Aromantic

I recently ran a thought experiment: is being aromantic like being an only child? Since I am an only child and aromantic, I think I’m qualified to answer the question.

As an only child, I do not have any biological siblings, and while I might conceivably form sibling-like adult relationships, the boat of having a childhood history attached to such relationships has already sailed. While it is conceivable that I could still form a deep romantic bond with somebody, at this point, I consider that to be quite unlikely. Therefore, I consider both ‘sisterhood’ and ‘romantic bond’ long gone from my deck of cards.

Obviously, I didn’t control how many siblings I had, whereas I at least have influence over whether or not I have romantic partners. But do I really control it? I cannot control whether or not I fall in romantic love with someone, and if I’m not romantically in love with someone, is it a true romantic bond?

What do I wish for more, a sibling or a romantic partner?

I’ve made my peace with both my lack of siblings and lack of romantic partners, but if a genie could grant me one – and only one – I would pick a sibling. Perhaps it’s because I didn’t choose to be siblingless, and maybe if I really *did* have a sibling, I would wish that sibling away.

What do I get more flack for?

Being aromantic. Definitely.

That’s not to say that I get zero flack for being an only child. There are people who pity me because I don’t have any siblings, and I hear about people saying that all only children are spoiled brats, and so on. But I get less as an adult than I did as a kid, and there are enough well-known only children in the world that it’s not considered particularly strange.

The flack I feel for being aromantic is exponentially greater.

It is almost certainly partially due to aromanticism being much, much, much less understood than only-childhood. However, at least in American society, much less importance is attached to sibling-sibling relationships than romantic relationships, so by lacking romantic relationships, I am breaking the social norms much harder than by lacking sibling relationships.

A lot more people think my life must be empty and meaningless because I lack romantic relationships than because I lack sibling relationships, even though I see no objective reason for romantic relationships to be more important for sibling relationships.

Is it a useful example?

Most people in American society understand that life can be full, interesting, and meaningful without siblings. Does substituting ‘siblings’ with ‘romantic partners’ help people understand how being aromantic can be okay too?


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5 thoughts on “Being an Only Child, and Being Aromantic

  1. Speaking as a romantic with a sibling… Not really. I can see the parallels, but you’re talking about two entirely different states of mind. It might, perhaps, be better to think in terms of colour. The romantic sees the world in colour, and uses a whole spectrum of words to describe and navigate the world, words that are bafflingly devoid of meaning to the aromantic who only sees the world in greyscale. Of course, the aromantic has a full and meaningful life, but the romantic pities the aromantic for not experiencing the wonders of life in colour, and the aromantic is frustrated at being forced to live in a world where people are assumed to see in colour.

    • Fair enough. Siblinghood is a relationship, whereas being aromantic is an orientation. Being an only child is probably more comparable to never having had a romantic relationship (some aromantic people have been in romantic relationships, and some alloromantic people have never had a romantic relationship).

      But the color vision analogy baffles me. I’ve known colorblind people, and I’ve never pitied them, and I don’t see why I would pity greyscale-vision people either. Color vision just doesn’t seem to be a big enough deal to pity anybody over not having it (okay, I suppose if a visual designer suddenly got greyscale vision and lost their job, I might feel sorry about that). And color vision is about sensory input, whereas romantic orientation. Thinking about it in terms of color just confuses me.

      • I am twisting it a little, but… How often do we use colour to give directions? For example: red means stop, amber means… maybe, green means go. For a person who sees colours, we understand how to react. We can follow the yellow brick road all the way to Oz without being baffled by intersections with white, beige and pink brick roads. The truly colour-blind person must learn how to distinguish colours without ever really understanding them. In the same way an aromantic navigates friendships, either oblivious to any romantic overtones or desperately trying to interpret signals. (‘I love you, J.’ – ‘WTF! Where did that come from?’ – ‘Oh, come on, J., the way you smile at me… you’ve practically been giving me the green light!’)

        The pity thing: Most colour-blind people can’t distinguish red and green. I don’t know how many people are fully colour-blind. I’m not saying they should be pitied, but there must be scenarios where colour-blindness creates a significant gap between people. (‘Oh, look at that sunset! It’s so beautiful with the pinks and blues!’ – ‘If you say so…’ Or: ‘I adore the subtle geometries of this artwork.’ – ‘I suppose, but that orange is hideous!’) Both colours and romance evoke emotional responses. It’s not a huge leap from colour-blind to romance-blind. (‘Oh, look at that couple! They’re so romantic with their blushes and kisses!’ – ‘If you say so…’)

      • You seem to misunderstand what it means to be aromantic. Just because I’m aromantic does not mean I cannot detect the romantic nature of other people’s feelings/actions, or that noticing an intense emotional reaction in one person does not get an echoing emotional reaction in myself. I do not interpret all romantic signals perfectly … but apparently, neither to romantic people (otherwise romantic comedies would have less material to work with). Heck, I even enjoy reading/watching (well-written) romance fiction, because it gets the characters very emotional, and I get caught up in the characters’ emotions. I understand romance in real life and in fiction about as well as I understand sibling relationships … actually, I might understand romance better since I have encountered many more explanations of how romance works than how sibling relationships work. What being aromantic means is that I do not experience romantic attraction to people. Some people on the ace-spectrum talk about ‘romance drive’, and perhaps I have one, but if so, the feelings are unfocused.

        As far as colorblindesss … while it can cause communication issues, as far as I know it never caused a ‘significant’ gap between my colorblind acquaintances and other people. Then again, to know for sure, I would have to ask them.

      • I am guilty over oversimplifying for the sake of argument, and accept that there are many ways to be aromantic.

        The ‘significant’ gap depends entirely on context. I might equally have had a synaesthete and non-synaesthete arguing over the emotional overtones in a Kandinsky painting.

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