In what I think is my first post where I actually discussed aromanticism, I mentioned being an aromantic who enjoys fictional romances.
I want to delve into what that means.
I rarely read any work of fiction which would be labeled as mere ‘Romance’. In fact, the only novel I can think of which I have read all the way through which squarely belongs in ‘Romance’ as opposed to, say, ‘[Genre] with a Heavy Dose of Romance’ is Venetia by Georgette Heyer. And even that one is historical fiction, albeit generally known as ‘Regency Romance’, not ‘Historical’.
For the record, I thought Venetia was okay, but I was not inspired to read more Heyer or ‘Regency Romances’.
Have I read a lot of romance comics, mostly from East Asia, as well as watched a lot of Taiwanese idol dramas, which are usually mostly about romance? Yes, yes I have. Have I read a number of yánqíng xiǎoshuō (言情小說) by Qiong Yao? Yes, yes I have, though I have argued that yánqíng xiǎoshuō are not the same as what we call ‘romance novels’ in English. I should point out that one of my motives for reading/watching a lot of these stories was practicing Chinese.
I don’t seek out fiction for the romance, but romance is really, really common in fiction, and I often find myself really enjoying reading (well-written) romance.
The thing is, I am a sucker for intense, passionate relationships between compelling characters, and a lot those relationships which are presented in fiction are, well, romantic.
(Also, I am a sucker for melodrama, which is why I can get addicted to soap operas).
I didn’t used to like romance in fiction. When I was a younger reader, I strongly disliked romance being in my fiction. It was only when I was in high school that I started to actually enjoy romances in fiction, which at the time I assumed had something to do with puberty and becoming a sexual/romantic person … ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.
However, even then – and ever since then, I may add – I have found romances where the main couple does not get a happily-married ending to be especially satisfying. Okay, sometimes I do root for the main couple to get together and get their happily-paired-for-life ending, but I often like it better when they don’t.
For example, one of the things I adore about Shēn Diāo Xiá Lǚ (if you’ve been following this blog for a long time, you should have known I would mention that novel at some point) is the fact that the wedding happens in the middle, not the end, of the story and the main couple still has to go through a lot of … suffering even after being married (spoiler: they do get reunited in the end, but it doesn’t feel like a typical happy ending for a romance to me).
Another example is The Widow Claire, Part 4 The Orphans’-Home Cycle (The Orphans’-Home Cycle, the second most famous cycle in the American theatrical canon, is a set of plays depicting the life of Horace Robedeaux). One of the things I love about that play is that Horace and Claire separate at the end of the story! Suffice to say, I don’t like Part 5, Courtship, nearly as much as The Widow Claire.
Anyway, I strongly suspect that the satisfaction I get out of fictional romances where the couple ends up separated, not together, has something to do with the fact that I aromantic. I don’t want to be romantically together, I want to be romantically apart.
These days, the appeal of fictional romance is waning for me because a) as I read/watch more, they seem more and more the same and b) I am getting better and better at critically analyzing romance in fiction. Or to merge those two thoughts together, I am getting really tired of the Relationship Escalator.
However, I am just as interested in well-written and intense personal relationships between compelling characters in fiction as I ever was. An example I discovered in the last year came from a direction I did not expect at all: Harry Potter fanfiction (at some point, I plan to write an update of this old post). It’s Siggy’s fault for introducing me to Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. My favorite part of the story are the scenes featuring Harry and Draco (yes, I am shocked by that second part – I find Draco in the original Harry Potter novels uninteresting). Those two characters have chemistry, and it is totally non-romantic (as well as non-sexual).
Strangely, I’m not especially personally interested in seeing aromantic characters in fiction. I would love to read about well-written aromantic characters, and I encourage fiction writers to include aromantic characters because broader representation is good, but, on a personal level, I am also OK with the absence of explicitly aromantic characters. What I really, really want is even more fiction which explores all of the different kinds of intense, passionate personal relationships which aren’t romantic, and acknowledges that these relationships don’t need to be romantic to be fascinating and important.