Experiencing Neither Romance Nor Spirituality

This is for the Carnival of Aros: “The Intersection of Religion and Aromanticism”. I somehow ended up discussing spirituality rather than religion.

The words ‘romance’ and ‘spirituality’ have something in common: they are very difficult to define.

‘Religion’ is also difficult to define, but I think it is easier to grasp than ‘romance’ and ‘spirituality’ (but maybe it is more difficult for other people). I can observe the organized sets of behaviors and ideas which English speakers label as ‘religion’ and I think I know what it means. ‘Culture’ is similarly difficult to define, yet I also think I have a firm grasp on what ‘culture’ means.

I think one difference between words such as ‘romance’ and ‘spirituality’ vs. words such as ‘religion’ and ‘culture’ is that, when you ask someone what is ‘religion’ or ‘culture’, there is a good chance they will point at specific and external examples of ‘religion’ and ‘culture’. They are less likely to require that the person asking the question examine their own feelings. By contrast, when you ask someone to define ‘romance’ or ‘spirituality’, a common response is ‘you will know it when you feel it’. There is a widespread assumption that all (healthy) adults will feel these things. So what if you are an adult who does not feel these things?

‘Romance’ and ‘spirituality’ are so difficult to define that, even if someone does not ‘feel’ those things, it can be hard for them to figure out that they don’t ‘feel’ that way if they do not have a clear idea of what ‘romance’ or ‘spirituality’ feels like. I know that I have had experiences that some people would interpret as ‘romantic’ and some experiences which others would interpret as ‘spiritual’ (such as this one). Because I had experiences which maybe, if I stretched it, could be interpreted as ‘romantic’ or ‘spiritual’ it took be a while to figure out that many people were feeling something that I was not, and that I myself am aromantic and not spiritual. That’s not to say I have no idea what ‘romance’ and ‘spirituality’ are – I have observed many examples of people in romantic relationships engaging in romantic behavior, and people engaging in spirituality. However, my understanding is based on external, not internal, observation.

(And I am concerned that, because I linked to that post about my experience on Pintianshan, someone will treat that as a ‘gotcha’ and say ‘you actually are spiritual you just don’t know it/don’t admit it’ as if they have a better idea than I do of whether or not I am spiritual just on the basis of a single blog post.)

There was also a period of time when I thought people who experienced romance or spirituality were exaggerating, or just imitating stories, because when I made claims that I was experiencing a ‘crush’ on someone (yes, there was a time in my life that I made such claims), or that I had a spiritual experience, I was myself exaggerating, or making an imitation. Or I wanted to avoid thinking about what I really meant, so I used a vague word such as ‘spiritual’ so I could avoid doing the work I needed to do to understand what I was really thinking (I know I did this at least once on a paper for a high school English class, and the teacher left a comment asking me to explain what I meant when I was talking about the character’s ‘spiritual’ change. I knew that I did not really have an idea, I just was trying to write something so I could finish the paper and turn it in.)

By this time, I’ve figured out that some people don’t use the words ‘spiritual’ or ‘spirituality’ just as mechanisms to avoid thinking about or saying what they really mean – they are actually referring to… something. I’m not spiritual, so I cannot explain what that ‘something’ is (or what those multiple ‘somethings’ are, since I strongly suspect that people use the word ‘spirituality’ to describe more than one ‘something’). It would help if people who use words like ‘spiritual’ and ‘spirituality’ would say what those words mean to them (or even replace the word ‘spirituality’ with a description of what the speaker wants to reference).

To mean, ‘spiritual but not religious’ (SBNR) can sound a bit like ‘aces can fall in [romantic] love too’. Yes, there are SBNR people, and there are alloromantic aces who sometimes fall in romantic love. That’s fine, it’s okay that they are the way they are. But sometimes, when people really emphasize that they are SBNR or that ‘aces can fall in [romantic] love’ it seems to carry the connotation that being non-spiritual or arospec is bad.

And if someone reading this is thinking ‘but spirituality is more like an orientation (such as romantic orientation) rather than a category within an orientation (such as biromantic) and it includes a category for people who lack the trait in some sense (such as aromantic)’ I will again point to the common phrase ‘spiritual but not religious’. If the notion of ‘having a spirituality’ includes the ‘spirituality’ of ‘not having spiritual feelings’, then what is the point of saying ‘spiritual but not religious’? The fact that many people feel a need to point out that they themselves are ‘spiritual’ implies that they believe that some people are not ‘spiritual’.

Among Christians (and possibly other religions), there is this thing known as being ‘religious but not spiritual’ as mentioned in this post from The Ace Theist. I’ve read a few essays by ‘religious but not spiritual’ Christians, and one of the themes is that they do not have ‘spiritual’ feelings, or struggle a lot to feel ‘spirituality’, but they practice and believe in Christianity anyway, and will continue to do so even without ‘spirituality’.

I’m atheist and Jewish, and I can relate to these ‘religious yet not spiritual’ Christians who feel they are being their most authentic selves when they admit that they do not experience ‘spirituality’ or only experience it in a limited sense. (And yes, there are atheists who are spiritual. I do not consider myself to be one of them).

I think that by thinking of myself as being aromantic and not spiritual I can live more authentically than I would otherwise.

And I think there is a connection in how I came to label myself aromantic and non-spiritual (and asexual and atheist). I think that once I have admitted to myself ‘oh, I don’t have this category of feelings/thoughts my culture expects me to have’ it becomes easier for me to notice other categories of feelings/thoughts/experiences I do not have.

Even though this post makes a lot of comparisons between experiences of romance and spirituality, I recognize they are very different, and a model which applies to one may not apply to the other. If you are thinking that romance and spirituality are so different that my comparisons do not even work, well, maybe you’re right. After all, I’m a non-spiritual aro who does not quite understand what other people mean when they say ‘romance’ or ‘spirituality’. What I am trying to suggest that people think carefully and have the humility to recognize that not everyone has the same experiences, a suggestion which is directed as much towards myself as anyone else.

2 thoughts on “Experiencing Neither Romance Nor Spirituality

  1. This was a really interesting read! I’ve always considered myself to be a very spiritual person but I’ve never put a lot of thought into defining spirituality itself, so this definitely gives me something to reflect on.

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