This is for the December 2019 Carnival of Aros: Love.
I often use the word ‘love’ in a casual way. For example, in my everyday life I might say something like ‘I love persimmons’ in the sense that I strongly like eating persimmons. However, when the concept of love is being discussed at a less casual level than ‘I love [to eat] persimmons’ I might not automatically roll my eyes, but I will be wary. My default expectation that either such discussions will not be meaningful (and thus a waste of time), or that it will conflate romance and love and/or ignore the lived experiences of aromantic people and/or shame people for ‘failing’ to feel/express certain emotions, and thus be a net negative. Sometimes discussions of ‘love’ do not fall into these pitfalls, but until proven otherwise, I expect that they will. Maybe that explains why I cringed a bit when I chose the blog post title ‘I Ramble About Love’.
Given all of this, why did I choose the theme ‘love’ for this month’s Carnival of Aros? I chose the theme because I do think ‘love’ is very worthy of discussion, and if there is one group I expect to (mostly) avoid those pitfalls and discuss love in a way that is meaningful to people with my lived experiences, it’s people who, like me, are under the aro umbrella. Well, I suppose aro people also sometimes say meaningless (to me) things about love too, but I think the odds that they will something that is meaningful (to me) are much higher.
One problem with the way that ‘love’ is discussed in English is that it is a very broadly defined word which covers a bunch of potentially distinct phenomena, and other languages tend to do a better job of splitting ‘love’ into multiple concepts. It’s not just aro people who complain about this – even people with no awareness of aro issues sometimes have this very same criticism. I would say that Mandarin does a better job of distinguishing different forms of love since it is much more common to modify the word ài (which is the closest equivalent in Mandarin to the English word ‘love’) to specify a certain type of ‘love’ (examples: liàn’ài, bó’ài, téng’ài, chǒng’ài, yǒu’ài) than it is in English (I think I encounter the term mǔ’ài in Chinese a lot more than I encounter the phrase ‘maternal love’ in English). To the extent that I would criticize how Mandarin speakers talk about ài, it would be be about how the modifiers are used and possibly creating new modifiers, not that they fail to use modifiers.
One consequence of the broad use of ‘love’ for aro people is that ‘love’ is often conflated with ‘romance’ so when an aro person says ‘I don’t experience romantic feelings’ other people may interpret it as ‘I don’t experience love’. And yet, I think even we ‘aro’ people sometimes make this conflation ourselves. You may have noticed that I managed to write that first paragraph without using the word ‘amantonormativity’. That is on purpose. I’ve used the word in the past, and I will probably use it in the future because it is the most recognized word for a certain concept in the aro community. I admit that I don’t know Latin, so for all I know ‘amant-‘ really means ‘romance’ and not ‘love’. But based on what I know of French, I would guess that ‘amant-‘ really means ‘love’ rather than ‘romance’ yet the way aro people use the word ‘amantonormativity’ we usually mean ‘romance-normativity’.
I am concerned that some readers might think that I am practising respectability politics, that I am making that case that aro people can feel ‘love’ as opposed to the people who do not feel ‘love’, and that is why we should be tolerated/accepted by society at large. So I want to make it clear that I think whether or not someone feels or experiences love is irrelevant to how worthy they are in a moral or societal sense. It might be relevant in the context of a personal relationship, but I consider that to be a private matter. Heck, I think a concept of ‘amantonormativity’ which includes norms around non-romantic love is potentially useful.
A while back, Siggy discussed the construction of emotions and emotional granularity and said:
I want to end here with a personal note on why I liked the book [How Emotions Are Made] so much. To be frank, it’s because of my orientation. I grew up with the presumption that everyone had the same emotions and feelings as me, only to find out later on that there were key differences that functionally changed how I relate to romance. I asked people to describe their own experiences only to realize that even straight people had huge variations which they would rarely acknowledge or talk about. And I reflected on other hidden variations in experience which have nothing to do with orientation, and which are never even named. Although the book never discussed orientation, it provided a conceptual toolset that I will treasure.
I have not read How Emotions Are Made, and Siggy’s blog post is the first time I encountered the term ’emotional granularity’, but it’s not the first time I encountered the concept that being able to recognize a wide range of emotions and make nuanced distinctions between is good for psychological well-being (it’s also a major concept in Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg).
Like Siggy, I think my orientation (including being an aromantic) compelled me to recognize more distinctions in my feelings and the feelings of others than I would have otherwise. I think people under the aro umbrella are generally more likely to recognize emotional granularity at least when it comes to emotions related to ‘love’.
And that is why I am reasonably hopeful that some people are going to submit some really great discussions of love to this carnival.