What Is Romantic Attraction?
I was just listening to the most recent episode of the Sexplanations podcast with Dr. Lindsey Doe, where she was joined by another favorite Youtuber of mine, Ash Hardell, to talk about asexuality. Though asexuality is ostensibly the theme of the show, they talk a lot about attraction in general, and different types of attraction–sexual, romantic, platonic, sensual, aesthetic, and alterous. It’s in the discussion of alterous attraction (something between platonic and romantic, such as a queerplatonic relationship), that something comes up that struck me as a bit more monoganormative and heteronormative than Dr. Doe’s usual default, so I thought I’d address it here.
In trying to come up with a definition for romantic attraction, which she admits is actually really hard, Dr. Doe suggests that for her, at least, romantic attraction is about a progression–you like someone, so you get them chocolates, maybe, then flowers, then a ring… wait a second. Really? But I’ll concede that for a lot of straight monogamous folks, romance probably does often look like this. Does it have to? Of course not! If Dr. Doe were to happen upon this post, I’d strongly recommend to her a book called Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator by Amy Gahran, which digs into this cultural understanding of romantic relationships being both primary and progressive in a linear way (dating, marriage, kids, together forever). It turns out that this narrative serves very few people!
Though queer people can also follow a romantic script like this, I’d argue that queering romance is often a lot about dissecting different sorts of attraction, different sorts of relationships, and the assumption that romance is a linear progression through time and towards the One True Love (Pairing?) A lot of the queers I know, myself included, like to play with expectations and have a range of relationships with different levels of intensity, sexuality, time commitment, etc., whether poly or not. I know far fewer queers who are looking for a single lifetime partner than I do straight folks. But this also makes romance really hard to define, so I empathize with Dr. Doe on that point!
What’s romantic attraction? Well, I do think it’s really personal. I think of it of having something to do with a combination of squeefeels and oh my gosh I want to cuddle and kiss you a lot, but that sounds like a combination of alterous and sensual attraction, rather than necessarily a distinct thing. I think a lot of us stumble on assumptions when we enter a romantic relationship and then maybe don’t have alignment on what that means, especially when it’s complicated by our refusal of other norms–for example in a non-sexual or polyamorous relationship. What’s the difference between “I am dating you” and “oh my gosh you are an awesome friend I can’t even let’s hang out together all the time?” I have no idea! Especially in my affectionate, cuddle-heavy circles, there’s really not much of a difference. I guess we’ll just have to stay curious!