Let's Discuss What It Means to Be Greyromantic

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

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Romance is inescapable: Everywhere you look, it seems like there are romance-driven narratives at the center of our most celebrated bits of culture. Books, music, movies and TV shows are so often centered around love, attraction, and romance. But despite the cultural prevalence of the classic love story, not everyone relates. People who fall on the aromantic spectrum don’t really connect to the social norms attached to romance, or those things have no real meaning to them at all. This includes those who identify as greyromantic.

Greyromantics only experience the feeling of romantic attraction sometimes, or under certain circumstances. It’s a romantic orientation (not a gender or sexual orientation), meaning it's used to identify who a person is (or isn't) interested in dating and/or falling in love with, as opposed to who they’re sexually attracted to (sexual orientation) or where they fall on the gender spectrum.

Greyromanticism falls on the aromantic spectrum. The concept of aromance—like asexuality—is fairly straightforward. Someone who identifies as aromantic experiences little-to-no romantic attraction to other people, regardless of sexual attraction. On the other end of that spectrum is alloromance. Someone who identifies as alloromantic usually experiences romantic attraction and desire in a way that is seen as “normal” in our society. But greyromanticism can be a little trickier to wrap your mind around, and that’s kinda the point.

“There’s a spectrum of alloromantic and aromantic, and in the middle not everything is black and white,” Seattle-based relationship, intimacy, and sex therapist Claudia Johnson says. “There’s a grey area, and that’s where the greyromantics exist.”

Where does “greyromantic” come from?

In general, the “grey area” is a metaphor used by the queer community to inject a sense of open-endedness and flexibility into experiences that are typically assumed to be finite or fixed within the dominant context. While the conventional perception of desire and attraction is pretty black and white—men chase women, men date women, men marry women; you know the drill—queer expressions challenge prescriptive relationship dynamics, not just as a matter of the genders involved, but also the structure and priorities of relationships themselves.

So if queerness allows us to explore the grey between the normative black and white, greyromanticism is a slice of that: an exploration of the bounds of romantic attraction. And yes, that’s something completely separate from sexual attraction.

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What kind of attraction do greyromantic people experience? And how is it different from aromanticism?

Greyromantic people may experience romantic desire infrequently, almost always but only under certain conditions, or somewhat regularly but with less intensity than an alloromantic person would. So while greyromance is an expression of aromance, the two don’t always mean the same thing. Sex educator Lucie Fielding, author of Trans Sex: Clinical Approaches to Trans Sexualities and Erotic Embodiments, distinguishes grey- and aromanticism based on the degree to which someone has an interest in participating in different forms of intimacy.

“Greyromanticism is a facet of the aromanticism spectrum,” she says. “Aromanticism includes a broad spectrum of identities and romantic orientations that describe individuals who experience varying degrees of romantic attraction and/or interest in engaging in relationships that include forms of romantic intimacy.”

And just as you might accidentally conflate grey- and aromance, it might be tempting to conflate greyromanticism with greysexuality. But the two are not necessarily linked. Asexuality, greysexuality, and allosexuality describe a spectrum of sexual orientations. With greyromance, we’re talking about romantic orientation, and that’s something else entirely.

“There is all too often an assumption that romantic intimacy and sexual intimacy must go together and that the absence of one or both of these intimacies in a relational dynamic is a problem,” Fielding says. “It’s not. Sometimes, the people we are romantically attracted to are different than the people we are sexually attracted to.”

How to know if you’re greyromantic

Remember that overwhelming exposure to romance we were talking about earlier? That inability to relate to all the romantic media that’s *gestures wildly* everywhere? If that resonates with you, that might be a sign you’re greyromantic.

“Greyromantic and aromantic folks feel alienated from the dominant experience,” Johnson says. If you’re constantly watching shows and reading books that prize romantic exchanges, written with the assumption that all people have the same expectations about love and romance, but you actually don’t feel compelled to find romance in your own life, it can feel dislocating.

“Nothing is wrong with you, you’re not broken,” Johnson says, “and what a frickin’ treat it is to know that something doesn’t resonate with you and that’s not part of what feels good.”

But because greyromanticism is a grey area, maybe you can experience romantic attraction toward people, but it might feel differently than what most alloromantic people experience. “You might be romantically attracted to someone, but you might have no interest in starting a relationship,” says clinical sexologist Katie Lasson. And that’s okay—it doesn’t mean you’re incapable of a healthy, happy relationship if that’s what you want.

Fielding says that because so much of our culture is “oriented around the ‘happily ever after,’ finding your ‘soulmate,’ and/or romantic plot lines,” there can be an assumption that grey- and aromantic folks are “cold, unfeeling, or emotionally avoidant.”

“This is because we [as a society] don’t distinguish between romantic and emotional intimacies,” she explains. “Rather, many aromantics seek out relationships with strong emotional connections! They just likely don’t experience the romantic feels as part of those emotional connections.”

Ultimately, being on the aromantic spectrum doesn’t say anything about a person’s ability to be social, empathetic, or caring. It just means they likely relate to their partners in nontraditional ways.

“We tend to privilege—and we see this all over pop culture—the presence of sexual and romantic intimacies in relationships,” Fielding says. “And we tend to place a superordinate value on sexual and romantic intimacies co-existing in a relationship. If we imagine a multiverse of intimacies we can recognize that we seek out and value connection for myriad reasons and that our relationships don’t have to include all of them in order for them to be yummy and vitally important to us. The tl;dr: the presence (or absence) of romantic intimacies and/or sexual intimacies is not a marker of relational health.”

How to celebrate being greyromantic

Like other gender identities and sexual and romantic orientations, greyromantics have their own flag. Though there are various flags attributed, the main one consists of five stripes going from dark green to gray and white and then repeating the pattern.

There are also plenty of social media communities you can join, where greyromantics get together virtually. Specifically, there are Reddit groups, such as /r/Greyromantic, r/aromantic, and TikTok hashtags like #greyromantic and #aromantic.

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