Reading Romance While Demisexual

An illustration of Amina the hedgehog, reading a romance book with hearts on it, while under a snug demisexual flag blanket. Title: Reading romance while demisexual. A discussion about my experiences of reading romance, my struggle with connection, and why i love friends to lovers.

I love romance stories. I love the idea that people may cross paths with countless others in their lifetime, only to find someone (or someones!) who they grow to care for and love. I love the idea that people can grow a bond so intimate and so tender that they can build a bridge that crosses valleys of hurt and pain and loneliness. I love the idea that someone can grow to understand and accept you in ways that others may not, and to cherish you despite your flaws. I love love, and I love that love can feel so transcendent and beautiful.

But lately, I’ve been reflecting on my relationship with romance stories. I’ve felt that I often occupy this weird space of really enjoying romance stories whilst also struggling to connect with them. It sounds a little contradictory, right? You’d think that the romance is the highlight of a story – so why can’t I usually connect with the romance and the relationship? I never really interrogated this, but recently, I’ve been mulling over these feelings, trying to parse and explores these complicated thoughts that I have.

Recently, I realised that the ways in which I engage with romance stories is significantly influenced by the fact that I view romance and life through a demisexual and demiromantic lens (for brevity, I’m going to call my experiences ‘demi’). Though I can put myself outside of my own lens and can easily empathise with how characters feel, ‘understanding’ and ‘connecting’ feel like two distinct planes for me – and this was something I found interesting about myself and wanted to explore. So, here is my piece – where I explore how being demi has shaped my perceptions of romance, how it influences how I engage with romance, and why, at the end of it all, the friends-to-lovers trope has a special place in my heart.

Growing Up Demi

Growing up, ‘demisexual’ or ‘demiromantic’ didn’t exist in my vocabulary, let alone my imagination. When I was a teenager, I didn’t have friends or online communities or resources that taught me that there was a queer experience that existed beyond being gay or lesbian. (Queer education was very scarce when I was a teenager, though I’m happy to see that this is changing now.) I didn’t learn what being demi meant until I was in my early 20’s – and although I have complicated feelings about using labels (I find them suffocating rather than affirming), of all the labels that could apply to me, ‘demisexual’ and ‘demiromantic’ are two that feel the most comfortable to me.

Though being demi was never a source of pain for me, it was, in hindsight, a constant source of confusion. I didn’t relate to my friends who had celebrity crushes because the celebrity was physically or sexually attractive. I didn’t understand how my friends felt sexually attracted to someone that they had never talked to before. I was confused when my friends wanted to be sexually or romantically involved with someone simply because they were good looking. I was confused when my friends disclosed their sexual fantasies with others with me – because I never imagined sexual fantasies, ever. The confusion that I felt was never a wild kind of bewilderment that gave me whiplash. Rather, the confusion felt like all the people who understood were all having fun in one room whilst I looked on from the corridor.

As a teenager, I never gravitated towards romance books. There’s no deep reason behind it; I just wasn’t an avid reader as a teenager and if I did read a book, I preferred science-fiction or fantasy. On occasion, there were a few books that I read that had romances, but I never connected to the romances. To me, romances were just part of a character’s story and not really a distinct highlight of the book.

That is, until I read the Bloodlines series by Richelle Mead. Being a teenager during the YA Vampire Renaissance meant that all of your friends aligned themselves with either ‘Team Edward’ or ‘Team Jacob’ (it’s all a funny nostalgic meme now, but these alliances were passionate identities at my high school). Having felt very disgruntled about Twilight, I read Vampire Academy instead (and found that the animosity between Team Adrian and Team Dimitri was more good-spirited), which eventually led me to Bloodlines, the sequel series to Vampire Academy.

Bloodlines was the first time ever where I felt connected to the romance. Reading about two characters who despise and hate each other (Book 1) slowly understand and become friends with each other (Book 2), share their first kiss (Book 3), finally admit to themselves that they love each other (Book 4), and fight for one another (Book 5 – 6) blew my mind. It was a slow-burn romance, one that took books to develop, but it was then I finally felt like the doors had opened for me.

Suddenly, I completely understood why my friend texted me at one in the morning to tell me the latest update from HisGoldenEyes.com (a Team Edward Twilight fansite) and cried about Bella and Edward. She felt their relationship deeply, felt connected to their love for one another when I just could not relate (for a plethora of reasons, but I won’t get into that). But when I read Bloodlines, a series that centers entirely on two characters who grow close, form a bond with each other and slowly fall in love with storytelling that focuses a lot on their emotional growth as individuals and as a couple, I connected – and I haven’t felt this deeply about a fictional couple since.

Reading Romance Through the Eyes of a Demi Reader

Reading romance as a demi reader can either be a fulfilling or alienating experience. Fulfilling, because when I find a romance that I can connect with (like I did with Bloodlines), it gives me so much joy and I find myself sharing that sense of euphoria and love with the characters. Alienating, because these fulfilling experiences feel far and few between and I almost always struggle to connect with connecting with a romance.  

Part of being demi – whether it’s demisexual or demiromantic – is that there has to be a deep emotional connection before any sexual attraction and/or romantic feelings arise. When I’m reading romances, I’m always looking for that emotional connection – for me, it’s those moments of vulnerability, intimacy, closeness, trust, acceptance, or even that ‘deep meaningful conversation’ that they have where they bare themselves (haha! I meant emotionally!) in front of each other and finally truly deeply understand one another. Sometimes, it feels like chemistry when the characters ‘click’ with one another and just understand one another.

For instance, The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow (a fantastic YA SFF about a Black fat and demisexual teen, and is effortlessly one of my favourite books of the year) was the book that helped me realise that my demi identity shaped the way I understood and engaged with romance books. In The Sound of Stars, the two main characters get to know one another, come to understand one another while acknowledging and accepting their differences, want the best for each other, and for each other’s dreams to come true. Ultimately, the two characters develop a deep and meaningful bond.

Another example of a romance that I really liked and connected with was the romance between Jasmine and Asthon in You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria. Although there’s an immediate physical and sexual attraction between Jasmine and Ashton, I really enjoyed how the story spends a lot of time exploring the emotional experiences of both characters – how they both have insecurities and anxieties, but when they are together, they feel safer and more like themselves. The buildup is slow but delicious and, over time, they become friends and eventually lovers. And Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia! I loved how Casiopea and Hun-Kamé embark on this journey together, their lives and destiny intertwining with each other as they change each other and grow to understand each other. It’s not an emotional bond in the conventional sense like friendship, but it’s a powerful one that delves into Casiopea and Hun-Kamé’s humanity and the ‘essence’ of who they are. Like Bloodlines, I connected with these romances. The deep emotional bonds between these characters were my window and tether to understanding their relationships.

Though I feel happy knowing that I have a few romances that I can connect to, more often than not I struggle to connect with most romances. For example, when I read stories about characters who are attracted to each other for reasons that I cannot understand, I find it immensely difficult to ‘look past it’ and struggle to enjoy the romance regardless. I also struggle to connect with romance stories about characters who fall in love with each other on the basis of physical attraction and lust without a deep emotional connection. That’s not to say that a connection between the two characters don’t exist or there’s no emotional connection in physical connection, but books that focus more on the physical aspects of the relationship are often romances I struggle to connect with.

Ultimately, reading romance as someone who is demi means that I may understand character motivations and that romance can happen in any circumstance — but I may not connect with it. Understanding and connecting is an important difference for me, as it shapes the way that I engage with romance stories though my demi lens.

Does that mean that I think romance books without the emotional connection that I crave are bad though? Absolutely not! Despite my personal inability to understand how it works, I do understand that it happens for people, that relationships without an emotional bond can be meaningful to others, that there are many ways to love, and that romance and/or love looks different for everyone. Whether I can connect to a romance isn’t indicative of how ‘good’ or ‘bad’ the book is; all that happens is that I just can’t connect with the romance on an emotional level.

Tangentially, even if I don’t enjoy or connect with most romances, I tend to enjoy romance books in general because romance books are fantastic at developing characters, showing personal and emotional growth and celebrating how characters overcome important personal challenges. I also really enjoy reading about relationships; as a former relationship psychology researcher, I’m fascinated by relationship dynamics and the ways that relationships shape us and impact us. More importantly, romance books will have a happily ever after (or happy for now) – and I always love a story where a character finds peace and joy and love.

What Does Demi Representation Look Like? A Case for Friends-to-Lovers

While writing this piece, I also reflected on what demisexual representation looks like. And to be honest, I’m not really sure. I’ve only read two books with demisexual representation, but it wasn’t the kind of stories that explored with great detail what being demisexual feels like. I don’t know what demisexuality looks like other than my own experiences either – all I know is my own experiences.

For me, being demi means that I cannot fathom the idea of having sexual or romantic feelings towards a stranger or someone that I have just met. Being demi also means that I may appreciate and acknowledge the aesthetic beauty of someone, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m sexually or romantically attracted to them. It means that all the people I thought I had a crush on were just people I just really wanted to be friends with. It meant that even though someone was my romantic partner, I didn’t feel sexual attraction towards them because I wasn’t emotionally close enough to them. For me, it means that I’ve only felt sexual attraction to one person in my life – and that was after years of being best friends and being in a romantic relationship.

Given my personal experiences, ‘friends-to-lovers’ feels like the closest I have to demisexual representation. And I know! I know that friends-to-lovers is a boring trope for a lot of people and I am genuinely okay if people don’t enjoy it. To each their own! For me though, friends-to-lovers romances are consistently the ones I understand and connect with. Friends-to-lovers feels like a reflection of me – when I see characters who are friends and are close to each other and develop romantic feelings for each other, I feel seen.

And who doesn’t love a bit of yearning and mutual pining? The worry that romance might irrevocably change a friendship – do you not take the chance of romance but risk losing the chance to bond a different way, or do you take the chance and risk losing your best friend? For me, I just love seeing characters grow close – as someone who struggles to connect with people on a deep and emotional level (not because of my demisexuality but because that’s just me), seeing the tender process of characters slowly trusting one another and slowly realising that their flaws and imperfections and your shortcomings are safe with each other is so satisfying.

Friends-to-lovers sometimes feels like it’s the only demisexual representation that I really have. Friends-to-lovers often feels like a safe way for me to interpret the relationship as demisexual – or, maybe more accurately, I find myself connecting more with friends-to-lovers stories more. So, even though I haven’t read many books with demi representation, in romance, it sometimes feels like I have. Nonetheless, I would love to see more demi representation, especially representation where demi experiences and feelings are meaningfully explored in the story – and I think there’s so much room for possibility that can be found in demi stories – about understanding ourselves in an allosexual world that can be jarring and lonely, to exploring the beauty and power of bonds and connection, and… also just seeing a big piece of me exist and breathe on the page – I think a lot of us demis would love that.

21 thoughts on “Reading Romance While Demisexual

  1. Ooof, this entire post was so well done and I connect to so much of it. I’m demisexual (maybe demiromantic but idk) and I find that I struggle to read smut and erotica. Any books that focus just on the sex don’t work for me. But I do enjoy romances–for the most part–because I love watching two people to become friends and fall in love. Your reaction to You Had Me At Hola is also what I loved too. They took their time getting to know each other and falling in love and it was wonderful.

    I love second chance romances and friends-to-lovers for the very reason you mentioned. There’s an emotional connection between two characters that I resonate with so much. When it comes to second chance romances, though, I do like when the characters were friends and have to work through their relationships.

    I really loved this post and I’m going to read some of the books you mentioned.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love this post. There’s so much I’m still figuring out about my sexuality, but I know I’m somewhere on the asexual/aromantic spectrum, and demisexuality feels comfortable. It’s so affirming to see your experiences are so close to mine. You’ve put into words exactly what has been at the periphery of my mind since I started reading books with romances but was too intimidated to explore. Thank you so, so much.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I absolutely love this post! So much of this speaks true to my own experiences as demisexual. It was weird when I realized what I thought was crushes was just someone that had a nice personality that I wanted to get to know better or was romantic attraction not sexual. The Friends to Lovers trope has always been the trope I connected most with but I just didn’t know why till a year ago. I just recently read a book where the romance was very focused on physical attraction and that type of connection so I understood it but I didn’t connect with it. Thanks so much for this post!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This resonates so much with me. I’m grey ace and I’ve always struggled with romance. It’s the reason I always steered clear of heavy romance books. It makes me more sad than happy because I can’t connect to that element of the story. Thank you so much for putting this out in words that I’ve never been able to fully express!

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  5. This is such a great post! 😀 Thank you for sharing your thoughts and for explaining how being demi feels for you! I recently discovered that every relationship I ever had was a friends-to-lovers relationship and that I only could truly be with a person when I was friends with her/him first. I have no idea if this makes me demi but I think I might be. There are so many things I just discovered about myself and I think that’s mostly due to the fact that all those labels and definitions didn’t exist when I was younger. I’m really glad the next generation will have it a little bit easier. 😀 So thanks for that post!

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  6. I understand only too well. I only recently came to learn the term ‘demisexual’ (after my wife pointed me to sites that discuss the matter; she sent me this link) and instantly recognized that I am one, though some places seem to think the term only applies to those who identify as female. I always liked romantic comedies because there was frequently NOT the immediate attraction (at least not both ways).

    Liked by 1 person

  7. this was such an amazing post and i totally relate to a lot of your experiences! slow burn is the way to go imo, otherwise i find it difficult to really care about the relationship even though i love romance! i don’t think im demisexual myself but im definitely somewhat adjacent, labels are weird and confusing. thanks for sharing this with us!

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  8. Literally all of your post called out to my heart. I identify with gray-ace because I’m not really sure about being demi and whether I’ll feel sexual attraction after having a close emotional bond, but I still have the exact same thoughts as you.

    I read romance books because of relationship development and also because with just romance, authors can do so much. My favourite trope is also friends-to-lovers because I just understand it more, I don’t get the other romance stories. So yeah, I really related to your words. Thanks for writing this 💜

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Great post! Thank you for sharing such a personal thing. I’m not demi myself, but I agree that there should be more conversation about and representation of other sexualities.
    I’ve actually boycotted reading romance for a long time, ’cause I didn’t like the ‘instant attraction’ in most books. But then I discovered slow-burn romance, and now I read them again 🙂
    I’ve never been a believer of ‘love at first sight’, though other people are, which is also fine. In the relationships I’ve had and have, I just find that the bond you create with someone is what makes them more attractive, even if I wasn’t attracted to them at first. So I can kind of understand what you mean by that. And when it comes to reading romance, I do enjoy the development of the bond between the characters and see how they grow together much more than how sexy they find each other.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Oh this is such a deep post and made me understand a lot of things about being a demi. I love some of the recs you have shared and many are new to me, I will have to check them out. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Beautiful post CW ❤ Thank you for sharing your experiences! I understand so much better now, and have felt similar feelings. To be attracted to someone I definitely need that emotional bond. Friends to lovers is one of my favorite tropes too, honestly, because everything just feels so organic and real and relatable. I'm not the kind of person to rush into anything, I like to think things through and see it from all angles. Friendship is a great way to do that and get to know someone and see their soul. There are so many beautiful people out there and so much to learn about each one of them. That to me is a strong basis for attraction, because there are a lot of liars out there too. This post was so well said, and even though I already said it I'll say it again, thank you ❤ ❤ ❤

    Like

  12. Thank you for this post! You put into words a lot of thoughts I had never really taken the time to acknowledge/contemplate. It also made me feel a little less like a lonely weirdo on a deserted demisexual island. ^.^

    Like

  13. Thank you so much for this! I definitely think my demi nature led me to loving friends-to-lovers even before I knew. Lately I appreciate second-chance romances too, thanks to the (common?) demi experience of falling for someone after months (and/or being clueless to his flirting before that) only to have him only think of you as a friend/get into a relationship with someone else. (Started Alechia Dow’s book yesterday…Talia Hibbert’s THAT KIND OF GUY is a great interracial romance with a demisexual guy, and I insist one of the guys in Cat Sebastian’s m/m historical TWO ROGUES MAKE A RIGHT is demiromantic even though the term isn’t used…)

    Liked by 1 person

  14. So much of this post feels familiar to me. I used to think that I was anti-romance as a reader, but what I’ve come to realize is that I just find relationship dynamics–emotions, sharing, etc.–more interesting than the physical experience of attraction. Friends-to-lovers is almost always my preferred romance path, and if others dislike it, well, romance tropes are much like romance novels themselves. Each person has their own preferences and we should all be free to seek the ones we connect with.

    Liked by 2 people

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