Thoughts on hacking aromanticism?

by hg00 3 min read2nd Jun 201637 comments

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Several years ago, Alicorn wrote an article about how she hacked herself to be polyamorous.  I'm interested in methods for hacking myself to be aromantic.  I've had some success with this, so I'll share what's worked for me, but I'm really hoping you all will chime in with your ideas in the comments.

Motivation

Why would someone want to be aromantic?  There's the obvious time commitment involved in romance, which can be considerable.  This is an especially large drain if you're in a situation where finding suitable partners is difficult, which means most of this time is spent enduring disappointment (e.g. if you're heterosexual and the balance of singles in your community is unfavorable).

But I think an even better way to motivate aromanticism is by referring you to this Paul Graham essay, The Top Idea in Your Mind.  To be effective at accomplishing your goals, you'd like to have your goals be the most interesting thing you have to think about.  I find it's far too easy for my love life to become the most interesting thing I have to think about, for obvious reasons.

Subproblems

After thinking some, I came up with a list of 4 goals people try to achieve through engaging in romance:

  1. Companionship.
  2. Sexual pleasure.
  3. Infatuation (also known as new relationship energy).
  4. Validation.  This one is trickier than the previous three, but I think it's arguably the most important.  Many unhappy singles have friends they are close to, and know how to masturbate, but they still feel lousy in a way people in post-infatuation relationships do not.  What's going on?  I think it's best described as a sort of romantic insecurity.  To test this out, imagine a time when someone you were interested in was smiling at you, and contrast that with the feeling of someone you were interested in turning you down.  You don't have to experience companionship or sexual pleasure from these interactions for them to have a major impact on your "romantic self-esteem".  And in a culture where singlehood is considered a failure, it's natural for your "romantic self-esteem" to take a hit if you're single.

To remove the need for romance, it makes sense to find quicker and less distracting ways to achieve each of these 4 goals.  So I'll treat each goal as a subproblem and brainstorm ideas for solving it.  Subproblems 1 through 3 all seem pretty easy to solve:

  1. Companionship: Make deep friendships with people you're not interested in romantically.  I recommend paying special attention to your coworkers and housemates, since you spend so much time with them.
  2. Sexual pleasure: Hopefully you already have some ideas on pleasuring yourself.
  3. Infatuation: I see this as more of a bonus than a need to be met.  There are lots of ways to find inspiration, excitement, and meaning in life outside of romance.

Subproblem 4 seems trickiest.

Hacking Romantic Self-Esteem

I'll note that what I'm describing as "validation" or "romantic self-esteem" seems closely related to abundance mindset.  But I think it's useful to keep them conceptually distinct.  Although alieving that there are many people you could date is one way to boost your romantic self-esteem, it's not necessarily the only strategy.

The most important thing to keep in mind about your romantic self-esteem is that it's heavily affected by the availability heuristic.  If I was encouraged by someone in 2015, that won't do much to assuage the sting of discouragement in 2016, except maybe if it happens to come to mind.

Another clue is the idea of a sexual "dry spell".  Dry spells are supposed to get worse the longer they go on... which simply means that if your mind doesn't have a recent (available!) incident of success to latch on, you're more likely to feel down.

So to increase your romantic self-esteem, keep a cherished list of thoughts suggesting your desirability is high, and don't worry too much about thoughts suggesting your desirability is low.  Here's a freebie: If you're reading this post, it's likely that you are (or will be) quite rich by global standards.  I hear rich people are considered attractive.  Put it on your list!

Other ideas for raising your romantic self-esteem:

  • Take steps to maintain your physical appearance, so you will appear marginally more desirable to yourself when you see yourself in the mirror.
  • Remind yourself that you're not a victim if you're making a conscious choice to prioritize other aspects of your life.  Point out to yourself things you could be doing to find partners that you're choosing not to do.

I think this is a situation where prevention works better than cure--it's best to work pre-emptively to keep your romantic self-esteem high.  In my experience, low romantic self-esteem leads to unproductive coping mechanisms like distracting myself from dark thoughts by wasting time on the Internet.

The other side of the coin is avoiding hits to your romantic self-esteem.  Here's an interesting snippet from a Quora answer I found:

In general specialized contemplative monastic organisations that tend to separate from the society tend to be celibate while ritual specialists within the society (priests) even if expected to follow a higher standard of ethical and ritual purity tend not to be.

So, it seems like it's easier for heterosexual male monks to stay celibate if they are isolated on a monastery away from women.  Without any possible partners around, there's no one to reject (or distract) them.  Participating in a monastic culture in which long-term singlehood is considered normal & desirable also removes a romantic self-esteem hit.

Retreating to a monastery probably isn't practical, but there may be simpler things you can do.  I recently switched from lifting weights to running in order to get exercise, and I found that running is better for my concentration because I'm not distracted by attractive people at the gym.

It's not supposed to be easy

I shared a bunch of ideas in this post.  But my overall impression is that instilling aromanticism is a very hard problem.  Based on my research, even monks and priests have a difficult time of things.  That's why I'm curious to hear what the Less Wrong community can come up with.  Side note: when possible, please try to make your suggestions gender-neutral so we can avoid gender-related flame wars.  Thanks!

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