A hedgehog’s dilemma

Finding my own answers to romance

Aditya Shukla

My fifth-grader heart was beating out of its chest as I examined the words written on the paper. 

I’d gotten a love letter from my crush. 

I had dreamt about this moment for so long, thinking of all the things couples do in the movies — hold hands, look at each other, share straws in our drink and laugh at each other’s jokes. I imagined myself impressing her with my imaginary special powers to make myself seem attractive, causing her to confess to me right then and there. In the end, we’d live happily ever after, skipping away into the sunset holding hands. 

So why did I feel like running away as soon as I read that simple “I like you” scribbled on the yellow sticky note?  Why did every inch of my body want to hide away in the corner of the classroom until she left? 

It was a feeling that I would come to wrestle with for a long time. I felt embarrassed, angered even, that I had felt that way. Everyone else had felt so comfortable talking and discussing love as I grew up, so I pretended as if I felt like how everyone else felt, despite it being a blatant contradiction to my own emotions. 

I simply had to try again, I thought, and later when a similar confession occurred, I found myself feeling that same nausea. Tied in knots, I felt utterly conflicted with making my decision — do I distance myself from this person or do I pretend to have feelings that I don’t have? If I chose the first option, I’d regret not having the courage to be with someone, but with the latter, I’d simply not want to be part of that relationship. Each and every time, I took the first option.

I was faced with a hedgehog’s dilemma. 

In times of cold weather, hedgehogs huddle together to help keep themselves warm, but can’t stay too close because of their prickly spines. It’s not that hedgehogs don’t want to huddle together, but rather that they just can’t, no matter how much they want to. Much like the hedgehogs, I just couldn’t take the feeling of reciprocation, no matter how much I wanted it. Desperate to find an answer as to why I couldn’t, I decided to talk to someone about it. 

I described how each time someone had confessed to me or tried to connect with me, I felt like running away and that prevented me from wanting to pursue relationships with others.

Could you be aromantic?” they asked. 

Well, could I be? I thought. I eventually decided to answer the question later that day. Opening up Google, I decided to try some internet soul-searching, reading all about what it meant to be an aromantic person. While initially on the fence as I read its medical definition, what connected me to this label was the experiences of other self-identified aromantic people. It shocked me that amongst the community, a common, persistent emotion was that all too familiar nauseating feeling after each confession. I began to connect the dots to my past encounters and things suddenly came into clear view. 

I was initially insecure about how I dealt with romance, but now, I found confidence in the fact that it wasn’t my fault, rather it was just how I am. I couldn’t change that — I just had to try and embrace that part of me. 

In some strange way, I was relieved. It wasn’t that the problems simply disappeared — I’m still struggling to find romantic connections with people. But coming out as aromantic did give me that feeling of self-respect. Much like those hedgehogs, I’m still struggling to find warmth, but at least I’ll be true to myself in that desire.