“If the main character’s a girl, make sure she’s married by the end.” It has long been expected of women to desire marriage and a family, to a point where those who didn’t desire either were seen as strange. And while men have been given more freedom to choose a bachelor’s life than women, they too have been expected to settle down at some point. No one should spend their life alone and so everyone is so desperate for marriage. That promise that you will never be truly alone. Only, there are so many people who fall out of love, so many marriages that end in divorce. Romantic love is seen as this brand that elevates a relationship above a familial or platonic one, and yet it is just as flawed as any other form of love.
As the world had grown more and more accepting and aware of diverse identities, some lesser-known communities have stepped into the light. The aromantic community is made up of individuals who lack or have little romantic attraction to other individuals. Unlike other members of the LGBTQ+ community, aromantic people are hard for the general public to understand. While most queer people don’t fit into societal expectations, an alloromantic queer couple will often get married in the same way a straight couple will. The trajectory of their life isn’t exactly like a straight couple’s (many queer people find their experiences as minorities delay certain formative experiences in dating), but it is nowhere near as confusing as what aromantic people want from life. Aromantic people don’t all have the end goal of marriage or even entering a romantic partnership, and those that do will often have a very different relationship than what is expected in alloromantic partnerships.
Jo March’s arc in Little Women was the first time I ever saw my struggles and experiences as an aromantic person explored onscreen. The importance of non-romantic relationships in Little Women is what first stood out to me. Aromantic people aren’t incapable of love, with many still experiencing platonic and familial love, as well as other more complex forms of love. Jo March’s relationships with her sisters and friends help her find confidence in who she is and stay as unconventional as she desires. Her relationship with her sisters and mother push her to finally write the book she gets published to great acclaim and she herself sacrifices for her family (cutting her hair, using her wages to pay for Beth to go to the sea). Her own aromantic-coded personality affects how she tells the story of Little Women as well, focusing more on the non-romantic relationships between the sisters, mother, and Laurie than Meg’s romance with Mr. Brooke and Laurie’s eventual marriage to Amy.
Jo March’s aromantic coding is shown most starkly through the contrast between her vision of the world and other people’s. This is first shown through her friendships with Laurie and Friedrich. Her friendly interest in these men, often motivated by her desire to find fellow boyish and academically inclined individuals, contrasts with the longing stares the men throw her when she isn’t watching. Even before Laurie asks for her hand in marriage, we see small incidents where Jo rejects romantic-coded activities, such as Laurie offering her his arm only for her to punch him and then dash ahead and link arms with her sister instead. She refuses to marry Laurie and refuses to chase after Friedrich, choosing instead to stay unmarried and publish her book about her and her sisters’ lives.
The contrast between the reality of Jo’s life and what is expected by publishers highlights the sexism of the era and, in our modern era, the still persevering expectations of marriage or a romantic ending. Jo’s choice to reject marriage and instead find happiness in her work, friends, and family is judged insufficient in terms of satisfaction. Her experiences as someone who doesn’t fit into alloromantic tradition make her less interesting narratively. She has to rewrite her own life for the romantic masses. Her own family reflects this idea as well, encouraging her to run after the French teacher even as she makes excuse after excuse trying to avoid this ending.
However, the scene that most touched me as someone on the aromantic spectrum, was Jo’s speech to her mother where she regrets having rejected Laurie. Jo tells her mother that while she doesn’t want to marry, she’s incredibly lonely and would probably accept if Laurie proposed to her again. Her mother asks her if she loves Laurie and Jo is unable to answer. This is a struggle that spoke to me as an aromantic person who fears loneliness. While many aromantic people are perfectly content in solitude, those who desire companionship while being unable to experience romantic love find themselves being barred by society’s expectations. Queerplatonic relationships and other forms of platonic partnership are still rare in our allormantic society and the aromantic community is so small that the pool for possible relationships is quite small. The struggle to erase one’s own identity to avoid loneliness is one I myself have experienced and I cannot imagine how much more difficult it is for those within my community who crave companionship, but could never be happy in a relationship.
Jo finds companionship regardless in her family and finds fulfillment in her writing. While she was not conceived as an aromantic character, her struggles and experiences mirror our own so deeply. This is especially important as there aren’t many representations of aromantic characters in media, and even less allosexual aromantics. This is not to say that alloromantics can’t relate to Jo March. In fact, I believe alloromantics would understand more about love if aromantic experiences were explored in the mainstream. Traditional forms of love can be beautiful, but they’re not all that exists. And true beauty can be found in partnerships deemed strange by allo society.
Featured image: Chaumurky on Flickr.