If you’re active in any form of non-monogamous community, you’ve likely come across the term “Relationship Anarchy” with increasing frequency. With that, you’ve undoubtedly heard conflicting ideas of what it actually is.
Unfortunately, more and more impressions seem to be negative and most appear to be rooted in anecdotal evidence and/or assumptions. There will always be people who leverage ideology to justify poor behavior and Relationship Anarchy is no different.
With that in mind, let’s start with what Relationship Anarchy isn’t:
- It is not an excuse to use people
- It is not a way to shift emotional labor onto someone else/avoid it on your end
- It is not a way to avoid emotional entanglement
- It is not a way to avoid emotional presence
- It is not a way to avoid emotional responsibility
Relationships, other than with yourself, always include two or more people, so taking a self-centered approach becomes inherently problematic. One also needs to make a distinction between being mindful of others you’re in a relationship with and taking responsibility for them. Being mindful of others is a core tenet of relationship building. Taking on responsibility for feelings of others is called codependency. Don’t be like that.
The concept of anarchy is generally misunderstood in our culture: No rules! Fuck the system! Chaos! . . . Nope. You may be surprised to learn that’s not what anarchism is. Anarchism, particularly in the world of relationships, is a philosophy that rejects all involuntary, coercive forms of hierarchy. Furthermore, it incorporates the principles of voluntary cooperation, mutual aid, direct action, and self-management.
Conveniently for us, there is a manifesto written for Relationship Anarchy and many practitioners reference it as a framework for their approach. It’s short, simple and can be found here, along with the author’s thoughts on each aspect. Please bear in mind it was translated from Swedish so colloquialisms may cause some hangups.
Beyond that manifesto and a general idea of what Relationship Anarchy is not, it can be a bit trickier to define what it is as a practice. I can’t do that for you or anyone else; ask ten people who practice RA what it means to them and there’s a good chance you’ll get ten different answers. Regardless of your relationship orientation, there are many aspects of RA which can be beneficial.
In general, folks who consider themselves relationship anarchists often agree on the following points:
- A focus on personal autonomy and agency
- Respecting/fostering the autonomy and agency of other people
- ALL relationships (romantic, platonic, sexual, familial, etc) are important and what they are doesn’t create an arbitrary ranking of importance
- Only the people in the relationships get to have input on how they operate
- Trust is often freely given
- Direct communication as opposed to assumptions
- A focus on healthy boundaries instead of trying to use rules to control others
For me, Relationship Anarchy allows every relationship to become what it’s meant to be. Friends, romantic connections, sexual partners, or even mortal enemies! I work to not let cultural norms influence how my relationships look nor how valid they are. And it does indeed take work when you’re inundated with how these things should be all day, every day.
I’m fortunate in that my mother modeled a similar mindset for me. I would watch as she allocated her time and energy to the family she got along with and avoided those who were problematic. Many like to say “Blood is thicker than water,” implying that family is the most important relationship in your life. This is actually a misquote! The original reads “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.” The relationships we form intentionally are stronger than a relationship that’s compulsory! I’m not saying family isn’t important, but make sure you’re applying more of your time and energy to the relationships that reward you!
Don’t let preconceived notions of what a relationship should be get in the way of what it can be.
I’ve had a Tinder match grow into a solid friendship. I’ve added sex to a very close platonic friendship that originated nearly a decade ago when what we wanted at the time wasn’t feasible. I’ve also had a short term romantic relationship become a dear friendship that ebbs and flows as feels right in our lives.
If I were to try and distill the concept of Relationship Anarchy down? Value your relationships for what they are and how they work independently of one another, not least of which is your relationship with yourself. Learn to come into new connections free of expectations, follow your hopes, communicate your wants and needs, listen to theirs, and find what works for both of you if anything.