We’ve spent a considerable amount of time in the previous pieces unpacking non-monogamy and discussing how to navigate jealousy, envy and compersion in these dynamics. The idea of managing multiple relationships or seeing yourself share your partner’s time and affections with another will not resonate with everyone. Besides sharing these thoughts and ideas from my personal experiences and journey, I think non-monogamous relationships and dynamics have taken the forefront in many conversations because of how society is set up. While I do think this is a positive and constructive thing, this is not to say that monogamous and non-monogamous relationships are the only way to navigate love or the connections we make with different people.
What propelled me to explore this different philosophy towards approaching relationships is one thing: I wanted to be able to enjoy relationships in ways that feel healthy, organic and constructive to me. I hoped to find people who related and were compatible with my vision of what a fulfilling relationship looks like for me. I wanted to have meaningful companionship and share my love, in the broad sense of what that word means, in ways that were not limited to only what I have been taught or exposed to. I wanted to be able to design my own relationship, make my own rules and stick by them alone for as long as everyone involved feels safe, empowered and well cared for.
The relationship style to describe all this is not non-monogamy, or polyamory, contrary to popular belief. All of this is just one form of relationship anarchy. Relationship anarchy can be described as an ‘anarchist’ approach to intimate relationships. In other words, all the principles and approaches we have been taught are not the only ways in which to conduct our relations – people are interrogating them and no longer allowing themselves to be limited by them. Remember, we’re currently living in a society that puts heterosexual, monogamous and nuclear families as the pinnacle. Society, communities and even financial instruments and economies set these forms of relationship as the standard, and to a large extent, makes very little provision for any other form of relationship to flourish just as well. We see a large emphasis on our romantic, especially married, relationships and not so much on the friendships and communities we have. There also is a layer of two individuals ‘becoming one’, not only when it comes to the marital regime they’ve entered to, but to the extent that they self-sacrifice and lose one’s self in the name of making the relationship or family work. Yes, I know it is not true to say that everyone who has opted to follow the traditional ideas of relationships is experiencing the worst version of them. However, there are many people who are subscribing to these ideals because they are presented as the norm, and not necessarily because they resonate with these approaches. This is where relationship anarchy comes in.
Some of the principles that relationship anarchy embraces include abandoning ideas of what a ‘normal’ or ‘standard’ relationship looks like. Go ahead and create your own version. Relationship anarchy encourages the prioritisation of self, and doesn’t expect the individual to sacrifice their well-being for the relationship. It also says that not one relationship is necessarily more important than the other: my friendships are just as important as my relationships with my family members, my community members and my lovers. Relationship anarchy also embraces the idea that all connections and relationships are unique and each one plays its own role in fulfilling the person or people that are in it.
Having understood what the umbrella term of relationship anarchy means, it’s quite obvious that it may be impossible to capture and document the myriad of ways people can and choose to relate. There are a few examples we can consider that give us an idea of how this dynamic manifests itself.
A concept we have discussed in depth is the idea of non-monogamy. Some people choose non-monogamy because they know that they need or desire different kinds of people to fulfill and celebrate the different needs and parts of themselves. Some choose it because they know they have varying sexual needs. Some choose it as a rebellion against the idea of a nuclear family: they believe it takes a village to raise kids, they believe in the sharing of resources and responsibilities and they enjoy the idea of community as opposed to your immediate family being your main or only source of companionship and support.
Relationship anarchy doesn’t limit the sharing of romance only to intimate or sexual partners. People believe that their friendships are worth just as much effort, time and creativity as their intimate relationships. For example, I am a firm believer of spending Valentine’s Day with my friends, though it is a holiday that is usually reserved for one kind of relationship.
For the longest time in history, we reserved the idea of life partnerships for people we were romantically involved with and eventually got married to. An anarchist approach to relationships gives the freedom for people to choose whom they want to build lives with. Recently there has been more visibility in the surge of heterosexual single parent women looking to each other to buy homes, co-parent and support each other. From the outside they may look like lesbian couples, but these women still date their opposite sex partners and look to them for companionship, romance and sexual pleasure, for example, but they also have their friend, relative, or another church parishioner as the partner they choose to ‘nest’ and build with. In relationship anarchy, choosing who you lay a foundation and grow a legacy with is no longer limited to the person you are attracted to and happen to be having sex with. It can literally be anyone who you deem to be aligned and compatible with your life’s philosophy and dreams for your future.
Relationship anarchy also creates room and freedom in how we explore and pursue relationships and connections as it pertains to our pleasure. Here, you are allowed to admit you have varying needs and desires that may be unrealistic to expect one person to fulfill. A relationship that is purely physical or sexual is also not deemed to be ‘less important’ or ‘less valuable’ as the relationship you have with the person you have a family with for example. Your pursuit of relationships that are centered around pleasure alone, or where pleasure is the primary meeting point are just as valid.
These are only a few ways in which we can see relationship anarchy play out. Remember, the main point of relationship anarchy is the idea that people get to make their own rules about their own relationships. Society doesn’t have to dictate how you form or conduct your relationships. The only people who get to have a say are those involved.
Now, this is not to say that people who do embrace traditional ideas of relationships cannot be relationship anarchists or they’re just conforming to restrictive norms. In my personal opinion, if you and you partner/s can be honest with yourselves as individuals about what you want out of the connections you make, and you interrogate where the root of that desire comes from, and you determine that it really does stem from your own volution and not societal pressures, whatever you come to decide as partners will be your unique design of that relationship. So relationship anarchy is not here to suggest that people who are heterosexual, and choose monogamy and want to have a nuclear style of a relationship are not evolved enough, no. All relationship anarchy aims to do is to encourage you to interrogate the ‘why’ behind any choice you make when it comes to your relationships, and to make sure that you really are honouring yourself and making room for other people you relate with to honour themselves too.
I enjoy relationship anarchy because it dares us to expand our capacity to connect and relate with people. A world where trust, thoughtfulness, love and consideration is shared where possible, and not only reserved for a selective few, sounds like a better world for me. A society made up of larger communities who can support one another instead of expecting people to flourish and remain healthy in their nuclear setups, sounds like a healthier society for me. So, maybe in your own way you are a relationship anarchist and you never considered it. However you choose to navigate your relationships, let it come from an empowered place where you allow yourself to be real and true to self. Embrace the options and freedoms and liberties relationship anarchy offers. And wherever you land, I can only hope that you defend everyone else’s right to do the same: To live lives and build connections that resonate with them at the core, and that bring us closer to living more authentic lives and experiences in this existence.