Relationship anarchy has been much on my mind of late. What is it, and why is it so compelling to me? What is it about RA that feels more fitting and comprehensive than a concept like polyamory? Why does it feel important, even urgent, to keep seeking out a relational philosophy that feels congruent?
I’m not sure when I first came across the term “relationship anarchy” but I think it was sometime last year. Since then, I have been reading more about it, in bursts. (For a good introduction to the concept and further reading, try relationship-anarchy.com). RA is not all that amenable to a snappy, brief definition, which is one reason I like it.
So why does it draw me so much?
It’s not rule-based. Contrary to popular opinion, relationship anarchy (or any kind of anarchy) is not the equivalent of chaos. Instead, it explicitly rejects the notion of setting rules as a basis for interaction. Each relationship is allowed to naturally and organically express its form and to change over time. Consent and boundaries are still important, but these are not expressed in the form of rules or contracts. I’ve seen some people argue that polyamory is rule-based; for some, it certainly is, but for others, I don’t think that’s the case. But in poly circles, there isn’t consensus about the necessity or desirability of rules. I have encountered some poly folks who have insisted that rules and contracts are absolutely necessary in all relationships, and I disagree with them entirely. RA helps me to clarify my stance in this regard, but I still think it’s possible for someone to be both polyamorous and a relationship anarchist.
It deliberately breaks down hierarchies. The language of polyamory, in the relatively short history of the idea, includes such concepts as “primary” and “secondary” and even “tertiary” partners, with all kinds of embedded assumptions about what that means. Not all poly people adhere to hierarchical patterning, but it seems to be a relic of the hegemony of monogamy, marriage, and the ownership model of relationships. RA addresses this head on and declares that no relationship is inherently ranked over another. This includes not just “partners” (usually defined by the mainstream as the presence of sexual intimacy), but also friends and the full range of relationships that humans can have. In this absence of ranking, there are still limitations of time, energy, and attention, so it’s not expected that everyone will be treated identically—however, the deliberate dismantling of hierarchy is a priority.
It’s tied to other manifestations of anarchy. Relationship anarchy is an extension of hundreds of years of thought, inquiry, and action about anarchy in general. As people become curious about RA and how it can help them move towards increased freedom and integrity, it can be an organizing philosophy of practice to extend to all areas of their lives. If we question the oppressive systems that dominate how we conduct our relationships, and realize that we can decolonize our minds in this regard, what’s to stop us from decolonizing our minds about all oppressive systems, economic, educational, governmental, religious, etc?
Sex is not the ultimate marker of intimacy. This is a crucial point. Hand in hand with dismantling hierarchies of relationship is the notion that the presence or absence of sex is not a determining factor of how intimate a connection is. This is not a condemnation of sex at all; sex is still a beautiful and meaningful expression of intimacy, but it’s simply not the only way to express intimacy. A relationship is not more important once some magical line gets crossed when sex happens, if that line ever gets crossed—there doesn’t need to be a line. There doesn’t need to be a relationship escalator. We can adore and have intimacy with friends, and not reduce it to “just friends,” regardless of sexual activity. We can stop privileging romantic couples as the ultimate expression of fidelity, commitment, and fulfillment.
It’s radically inclusive. One of the things I like the most about RA is the idea that I can include all my loves in it. None of them have to identify as anything. They don’t have to have the title of “partner.” They don’t have to sign on the dotted line. They don’t have to carry a card. They don’t have to wave any banners. If they become inspired by the philosophy of relationship anarchy, great, but they don’t have to. They don’t have to be poly, or mono, or hold any particular sexual orientation, or be anarchists. The practice is more important than the labels. All that really matters is the love.
That’s what it boils down to. All that really matters is the love.