Say the words’ relationship anarchy’ to the average person, and they probably picture something akin to complete romantic chaos. Yet, scratch the surface of this approach to connections, and you’ll discover that it’s neither inherently messy nor only about romantic and sexual relationships.
So, what is relationship anarchy, and what can it teach us about how we structure our lives? Here’s my take on this philosophy and identity.
Firstly, let’s talk about anarchy. If your only reference points are images of the Sex Pistols and violent protests, you probably have some negative associations with this word. Does it surprise you that both Mahatma Gandhi and Oscar Wilde were anarchists? Then I recommend taking a moment to read What Is Anarchism All About?
Anarchy is the absence of authority and hierarchy to achieve order through free and equal collaboration. So, if this philosophy is applied to our relationships, it dissolves the social script of expectations, rules and prioritizations placed on people in our lives. This means that a relationship anarchist will start every connection assuming total freedom on each person’s part, and then together, they will decide what they want that relationship to look like.
Find this confusing? Then think: how do assumptions about rules and expectations show up in your everyday connections? Think of terms like ‘primary partner’ and ‘best friend’ and what you (or others) may expect those labels to mean for your relationships. They imply that these people are the highest priority and should always expect to have more status and relationship resources (affection, time, focus, gifts, etc.). You could also assume that these people would impose rules to control the connection and maintain such privileges.
What would our relationships look like if we were to remove such hierarchies from our lives? All our connections – romantic, sexual, friends, family – would suddenly be relatively level. Your partners would no longer be more important than your friends, siblings, parents, or anyone else, for that matter.
This lack of hierarchy doesn’t mean you would have to treat everyone the same way all the time. Instead, you could come together with each individual in your life to co-create a connection that works best for you both and keep evolving it over time as you each grow.
You could also make honest and free decisions based on your core values and personal preferences rather than heeding rules and expectations that you didn’t create. You would also give space for others in your life to behave genuinely and autonomously, knowing that they were always showing up for you and others as authentically as possible.
Sounds dreamy but also quite scary, coming from a society governed by many unspoken expectations and embedded hierarchies. So, how do you navigate and craft a connection with someone when you are working from a blank slate? That’s where the relationship anarchy manifesto and the smorgasbord come in handy.
Relationship anarchy manifesto
In 2006, a relationship anarchy manifesto was published by Andie Nordgren, a non-binary Swedish gaming producer. They and some friends took anarchist principles and applied them to relationships, challenging the idea that a romantic partner should always be prioritised above everyone else, which is a key component of our monocentric culture.
The relationship anarchy manifesto is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read. It encourages everyone to respect both their autonomy and that of others. To not try and control the people we love or expect them to compromise their needs to suit our needs. To build our models for commitment instead of following the structure that society offers as our only option.
The manifesto is relatively brief but inspiring, so here are the nine key points (you can read more about each one on the link above):
Love is abundant, and every relationship is unique
Love and respect instead of entitlement
Find your core set of relationship values
Heterosexism is rampant and out there, but don’t let fear lead you
Build for the lovely unexpected
Fake it til’ you make it
Trust is better
Change through communication
Customise your commitments
While most of these points refer to romantic relationships, many relationship anarchists see beyond romantic or sexual connections. Instead, they apply this philosophy to their entire galaxy of relationships, acting with autonomy and offering the same to everyone in their lives.
Relationship anarchy smorgasbord
Once both (or multiple people) in a connection have a sense of this manifesto and their core values, you can give the smorgasbord –also known as the relationship anarchy chart – a try. It’s a handy tool for working out what you are currently interested in within your connection.
Rather than seeing this as a finalised agreement, approach the options on the relationship anarchy smorgasbord for where you are at right now and perhaps where you might be in the future. There’s a worksheet version of this chart that you can download and use whatever method you want to highlight the things you do and don’t like. Circle some interests and cross others out. Use different colours or write yes, no, and maybe. Use blank spaces to create your ideas, options and agreements. Remember, this isn’t an eternal binding agreement. You can always tear this chart up and start again in the future as you each evolve and grow.
Can relationship anarchists be monogamous?
In theory, yes. While relationship anarchy is often associated with a non-monogamous approach to relationships, like polyamory, choosing to be sexually and romantically exclusive with one partner is possible. It would have to be something you consciously choose and are open to reviewing and changing at any point if it no longer works for you.
Monogamous relationship anarchists also need to accept that they aren’t the default priority. Family, friends, and other connections could and no doubt would be given the time, energy, and preferential treatment that a monogamous partner may assume would be theirs.
On the other hand, relationship anarchy isn’t focused specifically on romantic and sexual relationships. It is a way of approaching all the connections in your life, not just your partners. As mentioned above, you also don’t necessarily have to be non-monogamous to be a relationship anarchist.
However, some relationship anarchists also identify as solo polyamorous because these autonomous identities work well in conjunction with each other.
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