The Many Faces of Relationship Anarchy
The first time I heard the term “relationship anarchy,” I practically leapt out of my chair.
I’d been talking about how the way I viewed (and practiced) polyamory didn’t fall in line with a former metamour’s. We approached poly very differently, and invariably whenever we had philosophical differences, her reaction was to cry, “That’s not poly.”
“I guess I just don’t think of polyamory as a unitary concept,” I said to my friend. “I think there are all sorts of ways that you can structure relationships, open or closed, that are ethical. What’s important is that people agree. And that was the issue with her, not that what I was doing wasn’t poly. It’s that it wasn’t the same thing she wanted. And that’s okay. That’s incompatibility, not unethical behavior.”
“Oh, so you’re a relationship anarchist,” my friend said.
The Wikipedia definition of relationship anarchy: The practice of forming relationships that are not bound by rules aside from what the people involved mutually agree on.
And while I’ve been happy to know of this term, this subcategory, relationship anarchy is itself a term used by a diverse group of individuals.
The Marxist Vs. Libertarian Models of Relationship Anarchy
Pilotprecise (one of my favorite WordPressers) has a great post on the subject.
In their words: “Bar none, relationship anarchists are my favorite polyamorists. However, relationship anarchists also make up the vast majority of my least favorite polyamorists.”
To explain this polarization, they introduce a Marxist vs. Libertarian model as a way of understanding relationship anarchists. As Pilotprecise writes:
No revolution is without people using its tenets to advance their own agenda. If relationship marxists follow their namesake’s mantra:
“From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”
So too do relationship libertarians follow their namesake’s mantra:
“Got mine. Fuck y’all”
Alright, that’s harsh. But I’m a recovering libertarian, so I can say that. I still think Gary Johnson was the most entertaining third party candidate we’ve had in recent memory, and Ayn Rand has some decent quotes despite the fact that I disagree with the vast majority of her sentiments now.
Not every relationship anarchist I’ve met has a high regard for individual freedoms and personal boundaries. Many actually assume the mantle of the relationship anarchist to have even more control in a relationship than is normally granted by the unwritten rules laid down by the patriarchy of conventional dating.
“Jimmie Rustling” Vs. “It’s All Bullshit”
In addition to the split that Pilotprecise identifies, I’ve noticed that some relationship anarchists are very invested in overthrowing the status quo re: labeling. They shy away from assigning any labels to their relationships or categorizing them in any way, lest they inadvertently describe — or worse — create a hierarchy. No calling anyone “friend,” “lover,” “boyfriend/girlfriend/goyfriend,” “partner,” “spouse,” etc.
My ex-husband Seth was dating a relationship anarchist for a while. This RA was in a constant state of turmoil when she’d catch herself or others describing their relationship.
“I’m in a place where really nothing seems worth rustling my jimmies over,” Seth said when we chatted about it. “And she is in a place where everything rustles her jimmies.”
In some ways it was confusing for him because he was used to my approach to relationship anarchy. And I’m just fine with descriptive (if not prescriptive) labels for relationships.
“Like what’s it matter if I say we’re dating versus in a relationship?” Seth said. “Relationship labels are so vague and personal anyway that it actually adds complexity to remove and replace those labels with just one ‘anarchy’ term. In other words, it’s kinda bullshit.”
“Mmm, it’s all bullshit,” I agreed. “That’s basically what I mean when I say I’m a relationship anarchist. The rules are all bullshit. Do what you can agree on.”
“Can’t argue with that,” he said.
Step on a Crack, Break the Revolution?
Because sure, you can challenge the status quo by railing against it all day long. And flailing around wildly trying to avoid accidentally lining up with it. Like a game of “step on a crack, break your mother’s back.”
Or you can just walk however you want. And sometimes that lines up with what other people are doing. And sometimes it doesn’t.
Your Friendly Neighborhood Relationship Anarchist
I’m cool with being called a lot of things. Depending on what they see and when they see it, some people think I’m poly. Some think I’m mono. It usually doesn’t really matter or cause many problems.
I’m homoflexible, which means I’m a kind of bisexual that prefers women. You could basically round me up to lesbian, and I wouldn’t be upset. But some boys are cool, too, every now and then. Sometimes I have flings, and some folks I date. I’m open to another anchor-type person if I happened to meet one who’d work that way for me.
But none of it keeps me up at night. I’m pretty chill. I’ve seen a variety of things work out well for the other people I know. And I wish them well, even if what they’re doing looks a lot different than what I’m doing.
The folks who live next door have seen me kissing multiple people (sometimes at once) on my back porch. They’re parents, have a closed thing. But they still wave to me when they barbecue. And talk to my anchor partner about our experiences growing tomatoes.
I’m your friendly neighborhood relationship anarchist.