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Relationship Anarchy?

+2 votes

What are peoples thoughts on relationship anarchy?

I'm not just making stuff up by adding the term "anarchy" next to nouns, like relationship. I've seen people on sites like okcupid or tinder refer to themselves as relationship anarchists among like 20 other things they identify as. Here's the relationship anarchy's manifesto if you're unfamiliar with it, just as I was.

asked Jan 15 by human (3,830 points)
anarchy, living anarchically, to me means how people relate to one another, so "relationship anarchy" feels like a redundant phrase to me....

do i relate to another person based on concepts of authority and standardization and commodification, or do i relate based on our uniqueness - freely, variably, without concepts of authority, ownership, etc....that matters a lot to me, so you could say i constantly desire to create "relationship anarchy" (even though i've lived in a very intimate relationship with one person for many years)...

but i like the question because it reminds me of what i like to think about, what i desire and how i want to live and relate to other people....the challenges that come with that, and how best to continue to navigate through life...taking anarchy out of the theoretical or atr context, and into my daily life...
It apparently means there is no distinction between like a partner and a friend, and there is no primary partner. I think it's sort of a rejection of a labels assigned to 2 people, like friend, fwb, bff, bf/gf...etc to describe the relationship, afaict.

i'd say one can make a distinction between every relationship, not with labels, but with description....

i have "friends" with varying levels of intimacy and trust, wide differences in how much time (and the ways) i interact with them, etc...people have neighbors they see every day they don't call friends, but still have a relationship with....

but i like the rejection of labels, and perhaps "primary" still works as shorthand for describing a very intimate relationship with someone (and even then, i know all sorts of couples where the relationship as i'd describe it varies significantly from one couple to another), but i still prefer a description of (and stories about) a relationship (whether "primary" or "friend") and my experience of a relationship, including those between other people with me around them. that feels much more valuable, interesting, insightful than a label for a relationship....or for any"thing" for that matter.... :)

The way "relationship anarchists" have described it online makes it seem like it's not all that different from a "normal" or "poly" relationship. Like they can love as many people as they decide, but that's just polyamorous if I'm not mistaken. They value autonomy and direct communication, and feel they don't need to ask permission from their partner to do things, but will talk to their partner on how their partner feels about it.

They state that one should not based their relationship around a sense of entitlement and respect the other person individuality. So, like one partner cannot dictate to the other partner on how they feel a "normal" relationship is supposed to be and no compromises.  Instead let the partner choose their own path without their decision causing turmoil in the relationship and upsetting people, but each partner chooses what they want the relationship to be or look like instead of cultural norms determining it. One should not be with the person because how they make you feel, but how you feel about them

Then there is the no distinction between friend or gf/bf thing. This seems to mean, if I understand correctly, like one cannot pull the ultimatum card out and dictate who he/she can interact with or else thing and one should not allow for one relationship to take precedence over another relationship. Like your intimate relationship you have had with one person for many years should not trump your other relationships, like hypothetically your best friend or the person you shoot the shit with. Allowing for one relationship to take priority over another is apparently hierarchical because it can make it seem like you're just hanging out with them because your free or can make them feel like they're applying for your friendship.

So, from what I've read about it is that you should not be abusive in your relationships. Also, they should probably not focus that much on the terms society gives for different relationships and to ignore those MRA/PUA dudes. I guess combining anarchy or anarchist with other terms is a fad or something.

I revisited Emma Goldman's essay "Jealousy: Causes and a Possible Cure" because of this question.


I believe any conflation of "relationship anarchy" and polyamory is reactionary - “manifesto” or no. I will only speak of Euro/Western traditions, but monogamy has been so long and violently policed by church and state that a freedom [from] conservative coupling might make one interpret multiple lovers as anarchistic in itself. Similarly, a more communistic escape route from this same authoritarian conservatism might find one advocating for a communisation of the means of production. (All puns amusing).

Now I’m thinking of another essay: Aviv Etrebilal’s “Butterflies, polyamory and ideology: Letter on inconsequence.”


The essay speaks to this same reactionary escape from Old Regime and Modern conservative sexual ethos and how, over decades post the “Sexual Revolution,” polyamoric  behaviors can become dogmatic, moralized norms. (I will reiterate that this is a socially-enforced coercion of one’s sexual / intimate behaviors found like that found in monogamous conservatism. Not exactly anarchistic).

I am not “against” group sex or of having plural orafice engaged simultaneously by (at minimum) two individuals at the same time or whatever agreement might occur in which individuals are not monogamous. Honestly, I am no sexual-scientists and find many categorically “relational” behaviors.…I don’t know….Interpret the features of others’ [sexual / romantic / intimate / whatever] how you will.

(As an aside: there are not enough anarchistic English words to communicate anarchistic thinking. I’m not utopian about language, but I will say that these are some dang squeaky wheels).

I’ve written a lot and said little. The basic points that I want to make are
anarchistic relationships are separate from maintaining multiple, sexualized relationships simultaneously. That polyamory, if interpreted as necessarily anarchistic, is false. (Or “relationship anarchy” is dogmatic if interpreted as polyamory. Either way).

Giving preference to a particular relationship over another relationship is not hierarchical. I will not feel obliged to treat my friends and Cutie-McBooties like units traveling along a factory line or like electronic devices that I must systematically plug into the grid to recharge. If I may be allowed my pulpit, treat individuals like individuals.

On the preference of which relationships to "spend" time or attention: This preference would only be hierarchical if an individual was sorting lovers and friends like a king might favor grueling lords. Within polyamory, it is not anarchistic to center social-gravity by deciding which sweetheart will receive more social power than the “runner-up” lover. (If you feel that a lover is manipulating your scene or friendship group in such a way, I might advise some revolt. This is not necessarily aggressive and hateful. See a recent question on BDSM for creative, loving approaches to kicking a lover’s ass. Just kidding, that question needs lube. BDSM jokes are fun, but, in all seriousness, this dynamic is a very unsexy red flag of power-abuse).

Anarchistic relationships are not positions or roles for one to fill. They are not performances with a script. They do not come with preordained timelines, social expectations, coercion, possessiveness / commodification, or whatever schema upon one might press.
i got three things out of this post, vinegar. 1. that nothing is necessarily anarchistic, including things with the name anarchy in them. 2 and 3. that the description of relationship anarchy sounded mechanistic to you, and that's no way to come at relationships or people.

obviously there's more you said, but for the purposes of this comment thread... did i get any of that wrong or did i miss anything significant?

Hey dot. I’ve sat at this keyboard for 20 minutes and come up with two lines. Heads-up for clunky language. Also, I really do communicate and think figuratively more often than not, and, just as often, it’s a lot more work for me to write differently. (I’m not trying to be elusive or cute or whatever with all my metaphors and analogies. Often, I’m like, “what is that dang word that people use for this phenomenon? All well, it’s now a “vessel of freedom made of kinship-whispers and stars.” And, not from studying it myself, but an anti-civ friend told me that metaphorical language was “a thing.” So, I’ve heard this, but, really, it’s because “i don’t know probably drugs and stuff."  ;)

“that nothing is necessarily anarchistic:” So, any line that I draw for what is or is not anarchistic is very far away. AND/OR binaries are sometimes appropriate but always incredibly powerful and I don’t use them often. AND/OR searching for perfect anarchistic what-have-you is some puritanical phobia of a “dirty, filthy, unfit, diseased, soft, daft, contaminated, tainted” idea or person coming in contact with your pure-bred dog “Struggle” or virgin daughter “Theory.” In the other writing, I was only trying to call 1. Coercing someone to have sex with you and 2.  Playing “God-King-Capitalist-Dictator-Shit” as NOT ANARCHIST. (Full-subjective-binary-power-engaged!)
“including things with the name anarchy in them:” Yes, I’m pretty sure there is a company that sells “green anarchy” vape-juice. Other than edgy marketing, I rarely burn anyone’s black flag or whatever. My thinking on this is the same as number 1 with a splash of “that’s hugely boring to me” for derisive smokey-notes and a squeeze of “snobbery doesn’t match my curtains” just for fun.
3a.  “that the description of relationship anarchy sounded mechanistic to you…” I’m not sure if you’re asking about the anarchy101 question or the manifesto. “mechanistic” could work to describe my opinion. “role-play,” “staged,” “moralistic” come to mind.

3b. “and that's no way to come at relationships or people:”  I guess that it technically is. I mean, there’s a lot of shitty relationships out there.    har-har
um,  is this a question about what I want? What I think is a standard of “anarchistic relationship?” or about my ethics or what-have-you?

i was just trying to make sure that i understood the gist of what you were saying. thanks for expanding.
from the manifesto linked in the question:

"You have capacity to love more than one person, and one relationship and the love felt for that person does not diminish love felt for another. Don’t rank and compare people and relationships — cherish the individual and your connection to them. One person in your life does not need to be named primary for the relationship to be real. Each relationship is independent, and a relationship between autonomous individuals."

there is nothing in there that substantially differentiates that concept from the concept of polyamory that i am familiar with. polyamory does not imply a "primary" partner, although in practice i have mostly seen that as the norm.

not ranking one's relationships does not imply that all those relationships are identical or equal or whatever. they are unique (not to sound all stirner-esque and shit), and hopefully somehow complementary.

the term "relationship anarchy" seems clumsy and somewhat contrived. "anarchic relations" would better describe what i want. similar to what ba@ said above, to me anarchy is - first and foremost - a way of relating, to myself and the world around me; primarily other individuals (of various species).

the main thing i took from my earliest exposure to polyamory: why does sex change the nature of a relationship so dramatically? does it need to? what would it be like if sex was just another enjoyable activity that some individuals engage in together, whenever the fuck they want? like dancing, cooking, smashing, etc...  of course it (poly) also raises other great questions, many of which are relevant to - but not specific to - anarchist ideas.

2 Answers

+3 votes
is that what the kids are calling it these days?

this seems to me like a re-statement of basic poly premises (although there are many ways of doing poly, of course), and i second baa's sense that this is not a bad reminder of ways of bringing anarchy into the practical. and using new words is not necessarily a bad thing, nothing especially appealing about the word polyamory that people should hold on to, afaic.

but also the context you introduce it with, human, as one more jargon term to negotiate in today's labyrinth of rules, empties it of much power. makes it seem like just another box to check off (does this person understand and agree with these words), rather than a practice to take seriously.

so, a little of this, a little of that.
answered Jan 16 by dot (50,160 points)
I've only seen it with 30+ years old. I've only seen it being used in a list of identities the the person identify as. I've tried to ask because I ask questions, but never got a response. :(

It's apparently not poly because they say poly adheres to the same rules of monogamy, just with multiple partners. They don't. It's like they claim to reject putting different degrees of importance between relationships. Putting degrees of importance on various personal relationships is hierarchal
i wouldn't say that putting degrees of importance on various relationships is hierarchical....to me it just means that i like some people more than others, and want to relate to them in different ways....
yea, usually people who come up with new words have some rationale for why the old words aren't good enough. what they're saying about poly is never what i have meant by it, but whatever.

it is consistent with people thinking that having the perfect word for everything that they are/want is helpful. severe limitations to that bias, but i expect they'll figure that out eventually.
I find etymology interesting enough to appreciate the meaning of the roots and suffices of polyamory and polyamorous.

add: but I have no problem with evolution of idiomas/lenguas/legaujes/languages
"they say poly adheres to the same rules as monogamy and they do not"

see this is what I meant in my answer about people just assigning random meanings or not knowing what the words mean. polyamory is a broad term. that's not my opinion, look at the word poly-multiple amory-love

multiple loves/lovers/relationships

that's pretty broad and if you asked me it includes anything from being monogomish (swapping partners or occasionally stepping out with permission), to polygamy, to what it sounds like they are trying to describe which is total loose relationships, and multiple partners with NO rules. I think they are just trying to say no rules/restrictions.

imo half those ppl didn't answer bc they said it cuz it sounded cool and the other half every answer would be slightly different.
dot: what are the limitations to always wanting the exact word to express an idea? limited in that it isn't desirable to always express exactly, or limited in that it is impossible, or making up words can cause more confusion? what d o you mean.
all those things DD. couldn't have listed them better myself :)

dd: "I think they are just trying to say no rules/restrictions."

not sure which "they" you are referring to, but in my experience, poly relationships are definitely not (necessarily) without rules/restrictions. the scenarios i found most useful defined some very basic ground rules, which were always open for discussion and/or modification by those involved. a common example of such a ground rule might be: sex with anyone outside the agreed/implied relationship must be protected.

generally speaking, a "healthy" poly relationship would be handled in much the same way any loving and meaningful relationship would be handled in my ideal world: with honesty, respect, humor, and constant evaluation of the happiness of all involved; along with the inherent understanding that anyone can bail whenever the fuck they want (hopefully with communication about why).

I was referring to the people on dating sites the original poster was talking about when I said they, as in humans quote below. and "they" were calling themselves relationship anarchists. I came to the conclusion they meant no rules by this because human said:

"It's apparently not poly because they say poly adheres to the same rules of monogamy, just with multiple partners. They don't. It's like they claim to reject putting different degrees of importance between relationships. Putting degrees of importance on various personal relationships is hierarchal"

I think you should reread what I said because I think you did not understand. I was not saying polyamory is exclusively "no rules or restrictions" but rather that it includes multiple different arrangements including what you described.

"look at the word poly-multiple amory-love

multiple loves/lovers/relationships

that's pretty broad and if you asked me it includes anything from being monogomish (swapping partners or occasionally stepping out with permission), to polygamy, to what it sounds like they are trying to describe which is total loose relationships, and multiple partners with NO rules. I think they are just trying to say no rules/restrictions."

+1 vote
I don't know much about this but I think it has to do entirely with monogamy. don't trust anything you see someone say they identify as on a dating website, simply because terms like pansexual demisexual non binary genderqueer etc. are overused, abused, and misunderstood. they are real actual things that real people actually are and experience, but some people just wanna get on the bandwagon or don't know what it is.. so I cant tell you what those people mean by it.

but based on my interpretation of the word I can tell you what I think. I read an essay on monogamy and anarchy, I think two actually. the one in days of war nights of love, and the other I found online. they basically both said that capitalism has given us an obsession with owning and ownership, we seek to own, and control our partners in these ways. there were other criticisms I cant remember, some of which I agreed with such as opposing the institution of marriage (life long state sanctioned contractual obligation). personally I think the first statement levelled is ridiculous and again(like crimethinc on bdsm) ignores the complexities of humans. I don't think monogamy is incompatible with anarchy nor that there is anything inherently anarchistic about polyamory. I do think relationships should be dissolvable/transient if that is chosen and that (with monogamous people/couples) cheating indicates it may be time for a change. I also don't think the people on the dating sites actually mean to connect the idea to anarchism.
answered Feb 10 by DonnieDarko (580 points)