Relationship Anarchy

bookbug

New member
It's been awhile since I've inhabited the forum. Ive been sorting myself out so to speak.

Quick synopsis: I was part of a very short term triad with a couple (philosopher and his now ex-wife) turned vee, which quickly dissolved (I won't bore you with the details.) a year after I left, their marriage failed. The Philosopher and I began to pick up the pieces. That was two years ago.

We both had a lot of healing to do, but during this time, we found we could not define our relationship based on what it had been; we have both gone through a number of changes. Lots of conversation regarding how we now we view relationships, marriage, what we want in our relationship(s) etc. As the discussion continued, we continually threw out more and more rules, seeing too many rules as a way to insure failure, and our trust in each other and ourselves grew deeper. Basically, it became: I love you, I trust you, I want you to be happy. There are no rules.

It was only later we found there was a name for this concept: relationship anarchy.

My question is this: how many others here self identify as relationship anarchists? (I know Marcus does.)

Also? Despite having been in polyamorous relationships most of my adult life, I found it a challenge to move away from the default societal norm of coupledom or in my cases tripledom (I have always been in polyfi trios) - that programming that states "real relationships" have certain characteristics including a couple or group shared identity, cohabitation, entangled finances, etc., as opposed to operating as an autonomous individual, which may cohabit and entangle finances or may not. Now that I have grasped it, I find it a particularly secure model and very freeing. But the few open-minded I've tried to describe it to can't quite understand it - although they are trying. Any suggestions?
 
I tend to avoid identifying myself as anything - particularly as anything that includes the word anarchist. Simply because people hear that word and immediately think of chaos, lack of order and folk doing whatever they want, whenever they want.

Nevertheless, I do strongly identify with anarchism. For me, it can be defined as the belief that social groups work better if people are able to work together collectively as equals to organise them. I'm in a number of different social and work groups that I would describe as anarchistic and which work well.

I see this working well in many parts of my life and I think that it very much applies to romantic relationships as well. I don't see the need for a group identity shared between those in relationships together. My assumption tends to be that I operate as an individual within any group I am part of - including any romantic group.

For me, being part of a group wider than a romantic group, implies some responsibilities and care. If I choose to be in what I would call a romantic relationship - and I do right now - and it looks to others like a romantic relationship - which it does, then I feel that I wish to avoid that relationship being sexually open.

I struggle with the ethics of romantic couples having open relationships. I think it is very hard to do open relationships ethically while being in a couple. I don't think it's impossible but I see it as very hard.

That is why while I identify strongly with anarchism, I maintain monogamous romantic relationships. If I am not romantically entangled, I would feel happy about being open to sexual relationships with a number of friends.

Anarchism is, I think, a bit of a trigger word and can act as a barrier to people listening. Maybe describing what you are doing and how you see relationships without using the A word might be easier for other folks?

IP
 

bookbug

New member
Astute observation about the word anarchy. I, too, had that reaction initially. I had seen the terminology, and had not bothered to look it up because of a negative emotional reaction.

The problem I am finding about any descriptor - open relationship, polyamory, much less relationship anarchy, is that most people, especially those who are uninitiated make assumptions about the meaning, rather than asking. Not so much of an issue if you meet someone and the relationship has a chance to grow organically over time. But the times that someone asks me for date without really knowing me, I don't want to mislead them and have searched for an accurate way to let them know, I'm not going to be their one and only.
 

icesong

Moderator
Staff member
I struggle with the ethics of romantic couples having open relationships. I think it is very hard to do open relationships ethically while being in a couple. I don't think it's impossible but I see it as very hard.

Would it be possible for you to elaborate on that? I'm just curious as to what you see the ethical... pitfalls, for lack of a better word, are.
 

hyperskeptic

New member
There is another thread here on the topic, with some very thoughtful discussion on it. It was started by HyperSkeptic, if you do a search.

I'll make it easy for you: the thread is here, for whatever it may be worth.

It was, for me, one of the more interesting and enlightening exchanges I've had on this board. That is to say, I learned a lot from others' contributions.
 

bookbug

New member
Thanks nyecindie and hyperskeptic! Going to check out the other thread.
 

MusicalRose

Member
Would it be possible for you to elaborate on that? I'm just curious as to what you see the ethical... pitfalls, for lack of a better word, are.

I am also curious to know more about this statement.
 

A2Poly

New member
I assumed they meant that 'couples privilege' comes into play, even if subconsciously.
 
Would it be possible for you to elaborate on that? I'm just curious as to what you see the ethical... pitfalls, for lack of a better word, are.

Sure. :)

Couples wanting to remain couples while practising poly is tricky. The theory of it works well. Polyamory is about abundant love, lots of it, plenty to go around. So it seems utterly fine to remain a couple while loving others - together or separately. In theory, it is fine and in theory, it is ethical.

The difficulty comes when that moves from a theoretical discussion into practise. In practise, it seems to me that there are a number of things that happen often that lead to unethical behaviour.

1. Obvious one - the new people are not treated with the sort of respect that it is reasonable to expect when starting a new romantic relationship. They find that dates are cancelled or moved because one half of the couple is struggling. Or they find that they may not have sex in particular ways (or at all) with their new partner because one half of the couple is struggling.

I think that this comes from the ethical behaviour of those involved trying to help the person who is struggling. That is ethical. Limiting somebody else's sex life or treating time with them as something that can be cancelled at short notice for non-emergencies is NOT ethical - even if it happens for good reasons and even if the person being treated badly says they are fine with it.

The person being treated badly might be fine with it but that doesn't make it okay behaviour. To me, it's not good stuff to practise at all. I suspect it's an easy trap to fall into and would be easy to justify to myself if I was in that position - which is one of the reasons that I don't want to be in that position.

2. The flip side of number 1 is that the new person is treated very well. Better, in fact, than the existing partner. People are here regularly writing about how they have a new partner and now they don't want to have sex with their existing partner or about how their existing partner seems more boring or about how the flaws in their relationship are now magnified and they think they may leave their existing partner. The partners write too sometimes about how sad they are that their existing, previously happy relationship is no longer that way.

They get told that it's to do with NRE, that body chemicals are causing the unwanted feelings and behaviour. That's true but it doesn't make it ethical to effectively abandon an existing partner for a new one. It is particularly unethical if this abandoning comes after a long period of assuring the partner that things won't change, that love is abundant, that there is no need to worry etc etc.

I don't want to behave in that way and I think that I might do if I were in NRE - it seems to me that lots of people do and I don't see why I would be different. The chemical changes associated with NRE would, I suspect, make it difficult to see poor choices for what they are and easy to justify treating an existing partner badly.

3. Last main thing. In theory, if I had my partner and started dating a new person who was up front with me that they ultimately want a wife and child, we could deal with that. They could find a single woman who was okay with them dating others but who wanted to have a child. Or we could go ahead on the understanding that when they found somebody I would back off. In theory, that is all fine.

In practise, it seems not to work out that way so well. For a start, the coupled people I see in those situations, don't want the person they started dating and have now fallen in love with to stop seeing them. So when it comes up, they become distressed, they will often start negotiating with their love - offering an extra day a week or something else to keep the partner in that relationship. I very much understand why and in the same situation would probably do exactly the same thing. For all that, it isn't ethical to hold somebody else in a relationship that isn't at all in the form they seek.

I don't think that suggesting they seek their wife and mother of their children from among people who are happy with poly helps (unless that is something they would do anyway). That's a small pool of people and chances of success are much, much lower.

So the poly person continues having their marriage relationship while at the same time making it very unlikely that somebody they love will be able to have the same thing as them. That is absolutely not okay to me.



Does that help to clarify? I hope I've been clear that I'm not trying to berate people or suggest that they are being deliberately unethical or suggest that I am in any way superior. I don't think any of those things.

What I think is that I am as thoughtful, kind and caring as most of the people who write here. When I see those thoughtful, kind and caring people behaving unethically toward loved ones, I think I could very easily do the same thing. I see the safest way to avoiding these pitfalls is to not practise poly unless I am unattached and committed to staying that way so that I don't have the needs and wants of any partner to deal with.

IP
 

FallenAngelina

Well-known member
The difficulty comes when that moves from a theoretical discussion into practise. In practise, it seems to me that there are a number of things that happen often that lead to unethical behaviour.

1. Obvious one - the new people are not treated with the sort of respect that it is reasonable to expect when starting a new romantic relationship. They find that dates are cancelled or moved because one half of the couple is struggling. Or they find that they may not have sex in particular ways (or at all) with their new partner because one half of the couple is struggling.....
2. The flip side of number 1 is that the new person is treated very well. Better, in fact, than the existing partner.




I experience neither scenario 1 nor 2. Neither my husband nor my BFs are treated like yesterday's news, get cancelled on or prioritized lower on some imaginary emotional scale. There's an alternative to treating people like crap and that is being a respectful, thoughtful and loving person. It's possible to treat everyone in your life with respect, thought and love, whether you're having sex with them or not. NRE doesn't ipso facto mean being an asshole to the existing people in your life, nor does having a family with someone mean that you dick other loved ones around. Whether there are several stated rules and guidelines or few ("anarchy" vs. not) stable, mature and loving poly relationships happen because the people in them are stable, loving and mature in general.
 

kdt26417

Official Greeter
Staff member
I am not a relationship anarchist, but might have been one under the right conditions.

Re (from OP):
"Despite having been in polyamorous relationships most of my adult life, I found it a challenge to move away from the default societal norm of coupledom or in my cases tripledom -- that programming that states 'real relationships' have certain characteristics including a couple or group shared identity, cohabitation, entangled finances, etc., as opposed to operating as an autonomous individual, which may cohabit and entangle finances or may not. Now that I have grasped it, I find it a particularly secure model and very freeing. But the few open-minded I've tried to describe it to can't quite understand it -- although they are trying. Any suggestions?"

I'm obviously no expert, but what I've read of RA so far suggests to me that one of the first thing RA does is strips away all the labels we try to attach to our relationships. RA doesn't recognize "part of a couple" or "part of a V." Even if an outsider would see "a couple" or "a V," the relationship anarchists within would not acknowledge those labels. It would almost be like eating a bowl of Cheerios, and two of the Cheerios bump into each other on the surface of the milk, and remain paired up. A relationship anarchist would laugh if I said, "Oh look ... Those two Cheerios have fallen in love! How sweet; they're now a couple." To the relationship anarchist, they are merely two individual Cheerios that happen to be sharing a small amount of surface area.

People are not Cheerios, but like Cheerios they are individuals. They don't become a composite unit when they meet up in the "milk of life." They remain two discrete individuals who happen to be sharing a bit of life for the moment.

To summarize, it's not about the technical circumstances (e.g. three people living together); it's about the way we *perceive* those circumstances (e.g., a relationship anarchist would not assume that, "Squeeee! They must be a polycule"). By avoiding calling ourselves "partners" or "lovers" or "boyfriends/girlfriends," we free ourselves of the illusion of any obligation to measure up to those labels. I am told that everyone in a relationship anarchist's life is to be just referred to as a "friend," but I doubt that relationship anarchists even mean (necessarily) as much by the word "friend" as do non-anarchists. RA strips away the obligations that all relationship types place on the people in those relationships. Finances can't be entangled because everyone is free to walk away at any moment ... At least that's the theory.

I guess the easiest way to explain all that is to say, "No matter what relationship anarchists actually do together, they don't burden each other with obligations to keep doing that. They may be grouped together for the moment, but they still see each other as free individuals."

Does that make sense?
 

LovingRadiance

Active member
IP & KDT-
Awesomely helpful posts.

OP-
i have never ide tified as a relatio ship anarchist
But after experiencing too many and too much of what IP describes, I am on a pathway that leads in that direction.
More and more frequently I ide tofy with Marcus' posts and NyCindies.
I have found that its very difficult to find a partner who can ACTUALLY manage to be part of a couple with me AND not fall into the expectations of control and "priority" or "privilege" that society says go with being part of a couple.
Something that makes me physically ill-because it results in them demanding the mistreatment of my other loves something I am not ok with.
 

kdt26417

Official Greeter
Staff member
Well, I think you're experiencing an especially bad case of privilege and controlling behavior. No one should have to go through that kind of crucible, not even to transition into RA.
 

bookbug

New member
After I started this thread, and read through the earlier thread to which I was directed, I had yet another chance to explain the concept. Here's my interpretation - or how I apply the general concept:

RA in a nutshell:

1. Relationship anarchists look at all relationships - romantic, sexual, non-sexual, friendships, platonic (whatever description you want to put in here) as equally important and unique. They do not elevate a romantic relationship above any other relationship as both monogamists and polyamorists do.

2. Relationships should be allowed to evolve organically with no preconceived expectations.

3. Lastly, each person is an autonomous individual. How this applies, is our right to influence begins and ends at our relationship; we have no right to control how each of us conducts any other relationship. We trust each other to manage our own lives.
 

bookbug

New member
Perhaps some RAs include a lack of obligation. I do shun the preconceived default societal expectations that go along with certain relationship types - such as th assumption that we all want to ride the relationship escalator. Agreements need to be made on an individual basis. Me? I would say that a feeling of obligation is entirely appropriate if both parties agree to such.
 
IP & KDT-
Awesomely helpful posts.

No worries. Glad that what I wrote resonated with you.

I have found that its very difficult to find a partner who can ACTUALLY manage to be part of a couple with me AND not fall into the expectations of control and "priority" or "privilege" that society says go with being part of a couple.

I suspect that it IS difficult for anybody. Not impossible but would take all involved to make a real commitment to avoiding those sorts of ways of thinking. Lots of self awareness on all sides too and possibly the input of a trusted outsider who could see if things were going astray.

I have a friend who I think deals with it really well. After years of looking for a husband and being really keen to be part of a couple, she has just stopped. She realised that her life is good. She has enough money, plenty of friends, good social life. She was happily telling me that she has sex with some of her friends and not with other so everything is good in her world.

I know that she won't be using words like non monogamous, polyamorous or RA to describe herself. We're in the UK and here the cultural understanding is that if somebody is your friend then it would be inappropriate to expect them to be monogamous with you. So all my friend has to do is make it clear to anybody she has sex with that they are friends and nothing else. That's what she does and she goes about her life quite happily.

I'd guess that she'll use condoms with all of them and so not be in the situation where they need to inform her of other sexual partners.

Seems simple and easy enough to me. :D
 
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