Relationship Anarchy

Relationship Anarchy

As I’ve become more and more open about being poly, I’ve felt uncomfortable distinguishing my partners in a hierarchical way. When I first researched polyamory I came across terms like “primary partner” and “secondary partner” and even “tertiary partner,” which indicates, or at least implies, levels of priority in relationships. It made sense to refer to Matt and Victor as my primary partners. We’re all in it for the long haul. We live together. We share finances. And I have a deep connection with them both. But categorizing those that I date as “secondary” felt weird. More than the implication of priority, it suggests that someone is less valuable.

A new friend introduced to me to relationship anarchy, a type of polyamory. Here’s the good ol’ Wikipedia explanation:

Relationship anarchy (sometimes abbreviated RA) is the belief that relationships should not be bound by rules aside from what the people involved mutually agree upon. If a relationship anarchist has multiple intimate partners, it might be considered as a form of polyamory, but distinguishes itself by postulating that there need not be a formal distinction between sexual, romantic, or platonic relationships.

Relationship anarchists look at each relationship (romantic or otherwise) individually, as opposed to categorizing them according to societal norms such as ‘just friends’, ‘in a relationship’, or ‘in an open relationship’.

Kale of puts it like this:

“I want relationships based around consent and communication, I believe I can love as many people as I choose, I value each relationship I have independent of the others, sex doesn’t necessarily come into play regarding who my Important People are, I highly value autonomy and direct communication, and therefore I won’t ask you for permission to do things, but I will talk to you about how you feel for as long as you need to!”

As a human, I want to categorize things in my life for ease and poly doesn’t make that simple. But it may not really be a problem. That’s what I’ve taken from relationship anarchy. It was like seeing my relationships as a strata of colors rather than a rank. The way each relationship expresses itself is between me and that person, whether it’s platonic or romantic. As long as we’re both happy, honest, and clear on expectations, a label seems convenient only when explaining the relationship to someone else. But for convenience’s sake I use “partner” to refer to anyone with whom I have an ongoing romantic relationship, “friend” for platonic relationships, and “[Name] who I date” for the in betweens.

Another part of relationship anarchy is autonomy. No matter the history you have with a certain partner, they are not entitled to control any part of your life. Kale from says

“Deciding to not base a relationship on a foundation of entitlement is about respecting others’ independence and self-determination. Your feelings for a person or your history together does not make you entitled to command and control a partner to comply with what is considered normal to do in a relationship…Rather than looking for compromises in every situation, let loved ones choose paths that keep their integrity intact, without letting this mean a crisis for the relationship. Staying away from entitlement and demands is the only way to be sure that you are in a relationship that is truly mutual. Love is not more ‘real’ when people compromise for each other because it’s part of what’s expected.”

Where I’m at right now, that sounds like an ideal situation but impractical for me. I know that I am going to place Matt and Victor as a higher priority. But they could hold that high priority status in my life and still respect my autonomy and vice-versa. They want what is best for me, they want me to grow and experience new things, they want me to be happy, and I want the same for them. When I’m spending time with someone new or just spending time with myself, they respect that decision and understand that it does not mean I love them any less. It’s an act of love to respect your partners’ needs and autonomy and to communicate insecurities when they arise.

I think that can be achieved with or without labels, but I appreciated that Relationship Anarchy made me argue with myself about what those labels imply, their usefulness in certain contexts, and what it means to be in a relationship with anyone platonic or otherwise.