Relationship anarchy is becoming increasingly popular as an alternative concept of romantic and sexual relationships as well as other kinds of bonds between people.
It promotes a free, spontaneous understanding of social interaction that not only challenges the supremacy of monogamy but also holds the potential to overhaul the implicit norms that govern social relationships as a whole.
Monogamy is the prevailing type of love relationship in most of the world, regardless of whether it is the most “natural” option for most people or not. State laws and social pressure ensure that almost all individuals embrace monogamy -while discouraging or even punishing other choices.
As a consequence, difficulties arise in several areas of life for people who have an open relationship or who reject institutions such as marriage and the traditional family model, whereby the mother and father -but mostly the mother- are almost exclusively responsible for their children’s upbringing.
For instance, something as essential as affordable housing can be an issue for a traditional couple but becomes even more problematic when you are non-monogamous or in an open relationship.
In principle, the relationship anarchy movement is not trying to supersede monogamy or suggest that it isn’t natural; instead, relationship anarchists are people who feel constrained and who are tangibly impacted by traditional social norms, and so they question them in order to defend their rights and personal values.
Even if “relationship anarchy” normally refers to love relationships, I don’t think the term is necessarily limited to that specific type of bond -or at least, since the definition of relationship anarchy is still a work in progress, I am going to use this chance to expand its meaning to a broader sense.
Relationship anarchy is not the same as polyamory or free love, although it is built upon these movements. As I understand it, relationship anarchy is a wider-ranging concept -a philosophy that may lead to polyamory, free love or any other approach to relationships. In fact, I believe it doesn’t even rule out monogamy.
Even if a person rejects categorizing and labeling relationships, they might still have only one romantic and sexual partner -thus, open-minded reader, you should know that you yourself might be a monogamous relationship anarchist, at least according to the broad definition of this concept.
I would say that at heart relationship anarchy is more closely connected to anarchism as an overall philosophy than to polyamory, free love, polygamy or any other sexual and romantic preference. It has more to do with a desire to build honest relationships using the awareness of one’s needs and preferences as the point of departure than with love and sex.
Whichever the case may be, all these concepts clearly overlap; this is largely due to the fact that relationship anarchy as such is a recent movement that still needs to form its own solid, differentiated identity.
Expanding the concept’s scope of application from sexual and romantic interactions to social relations as a whole could help move towards a collective definition that captures the true philosophical core of relationship anarchy.
The Relationship Anarchy Manifesto (“Relationsanarki i 8 punkter”) was first published in Swedish in 2006. It is considered the cornerstone of the movement, but it’s better to think of it as an inspiration for one’s personal understanding of relationships than as a set of rigid “principles”.
You can continue reading about relationship anarchy and other relationship-related themes on Kale Gosum's page, a queer, non-monogamous, sex-positive feminist from Vancouver, Canada.
The author of the Relationship Anarchy Manifesto is Andie Norgren -a relationship anarchist who is also the producer of EVE Online, a role-playing video game.
Relationship anarchy activists will probably publish books and other relevant literature in the near future, since we have just become aware of ourselves as a collectivity. However, at the moment the available literature is scarce and (despite its brevity or because of its conciseness) the Relationship Anarchy Manifesto can serve as a compass for those who cannot find their personal North in the ocean of monogamy.
At any rate, keep in mind that these are just personal reflections on the 9 points of Nordgren’s Manifesto and on her principles, which are close to my own; however, you don’t need to agree with her or with me even if you consider yourself a relationship anarchist -in fact, I hope that your definition is very different.
We usually establish hierarchies in our social relations depending on how important we consider them to be. Labels such as “partner” or “best friend” are linked to social norms (both explicit and implicit) that influence how much time we spend with someone, the activities we do with them or the goals we share.
Looking at it from a rational point of view, most people would tell you that it is perfectly legitimate for you to choose to live on your own or with someone you don’t think of as your partner. However, when I share similar preferences that are outside the norm with people who do not think like I do, many of them instinctively respond with confusion, suspicion or rejection.
Nordgren and other relationship anarchists believe that love is not a limited resource that needs to be restricted to a single partner -at least not compulsorily. The same can be said about sexuality.
Loving a person does not necessarily block our ability to love other people. Most of us don’t have one single friend; in the same way, we’re not obliged to have one single sexual or romantic partner.
The fact that monogamy is the norm is a social construct and, even if at the present time most people prefer this model to relationship anarchy, polyamory and other alternatives, this does not give them a moral right to limit the freedom of those who choose a different way of understanding human relations.
The second point in Andie Nordgren’s definition of relationship anarchy states that respecting the other person’s values and decisions is a key element in romantic partnerships and any other type of social bond.
According to Nordgren, classic monogamous relationships tend to rely too much on a feeling of entitlement. When we are in a relationship we often feel we have the right to expect our partner to change their behavior so it fits better with our own preferences, and that we should be willing to do the same thing for them. However, disagreements in key areas don’t need to result in relationship crises, as many traditional couples seem to believe.
Relationship anarchy proposes that love relations (or social relations) should be based on authenticity and honesty instead of entitlement. My personal view is that trying to control and change our partners is immoral -and one of monogamy’s main risks.
The traditional monogamous model assumes everyone has similar values when it comes to amorous relationships. For instance, we are expected to “believe” in sexual and romantic exclusivity -unless proven otherwise, that is, until we make an explicit agreement with our partner.
In contrast, relationship anarchists believe that every relationship should have its own rules, decided by mutual agreement. Approaching our bonds from the social norm can be troublesome if that means we are pushing aside our deep preferences, as these do not always correspond with what’s expected of us.
Due to this, one of the first steps in the “relationship anarchist guide” should be identifying one’s values in love, and human relations in general. An example would be: is it truly important for you that your partner doesn’t have sex or a certain kind of intimacy with other people, or do you think the essence of love relationships is different?
The fourth point in the Relationship Anarchy Manifesto is a warning about the burdens of patriarchy and the norms it imposes on relations, particularly on the ones of a sexual and romantic nature.
By adding this tenet Nordgren incorporates some of the feminist and LGTBIQ demands in her Manifesto. This makes a lot of sense to me seeing how relationship anarchy relates to these two movements on various levels.
The ubiquitous heterosexist viewpoint determines -generally in an implicit way- the normative behaviors in the context of relationships of any type, such as which interactions are acceptable between female and male individuals.
This reinforces certain differential behavior patterns depending on the assigned gender (like men having some degree of control over women) and censors acts and preferences that break the norm; same-sex attraction is a classic example of this.
Words like “heterosexual”, “homosexual” and even “bisexual” are labels that ultimately limit people’s freedom of choice, aside from being massively insufficient in conveying the richness of human sexuality.
I believe from personal experience that society as a whole encourages us to adopt certain goals associated with (monogamous) love relationships; I mentioned this when examining the third point in Nordgren’s Manifesto and the importance of considering our personal values in our sentimental life.
In this sense, and despite new generations calling these norms into question, we are expected to get married and have children with a “soulmate”. But not everyone shares these goals -much less at the rapid pace decreed by obsolete social norms which ignore the fact that earning a decent wage or paying rent is becoming increasingly difficult.
Many relationship anarchists (including myself) feel that social relationships in general become healthier and more honest when they are spontaneous and built upon the preferences of both individuals rather than external goals that aren’t always questioned thoroughly prior to implementation.
What Andie Nordgren means by “Fake it ‘til you make it” is that if you identify with relationship anarchy you should be true to yourself and behave in the way that feels the most honest to you.
However, this isn’t always going to be easy and you shouldn’t expect it to be, either: don’t forget that you will be violating rigid social norms.
If you engage in relationship anarchy, polyamory or free love, you will probably go through periods of doubt and loneliness. Although we are many, the networks that can bring us together have yet to be built and it depends exclusively on us to offer and request any necessary support or advice.
It will be easier for all of us to remember that we have a right to be who we are and to act accordingly if we remain coherent and close to each other.
As we saw in point 2 of the Relationship Anarchy Manifesto, Nordgren states that relationships should be built on mutual trust and the belief that the other person wants the best for you, as well as on honesty and respect.
One of the key elements of the classic monogamous model of love relationships is receiving constant validation and support from our partner. However, respecting their space (and our own) can be equally important and it often makes for a healthier starting point.
I think point 8 of the Relationship Anarchy Manifesto is particularly noteworthy from a practical perspective. According to Nordgren, communication plays a central role within relationship anarchy -in opposition to traditional relationships, in which she believes it is used mainly as a way to solve “problems” and “crises”.
If our goal is to build relationships from sincerity and trust, insufficient communication with the other person is a fundamental mistake and probably even more severe than in monogamy, which is based on commitment rather than communication.
On the other hand, you need to accept that if you stray from social norms in your love life you should feel morally compelled to inform your partners or other people for whom this might be relevant.
To put it bluntly, what I mean is that most people see themselves as monogamous and will assume that an intimate relation is progressing towards that specific model unless something else is explicitly convened.
Even if transparency isn’t always the most comfortable route or we might think it unfair, social norms exist and have undeniable effects. Disregarding this fact feels dishonest to me.
If you say openly that you believe in relationship anarchy instead of monogamy you are going to be accused of fearing commitment over and over again. However, being a relationship anarchist doesn’t mean rejecting commitment but rather refusing to accept certain commitments in the way or at the pace that social norms dictate.
In reality, both relationship anarchy and anarchism as a whole place tremendous importance on norms and commitments. The difference between these and other more restrictive perspectives is that in anarchism decisions are agreed upon by the concerned parties on a case by case basis, instead of assuming an array of preset rules.
In my view, relationship anarchy promotes treating all relations similarly to friendships -a type of social bond based on norms that are usually much more flexible and customized than those in love, family or work relations.
While theoretically relational approaches such as relationship anarchy, free love or polyamory aren’t explicitly punished by state laws, these effectively reinforce traditional monogamous partnerships, while great obstacles can appear in areas as important as parenting, medical interventions, tax payment or inheritance, among others.
Monogamy fits well within the context of deep economic inequality that characterises most societies in the globalised world. For instance, if rent prices are exorbitant, sharing an apartment with a partner is obviously easier than paying the full price on our own. As for marriage, it represents a logical economic contract that entails legal and practical advantages when compared to other kinds of civil status.
The same goes for parenting; be that as it may, the traditional family model demands a great deal of time and energy from the primary caregivers -which can lead to problems like emotional neglect. In any case, the topic of alternative parenting models deserves an in-depth reflection on its own.
It is often argued that monogamy is the most natural alternative due to jealousy, which is seen as inevitable and even as healthy for love relationships (“people get jealous because they love you”).
However not everyone is prone to intense jealousy and, on the other hand, society fiercely reinforces it. As a matter of fact, the traditional model of love relationships normalizes jealousy in the same way it inhibits other impulses.
People are neither jealous nor possessive by nature -at least not all of us. For some people, the desire to “remain faithful” (whatever that means to you) to a single partner does not come naturally or fades away after some time. Not everyone cares about social norms enough to chronically “repress their urges”, or just don’t feel like following the norm in vain. People are complex and we all have the right to do whatever we feel like doing as long as we don’t harm others.
In the same vein as other movements spearheaded by the open-minded youth of the present, relationship anarchy is a reconstructive current that is shaking the foundations of traditional social narratives in pursuit of personal freedom.
Figueroba, A. (2018). ¿Qué es la anarquía relacional? Un intento de definición
Nordgren, A. (2006). The short instructional manifesto for relationship anarchy. Retrieved 23 November 2018 from https://theanarchistlibrary.org/