[This post is in response to the November 2016 Carnival of Aces, hosted by It’s An Ace Thing on the topic of Relationship Anarchy]
Oh boy, do I have thoughts about this month’s theme! I suspect this post will be a bit of a rambly mess, but at least some of y’all seem to enjoy my rambly messes, so I guess this one’s for you!
Before I dive in, though, a quick(ish) definition: relationship anarchy is best described as the attitude that the only rules governing the function and form of your relationships with others are the rules set by the people in those relationships. In practice, this means consciously relinquishing (though not necessarily going against the tide of) societal rules and definitions for what relationships (of whatever kind) should look like, what they should mean, and how they should be valued.
The relationships a relationship anarchist participates in could look like anything: they may make monogamous sexual and/or romantic commitments, or they may not; they may prioritize biological family, or romantic partnerships over other relationships, or they may not. The point in relationship anarchy is not to fit or to defy any particular relationship models, but simply to try to build relationships without any regard for those models in the first place.
Hopefully that makes sense?
I have long felt a great deal of affinity with relationship anarchy – because a lot of societal norms around relationships don’t work for me anyway (I’m not straight; I am demi*; I’m … um, just don’t ever tell me bio-family relationships are inherently valuable, mmkay?), I’ve naturally gravitated toward trying to finding my own path through the wilderness of human relationships.
I’ve also been thinking about this stuff a lot, because I’ve been dealing with a lot of disruption in my romantic/sexual (the two very much go hand-in-hand for me – at this point, I feel it safe to say that I don’t experience sexual attraction unless I am falling in love with – or already in love with – someone) entanglements over the last 1-2 years, and I’ve been actively trying to figure out what sorts of relationship structures I want to have in my life.
I haven’t had an exclusive sexual or romantic commitment in more than a decade, but at the same time I don’t take ‘polyamorous’ as one of my identities, particularly. Polyamory is something I’ve been practicing for some time, but it’s not fundamental for me; it’s the way my relationships have been built over the last while, for a complicated bunch of reasons, none of which are as cut-and-dried as they once were. For the first time in a long while, basically, it’s something that’s at least open to negotiation for me.
Weirdly, I started writing this post thinking I was going to get around to the reasons that I don’t really identify with relationship anarchy when it gets right down to it, but I actually think it’s a perfect fit for at least the way I try to approach all my relationships. While I’ve definitely internalized some of the messages I’ve been raised with about what various kinds relationships ‘should’ look like, and that impacts my own approach and desires within relationships, but ultimately my relationships are reasonably collaborative efforts, and I’m not bothered when they don’t look like the norm.
I also kind of suspect that this is true for most people when you get right down to it. Even those that feel the pressure of norms very often flout them when it is convenient; some people are more likely to hide the non-normative aspects of their relationships than others, I guess, but I’m not sure that’s a relevant distinction here.
What this says to me is that relationship anarchy is more important as a concept than an identity (at least for me). I think it is important to actively talk about how it’s ok and probably even important to let your relationships deviate from norms, because trying to use a one-size-fits-all model is a recipe for disaster in most cases. Relationship anarchy is a great model because it centres mutual consent and active communication rather than assumptions around relationship questions like sexual and romantic exclusivity, what does and does not constitute a breaking of any such commitments (since there is often a great deal of disagreement about this), and many other things.
I also think that the principles of relationship anarchy is particularly important and potentially useful for ace and aro people, simply because it is a model that inherently creates space for whatever kinds of intimate/interdependent relationships people want to build. The idea of making a lifelong commitment to someone that doesn’t involve sex and/or romance is still strangely revolutionary/unthinkable to many people, for instance, despite that fact that it may very be an ideal for many ace and/or aro people.
So, I guess I’m very happy to have this as a topic for the Carnival, and I look forward to reading everyone else’s submissions!
*er, ok, some kinds of relationship norms actually fit better with demisexuality than allosexuality (wait before having sex! Don’t do it with lots of people! or whatever), but nevertheless, within the (largely non-religious) dating eco-system where I find myself, it’s more of a problem than not.