Tuesday, October 27, 2015

My Quibbles with Relationship Anarchy

In a post I wrote a few weeks ago, I suggested that we might want to come up with a term to describe a new relationship paradigm that is emerging, and that this term would ideally refer to a collection of ideas about relationships, rather than any particular set of practices. Several people left comments to the effect that such a term already exists: Relationship Anarchy.

Wikipedia's entry on Relationship Anarchy (abbreviated RA) defines it as “the practice of forming relationships which are not bound by rules aside from what the people involved mutually agree on.” Since RA's do not make any “formal distinction between sexual, romantic or platonic relationships,” their number of sexual partners – many, one, or none – is irrelevant: “Relationship Anarchists look at each relationship (romantic or otherwise) individually, as opposed to categorizing them according to societal norms.”

I had already heard of Relationship Anarchy, even before I began this blog. My ideas about relationships haven't arisen in an intellectual vacuum. I owe a lot to other thinkers and writers, some of whom identify as Relationship Anarchists.

It's not a label I want to apply to myself, though.

I am not a Relationship Anarchist. Why not? One word: duty.

I believe I have a moral obligation to put the good of the community over my needs as an individual, and to conduct my personal relationships in a way that maximizes sustainability.

I don't know any hardcore Relationship Anarchists who are active parents (that is, who are currently engaged in the process of raising children). This is not mere coincidence.

An article on Postmodern Woman, written by Olle Eckman, makes it clear that Relationship Anarchy is based on “the belief that no party should have to compromise, should have to feel as though they have to give something up, to be in a relationship with the other.” Try telling this to your average teenager – or his/her/their parents. The truth is, we all have to compromise in our relationships.

Not a single one of us can be self-sufficient over the entire course of our lives. It follows that we are collectively responsible for each other. Any one of us can choose to shirk our share of the responsibility, but we invariably do so at someone else's expense.

For example, take my parents' relationship. My father is losing his mind. My mother continues to care for him, even though he has become verbally abusive. No longer able to process language the way he once could, my father responds to any explanation longer than two sentences with a derisive, “That's garbage!” or “And your point would be...?” Twenty times a day, my mother gets put down this way. Yes, she could spare herself by pawning my father off onto someone else – there's always the overworked, underpaid staff at some nursing home! – but as long as he is alive, he is unavoidably in relationships with other people, whether they like it or not.

We all have to compromise, because not every relationship is freely chosen.

I didn't choose my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins. I didn't choose my school teachers. I didn't choose my metamours. I didn't choose my kids' friends. It is perhaps because I have so many relationships I didn't choose that I value autonomy so highly in the relationships I can choose.

There is one other reason why I don't feel comfortable calling myself a Relationship Anarchist, which is that I was first introduced to RA by an article on The Thinking Asexual. It's an excellent primer, and you should definitely read the full post if you are interested in learning more about RA. However, I have to confess that I felt somewhat put off by implicitly judgmental rhetoric like this:

“A polyamorous person can be and often is just as much a sex supremacist or a romance supremacist as a monogamous person. That means, just like the vast majority of monogamists, a poly person can make their romantic and/or sexual relationships superior to their nonsexual/nonromantic relationships, solely on the basis of sex and romance.”

I value sex and romance. I want to be able to prioritize sexual and romantic relationships in my own life, without being called a “supremacist” by someone who does not prioritize the same things I do.

So there you have it: one major quibble, and one minor quibble.

Quibbles aside, there is a lot of great stuff out there on Relationship Anarchy. I highly recommend checking out Andie Nordgren's 2006 Short Instructional Manifesto for Relationship Anarchy and Ian Mackenzie's recent interview of Mel Mariposa (author of the blog Polysingleish).

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