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Old 11-24-2013, 12:56 PM
hyperskeptic's Avatar
hyperskeptic hyperskeptic is offline
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Join Date: Apr 2011
Location: Georgia
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Default Anarchy! (Um . . . Relationship Anarchy, that is.)

I'm intrigued by the idea of 'relationship anarchy' and the ways in which it seems to converge with and diverge from 'polyamory'.

In searching the forum, I have not found a focused discussion of the idea, so I thought I'd try to get one started.

Is anyone else familiar with the idea of 'relationship anarchy', or have any experience of it? To what degree is the idea compatible with your understanding of 'polyamory'?

It strikes me as consistent with polyamory, in some respects, but at the same time more radical.

(What follows is a long-ish introduction, outlining how I got to this point. If you don't have time to read the whole thing, scroll down to the end for the upshot.)

I notice that my recent posts to this forum have been converging on a particular idea, one for which I did not have a name.

Here's one example of the idea starting to take form, from this thread, as part of discussion of how relationships "end" (emphasis added):

Originally Posted by hyperskeptic View Post
In conventional terms, there are two, off-the-shelf varieties of relationship: romance and friendship, and each is carefully defined in terms of roles and expectations, particular degrees and kinds (and limits) of intimacy and commitment.

A life-long, committed, monogamous romantic relationship is widely supposed to be like the rarest and most precious of gems that two people might have. (I suppose they should keep in a safe-deposit box along with a copy of the deed to their house.)

Doesn't that idea seem just a little bizarre and, when you look closely, kind of offensive? What seems to get lost is that the parties to any given relationships are persons and that, while the ways in which they relate to one another - the scope of what they share and the boundaries they set - may change, sometimes quite drastically and abruptly, they remain two persons who connect to one another in their own way.

For me, part of the delight of becoming poly is the opportunity to examine all my expectations and habits of thought about relationships, and especially [to] unbundle the two, off-the-shelf models of relationship and, above all, to de-thingify them.

It has been helpful to me to think of the possible ways of relating to another person as a wide field of possibilities - or, if you want to get all math geeky about it, an n-dimensional space of possibilities. Off-the-shelf conventional friendship and off-the-shelf conventional romance are tiny little corners of that space.

[B]Any two people can negotiate their own ways of navigating those possibilities together[/U] . . . and may renegotiate and renegotiate as they go.
I later added this postscript:

Originally Posted by hyperskeptic View Post
I would add that two people may work out their own trajectory through the n-dimensional relation-space as well. How much misery has been occasioned by the assumption that a relationship, to become a thing worth having, must follow a single clear trajectory toward the tiny little corner labeled "romance"? And how many guys have gotten bent out of shape by finding themselves suddenly diverted over to that other tiny little corner, "the friend zone"? Much of that misery and being-bent-out-of-shape could be avoided by just accepting that two people can carve out their own particular place anywhere in that field of possibilities and take any path to get there . . . and it doesn't even have to be a straight line!
I also provided this handy executive summary:

Originally Posted by hyperskeptic View Post
Too long? Didn't read? Well, here's the upshot: Stop thinking of a relationship as a thing that may blink out of existence; stop pursuing any particular, off-the-shelf model of relationship. Instead, invest in relating to other people, and find with each of them your very own way of being open to one another.
I was trying to articulate the same idea on another thread when Eponine (thanks, Eponine!) introduced the term 'relationship anarchy'.

The Wikipedia entry on 'relationship anarchy' is brief and seems underdeveloped, but here's the central idea:

Relationship anarchy (abbreviated RA) is the practice of forming relationships that are not bound by set rules. It goes beyond polyamory by postulating that there need not be a formal distinction between different types of relationships.
As always, the references in the Wikipedia entry are more useful than the entry itself. One of the links leads to a short manifesto by Andie Nordgren, who is credited with coining the term. Here's an excerpt, with emphasis added:

Life would not have much structure or meaning without joining together with other people to achieve things - constructing a life together, raising children, owning a house or growing together through thick and thin. Such endeavors usually need lots of trust and commitment between people to work. Relationship anarchy is not about never committing to anything - it’s about designing your own commitments with the people around you, and freeing them from norms dictating that certain types of commitments are a requirement for love to be real, or that some commitments like raising children or moving in together have to be driven by certain kinds of feelings. Start from scratch and be explicit about what kind of commitments you want to make with other people!
So, here is THE UPSHOT:

What do you think of the idea of 'relationship anarchy'? Does it make sense? Is it tenable? Do you want to start storming the barricades of off-the-shelf thinking in relationships? Or do you want to resist, to hold on to something you see as good in more conventional categories of relationship?

Do 'polyamory' and 'relationship anarchy' really come to the same thing? Or is 'relationship anarchy' - as I suspect it might be - more radical than 'polyamory' is generally conceived to be, questioning assumptions even those committed to polyamory often still make?

And is 'anarchy' really the best term? In the United States, the term conjures up dim collective memories of the Haymarket Riot, the very source of the paradigm "bomb-throwing radical" . . . In short, 'anarchy' has overtones of violence hereabouts that might not apply in a European context or in the more airy realms of academic social and political theory, where 'anarchy' has a drier and more precise meaning.

In another thread, I suggested 'relationship-queer' as a possible term for what I take to be the more radical approach to relationships, a term that has quite different connotations.

Last edited by hyperskeptic; 11-24-2013 at 01:07 PM. Reason: picky, picky!
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