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Old 11-24-2013, 12:56 PM
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hyperskeptic hyperskeptic is offline
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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):

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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:

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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:

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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:

Quote:
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:

Quote:
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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Old 11-24-2013, 01:57 PM
london london is offline
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It all depends on the person and I know plenty of people who subscribe to relationship anarchy have thriving, successful relationships. The risk, from what I've seen and experienced from people who subscribe to this model, is that the person lets a partner down and then uses this relationship anarchy theory to tell them why they didn't let them down and also why they were pretty stupid/naive/controlling to have that expectation of them in the first place.

It does ultimately come back down to partner selection, that is true, but it makes me uneasy to let go of the idea that people have any obligations to those they have relationships with.

Last edited by london; 11-24-2013 at 02:00 PM.
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Old 11-24-2013, 03:07 PM
wildflowers wildflowers is offline
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You should take a look for Marcus' posts, since he definitely believes in the anarchy model.

I don't have strong feelings about it myself. I think both RA and poly provide a strong impetus to examine what your assumptions are about relationships, and evaluate how valid or useful they are. I like your overall approach of allowing relationships freedom to develop in whatever direction seems to work (and BTW I love your descriptions of how that's worked out with Metis). I can be a bit irked by RA when it seems rather dogmatically anti-dogmatic, but see the appeal as long as it stays mellow and flexible.

I agree that anarchy is a bit of a loaded term, but I think queer is moreso, so I prefer the former. Still, I wouldn't take a "storm the barricades" approach. The key is that you have freedom in your relationships, but you also allow it to others, so you can't throw bombs into their traditional structures just because you don't want one.
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Old 11-24-2013, 03:23 PM
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nycindie nycindie is offline
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Oh I do hope Marcus adds to this thread, as I believe he considers himself a relationship anarchist (though I am not speaking for him and he might actually object to being labeled in any way). I am certain Marcus would be able to add a very thought-provoking perspective to what you are saying.

As for me, I will have to add my thoughts later... gotta go now!
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Old 11-24-2013, 03:42 PM
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hyperskeptic hyperskeptic is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by london View Post
The risk, from what I've seen and experienced from people who subscribe to this model, is that the person lets a partner down and then uses this relationship anarchy theory to tell them why they didn't let them down and also why they were pretty stupid/naive/controlling to have that expectation of them in the first place.
It seems to me this is a risk with any idea or principle or outlook. In fact, I'm hard pressed to think of a single human idea that could not be or has not been used by someone, at some point, as a pretext or an excuse for acting like a jerk. That includes 'polyamory', as we see demonstrated, now and again, in stories on this forum.

I guess I'm more interested in the merits of the idea itself: assuming a reasonable person of good will makes a principled commitment to living by the idea of relationship anarchy, how viable might that idea turn out to be?

For the sake of argument, I'm taking at face value Nordgren's statement that RA is about commitments to other people based on principles or, as the Manifesto would have it, "core values".

Quote:
Originally Posted by wildflowers View Post
I can be a bit irked by RA when it seems rather dogmatically anti-dogmatic, but see the appeal as long as it stays mellow and flexible.

I agree that anarchy is a bit of a loaded term, but I think queer is moreso, so I prefer the former. Still, I wouldn't take a "storm the barricades" approach. The key is that you have freedom in your relationships, but you also allow it to others, so you can't throw bombs into their traditional structures just because you don't want one.
Speaking for myself, I'm a pragmatist about such things: I'm not much swayed by dogma, not even anti-dogmatic dogma.* When I try out a new idea, like RA, I'm mainly asking: Does this idea help me to make sense of part of my experience? Does this idea help me to figure out what to do - and what not to do - as I make my way in the world?

So, yeah. Mellow and flexible.

Don't expect to find me marching down the street with my fist in the air and this on my t-shirt:



(It's pretty cool, though, as symbols go.)
____________
*That's where my user name came from: I'm irked by self-described skeptics who become dogmatic in their attacks on dogma, so I go a step further . . . if only to point out that "dogmatic skepticism" is a contradiction in terms.

Last edited by hyperskeptic; 11-24-2013 at 05:32 PM.
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Old 11-24-2013, 07:16 PM
InsaneMystic InsaneMystic is offline
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Originally Posted by hyperskeptic View Post


(It's pretty cool, though, as symbols go.)
The symbol has another layer of awesome for those (like me) who are asexual on top of the poly-related anarchism.
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Old 11-24-2013, 08:37 PM
london london is offline
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I'm not sure how it differs from people who simply practice a very open and liberal style of polyamory. Or to be more honest, I'm not sure how it differs from someone like me and how I do and plan to continue structuring my relationships except the bits of it that I feel dismiss the idea of obligation to the people you form relationships with. Yeah, it all comes down to partner selection but my question would be why someone would subscribe to this label, when it doesn't really cover anything different than a liberal style of poly? What is it that is attractive?
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Old 11-24-2013, 09:47 PM
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hyperskeptic hyperskeptic is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by london View Post
I'm not sure how it differs from people who simply practice a very open and liberal style of polyamory. Or to be more honest, I'm not sure how it differs from someone like me and how I do and plan to continue structuring my relationships except the bits of it that I feel dismiss the idea of obligation to the people you form relationships with. Yeah, it all comes down to partner selection but my question would be why someone would subscribe to this label, when it doesn't really cover anything different than a liberal style of poly? What is it that is attractive?
If the concept is useful at all - and, for me, the jury is still out - it may be most useful when used in a way that is somewhat independent of 'polyamory': it's not a substitute but a supplement.

There are various approaches to polyamory, and it may be useful to have a more precise language for characterizing some of those differences. Characterizing some approaches as "more liberal," for example, is pretty vague, really.

What 'relationship anarchy' might allow us to do is very precisely to distinguish ways of being poly along one particular dimension, from those that include fairly rigid, fairly conventional categories of relationship, and perhaps a few well defined variants (e.g., romantic involvement, friendship, primary, secondary, etc.) from those that reject rigid categories in favor of a much more open approach.

As for the idea of 'relationship anarchy' itself, I don't see how it entails a rejection of responsibility or obligations toward other people. The idea, if I'm understanding it correctly, is that the terms of those obligations are to be worked out one relationship at a time, rather than simply buying the off-the-shelf packages of obligation and responsibility provided by mainstream culture (e.g., monogamous marriage, with all the rights, privileges and obligations appertaining thereunto).

The enforcement of those obligations should come from within the relationship itself, by direct accountability to each of the others with whom we have relationships, rather than from social norms and institutions.

In fact, the whole idea seems to be founded on a deeply ethical idea of respecting other individuals as individuals, working things out on the basis of freedom and reciprocity.

To that extent it's a beautiful idea, really, whatever its other merits.

Last edited by hyperskeptic; 11-24-2013 at 09:54 PM.
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Old 11-24-2013, 10:23 PM
Eponine Eponine is offline
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I'm glad that you're interested in RA and made a separate thread for it.

I think RA is more radical than poly. Someone who is RA is probably poly, but I don't think many polys are RA. First, hierarchical poly is incompatible with the RA philosophy, which is against entitlement and arbitrary rules. Second, even many non-hierarchical poly people draw a clear line between "just friends" and "romantic partners", whereas RA aims at dissolving the rigid relationship categories. This blog post did a pretty good job of explaining the differences between poly and RA.

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Originally Posted by hyperskeptic View Post
The enforcement of those obligations should come from within the relationship itself, by direct accountability to each of the others with whom we have relationships, rather than from social norms and institutions.

In fact, the whole idea seems to be founded on a deeply ethical idea of respecting other individuals as individuals, working things out on the basis of freedom and reciprocity.
I agree. One of my SOs has said that RA means a "bottom-up" approach to do relationships: Forget about all the pre-set categories and what a relationship is "supposed" to look like; instead, just work out the terms and conditions of each individual relationship based on the participants' unique needs. Hence the "customized commitment" idea in the RA manifesto.
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Old 11-25-2013, 12:49 AM
InsaneMystic InsaneMystic is offline
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I think RA is more radical than poly. Someone who is RA is probably poly, but I don't think many polys are RA. First, hierarchical poly is incompatible with the RA philosophy, which is against entitlement and arbitrary rules. Second, even many non-hierarchical poly people draw a clear line between "just friends" and "romantic partners", whereas RA aims at dissolving the rigid relationship categories. This blog post did a pretty good job of explaining the differences between poly and RA.
[...]
One of my SOs has said that RA means a "bottom-up" approach to do relationships: Forget about all the pre-set categories and what a relationship is "supposed" to look like; instead, just work out the terms and conditions of each individual relationship based on the participants' unique needs. Hence the "customized commitment" idea in the RA manifesto.
This, basically.

While I kinda do agree with how london put it - "a very open and liberal style of polyamory" - there's only so far you can go in that 'liberalism' before lots of poly folks will start telling you how "you got it all wrong, that's not poly, it's XYZ". One of the things I keep saying a lot is "all healthy relationships are some form of friendship, some of these with (some kind of) benefits".

Basically, I'd say a "relationship" is when two or more people call whatever contact they have by the label "relationship". Beyond that, there aren't any universal commonalities anymore; you don't need sex, or romance, or shared living arrangements, or long-term commitment, or whatevs, to be 'shipping partners. You're free to pick-and-choose these as parts of your personal package however way everyone involved wants.

...and I've found that folks who aren't into RA to some degree tend to rather strongly disagree with that view, no matter if they are poly or mono, because unlike me, they perceive some kind of absolute universal difference between "partner" and "close friend", where I just go "potayto, potahto?".
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