Are You a Relationship Anarchist?
We typically consider the person we have sex with as the most important partner in our life; why is that?
“Whatever, love is love,” actress Maria Bello’s son Jackson said to her when she told him that she had fallen in love with a longtime family friend — a woman.
In her Modern Love essay and her book, Whatever … Love Is Love: Questioning The Labels We Give Ourselves, Bello explores the many ways we define ourselves and each other, and who we consider a partner.
Bello has a romantic, sexual relationship with Clare and a nonromantic, nonsexual relationship with Dan, the father of Jackson, and a lot of other important people in her life. Why do we consider the person we have sex with as the most important partner in our life, she asks. What if we stop having sex with that person, but still remain married or in a relationship with him or her — does that change anything?
Those are good questions. And an increasing number of people are questioning that. They call it relationship anarchy— rethinking the way we privilege romantic/sexual relationships over every other type of relationship.
Maybe we shouldn’t.
“In RA, the idea is that all kinds of relationships are important,” Meg-John Barker, a psychology lecturer and sex and gender therapist, tells the Establishment. “People are interested in RA because it does reflect the reality of many people’s lives: that platonic relationships can be very important, and that things change over time, so it’s important to have freedom and flexibility to keep considering how we manage our relationships.”
If having an open or polyamorous relationship seems challenging to many of us, being a relationship anarchist seems to take relationships a step — a huge step — farther.
Why must love trump friendship?
In questioning why society emphasizes romantic love over friendship, writer Andrew Sullivan notes that “friendship delivers what love promises but fails to provide.”
Yes, but romantic relationships typically delivers sex and passion — for a while, anyway. Many of us want that. Must those relationships matter more?
We’re already starting to rethink old romantic scripts, such as the increase in interest in parenting partnerships — a sign that some people value the co-parent relationship as much or more than a romantic/sexual one. Same with the rise in multiple marriages. Longevity and “until-death-do-us-part” alone do not mean you have a happy, healthy relationship.
What matters is that during the time the couples are together, they’re committed to each other or, in the case of parent-partnerships, to being co-parents.
Trust and commitment
All kinds of relationships need a certain amount of trust and commitment to be meaningful. According to Swedish activist Andie Nordgren, who coined the term “relationship anarchy” and created a manifesto on how to make it work, it’s the same for those who want to practice RA:
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.
Right. Like love or the desire for sex. Why should those feelings and desires drive our relationships?
Freedom and flexibility
I love having freedom and flexibility in my romantic relationships, although it took me a long time to understand how much I need that. For many years, I didn’t even realize that I had choices, that I didn’t have to ask for permission to live my authentic life, that my platonic friendships really matter to me.
Yes, I believe all kinds of relationships are important. I’ve come to a place where I make it known in my romantic relationships that my friends matter a lot to me and I’m going to see them frequently and sometimes when it “should” be partner time.
So, am I a relationship anarchist? Are my relationships equal? No, I still let my romantic-sexual relationships run the show. And so have many of my friends.
But I think a lot more about why that is. Perhaps the bigger question all of us might want to ponder is, are we freely choosing to live that way or are we unconsciously following the societal romantic love script?