So I came across a couple of pieces on Relationship Anarchy the other day. “Relationship Anarchy”, as far as I can tell, is another word for the kind of relationship-building that is sometimes called “open relationships”, “polyamoury”, or “consensual non-monogamy”, but the idea is to decentralize the idea of couple-hood (and, in some (all?) instances, romance itself) as a determining factor in how much one prioritizes a given relationship.
It’s funny. I’ve totally been one of Those People who heard the phrase “platonic poly partner” and rolled their eyes, thinking “’Cause, what, calling them your ‘friend’ or your ‘roommate’ isn’t radical enough??” and yet… I kind of get it. Defining a given relationship as a “partnership” isn’t the same as calling it a “friendship”.
One of my wife’s long-term partners is her Best Friend. They don’t live together. They’re not sexually involved, they not particularly romantically involved. But they’re life-partners, none the less. (I once explained the term “Zucchini” to someone as “A friend who gets as much time, energy, attention, and influence as a romantic partner, but who is not a romantic partner”… whatever that means).
I read this article and I thought… a bunch of things, actually. I thought how well this dovetails with my idea of “tribe” and the kind of poly family I want to build, the extended network of friends who are closer-than-friends, of family that uses cheerful letchery as a way to say “I love you”; how my wife’s heart works like this without having to think about it.
And I also thought about things like how I differentiate between “friend” and “partner” based on emotional vulnerability & trust as much as sexual desire or Romantic Stuff (I’m not entirely sure how that’s defined, really – gods know I’ve been on what I’d think of as “dates” with my friends without being Confused about what we were Doing Together), how sensuality and affection slide so easily into sexuality for me, how sex is tied up with emotional vulnerability for me, how I watch myself so carefully, how the reason I wanted polyamoury to begin with was so that I wouldn’t have to police my affection as much as I had been while identifying as monogamous.
But I also asked myself things like: If I met someone asexual, would I let myself fall “in love” with them? Would I be able to? How does that related to having crushes on heterosexual friends (which tend to happen a lot more slowly, and eventually morph into something non-romantic)? How would/could I let that turn into non-romantic love? How would I differentiate between romantic and non-romantic love at all[1]? Would I need to?
And that particular spiral basically ends up where all of this ends up, which is “Don’t assume anything, talk everything out”…
I’ve heard non-poly people (well, Captain Awkward, specifically) say that Endlessly Discussion Your Relationship is awful, unless you’re poly, in which case it’s called “foreplay”. Which makes me grin while simultaneously banging my head against a wall because… kinda, yeah. 🙂
The Relationship Escalator – of-which Relationship Anarchy is basically the opposite/antithesis(?) – is designed to sort of let people coast to the top (or abort-retry as many times as “necessary”, as the case may be, just remember that it’s unidirectional and you can’t go backwards once you’re on it with a given person) without needing to check in a lot… sort of.
One of my wife’s People both (a) is super-new to poly, and (b) says stuff like “I don’t know where I fit” fairly frequently. And it’s… let’s just say I can relate. When you get off the Relationship Escalator, you’re basically flailing around without a road-map, let alone a GPS with a handy little red dot saying that You Are Here. I’m one of those people who gets really nervous when I can’t tell if I matter to someone as much as they matter to me. Those “naming and claiming” actions on the Relationship Escalator are really handy for that, even if the “naming” part means diddly squat if there isn’t behaviour to back it up.
So the other response I have when reading about Relationship Anarchy is, well, a hell of a lot of discomfort and defensiveness. All that ragesaurus stuff about “What, so now I’m ‘not radical enough’ if I want to know if/how I matter to people who matter to me?” and “I’m pretty sure if I told my friend-who-is-relocating that I was totally going to move to be near her that… I would creep the FUCK out of my friend. :-/ Boundaries are important!”
That kind of thing.
There’s a funny (“funny”) kind of anger that comes with meeting something that bangs up against your cosmology and says “Yeah, but what if? What if the way you do things isn’t the only way? What if you’re hurting someone by doing it like that? What if you’re missing out on something, too?”
And, yeah, that’s Privilege in a nutshell. And, yeah, it took me long enough (like… 10 years of working my way towards it in a fairly active way?) to start recognizing it for what it is. But I’m finding that the trick – like the one where either It’s About You, in which case maybe listen & improve your behaviour, OR It’s Not About You, in which case maybe shut up and don’t worry about it – is to differentiate between the general and the specific. Like: “Romantisupremicism demands that non-romantic relationships NEVER be valued as deeply as romantic relationships” – which is just a True Fact – versus “the way I, personally, build & define relationships means that there is more emotional vulnerability and inter-dependence involved in a partnership than in a friendship and, as a romantic person, my partnerships tend to include romantic feelings; I’m conscious of this and aware that How I Relationship will grow and change over time”… or what-have-you.
Maybe I’m just messing around here, but that’s where I’m at with this one.
Ms Syren.
[1] As a sexual person, a big part of what makes romantic love “romantic” rather than “platonic” is whether or not there’s mutual sexual interest going on there. (Similarly, what makes it a “crush” rather than a “fascination” or, like, being “someone’s biggest fan” or whatever, is whether or not I want to make out with said person[2].
[2] Possibly related? I’ve been known to develop sexual feelings for people who, aesthetically & emotionally are sexually unpalatable to me, but who talk a good game, make my brain fizz, and similar. I don’t know what’s up with that, but it’s there and I… have to keep an eye on it.