Love is Abundant
And Every Relationship Is Unique
Relationship Anarchy – Part 1
Relationship Anarchy is a way of viewing and defining one’s relationships in individual ways that allows you to create healthy expectations and boundaries that are right for you, regardless of societal or cultural expectations and norms. The term was coined by Andie Nordgren and outlined in her 2006 essay, “The short instructional manifesto for relationship anarchy.”
Regardless of your preferred relationship dynamic, Nordgren outlined many principles in her manifesto that everyone should apply to their relationships, both platonic and romantic. In this series, I will be examining each segment of her manifesto, how I interpret it and how I have applied it to my life, along with some thought about how you can apply it to yours, even if you do not subscribe to any form of polyamory or open relationship style.
I was first introduced to the term “Relationship Anarchy” a few years ago by a former lover, and quickly latched onto the term. For my entire life I have struggled to explain how I felt about relationships and why the limited mindset of monogamy feel wrong for me personally. Besides the fact there is no scientific data to support the idea that humans are monogamous creatures, I have never felt the cultural emphasis on monogamy was natural for myself. Nor have I ever been very satisfied with the various forms of hierarchical polyamory that dominate the non-monogamous lifestyle, because typically still define partner roles according the assumed cultural norms.
I have always felt that every relationship – by which I mean my relationship to every individual in my life, not just romantic or sexual partners – was a unique thing, and that predefined terms like “girlfriend” or “friend” or “friend with benefits” or whatever failed to fully embrace the nuances of each relationship. Love is not a tangible thing, it is not a limited resource. And that is exactly where the idea of Relationship Anarchy begins.
The first paragraph of Nordgren’s manifesto:
“Relationship anarchy questions the idea that love is a limited resource that can only be real if restricted to a couple. You have capacity to love more than one person, and one relationship and the love felt for that person does not diminish love felt for another. Don’t rank and compare people and relationships — cherish the individual and your connection to them. One person in your life does not need to be named primary for the relationship to be real. Each relationship is independent, and a relationship between autonomous individuals.”
Love is a Spectrum
Eskimos have fifty words for snow, each defining the type and quality of the snow. In their lives, snow plays a major role, and this is reflected in their language. In English we only have one word for love, in spite of the fact we recognize there are different types of love – platonic love, paternal love, romantic love. But even these few delineations only express a fraction of the variations of love we are capable of feeling.
The lack of nuanced words in English to describe love highlights just how uncomfortable we are with the very concept. Just as we have one word for “friend” which can apply to someone we know casually to someone who’s loss would devastate our lives and leave us grieving with a broken heart. One word, a whole spectrum of emotional nuance, from mild affection to deep love.
To understand Relationship Anarchy, you must begin with accepting that love is far more nuanced and complex than the way we currently talk about it in our culture.
Love is a Choice
The emotion of love, of caring and affection for another being, is self-generated. It is a choice. You first decide to feel it, then you express it. Just the act of feeling it, of saying to yourself, “I love this person,” you feel uplifted, your life is improved.
One fun meditative exercise is to go for a walk and look at everyone you see and think to yourself, “I love you,” as you look at them. In that moment, they become a valued human being, their existence is enough, you stop expecting them to validate themselves in your eyes. Spend 10 minutes doing this while you stroll and you will feel a sense of calm and well being. By giving that small bit of love over and over, you feel love as a personal experience.
In spite of the fact you just spent 10 minutes giving love to strangers, you don’t feel a loss, you feel quite the opposite!
Our capacity to love is unlimited. It is only our culture of competition, along with belief of that love is scarce that teach us love must be conserved and dolled out carefully only to those who have earned it.
Love can be unconditional, yet as much as people like to use the phrase “unconditional love,” our culture teaches that it is very much conditional. We are taught to only give love in exchange for sex, fidelity, comfort and safely, performance, etc. We are taught to treat love, especially romantic love, as transactional. Relationship Anarchy breaks that mold, return the power to love unconditionally to the individual.
Different but Equal
The cultural norm is to rank your love. If you have a spouse or primary partner, you are expected to rank them higher than your friends, even your best friends – regardless of the fact you probably have known your best friend longer than your romantic partner. This is absurd and flat out unhealthy.
Each of use is a unique person, with our own variety of wants and needs, interests and talents. If you think about your group of friends, I am sure you will find that you enjoy certain activities with some friends more than others, while you enjoy other activates with different friends. Maybe you like watching football with one subset of your friends, but discussing science with a different set of friends. Its like your friends are each circles in a Veen Diagram, all overlapping with you in the center. All are important to you, but none are exactly the same.
Ranking who you love is unhealthy, and its really not about love anyway – it’s about power and property.
If you have a primary partner who you’ve been with for years, and you honestly said aloud that you loved your best friend, who’ve knowns since childhood, more than your partner, do you think your partner would be upset? By simple calculation of time, they’d have no right to be upset, right?
The reason is entitlement. Your partner, according to our culture, is entitled to you, as in they own you. This goes all the way back to the Agricultural Revolution when the concept of ownership began, and people began trading women like property, i.e. marriage. Under this system of entitlement, your partner has the right to expect certain things from you. Sexual fidelity comes to mind, but in truth, the expectation go way beyond that, and they include ownership of your emotions.
Relationship Anarchy points out this fallacy and aims to correct it. It removes emotional slavery from relationships.
Other people do not get to control our emotions, they have no right to.
Its is very common right now to acknowledge that people’s negative emotions are valid, that they have a right to feel angry, upset, betrayed, etc.. Yet we do not extend this privilege to love when it comes to partners. We expect our partners positive feelings of love to be limited when it comes to other people. Its a cultural double standard.
If we can accept that we can love two friends equally, or two children equally, why can we not accept that romantic or sexual partners equally? Only because our culture has founded coupling on the idea of property. We are not property and love is not ownership.
You Have a Right to Love
Just as you have the power to choose how you love, you have the right to exercise it, and express it.
Since love is an unlimited resource, why shouldn’t you love more than one person? And why can’t you love multiple people equally? The answer is there is not reason not to.
Time is a limited resource, and that is really what most people perceive as love – how much time and energy you devote to them. But time and energy are not love. People express love in different ways, what we call love languages. How you express your love to various people may differ, depending on what they need (and you should be expressing it in a way they need, rather than the way you need, by the way.)
Regardless of your love language, or that of your loved ones, it is the feelings of love that are most important and acknowledging that you alone have the right to decide who you love and how much. No one else, including your partners, have the right to dictate who or how much you love.
So go out there and love people!
It must be acknowledged that the people we choose to invest more love in are ones who generally make us feel loved in return. This is because they love us, too, but also because they show us in ways that are most meaningful to us – they speak our love language.
It is also important to realize when we choose to invest our energy in people who do not love us back. This is unhealthy, and our loved ones may try to show us that we are behaving in an unhealthy way. Never the less, your love is still your choice. You can love someone who does not love you back, but that does not mean you should invest time and energy in them, they are two different things.
If your partners are attempting to limit your capacity to love due to their own fears and insecurities, you must recognize this and realize that it is not your obligation to limit yourself to make them feel better. Their insecurities are their own to solve, you may help, but not at the expense of yourself or your capacity to love.
Relationships are Unique
When you eliminate pre-defined titles for your relationships, a whole new world of options opens up.
Our culture generally uses sex as a defining trait of a relationship. Someone you have sex with is a partner, spouse, girlfriend or boyfriend. Someone you don’t have sex with is “just a friend,” (“just” meaning “less important,” which is a way of limiting your love).
In recent years, the idea of lovers has been reshaped into “friends with benefits” (among other terms), which is also meant to define a sexual relationship of lesser value than an officially recognized partner. If such “unofficial” relationships are less important, why does everyone get so upset about “cheating”? After all, by definition, if the relationship – sexual or not – isn’t officially recognized, its less meaningful, less loving, than you’re relationship with your “partner”, right?
Another cultural double standard.
Again, its not consider “cheating” to love your son as much as your daughter, or to treat them differently based on your relationship with. Yet having more than one romantic partner is somehow treated as taboo in our culture.
Not so long ago, when women were married off as part of business and political deals between families, it was the secret lover who was the more fulfilling and meaningful relationship. (Men in these marriages also generally took lovers, though they did so more openly.) In such cases it was the solace of love outside the restrictions of arranged marriages that people sought, because there was no love in the marriage.
When you accept that sex is simply another possible aspect of any relationship, you realize how stupid it is to have every left it out of the possible ways you could enjoy that relationship. A good argument can be made that letting sex happen naturally between to consenting adults, without the need to cultural definitions and sanctioning, is how human beings are meant to be and how we are most happy. (I recommend reading Sex at Dawn, for a detailed analysis of why this is so.)
I have people in my life whom I am deeply connected to, whom I go to when I feel alone or need comfort, with whom I have deep philosophical conversations and with whom I have powerful and fulfilling sex. Not all these people fulfill all these wants and needs. Some fill more than others, some fill specific ones better than others. Again, its the Veen Diagram of overlapping bubbles.
I do not love any of these people more or less than any other, I need and want each and every one of them, my life is fuller because of each of them – and I hope of their lives is fuller because of me.
Regardless of how you define the relationships in your life, it is important to understand that your capacity to love is unlimited. That the more you choose to love, the better your life will be. And that the less you allow others to define who and how you are allowed to love, the happier and more fulfilled you will be. Love is not about what you get in return, it is about what you choose to give, and it is the only thing you can give away and always have more of.
Of course many people reading this will prefer monogamy, at least sexual fidelity over a more open lifestyle, and that is fine. But that does not rule out the idea of Relationship Anarchy.
As an example from my own life:
One of my closest friends has recently gone through a long, drawn out divorce from an extremely insecure partner. While trying to save the marriage, her partner insisted my friend cease communicating with me. My friend and I are very close, and have known each other longer than the entire relationship she was trying to salvage. Yet we had never been intimate, that is not a part of our relationship, we are not each others “type.”
None the less, the emotional intimacy of our relationship was extremely threatening to her former partner, so much so that she was given the ultimatum of literally, “him or me.” She tired it for months, but nothing really changed and ultimately they divorced. My relationship with my friend resumed where it had left off, after some tears and heart-to-heart talks.
Now my friend is dating again, and I am the first person she introduces any potential new partners to. Why? Because our relationship is non-negotiable. To love her, you have to agree not to limit her love for me, or anyone else in here life. Anyone who sees other close friends as a threat has no place in her life.
And that is the foundation Relationship Anarchy.
It requires autonomy and integrity and love in ways that many monogamous relationships don’t achieve. A healthy monogamous relationship, just like a healthy polyamorous or open or anarchistic relationship needs to be based on actual love, not control (well, unless that’s your kink) or validation or outside, and – especially – unspoken expectations.
Have you head of Relationship Anarchy before? Have you live it? What’s your experience been with it?
Is this a totally new concept to you? What do you think?
Be part of the discussion, comment below or send me a private message.