I’m bisexual, which means I’m attracted to genders both like and unlike my own.
I’m polyamorous, which means I am open to multiple romantic relationships at the same time.
I’m non-hierarchical, which means I don’t have one top-ranking partner and then a layer of secondary partners who don’t rank as high on my priority list — If I love you, I love you. You’re in.
I’m also a relationship anarchist, which is sometimes a bit harder to explain.
What is relationship anarchy?
Relationship anarchy is, well, anarchy. It’s a lack of rules that govern relationship structures and expectations. RA means that I choose who receives intimacy from me and in what ways, and my relationships don’t always follow a typical plot Rom-Com plot arc.
In that Rom-Com plot arc, you have some standard players: a couple, a friend who feels slighted by their bestie’s new love interest AND/OR a second love interest/ex-lover/pining friend in love with one member of the couple, jealousy and shenanigans, conflict, a big show of affection or redemption, and resolution with a happily ever after.
In our Rom Com example, this means that Person A meets Person B and falls in love, and Person C (the friend) is allowed to have whatever feelings they have about it. Person A hears them out, reassures them as needed, and does what they can to integrate Person C into this new way that life is playing out. Person C is just as important as they were before, even though Person B is new in town and taking up space.
In RA, we don’t sideline our friends just because we have a new lover, and we don’t treat jealousy as a huge dealbreaker. We communicate. A lot.
In a relationship anarchy structure, each relationship has its own set of rules and expectations. I may need to do a lot of checking in with one partner and less checking in with another for everyone to feel secure and comfortable in both relationships. I feel deeper intimacy and connection with some people in my life than others but that does not make them more important.
How is relationship anarchy different than polyamory?
An excellent question! Polyamory means you’re open to multiple simultaneous relationships. You can still have hierarchy, fidelity rules, couple privilege, and other structures at play. Polyamory can be kitchen-table (where all partners and metamours can spend time together socially) or don’t-ask-don’t-tell (which is hard to do in a healthy way but it’s possible) or various levels in between. It can follow a relationship escalator, or not. It can be whatever you want it to be, but it does not necessarily overlap with RA.
How I became a relationship anarchist
I joined a social network group about polyamory and started hearing about Relationship Anarchy mentioned in some posts and comments. So I started to research the topic and joined another social group just focused on RA. I started learning a lot.
Some RAs don’t use terms like “boyfriend/girlfriend” or even “partner” because it implies meaning where they’d rather be neutral. Some RAs do use these terms. Some RAs don’t get married, some do. I didn’t really talk much in the group, I watched and read and listened.
And it really turned a lot of my preconceived beliefs about relationships upside down. Suddenly I was reflecting on ways I had previously felt entitled to partners’ time or energy. I was unpacking a lot of subconscious bias around the meaning of sex and intimacy in relationships.
I’m still learning about the fundamentals and the practice of relationship anarchy, and I always will be.
Raising kids in relationship anarchy
A friend recently shared a story on her social media about her nine year old child. “My girlfriend has a crush on a boy, and I have a crush on another boy, so we made them a couple in the Sims.” My friend responded, “Like virtual fan fiction? I ship it.” “Mommy please stop.”
When I was in high school and my friend and I liked the same boy, it caused a melodramatic conflict worthy of an after school special. Typical relationship expectations, especially with kids and young adults, might spiral that simple concept (my girlfriend and I also have crushes on other people) and make it about jealousy, or about incompatibility, or about breaking up. But it was just a factual, matter-of-fact part of life that didn’t mean anything about their existing relationship.
Kids get it, and it’s not hard to explain polyamorous concepts to them. When you normalize the concept of people being in charge of the love they ask for, and educate about different ways families and relationships work, kids naturally figure out what works for them and they accept things that are different.
We can also unpack our definition of relationships and let them take whatever form they take, without rules or expectations.