Last week, I mentioned that it seems a quite silly belief to think that, just because one is not in a committed, monogamous relationship, one is completely alone in the world. Indeed, some brilliant minds today are busy formulating alternative visions of what it means to be in a relationship, visions that do not require some sort of marriage commitment. These alternative ways of being with people offer new possibilities in a world that often sees relationships in black and white.
I first encountered these structures through the asexual and aromantic communities. By necessity, people who are asexual or aromantic have had to redefine what it is to have a relationship since most of what we think of are sexual and romantic relationships. What they have come up with is a beautiful array of possibilities for relationships that don’t depend on cultural definitions of how we should be or what we should seek.
I want to examine two alternative relationship structures today. The first of these is solo polyamory. The short definition of polyamory is the state of being romantically involved with more than one person at the same time. Often, poly relationships have been modeled around monogamous relationships, just with more than one person as the partner. Thus, a triad relationship would be a relationship of three people. Poly people also sometimes have a primary relationship, one that takes precedence over any other relationships in a hierarchical structure.
Solo polyamory turns these assumptions on their head. Basically, a person who practices solo polyamory may be in more than one romantic and/or sexual relationship at the same time with no intention of ever “settling down” into a monogamous or traditional polyamorous relationship.
Now what’s often assumed is that solo poly people are promiscuous or want to play the field. More often than not, they want to maintain autonomy which falling into traditional relationship patterns would not permit. Solo poly relationships are often just as passionate and loving as more traditional structures. The difference is that solo poly people often see their relationship with themselves as their primary relationship. Thus, their primary goal is taking care of themselves.
Even more radical than this is the philosophy of relationship anarchy. Originally formulated by Icelandic queer activist Andie Nordgren, relationship anarchy rejects all hierarchical relationship structures in favor of a philosophy of love and mutual respect, building relationships through mutual trust. The core idea of relationship anarchy is that love is abundant; it is not a finite resource we can only expend on one or a few people.
One of the consequences of relationship anarchy you may have picked up on is that it sees no hierarchical difference between romantic relationships, friendships, and familial relationships. All relationships are equally important, but may not have the same rules attached to them. We love different people for different reasons, and relationship anarchy declares we should not prioritize a relationship simply because we are sexually involved with them. We take people as they are, not as the relationship they could provide us.
Now I don’t necessarily believe these two philosophies are mutually exclusive, and I like both of them for different reasons. I love the emphasis on autonomy within solo polyamory, and relationship anarchy frees me from the confines of what I see as cookie cutter relationships and friendships. If I had to sum up the difference, I’d say solo polyamory is more of a functional description while relationship anarchy is an overarching philosophy. Taking the two together provides me some guidance in some feelings I’ve had regarding the bewildering world of relationships over the years.
See, every relationship I’ve been in, I always feel overwhelmed within a matter of weeks. I wonder if this is from the amount of energy I’ve felt I needed to put in to keep the relationship alive. I’ve been so exhausted that it’s probably been self-apparent I’m losing interest in the relationship in a relatively short period of time. The autonomy afforded by a soly poly structure seems appealing in allowing me to recharge rather than constantly feeling like I have to put in more energy.
With relationship anarchy, I’ve always valued friendships, and am bewildered when a friend drifts away after they get into a relationship. I’ve had friendships that have been closer and meant more to me than any traditional romantic relationship. Relationship anarchy helps explain the pain I’ve felt at realizing I’m not as important to the friend as they are to me and explain the way I see the people in my life: as individuals, each with a unique relationship to me that can’t be summed up in a simple formula.
Here’s the wonderful realization: under relationship anarchy, we’re not alone when we’re single! Indeed, there are so many relationships around us, we’re bursting at the seams with the number of people who love and care for us. Relationship anarchy casts a big tent picture of the people around us and, best of all, they are all equally important. We need them all in our lives because they are so important.
This is not to say that monogamous and non-solo polyamorous relationships aren’t right for some people. What I see as the core of relationship anarchy is self-determination, the right to build relationships that work for each individual person without coercion from state or culture. Included in that is the right to strictly monogamous relationships. Relationship anarchy opens the door to so much richness that is possible within relationships, though, and it’s beautiful to behold the possibilities that are open to us when we drop the idea that only one possible relationship structure is right for every person on Earth.