Three Problems with Relationship Anarchy (A Non-Exhaustive List)

Defining relationship anarchy, challenges, and considerations if you are pursuing RA.

Three Problems with Relationship Anarchy (A Non-Exhaustive List)

Let's begin this conversation with a definition of Relationship Anarchy, shall we?

The most popular definition was written by Swedish author Andie Nordgren in the Tumblr essay The Short Instructional Manifesto for Relationship Anarchy (available for download) in 2012, "Relationship anarchy is the concept of applying anarchist principles to romantic relationships. This means that rather than focus on the standard Western relationship models of monogamy and hierarchy, relationship anarchists instead opt for a vantage point of autonomy and community."

One problem with this definition is that it can sound similar to non-hierarchical polyamory, which is thoroughly addressed in this Relationship Anarchy article. In summary, Kale (2016) outlines: "Relationship anarchists reject all hierarchies...Part of rejecting social hierarchies means not separating partners from friends."

This is my favorite part. Kale regularly emphasizes: "Relationship anarchy came out of a political philosophy, as a way to apply anarchistic principles to interpersonal relationships." You can see this is also noted above in Nordgren's definition.

Now that we are all on the same page as to what Relationship Anarchy (RA) is and before I go into my list, I want to make it clear that I am NOT saying that RA is not a valid and wonderful way to live if it works for you. RA has, however, been a point of contention I have witnessed personally and professionally in working as a coach and in open relationship communities. I would like to open the conversation around three ways in which perceptions of RA have created problems, in hopes of different outcomes in the future.

  1. Relationship Anarchy is inherently political (see my favorite part of the definition above). If you do not understand the formal politics of anarchy, please reconsider claiming this relationship approach. There are plenty of other options that do not have direct philosophical and political underpinnings.

    Language matters. In this specific instance, it matters because it helps create community visibility. The individuals who are out there fighting the good RA fight, who are committed to the foundations of anarchy, and who have done the work to develop their relationship approach accordingly, deserve a community of people doing the same level of work.

    If you are truly interested in RA, do your due diligence and educate yourself on anarchy. Understand the community, and work toward making the connections between politics and relationships.
  2. Unfortunately, there is a growing number of people out there who use the term "anarchy" colloquially and winding up using it as an excuse to treat people poorly. These are the folks who claim RA means they can approach relationships as a free for all, without consideration of the relationships that are already in their sphere.

    For example, someone who is already engaged in a romantic relationship, who sees their partner 3-4 times a week would be remiss if they tried to enter into another relationship without disclosing and honoring the expectations of current committments.

    Now, I understand this is a slippery slope. A new relationship might buck the norm of a standing relationship. The difference here is intention. The intent to honor existing commitments as well as communicate about changes with consideration of existing relationships is that fine line. If instead, an existing relationship is not honored and that is left unsaid - that is where you are doing relationships dirty.
  3. Finally, RA is an approach to ALL relationships, not just romantic. Consider the implications of assigning the same long-term value to your friends, family, and romantic partners and consider the ramifications.

    This approach amplifies number two, listed above. If you are not honest with yourself about your bandwidth in all of your relationships, it is hard to let a new person in your life know what you have available. Honor yourself, understand your boundaries, and try to stick to those boundaries even when your hormones are screaming for the new and different.

To be a good steward of your personal relationships and the overarching communities that are gaining visibility in the open relationship world, I encourage you to be thoughtful about your identifications and the language you use to describe how you relate.

If you truly do want to pursue RA, I recommend you develop your own manifesto on how you approach relationships, with a specific focus on what commitment means to you and how you approach prioritizing the important people in your life. All of them, including family and friends. Let all of the important people in your life read this manifesto so they understand your approach to relationships.

Next week, paid members will receive a workshop on Relationship Orientations - if you enjoy my work, please consider becoming a paid member! You can see all the paid member perks here.

In curiosity,
Dr. S. Kay Webb