Relationship Anarchy and Common Misconceptions

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What exactly is relationship anarchy, and why is it so hard to define?

Wikipedia states “Relationship Anarchy (abbreviated RA) is the practice of forming relationships that are not bound by rules aside from what the people involved mutually agree on.”

The term is credited to Sweden native Andie Nordgren in 2006, and was used to describe a completely radical approach to traditional and untraditional lovestyles. Relationships formed by RA identifying people are usually not distinguished between platonic or romantic, sexual or asexual. All relationships are given equal equity. At least in theory.

That last concept, for me has been the most challenging to explain to people who may not subscribe to these ideals. Very few people could grasp the concept of my “platonic wife”, an almost 15 year relationship that has transcended best friendship but has never crossed sexual boundaries. That isn’t to say we aren’t extremely close; we may cuddle, kiss, and show affection but for many reasons the relationship hasn’t and likely won’t escalate into what some may consider a “real relationship”.  Even fewer can grasp the concept that she is no less important to me than my fiancée was, or that depending on the situation, her needs may take priority over any relationship I may be engaged in. And that that priority can and does shift to others.

Before I had even become conscious of the label, I was always very anarchistic about love and relationships. I believe I was born non-mono, and at an early age could not subscribe to the boundaries, real or imagined, placed upon traditional romantic concepts. I connect with people on various levels, and though my time may be divided in a way that become heirarchal, my mental playing ground remains one level. They are all royalty in my eyes.

If you were to ask 8 different RA folks what it meant to them, you’re likely to receive 8 completely different answers, with some intersecting ideals sprinkled throughout. This is as to be expected from a group of anarchist, as the term itself implies no central leadership or school of thought. This may be the reason so many misconceptions are applied to the topic. The similarities are mostly centered around maintaining autonomy against all odds. Here are some I’ve encountered and disputed. Keep in mind, another RA may completely disagree, and they would be right as well!

  1. RA ARE SCARED OF COMMITMENT

I have a (half) joke response to this : “We want to commit to everyone. Equally.” In my experience, it’s not the commitment I shy away from but what that commitment might mean for my boundaries. Why is this label important to you? Will you want me to check in with you daily? Am I expected to conform? Which of my coveted freedoms are you not comfortable with, and are likely to impede upon once I do? I have some concerns! Because a label to an RA is likely just descriptive, they aren’t as consequential or even needed to have a fulfilling relationship with an RA. Once you’re in, you’re in.

2. YOU CANT BE RA AND BE MARRIED OR OTHERWISE ANCHORED

While I might cringe at words like “Primary” “Secondary” and “Heirarchy” I do acknowledge the existence of these things and understand they form based on time/resources spent etc. There was a time that I wouldn’t label or title any relationship except for descriptive purposes, but as I get older I seek more stability within my connections. I seek family structure, more children, and economical community building. This is quite hard to achieve without some form of anchoring or another. As my needs grow so do my ideas of how my RA looks. It’s not over for you once you say “I do”.  Again, it’s more about what that partnership does to your autonomy that might change your RA status. You are what you feel you are. How you connect doesn’t change once you actually connect.

3. RA ARE SHORT TERM LOVERS

Because in my mind there is no distinction between friend, lover, and ex, this is probably the most offensive of the misconceptions I’ve encountered. Things simply transition! Many of my relationships, platonic or otherwise, are pushing 10 years or better. We don’t have to be a titled item to be loves. We may move across the complete relationship spectrum within a month, or never make it past first base after years, it’s all about what works for us. Some people aren’t fully aware or knowledgeable of what RA is, and may be turned off once they experience just how free we can be! Some of us as RA aren’t aware enough to understand our own needs and figure this out once we are in titled relationships. Whatever the case, I don’t believe someone being RA makes them any more choosy then say, your average serial dater!

I know I’ll have to update and revisit this list, as the conversation always brings up different opinions and viewpoints!

Do you identify with or have experience with Relationship Anarchy? What are some misconceptions you’ve encountered?

Ask Aunty: Seeking Bisexual Mate

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Ask Aunty is a regular feature of Black & Poly where real people ask about their polyamorous relationships. Aunty is here for you, so ask away!

Dear Aunty,

How do I find a polyamorous woman to date? I have a wonderful wife and we just agreed to open up our relationship. She's bisexual so I'd be happy to meet a woman to date both of us. But where do I find women?

Seeking Bisexual Mate

Dear SBM,

I'm ​going to ignore half of your question because the last thing you want to do is post in an online forum that you're LOOKING FOR A BISEXUAL FEMALE FOR YOU AND YOUR WIFE. Poly people are tired of hearing from unicorn hunters and you'll get your head snatched off every time you mention it. There are many ways to do poly, and a closed triad is not for newbies!

*Calm down Aunty. Deep breaths.* Finding a new boo is as easy as it was when you found your wife. You mean you didn't find her three months after you joined Match.com? I'm shocked! You probably dated multiple women before you even knew what you wanted. Then you learned to approach your wife like the lady she is--none of that “can I holla atcha?” Polyamorous women are smart as well as sexy, so you have to be more than a smooth talker. Know your needs and wants. Know what makes you a great catch, and know what type of agreements you would have between you two. (She's probably not going to agree to only date you and your wife. Too many horror stories, Aunty can tell you.)

Always be honest about your situation. Monogamous women don't understand that you’re not looking for a side chick. Even if you have to explain "polyamorous" a million times, you want her to know exactly what she’s getting in to. If you just want the occasional threesome, let her know. If you want someone to move in and help take care of your kids, make that clear too. That's why polys love the c-word--communication.

Remember, a polyamorous woman doesn't want to be the topper on your wedding cake. She wants fulfilling relationships with individuals, not the perfect couple from Monogamy Land. Accept that the women you will find may already be dating other partners with their own commitments and agreements. She may not be interested in your wife at all. That doesn't mean you two can't have a healthy relationship. You just have to change your image of the ideal poly woman, especially if you're imagining a bisexual sex goddess. (That's why they're called unicorns, honey. They don't exist.)

So how do you find a woman? Go to online dating sites. Visit your local poly community. Talk to other polyamorous people. Find a woman you like spending time with and see where things go. If she hits it off with wifey, that's great. If she doesn't want to move in to your future poly household, that's fine too. Let go of expectations and enjoy the journey.

Or else.

Aunty

Do you have a question for Aunty? Comment below or use our contact form!

Doin’ It and Doin’ It and Doin’ It Well

Ruby Bouie Johnson responds to recent coverage of polyamory in the national news.

I’ve had several weeks to reflect on the recent coverage of polyamory in a few national media outlets, ranging from the very conservative to the center-left. Though the presentation and tone varied between them, they all managed to be grossly misinformed about the philosophy and practice of polyamory and consensual non-monogamy. Over the last 14 years in direct clinical practice, and the last 3 years in private practice, I can say with confidence that folks who come into my office for relationship therapy, love and care for each other. These individuals seek therapy to educate themselves, mediate their conflicts, and establish agreements to move forward within their relationships, whether they are in a monogamous relationship or a polyamorous relationship or anything else on the relationship continuum.

Let’s concisely dispel the myths.

1. Polyamory is not polygamy.

2. Polyamory is not polyfuckery.

3. Polyamory is not about subjugating monogamy.

4. Comparing polyamory to monogamy and monogamy to polyamory leads to frustration and insult.

5. Qualifying “natural” or “normal” to a persons’ way of loving, living, and being is bullshit.

6. Polyamory is not unnatural, barbaric, or savage.

7. Polyamory does not subjugate or oppress women.

Furthermore, what I read is highly unrealistic about how open relationships work in the real world. What I read was stories of irresponsible remedies to a marriage or partnership that was disconnected. These were stories of infidelity that segue into an open relationship. This is an infrequent way for healthy polyamarous relationships to begin. One of the core tenants of open relationships is consent; real consent, not “apology after the fact”. Clinically, I work with couples that have begun a non-monogamous relationship dynamic in an attempt to recover from an infidelity. The lack of confidence resulting from the deceit and secrecy often disrupts the relationship. In my experience a significant majority of these relationships have irreparable damage. This is not because polyamorous or non-monogamous relationships are unstable, but because deceit and secrecy are highly destabilizing to any relationship, whether it is a monogamous relationship or not.

Let me share with you some ways that healthy more-than-two relationships actually function.

1. Communication, Communication, Communication. Let me be clear, it’s not talking at the other person. It’s about being present, open, and willing to understand the wants, needs, and desires of the other.

2. The ability to negotiate. Negotiation is a skill and art. One must have a range of skills that they are bringing to the table. Some include: trust that the other person has their best interests at heart; genuine expression of needs; lastly, and for me this is the most important, a shared meaning of the end goal.

3. Commitment. Commitment is not a simple commitment to the other person; it’s a commitment to all that are involved within the relationship network. The commitment to be safe, responsible, and honor agreements.

4. Each person must recognize when they need to nurture their relationship with their own selves. For example, when someone starts to identify irritability and short-temperedness in themselves, they must check themselves before they wreck themselves.

5. It’s important to understand that this is about not about accommodating a perceived need for “equal sharing”, it’s about fulfilling the needs of everyone involved, which are never all going to be the same.

As I read this list, these suggestions for best practices with healthy relationships are applicable to lovers, friends, family, coworkers, etc. It’s not a mystery how to make relationships work best. These principles apply to and yield healthy polyamorous relationships just as much as they apply to and yield healthy monogamous relationships. As long as we treat each other with dignity and worth, let’s get it on, baby.

This post originally appeared on Huffington Post.

What is Polyamory?

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Confused about the difference between polyamory, polygamy, swinging, and more? Check out the definitions below for clarity!

Polyamory

Literally, poly (many) + amor (love). The state or practice of maintaining multiple sexual and/or romantic relationships simultaneously, with the full knowledge and consent of all the people involved.

Polyamory is not necessarily related directly to marriage or polygamy; a person may have no spouse or only one spouse and still be polyamorous. Many people use the term "polyamory" to describe only those relationships in which a person has multiple loving partners; some people have extended the term to include relationships in which a person has multiple sexual partners regardless of the emotional component or degree of commitment between them, though this meaning was not a part of Morning Glory Zell's original intent for the word.

In 1992, when the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary contacted Morning Glory Zell to ask for a formal definition and background of the word; part of her response was:

"The two essential ingredients of the concept of "polyamory" are "more than one" and "loving." That is, it is expected that the people in such relationships have a loving emotional bond, are involved in each other's lives multi-dimensionally, and care for each other. This term is not intended to apply to merely casual recreational sex, anonymous orgies, one-night stands, pick-ups, prostitution, "cheating," serial monogamy, or the popular definition of swinging as "mate-swapping" parties."

Swinging

The practice of having multiple sexual partners outside of an existing romantic relationship, most often with the understanding that the focus of those relationships is primarily sexual rather than romantic or emotionally intimate.

The common perception of swinging is that those who engage in this behavior have sex outside of their existing relationship purely for recreation, and that emotional bonds or emotional intimacy are specifically excluded. This is true in some cases, and, in fact, some swing clubs specifically prohibit people from carrying on friendships or relationships outside the club. However, in practice swinging is much more nuanced, and people who self-identify as swingers can and sometimes do form close emotional relationships with their partners. Many people in both the swinging and polyamorous communities, though not all, see swinging and polyamory as two ends of a continuum, different in degree of intent, focus, and emphasis on romantic and emotional relationships rather than different in kind.

Open Marriage

A marriage whose structures or arrangements permit one or both of the members involved to have outside sexual relationships, outside romantic relationships, or both. The term "open marriage" is a catchall for marriages which are not emotionally or sexually monogamous and may include such activities as polyamory or swinging.

Monogamish

A relationship which is not necessarily sexually fidelitous, but that differs from polyamory in that the outside sexual relationships are seen as primarily sexual rather than romantic, without necessarily having any expectation of continuity, and are viewed as enhancing the primary couple's relationship.

The term was coined by columnist Dan Savage to describe committed relationships that still allow some "outside" sexual dalliances.

Polygamy

The state or practice of having multiple wedded spouses at the same time. Polygyny (multiple women married to one man) is the most common form of polygamy (the obverse being polyandry). Polygyny is associated with many religious and ethnic subcultures, with Murdock's Ethnographic Atlas recording 850 of 1170 societies as being polygynous. Modern religious traditions, including Islam and Fundamentalist Mormonism (FLDS) allow polygyny. For this reason, many people confuse polygamy with polyamory.

Consensual Nonmonogamy

Any relationship which is not sexually and/or emotionally exclusive by the explicit agreement and with the full knowledge of all the parties involved. Consensual nonmonogamy can take several forms, the two most common of which are polyamory and swinging, and it is distinct from cheating in that everyone involved knows about and agrees to the activity.

Consensual nonmonogamy often explicitly spells out the conditions under which it is permissible for one person to take on additional partners, and often includes some form of safer-sex agreement as well.