What Relationship Anarchy Taught Me About Expectation & Autonomy
If people run into the concept of relationship anarchy at all, it is often when they are researching polyamory, but it should not be confused with polyamory. Polyamory is a relationship configuration, while relationship anarchy is a philosophical approach to life. These are two very different things, although many relationship anarchists do practice ethical non-monogamy.
So what is relationship anarchy? It’s often described as “relationships without rules,” but this is misleading. It’s an approach to relationships in which the two people involved define how they want their relationship to work rather than relying on society’s tired and often inadequate framework. This applies to all relationships, not only romantic ones. It also disregards society’s social hierarchy, which places romantic / sexual relationships at the top and friendships, colleagues, acquaintances below that. Now if you were to ask me what’s wrong with that, my reply would be nothing if that’s how you want to set up your life. But realize you do have a choice.
Let’s look at an example. For several years, I had a female roommate. We were both practicing solo-poly, and we each had a couple of sexual relationships. But my roommate was at the top of my hierarchy. I had her back and she had mine. Next in the hierarchy was my mom. I could always count on her. One of my friends with whom I was once involved was next, and finally the men with whom I’d established a sexual rapport. That was my hierarchy. My roommate’s hierarchy may have differed somewhat. She had adult children, whereas I had none. That was her business.
Hard core relationship anarchists eschew the idea of hierarchy at all. Philosophically I agree with them. But I found that the reality — at least for me — is that due to circumstances, personalities, common interests, etc., some connections are stronger than others at any given moment. And some connections endure despite changing life events while others dissolve.
Another aspect of relationship anarchy is respecting each person as an autonomous individual with their own wants, needs, and aspirations. Often when two people start fucking, they follow the societal script, which prescribes behavior that is often akin to ownership. Suddenly, friends are supposed to drop in importance, personal goals get put on the back burner, and your desire for others is supposed to disappear. You subsume yourself to the relationship. Smart partners may figure out this isn’t the best approach. Unlucky ones spend time trying to control each other in an attempt to create a relationship that meets their often unrealistic expectations. Everyone ends up miserable.
With one of my previous love / sex interests (I’ll call him J), I suffered some frustration due to unmet needs. We really enjoyed our time together, but his first priority was his job. There was nothing wrong with that; that is what floated his boat. But for me seeing each other every couple of months wasn’t all that satisfying. A friend expressed the idea of letting him know I was unhappy. I refused. It wasn’t like he was unaware of my desire to see him. I was not shy about asking him out. He turned me down about 80% about of the time. I would not coerce him. It was time to add a new dude to my life. Notice, I said “add.” I still wanted to see J when he could work me into his schedule.
And I know, you’re probably thinking, J had another sexual interest. But you have to understand, that would have been okay. We were both solo-poly. I’d often tease him when after a nice dinner he’d sigh and say he had to go back to work. “Dude when you’re not with me, you’re supposed to have another chick, not your job.” He’d laugh, and respond, “I wish.” Then start making work-related phone calls.
The minute you have to cajole, coerce, nag, or the worst: give ultimatums, you’ve gone down the wrong path. You are trying to get another to subsume his or her needs, wants, and aspirations to yours. That makes you an asshole in my book.
Sadly society fills our heads with bullshit phrases like, “if he (or she) really loved me….” he (or she) would fulfill this expectation that I have. And often those expectations are unvoiced. The other person is supposed to read your mind, or at least follow the script. This leads to the limiting mindset of worthiness or rejection. But that’s really melodramatic and unhealthy. We need to start thinking in terms of compatibility; not these romantic tests. In my example above, no matter how much fun J and I had when we managed to get together, we weren’t that compatible. He was devoted to his work, whereas I was looking for a stronger connection. That didn’t make either one of us a bad person; it just made us different.
Honestly, I have always been pretty good at honoring others’ needs, wants, and aspirations, but I was not always good at honoring my own needs, wants, and aspirations. I had no trouble recognizing outright disregard for my needs, but subtle manipulation could cause me to disregard my own needs with the unconscious rationalization that my needs were simply being delayed. Not true. My needs always ended up being completely disregarded by those subtle manipulators. Interestingly, the worst offenders were not love interests, but work acquaintances.
And the thing about subtle manipulations, is sometimes the manipulator doesn’t even realize they are doing it. As an example, I spent a year as a financial advisor — a good way to starve — which basically amounts to selling your very specialized knowledge: how to plan for retirement, financially mitigating catastrophe, and information regarding dealing with taxes. Like everyone selling a service or product, it’s a matter of getting in front of as many people as possible in hopes of finding that one that needs what you are selling. One of the ways I did this was by attending parties for a specific product line, like Mary Kay for example. Sometimes, I even purchased some of their product. You know what almost never happened? Those same people sitting down with me to hear my pitch. Part of the problem, was that I often failed to make it clear that reciprocity was expected. That was on me. However, the times in which there was a clear understanding, I was often put off. At first, I rationalized that they had busy lives, that it was just a matter of finding the right time. But when enough time passed, I realized the agreed upon reciprocity was never in the cards, even though I was led to believe that they would at least listen. Learning about relationship anarchy allowed me to become more aware of these offenders, and keep them at bay as effectively as I would have with more obvious coercion.
My journey eventually led to marriage with an awesome and super compatible man. And yes, I am still a relationship anarchist. But that’s another article.
Michelle got married for the first time at age 52. Yes, it took her that long to find the right man. (In fact, she hadn’t been sure he existed at all.) Seeking life on her own terms with her beloved husband, she is curious about a great many things. Her educational / work background is in medical lab technology, business, and tax accounting, but her passions are sociology, psychology, science, and communication. Her motto: Authenticity in all things.
She writes about her hobbies and bits of whimsy at My Bijou Life.