Re-Examining Relationship Anarchy

by Sarah on February 21, 2014

Relationship anarchy, as far as I can tell, is not particularly well defined nor widely documented, but the little I’ve read about the idea has always called to me.

I think, in essence, it says that when two people are in a lower-case “r” relationship, that relationship does not have to fit into any pre-existing forms, and that trying to force it into a mold is probably harmful to it.

For me, that means considering my needs and the needs of the other person and trying to create the form that works for both of us. At least in theory.

And then, during a discussion group this past weekend as I was trying to articulate this, someone asked if a relationship could exist under RA that basically looked like a conventional Relationship.

And while I think there would be a whole lot more checking-in and discussing and less assuming in any relationship entered into by folks with an RA-ish (or poly or just generally pro-communication and checking-in) perspective… I don’t see why two people couldn’t agree that something traditional-looking would be the right thing for them.

Which is when I realized that I’ve been falling victim to this problem of assuming that just because I’m somewhat radical in how I look at relationships (or like to think I am), all my relationships in themselves need to look radical and to follow suit.

The unfortunate fallout from this is that I’ve summarily run away from anything that looked like commitment or partnership, assuming that it would feel too constraining and look too much like a capital “R” Relationship.

I find this extremely embarrassing to admit. I’m pretty much coming right out and saying, “yes, I do in fact have commitment issues,” which is the assumption about single people that pisses me off more than anything in the world.

But it’s important for me to talk about because I know I find it far too easy to throw out the baby with the bathwater when it comes to relationship non-conformity.

The truth is, I am historically not very good at communication or boundaries or asking for what I need. And so, it has been easier, for the past few years, to let my relationships be more fluid and to work on not having expectations of other people and learning to take care of my own needs.

Those are both really important skills, don’t get me wrong, and while I wouldn’t tell anyone else how to live their life, I am grateful I have spent as much time working on doing me as I have. But in my quest for perfect non-attachment, it is likely that I have also put myself in situations that weren’t all positive for me, glossing over my own needs and desires with this strange idea of how I “should” be doing it.

And the truth is I do get attached to the people I care about. Hella attached. Huge giant sensitive empathic soul here, folks. I love, strongly and deeply and forever. Love and let live, of course, but love nonetheless.

So instead of showing that (because apparently I still haven’t quite gotten on board with the more loving one perspective) I try to play it cool, and it maybe comes out as indifference. Which therefore makes it easier for people to do things which cause me hurt, because I’m so busy trying to play it cool that I’m not able to say, “Hey, that fucking hurts. Is there a way you can do [X] and I can still get [Y]?”

I know that at the end of the day, people get to make their own choices, and all I can control are my own reactions. But there’s a point at which playing it cool = not showing how much I care = not trusting other people to treat me well. This pattern is most definitely grounded in old hurts (which I have been drudging up in some amazing co-counseling sessions, so I will spare you), but it’s not the pattern that I would like to have continue to play out in my relationships. I want to continue to be open, and to be loving, and to not close myself off to people or possibilities.

I think this post keeps riding the borderline of sounding like I’m trying to renounce my single life, and that would be a gross misinterpretation of what I’m saying. I don’t necessarily anticipate my life looking any different in the future than it does now. Like I said, it’s just just that I want to be more open and less defensive. I want more community and more deep connections and more amazing people in my life, none of which I can have if I’m constantly trying to remain entirely unattached.

And so, while I may not be searching for a Relationship now or ever, I am recognizing that I can find a new level of openness and maturity in how I treat my relationships. And I can come to a new understanding of what it means to be in anarchistic relationships.

And maybe I can even forgive myself for *gasp* needing to learn some of these relationship skills, like setting boundaries or asking for what I need.

Maybe the only way for me to get out of perpetual giving and caretaking mode has less to do with distancing myself from people and more to do with practicing better kinds of partnership. And more trust.

Again, I don’t exactly know what the fallout is from this in the long run. I’m certainly not giving up the view of myself as my own primary partner nor am I relinquishing any labels.

But what I am trying to let go of is the defensiveness I’ve built up out of a general lack of trust in people to want to be in partnership, in friendship or in community with me.

I’m also letting go of the need to be good at unattachment (oh, the irony.) I am very clearly not winning any points by trying to embody the Simon and Garfunkel song.

(You know. I am a rock? I am an i-i-i-i-sland?)

Hell. I fucking love people. I’m a people person. I think people are amazing and infinitely fascinating. I want more of them in my life in All The Ways.

And this whole host of defensiveness has gotten me nothing but a big pile of lonely.

So I’m letting it go.


I’m noticing that I’m feeling a bit worried that I’m just airing dirty laundry here, but having written about my relationship views for the past year or so on this site, it seems only fair to at least explain when they’ve changed and why. I don’t think this negates anything I’ve ever written, but I have held some rather militant beliefs and just want to make sure that nobody is taking them as gospel. (Hah!)

With special thanks to W, A, A, and A for your incredibly insightful and meaningful comments in that discussion group. Also, what is up with 60% of the group having A names?

And if you want to read another thing that someone else wrote that contributed to some of my thoughts in this piece, there are some great questions in this piece from Poly Singleish.

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