I thought I was simply polyamorous. Until last night. A friend used the term #relationshipanarchy in a self portrait on Instagram, which lead to the enlightening discovery that I am not just poly, I’m a relationship anarchist. Sounds intimidating!
I had been chatting to someone recently about how I want to approach relationships and intimacy in my life. They said something like ‘sounds like you mean relationship anarchy?’ I had never heard of that as a term and thought they meant a way of relating without meaning, structure or safety. So I said ‘hmmm no I mean…’ and continued to pretty much explain the principles of what I now know to be called Relationship Anarchy. Sorry to that person… You were right! I just didn’t know.
I just didn’t know. I didn’t know that it existed and I didn’t know that it was ME. But it feels more right than anything right now. And its strange, because when past me would muse about my ideal poly situation, I was in these stifling mono relationships where all I wanted was some freedom to be who I was. And I thought I’d give anything for my partner to love me for me. To have the freedom to love others or even for speaking of these concepts, to be okay. My world was so limited in the relationships I kept finding myself in, that my dreams could only go so far before they reached the realms of the inconceivable. In those times, I dreamt of things I would now consider stifling also. It’s like a rat in a cage that imagines access to the whole house to be magnificent, tasty liberation. I was that rat. I found the house and then eventually I also found the back door, the porch and the woods beyond.
Now if you have no idea what I’m talking about, let me explain…
I fall in love. Often. Although depending on your definition (which probably differs to mine) I pretty much never ‘fall in love’. I fall in love with musk; lavender and fairy floss spun sunset skies. I fall in love with frog’s mating songs and the smell of rain. I fall in love with my friend in that moment when they do that thing that only THEY do, that is just so authentically, unabashedly, joyously them. I fall in love with the way my own body relaxes and releases in the sea, which by that point I’ve fallen in love with the ocean at least twice - once upon sight and again on touch.
This is how I experience love as abundant. Andie Nordgren wrote in the Relationship Anarchy Manifesto ‘Love is abundant, and every relationship is unique’. To me, this means that ALL my love is precious and no relationship is ‘better’ than any other simply because of the label it carries or the box it’s in. In fact removing these boxes altogether is what feels best to me. That way, there is no hierarchy of love. I can love my friend X and love my friend Y and I’m not playing favourites, I’m simply present with what is. My love for one does not threaten the other, even if things change from friendship to a less platonic feeling.
Now that’s not to say that I love them the same. The love I have for frog calls is different to the love I have for the sea. Hearing frog calls makes me feel a bit giddy and excited like a child, overhearing something cute and fun. Meeting the ocean is often expansive, deep and sensual. These loves feel different and I would even say that one is stronger and has a longer history than the other. But they are unique. And so my love for frog calls, like my love for X, does not diminish or alter my love for the sea, or Y. They exist independent of each other.
The great thing about this is also, that I am free to feel authentically me in the MOMENT. A major issue I’ve had with pretty much any type of relationship in my life is that when it carried a label of ‘friend’, ‘lover’, ‘partner’ etc. I felt constricted to feel only and always what was in that box. Rules were imposed upon me without discussion because stepping into any kind of relationship means stepping into societal norms. ‘Don’t kiss your friend on the lips’, ‘have sex at least once a week with your boyfriend’ ‘don’t tell secrets to acquaintances or people you have just met’ ‘spend most of your time with your intimate partner’… the list is endless. Andie covers this point nicely, stating : ‘ there is a very powerful normative system in play that dictates what real love is, and how people should live… don’t let fear drive your relationships.’
I’ve felt that fear. I’ve felt guilty, scared and ashamed. I felt scared to hold my friends hand or to tell my partner that I didn’t want their affections because me not wanting their affection in that moment had to ‘mean’ all kinds of things that it didn’t. I felt like anyone whom I was sexually involved with was higher up the ladder than those in platonic realms, those in the romantic boxes were higher up still and so certain relationships took precedence based on their title. And came with more unspoken rules and expectations. I felt guilty if in a moment, I was attracted to my friend. I felt guilty if in a moment, I wasn’t attracted to my boyfriend. I felt guilty if, in a moment I didn’t want to act like the boxes said I had to.
This leads nicely into Andie’s second point in the Manifesto: ‘Love and respect instead of entitlement’ which is basically all about how ‘Your feelings for a person or your history together does not make you entitled to command and control a partner to comply with what is considered normal to do in a relationship.’ Personally, I love the people in my life too much to pressure them into being a certain way with me and I love and respect myself too much to do that too. Id rather someone is cuddling me because there’s nowhere else they’d rather be, than because that is the norm for our relationship title. Yuck!
Now this isn’t to say that I have this all figured out and do it perfectly. Ha! Not at all. I discovered this by going into my own shadow. I noticed insecurities, fears, jealousies and comparing myself to others. But I also felt how this came from one small part of me that wasn’t the true me. It was a part that has largely been forced down my throat in a host of abusive relationships. Relationships where my needs, boundaries and beliefs were stomped all over. Years in which it was not safe (emotionally or physically) for me to defy the norm. I could list some of the ridiculous things I was forced to adhere to, but we will be here till Christmas 2020.
Instead it’s important for me to focus on the values I hold dear. Personal values that I take into relationships with others. How I want to be treated and how I want to treat others in return. The question ‘What kind of people would you like to spend your life with?’ is asked in the Manifesto. My answer would be - I want to share my life with people who accept me for me. People who will happily have relationship with me based on how we both feel, not based on how the world says we should feel, be and act.
Now, publishing this rather personal disclosure of my truth, is a vulnerable thing to do. It means not going back. The mere act of writing this is my way of ‘making it real’. I can no longer hide and I no longer wish to censor or modify myself to appease others. Your discomfort is not my responsibility and now that I have a greater understanding of myself I feel it is a rebellious act of self love and activism for me to step into the world authentically in this way. I’m sure I will make mistakes along the way and I can only hope that those I love will be both patient with me and pull me up on it, if I slip into ways of being that do not serve us.
I plan to follow Andie’s advice: ‘ Fake it til’ you make it’. I plan to be compassionate and patient with myself, remembering that ‘Sometimes it can feel like you need to be some complete super human to handle all the norm breaking involved in choosing relationships that don’t map to the norm.’ I’m not superhuman but I’m more myself, which feels like the best kind of human I can be right now.