The familiarity that is Relationship Anarchy
What is Relationship Anarchy?
It sure sounds chaotic, seeing as ‘Anarchy’ is a word that usually means ‘state of disorder’. Given how many rules society seems to apply to relationships, anarchy is kind of an odd word to associate with them. But here, when you apply the word ‘anarchy’, think: freedom. A freedom to throw away those rules and write your own.
Relationship Anarchy (RA) is a lifestyle that rejects social and relationship hierarchies and doesn’t base the value of them on imposed structures. It is a philosophy based on autonomy and it asks: what is it that you want for and from your relationships?
The term was coined by Andie Nordgren who has written a short, and very sweet, manifesto that delves further into this lifestyle. We highly recommend you take a read. It is far shorter than this article and talks about making love your own. It simply says that the way the world asks us to love, romantic or otherwise, isn’t the only way to love and be loved.
How does this apply to aros?
The thing about RA is that if you’re aromantic, you’re probably already applying the philosophy to your life. How often do we grieve knowing that we will likely never matter to our friends as much as their romantic partners will, particularly when we want them to be a significant part of our lives? How often do we find ourselves being affectionate, only to have it assumed to be romantic interest? Or worse, holding ourselves back because we’re afraid of people making that assumption? These are not radical thoughts for us. We live in a world that forces us to question our relationship with romance and that same questioning process is mirrored in the application of relationship anarchy. Amatonormativity says we must have someone whom we love (romantically), prioritize, and care for above all else. Like aros, RA looks at amatonormativity and asks: why? And then it asks: is that something I want for myself?
If you take anything away from this article it should be that there are alloromantics, queers, polyamorous people, and others you would never expect to be thinking just as we are. The romantic-orientated status quo of society is flawed and relationship anarchy is a way to recognize that.
We all know what the relationship escalator is whether we have heard the term or not. It is how romance climbs the ladder and ultimately wins “the prize”. To put it simply: you flirt, you date, you say your “I love yous” and announce it to the world. You’re exclusive now; you talk about the future, meet the family, move in together, get married, you maybe have children, and then remain together until one of you dies. For a lot of people this is the dream and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, for those of us that aren’t quite so interested in that play-through in the game of life, things aren’t so clear cut. How exactly does a relationship that isn’t partnered, monogamous, or romantic progress?
Relationship Anarchy offers lack of expectation. Kale, who both practices and advocates for RA, says that the philosophy commits to a person, not the expected relationship structure. This is a reminder that you are in control and that you set your own milestones. If you want to have anniversaries to celebrate your friendships, then do it. If you want to have multiple honeymoons with your S.O.(s) but never marry, go for it. Live with your family for as little or as long as you want. Or choose yourself a family and treat them exactly as society wants you to take care of your blood relatives.
A staple of polyamorous, non-straight, and non-cis culture is the chosen family. Whether by choice, necessity, or through a combination of the two, queer people make homes of one another. This practice is again something that RA aspires to do. The removal of the familial hierarchy that favors blood relations and marriage, as well as romance and sex, is a counterculture to how we are raised. Chosen families value the individual, as its foundation is made up of individuals coming together.
The DIY format of RA and chosen families is similar in concept and practice to queerplatonic relationships (QPRs). In general, aro relationships, whatever the kind, are non-normative, and that can be difficult to put into words. The term ‘Relationship Anarchy’ has been criticized for being too vague, just as QPRs have been wildly misunderstood time and time again. While non-specifics can lead to frustrating interpretations they can also allow for freeform creation. These relationships ask for an exploration into personalizing commitment.
Marriage: The Institution
We view our lives through modern ideals and that affects our journey through life. Amatonormativity, for example, is specific to certain time periods and cultures. It thrives quite thoroughly on capitalism, a fairly modern invention. Relationship Anarchy pushes back against ideas such as the nuclear family, marriage, and social isolation. These three concepts all feed into one another and force rigid relationships. A study into Americans’s relationship with marriage found that married people with children are one of the loneliest groups. Unlike single people, those that marry are less likely to call or visit family members. They are less likely to offer emotional or tangible support and are also less likely to hang out with their friends. The study finds that marriage encourages isolation, as you are expected to find everything you need with your ‘other half’. After all, society asks, why else would you have married them?
There is a loneliness that permeates aromanticism at times. Even if we aren’t interested in partnering, our friends will likely partner. Our families probably don’t understand, so who then is there for us? We have talked a great deal about building communities and making friends here at AUREA and it seems that RA is fighting a similar fight. According to this study, social hierarchy states that even if you do climb the relationship escalator you may not feel all that loved.
Liberation Not Assimilation
In her queer theory text, Sex in Public, Lauren Berlant writes that a queer world develops intimacy that is removed from domesticity, kinship, coupling, property, and nation. Meaning that the chosen family must find inventive ways to grow and connect while it is being stunted by greater society. She argues that non-normative intimacies would seem less difficult if normative intimacy was less rigid. The overlap between aros arguing against amatonormativity and RA questioning hierarchies is abundantly clear.
One community that is arguably light-years ahead in the area of creating and maintaining non-normative relationship structures is the polyamourous community. They know how to make non-normative relationships work for themselves and within the rigid system of society. This community, like ours, is forced to ask “how do I fit into this romantic-oriented world?” because their relationship with romance is just as homemade as ours.
What is left without a hierarchy?
When weighing the importance of the people in your life, they won’t come with a pre-existing value. This process, without hierarchy, is a natural one. How you care for those people and relationships, that's for you to decide. With or without RA, the way aromantics interact with people and the world will be eternally individualistic. The current relationship system of society is not built to accommodate us and that’s something each of us will live with. Take it day to day if you need to. We are dismantling an idea that has been drilled into our heads since birth. Just remember that you already undermine this romantic system simply by existing.
So what is Relationship Anarchy? It is a philosophy that proves we aren’t alone in this amatonormative world.