Relationship anarchy is on the news for quite some time now. Well, to give rest to your curiosity, relationship anarchy is a different approach to conventional relationships (the ones featuring one man and one woman).
In this think piece, I’m going to tell you all about relationship anarchy, its pros and cons, and how to manage it!
So, what are you waiting for? Let’s dig in!
What is relationship anarchy?
Relationship anarchy occurs when the anarchist can indulge in non-monogamous or non-heterosexual relations and defy the conventional relationship rules put down by society.
It’s 2022, and viewing relationships as strictly heterosexual and monogamous can be a little backdated.
More and more people are now deviating from what was once considered “normal” and adopting various new approaches to romantic relationships. A study conducted in 2017 saw that at least 20% of people have indulged in non-monogamy before!
Relationship anarchy (coined by Andie Nordgren) is a way of leading a romantic or sexual relationship in which there are no rules or boundaries except those set up by the partners.
So, people who are non-monogamous don’t adhere to the idea of what a relationship should be like according to society.
These people value autonomy and non-hierarchical relationship practices and prioritize their needs and desires over what society wants. Relationship Anarchy (sometimes abbreviated as RA) is the belief that a relationship shouldn’t always bend to societal rules and regulations.
There are various kinds of power structures and norms set by society, and any relationship that doesn’t follow them is considered “wrong” or “immoral”.
However, relationship anarchists believe that there is no need for a relationship to be labeled as “in a serious relationship” or “casually dating” or anything else. Instead, they look at each relationship individually.
For many relationship anarchists, it might be quite a journey to understand themselves and accept that their choices are not a part of conventional life choices. But with time, patience, and a bit of experimentation, they can make sense of what they want.
Relationship Anarchy History
Relationship anarchy was first mentioned by Andi Nordgren through a blog in the early 2000s. Later, many famous relationship coaches and therapists started using it as an umbrella term to define relationships where only the involved parties could make their own set of rules.
The term “relationship anarchy” was first mentioned by Andi Nordgren in a discussion blog that he was a part of in the 2000s.
In 2010, Nordgren also mentions relationship anarchy in a book written by Deborah Anapol. It began as a subsection of the polyamory community, which was involved in the free love movement of the 20th century. This movement’s primary aim was to shatter conventional notions of marriage, love, and sex.
Swedish sociologists Jacob Strandell and Ida Midnattssol both talked about relationship anarchy in their bachelor thesis papers. It was also discussed by Dr. Meg-John Barker (lecturer at the Senior Open University) in a 2013 presentation.
If you’ve heard of terms like polyamory or sensualarian, you can associate them with RA. Even though it started within the polyamory community (where one person has multiple romantic or sexual partners), RA has defined a place for itself and has grown drastically over the years. In fact, many relationship anarchists even firmly believe that polyamory is not their cup of tea!
Another thing that RA wishes to break is the view that the highest satisfaction in a relationship is when a man and woman get married, start living together, and have children, a view called an amatonormative relationship.
RA believes that when two or more people have sex or get emotionally intimate, they are all on the same page and regarded as equals. Even aromantics or asexuals are a big part of the RA community as they don’t believe in traditional romantic or sexual relationships.
Relationship anarchy vs polyamory
The basic distinction between RA and polyamory is that RA doesn’t have to include the latter strictly. Many relationship anarchists wish to settle down with one person, whereas many are polyamorous.
Many people might get confused between relationship anarchy and polyamory since they both deal with similar things. They are both considered to be ethical and consensual forms of non-monogamy.
But with RA, the main difference is that the relationship doesn’t always have to be non-monogamous if the partners don’t want it.
Although most relationship anarchists are non-monogamous, you can still choose to be with only one partner but not follow the other norms set by the society (such as marriage and kids). On the other hand, polyamory involves having sex or getting close with multiple partners.
Polyamory also includes different hierarchies, such as having a primary partner. Relationship anarchy completely dismisses these notions unless both partners want to have it.
If you’re wondering whether it’s possible to merge solo polyamory and relationship anarchy, well, yes. Solo polyamory is specifically about your romantic or sexual partners but relationship anarchy extends much beyond that.
You can move on from one sexual partner to another without feeling the need of settling down and also prioritize their well-being and feelings.
Relationship anarchy vs monogamy
Contrary to popular belief, RA and monogamy can coexist. Relationship anarchists can choose to defy societal practices of romance, such as marrying and having kids and still be monogamous by nature, or stay with one person.
A monogamous person wishes to let go of all sexual and romantic bonds that they have with other people when they settle down with one partner. But a relationship anarchist feels a person should be entitled to consensual sex and romance with more than just one preferred partner.
I’ve told you that relationship anarchists are mostly non-monogamous people who believe that love shouldn’t be restricted. But can the two coexist? Yes, absolutely!
Many relationship anarchists have said that they’re sexually or romantically monogamous, but they also practice anarchy. As long as you believe in the set of rules that the relationship anarchy manifesto has provided and you’re comfortable with one partner, then there’s no reason why the two terms shouldn’t coexist.
Have you ever had a situation where your best friend was the most precious person to you but one fine day, they got a romantic partner and then stop hanging out with you altogether? Well, relationship anarchists strongly disagree with doing something like this.
They believe that even if you have a steady partner, you need to respect everyone else who walks into your life and give them the same kind of love that you have always given. This can be enhanced by creating agreements between the said parties, but essentially, relationship anarchists wish to maintain a meaningful bond with everyone in their social circle.
While many people might feel that relationship anarchy and monogamy are two distinct spheres, relationship anarchists feel that they can coexist if the people involved are honest with each other.
Who should practice relationship anarchy?
Even though RA can include anyone, many people find it uncomfortable to practice it. If you wish to become a relationship anarchist, you will have to shed fears and inhibitions about how society will perceive you and ignore hate comments.
Like anyone who isn’t familiar with non-monogamy, relationship anarchy takes a lot of time to understand and practice. In theory, it might sound easy to go and practice it, but in real life, it’s a lot harder.
Anyone who wants to explore the areas of a non-monogamous relationship first has to open their minds to the world outside of what they knew culturally. Beyond that, relationship anarchy requires habits or skills that are essential to any healthy relationship, such as strong communication skills, consent, and awareness of one’s own desires.
Since we have always been taught that your partner socializing with other people is wrong, you might feel bursts of jealousy or anger when you see your partner hanging out with someone else, even though you both are a part of RA. Working through these issues is another major hurdle you’ll have to cross.
Relationship anarchists reject societal standards of how an “ideal relationship” should work out, so bear in mind that you might feel a little left out or misjudge about your choices. However, if you feel that relationship anarchy works well for you, then you can go ahead!
There isn’t any guidebook on who should practice RA and who shouldn’t. Ultimately, it all boils down to the individual and whether they feel that RA is something they’re comfortable with or not.
Is it a relationship structure or just a mindset?
Conventional relationships are thought to be more of structures set up by society, but RA aims to defy that. RA is a mindset that allows people to express love freely, but even then, it is based on some rules and regulations.
You might have been taught that anarchy is a complete deviation from rules and stands for the absence of order. However, relationship anarchy isn’t all like that. However, it does mean carving a path that society might not want you to follow.
For example, society believes that a man should essentially be the breadwinner of a family and a woman should take care of the household. Relationship anarchy wishes to challenge these views and come up with a much freer concept of what a healthy relationship should look like.
However, even relationship anarchy has a set of guidelines that people are expected to follow (we’ll talk about that in a while). The ultimate goal of any relationship anarchist is to free themselves from the trappings of normative lifestyles. So yes, relationship anarchy is more of a mindset or a philosophy than a structure.
While RA connotes dissent or making your own rules that differ from traditional ones, it also places consent on a very high pedestal. Everything in relationship anarchy has to be based on consent, or agreement from all parties.
So, you could say that RA is a mix of mindset as well as a structure that has laid down its own rules. Some things will depend solely on your mindset, such as how you wish to proceed with multiple partners, but other factors will be structure-based, such as obtaining consent from everyone involved when it comes to sexual relations.
What are some common misconceptions about relationship anarchy?
Since RA is completely the opposite of how an “ideal relationship” should look, many people often think that it is actually anarchy where people live in short-term relationships and fear commitment. Many others even feel that relationship anarchists are mentally unstable!
If you say the term “relationship anarchy” to someone who doesn’t know about it, they’ll immediately think of a lawless and chaotic state of affairs. But RA is nothing like that!
RA does exist within a set of rules and respects them. So here are some common misconceptions about RA and its followers.
1. Relationship anarchists are commitment-phobic
Trust me, relationship anarchy is the furthest thing from commitment phobia. Relationship anarchists wish to commit themselves to everyone equally.
Most anarchists believe that they’re not afraid of committing to someone; they just don’t want that commitment to overstep their personal boundaries. They don’t wish to conform to what others want, and they’re very clear about that.
2. They are only focused on short-term partnerships
This is another very common (and offensive) misconception that people have about anarchists. Yes, they believe in loving their friends and partners equally (but in different ways) but they’re no short-term lovers!
Just like in a conventional relationship, even anarchists and their relationship can vary from just a few weeks to many years. It all depends on the individual and their choices.
3. Relationships anarchists can’t be married to anyone
While relationship anarchists might not like the words hierarchy, it doesn’t mean that they don’t wish to be married.
Many such people have said that while they didn’t wish to settle down or put a label on their relationship when they were young, they wanted to find some stability as they matured. Any relationship is hard without an anchor and relationship anarchists also want to marry eventually!
4. RA is just a phase
How many times have we dismissed other people’s sexual or romantic preferences by saying “It’s just a phase” or “You’ll get over it”? Like any other sexuality or gender norm in the LGBTQ+ spectrum, RA isn’t just another phase.
You won’t grow out of it when you get older. Each of us has been born with different choices and preferences on whom we love and how we choose to love them.
5. People who follow RA are mentally ill
No, definitely not! While relationship anarchy and mental illness can coexist in people, they aren’t related to each other in any way.
Any person who falls under the category of relationship anarchists isn’t necessarily mentally ill just because they have chosen to love people differently. Love exists in all forms and shapes, so you won’t be able to get rid of RA with therapy!
In essence, relationship anarchy is a way out for people who wish to experience freedom. But with it, comes quite a lot of misconceptions and misjudgments even today.
Relationship Anarchy Manifesto
In a pamphlet in 2006, Andie Nordgren published a set of rules or guidelines that a relationship anarchist is expected to observe. While these aren’t set in stone, they do provide a clear idea of an anarchist’s life and beliefs.
1. Love is abundant and every relationship is unique
Well, you might have already gotten an idea of what this particular point means. There’s no limit to love, and certainly not for relationship anarchists.
You can always love more than one person without having to rank one of them over the other. There’s no need to have a primary relationship in relationship anarchy, and you can view all your partners as equals.
2. Love and respect instead of entitlement
The second point talks about how you shouldn’t limit your idea of love to entitlement. Just like you, your partners will also have a sense of self-respect and self-worth, and it’s your responsibility to acknowledge that.
Explore how you can engage in polyamorous relationships with them without overstepping your boundaries or disrespecting anyone or their beliefs.
3. Find your core set of relationship values
Your core set of relationship values is the principles that you’re supposed to follow, irrespective of who or how many people you date. Of course, core values will differ from one person to another but you should always make sure to follow yours.
They are much more than sex-related boundaries and feature things like how you wish to be treated and what makes you unique.
4. Heterosexism is rampant and out there, but don’t let fear lead you
Nordgren believes that heterosexism leads to a normative system (heteronormativity), where the ideal relationship is supposed to be a heterosexual one. Because of this, people who aren’t relationship anarchists might question your beliefs or even rebuke you.
But you shouldn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed to believe in your idea of love. Don’t let fear dictate your choices.
5. Build for the lovely unexpected
If you constantly need to fear others while expressing yourself, there won’t be any sort of fun or spontaneity in your life.
Nordgren says that your relationships with others can only thrive if you expect the unexpected and accept everything that’s going to come your way. For example, if things don’t work out with someone you like, don’t let that stop you from moving on!
6. Fake it ‘til you make it
Since relationship anarchists are breaking norms and combatting societal pressures, it can be very overwhelming and mentally draining at times.
If you’re ever confused about what to do, always try the “fake it ‘til you make it” method! Talk to yourself and tap into your subconscious.
See how you’d normally act in a difficult situation and proceed from there. Voila! You have a solution right there!
7. Trust is better
The main idea behind this is that a partnership where everyone involved is honest with each other has more chance of surviving the test of time.
People who have had terrible breakups in the past might find it very hard to put their trust in someone else’s hands, but it’s a risk Nordgren encourages others to take. Create a relationship where you have a safe space to tell your feelings out loud.
8. Change through communication
Any sort of relationship, whether conventional or not, requires communication to make things work. And when it comes to something as different and exciting as relationship anarchy, communication becomes all the more important!
Both you and your partners need to communicate as openly as possible to eliminate all negative thoughts. Ask each other things and don’t be afraid to be bold.
9. Customize your commitments
Nordgren feels that relationship anarchists have their own sets of commitments based on who they are dating and how the relationship is proceeding.
RA is never about not committing to anyone or anything, it’s having a set of commitments that will cater to your taste as well as those of your partners. One good tip is to start from scratch and go over the principles you believe in.
These nine points form the basis of the relationship anarchy manifesto and can be summarized by the three Cs- Customize, Communicate, and Create Space. If you can manage a balance of these three, then your relationship will truly thrive!
Why is communication so important in relationship anarchy?
Since RA is basically creating your own relationship through your rules, communication becomes a key factor so that everyone involved in the relationship stays on the same page and is honest with each other.
In any sort of relationship, it’s essential for the partners to communicate with each other so that their values and goals align.
But since relationship anarchy is customizing and creating an entire relationship based on what works for you and your partner, here, communication becomes even more important. And as the number of people involved increases, so does the need for expressing your thoughts out loud.
Almost anyone in a stable relationship, whether monogamous or not, will tell you that communication is probably the most important ingredient. Without it, any relationship is bound to fall apart and crumble.
Even in a conventional heterosexual monogamous relationship, anything that hasn’t been communicated properly can lead to assumptions which can later cause fights and bitterness.
Relationship anarchists have to make it very clear what they want out of the relationship and how they expect their needs to be met, as well as how to make sure their partner’s needs are also being respected.
When it comes to communicating your relationship to those who don’t understand it, relationship experts feel that good communication skills might come in handy.
Yes, you’re not entitled to explain yourself to anyone that makes you feel uncomfortable but sometimes, you’ll have to clarify your relationship to others. This is even more important when a well-wishing friend or family member might tell you that your idea of a relationship goes against social norms.
Ultimately, how much you share with others is completely up to you, but how much you’re willing to share with your partners is very important. Make sure everyone involved is clear about each other’s needs and expectations, and there’s no scope for miscommunication.
Is relationship anarchy for you?
Unfortunately, RA is not meant for everyone. People who are comfortable with the manifesto and are prepared to defy societal rules can indulge in it. But gradually, people are getting braver and are accepting RA.
Well, there’s no right or wrong answer to this question. But if you’re asking yourself this question, then see how you feel after reading the manifesto in detail.
Do you think that you’re more comfortable living a life on your terms that has nothing to do with society or its boundaries? Then yes, RA might just be for you!
However, some people are disturbed by the idea of getting into a relationship involving multiple partners because they aren’t used to getting too much freedom.
So, their mind automatically starts thinking of the worst. But don’t worry, that’s absolutely okay! RA can include anyone and everyone in its circle, so ultimately, you are your best judge.
Your main focus should be on how you’ll make a relationship work, especially if you’re not familiar with concepts of having more than one partner or setting rules for your relationship that only you feel are right.
For starters, you could simply focus on the main point of the manifesto which says that love is abundant. There’s love for everyone out there and monogamy or traditional relationships aren’t more rewarding or righteous than others.
Of course, you can practice monogamy and still be a relationship anarchist, it’s just that these two aren’t always co-related.
The freedom to make love and experience it will always lie with you. So getting out of the norms of believing in love and sex conventionally is going to be like a breath of fresh air. However, you might still encounter some problems.
For example, if you’re afraid of communicating clearly, you’ll have to cross that hurdle and master the art of communication. Although RA isn’t meant for everyone, it is slowly gaining a wider fan base every year.
People who wish to accept their innermost desires and feelings are slowly embracing this concept and if you feel you want to be a part of it, then why not try it out?
Where should you start if you want to practice relationship anarchy?
Some of the best ways to start practising relationship anarchy is by understanding all the people involved in the relationship and talking to them openly. After you have connected with them, make sure to check in and support them.
Anyone curious enough to know more about relationship anarchy can start practicing it if they bear a few rules in mind (refer to the relationship anarchy manifesto for this!).
But if you’re already dating someone but still wish to experiment with relationship anarchy, you have to make it a point to talk to your current partner. And spill out all the beans.
If you need some tips on where to start and how to proceed, I have just the right ones for you!
1. Understand your connections
This is the first thing you’re supposed to tick off on your checklist. Having a thorough understanding of your social circle and connections is essential if you wish to move forward with RA.
Ask yourself who do you wish to invest in and if they’re going to be a good partner or not. Or you can even make a list of people who help you to grow and nurture you in all possible ways.
They should essentially be your strongest supporters but the best critics too. Remember, there’s no end to what love can accomplish, so think very carefully before making that list!
2. Talk about how you want the relationship to proceed
Next, you have to approach the people you’ve thought of and tell them how and why you wish to deepen your connections with them (it might be a tough conversation but it’ll be so worth it!).
Explain to them that you’re not willing to conform to the usual styles of dating or loving and that you want something more. Here, you should also take into account what makes them comfortable and which of the activities they’re willing to participate in with you.
If you want, you can imagine your relationship as a box where you put in essential things and take out the unnecessary ones.
3. Check in with the people you’ve connected with
The third and last step is to make sure you’re honoring your new relationship. See who needs you to stand by their side during tough times and who wants you to check in with them weekly.
Just like you want your connections to respect and appreciate your needs, you’ll have to do your part and reciprocate those feelings!
For example, if one of your partners wants you to take care of their kids even though you’re not really up for it, you should do it anyway to make them happy. And this advice is applicable in the bedroom too; see which partner likes to be sexually active and who doesn’t.
Taking these steps might be daunting, but the important thing here is to take your time and breathe through it. You won’t have everything figured out all in one day, so don’t be too hard on yourself.
How relationship anarchy works in practice?
Every relationship anarchist’s love life is different, but most of them feel confused in the beginning. Talking to a therapist or asking your loved ones for support can be useful ways to start practicing RA.
It’s not really possible to write down exactly what a relationship anarchist does or how they practice what they believe. Not only is every anarchist’s relationship unique but it’s also tough to simply write down complicated thoughts that an anarchist feels.
Being in a “typical relationship” is actually a myth (even for RA followers), but I will tell you the basic outline of a relationship anarchist’s romantic endeavors the best I can!
A lot of people instantly picture a punk wearing jet-black clothes and wearing piercings whenever they think of anarchy, but that isn’t really true (although many relationship anarchists do wear them). If people can be taught to open their minds and accept whatever comes their way, the possibilities are endless!
But in practice, people need to work on their communication skills and sense of freedom before they go and become a part of RA.
When you start practicing RA, it’s easy to get misguided and confused. Different people will tell you different ways in which RA works, but you need to figure out what works for you.
It’s impossible to describe a conventional relationship anarchist, but you can identify them if you see them having multiple partners (both romantic and platonic), where everyone has an equal role to play. Or a couple where two platonic friends decide to have kids and lead a happy life- the possibilities are endless!
If you’ve just gotten into an RA, you can ask your partner some basic questions like whether they feel comfortable in this unusual settlement or not. It’s quite like running an inventory- take stock of whatever you have and put them to good use!
In short, you won’t be able to explicitly identify who practices RA and who doesn’t. And even if you become a part of this spectrum, there are skills that you’ll need to sharpen to become comfortable with this lifestyle.
What if you’re struggling to make relationship anarchy work?
One of the best ways to make RA work for a struggling anarchist is to visit a support group. Even self-introspecting and prioritizing your needs are important because that’s what RA is all about.
Understanding relationship anarchy can be hard but making it work is way harder, especially if you’re used to monogamous relationships. And if nobody else around you seem to understand or accept the concept, you’ll be at a loss.
Here, one effective thing you can do is to ask yourself why you’re struggling and what is making you feel so lost.
But make sure you first make sense of what you are feeling and prioritize it. This is essentially the most important philosophy in RA, and unless you’re clear about what you want, you won’t be able to sort out the issues in your relationship.
Take a moment and allow yourself to breathe. It can be hard to get accustomed to a new concept but don’t let it scare you. If you truly feel you’re a part of the RA group, try to understand what different things like platonic friendship or romantic relationship mean.
Think of each of these relations as a garden that needs nurturing instead of a burden on your mind. Read available resources, such as magazines or blogs, and talk to a counselor or therapist if you feel you need help.
Many relationship experts even believe that finding a community can be really helpful. If you have the chance, go out and meet a group or relationship anarchists and ask them how they felt initially.
This group of like-minded people will support you and make you feel validated. Even if you don’t find relationship anarchists, you can talk to aromantics or polyamorous people too. The main thing is to make yourself heard and feel validated. Be real, and compassionate, and say things that you firmly believe in.
At the end of the day, the impact that RA has on you and your partner will depend on how similar your values are and whether or not you both wish to proceed together in the future.
Relationship anarchy Flag
The RA flag typically consists of red, blue, and yellow colors with a heart in the middle. An “A” is drawn inside the heart, which looks similar to the pi symbol.
Just like with any other LGBTQA+ community, RA also has its own flag. It takes inspiration from the polyamory flag and features the same colours (red, blue, and yellow) but in a muted tone.
A pi symbol in the middle is replaced by the RA symbol, that is, a heart with the alphabet A inside it. A modified version of the RA flag was made by a fandom user who used black corners, similar to other anarchist flags.
In another Tumblr post, an anonymous user took the colour purple to signify devotion in each of the relationships that are formed in a relationship anarchist’s life, red to signify the different forms of romantic love and attraction, black for stability and devotion to each of their partners, and blue for freedom.
Relationship anarchy book
Now, coming to the most interesting section of this article! If you want to broaden your perspectives on relationship anarchy and find out more about it, here are some of the best books to read.
1. Sex from Scratch: Making Your Own Relationship Rules
This book by Sarah Mirk gives you amazing advice from real-life people who have been in nontraditional relationships.
It’s not just a dating guidebook but also a tool to make you feel at ease if you’ve just started to explore the world of relationship anarchy. All you have to do is grab a copy and take a sneak peek into the diverse dating lives of so many people!
2. Rewriting the Rules: An Anti-Self-Help Guide to Love, Sex, and Relationships
In today’s world, dating has become so much more difficult. And Meg-John Barker knows how tough it is to find back that love, especially if you’re not willing to date someone in the traditional way.
This anti-self-help guidebook will ask you questions instead of giving you point-blank answers so that you can carve your own path toward love!
3. Polysecure: Attachment, Trauma, and Consensual Monogamy
Jessica Fern is a polyamorous psychotherapist who believes that consensual nonmonogamy is still an area that hasn’t been explored much. And if you’re someone who wishes to explore and experiment with this, then “Polysecure” will be your ideal companion!
Here, you’ll get to know how emotional experiences can play a major role in relationships and how to navigate them wisely.
4. Life Is Friends: A Complete Guide to the Lost Art of Connecting in Person
No matter how amazing you are online, what you do on a Saturday night at home will speak volumes about you.
We have all truly ignored the power of socializing and connecting with people offline, and this is where Jeanne Martinet’s guidebook comes in handy. In a witty manner, she carefully explains how to go out there and make yourself known to everyone.
5. Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close
We’ve all heard of the phrase “friends for life” but how many of them do actually stick by us throughout our lives?
If you’re planning to know more about the friendship aspect in RA and how to make your friends feel cherished, then explore this wonderful book written by Aminatou Saw and Ann Friedman, two real-life besties!
Other than the five books listed above, there are dozens more that you’ll either find in bookstores or on the internet. Believe me, these books will give you a fresh new perspective on what RA is and how to be a pro-relationship anarchist!
A word from ThePleasantRelationship
Relationship anarchy might seem like a whole new world to you, and it is! But there’s no reason to shy away from it, especially if you feel that you’d be a good relationship anarchist. All you have to do is trust your gut and figure out the kind of romantic and sexual relations that you want with others.
Surabhi wakes up every day with a drive to craft words that can create a soulful impact. Creatively adventurous, she is always seeking to learn new skills and acquire new experiences. With a hidden soft corner for languages (especially Urdu), she writes poetry occasionally, binges on romantic shows, and LOVES to talk. A hustler, admirer, chaser, Surabhi is just another-someone who refused to give up on her dreams. She says, she is just somebody who’s trying to make herself a writer and for now, she’s just writing...