The case for relationship anarchy

Following last week’s article discussing polyamory as a sexuality, one anonymous writer describes their own experience of practicing ‘relationship anarchy’, and argues for open communication to write the scripts of our own relationships.

When I broke up with my third boyfriend and long-time best friend, it was the smoothest and most amicable split I had ever experienced. We mutually agreed that we had very different expectations of how a romantic relationship should be, and that it would be better if we started seeing other people. He and I had started dating over the summer, erroneously thinking that there was no reason why we wouldn’t work out romantically because we were such good friends. We were wrong, but we managed to preserve our friendship with the honest communication that was the foundation of our bond.

Throughout my life, I have been told by various people (and magazine articles) how terrible an idea it is to sleep with one’s ex. However, being the rebellious opportunist that I am, I went against the advice I had been given barely three weeks after the breakup. My ex and I realised that, despite not working out romantically, we still had fantastic sexual chemistry. The decision to change the label of our relationship from ‘boyfriend and girlfriend’ to ‘friends with benefits’ just seemed logical to me – we didn’t have to worry that one person would fall for the other, because we had already been there, done that, and realised it would not work out.

I am now dating someone new, and am in what most people would call an open relationship. I still regularly sleep with my ex (among other people), all with my partner’s knowledge and consent, and my partner regularly browses Tinder and Bumble seeking what I like to call ‘bedwarmers’. The tight schedules and constant stress at Oxford often lead to sexual frustration, and this arrangement was convenient for both of us, as people with very high sex drives whose schedules were not always compatible.

Over time, however, I realised that I was ascribing all these unnecessary labels to the people I had formed meaningful relationships with. The word ‘ex’ seemed so jarring a term to use on a person I still valued and cared about, even though we were no longer dating, and ‘friends with benefits’ sounded far too dismissive and cold. The word ‘boyfriend’ suggested that I was practising a monogamous lifestyle, which I did not subscribe to, and I always felt that I had to add an asterisk and a footnote to the word whenever I used it in order to clarify my situation. ‘Open relationship’ was technically the definition for what I had, but it carried too many connotations of relationship hierarchy: the idea that I had a ‘primary’ relationship with one person, and all other relationships I had were ‘secondary’ and less important.

While I love, respect, and support my boyfriend, that didn’t mean I saw our relationship as one that was inherently more valuable than all the other relationships I had formed. I care deeply about my ex (for lack of a better word), have innovative and exciting sex with my other partners, and have many purely platonic (and queerplatonic) friendships that give me just as much joy and satisfaction in life. Simply put, every person I kept in my life brought something different to it. I valued each relationship independently from the others I had, instead of ascribing labels like ‘platonic’, ‘sexual’, and ‘romantic’ to them and placing them in order of importance. With that, I began to search online for a term that would more accurately describe my beliefs, and came across a very informative manifesto by a Swedish activist named Andie Nordgren on a concept she had termed ‘relationship anarchy’. The term sounds revolutionary, but is in fact quite simple.

The theory posits that attraction and affection are not finite resources, and one can enjoy spending time with other people without falling out of love with the person they are with. People who open up their relationships are often afraid that this creates the opportunity for their partner to leave them for someone better, but I was secure in my knowledge that my partner and I had come far enough to trust each other. Besides, even if we did find someone better, that did not necessarily mean our relationship was going badly, or that we would end things between us. I respect those who opt to be in monogamous relationships, but it is not the lifestyle that I would choose – as long as my partner was okay with it, I saw nothing wrong with pursuing someone I desired, no matter how base or superficial the reason.

Relationship anarchy also respects personal autonomy, and rejects the toxic codependency and control that traditional monogamous relationships can sometimes fall into. It is certainly possible to be in a healthy monogamous relationship, but as we are constantly bombarded by heterosexism and toxic ideas by the media, it is important to recognise that, push past the patriarchy, and build something of our own. In the past, I had a partner who was extremely possessive, and encroached more and more on my freedom as our relationship developed. Initially, his behaviour seemed relatively harmless; the fact that he would seethe with jealousy whenever I spent time with my male friends was something I found almost cute, having been told all my life that jealousy was a sign that he cared for me. Later on, he began constantly trying to restrict the time I spent with other people, getting cagey and suspicious whenever I was having fun without him, with or without other men, and in whatever context. I didn’t realise what was happening until he gradually became consumed by paranoia. He accused me of lying to him about where I had been when I had spent the evening at home with my family, and towards the end of our relationship, he would keep me on the phone for hours until I was begging him to let me sleep, telling me that I had to stay up for him to prove that I loved him and wasn’t cheating on him. When I told him that his behaviour was unreasonable, he told me that it was my fault that he was acting this way, as I was too sociable, too affectionate, and I was purposefully doing all this to anger him. That was the last straw. I broke up with him, and I never want to experience that again.

I firmly believe that any relationship, no matter what kind, should be built on respect rather than a sense of entitlement to your partner. We are all given scripts and expectations by the society that we live in that dictate how certain relationships should work, and my exes and I all ran into the same problem: we were simply given different scripts. Relationship anarchy encourages communication between partners to decide for themselves how they want their relationship to function, without being restricted by society or labels, and customising the relationship to be compatible with our own values and needs. I enjoy my sexual freedom and the love and support I receive from my friends and partners, and look forward to further exploring my sexuality and identity at university while being in several relationships. Some might say this is like having my cake and eating it, but it certainly works for me. No matter what relationship you have, or how many relationships you have, always strive to do what you and your partners are happiest with, and not what society says you should do.