I’ve long been a fan of the writings of Meg-John Barker, a psychology lecturer and sex and gender therapist whose book, Rewriting the Rules, is a must-read for those who question the romantic love script most of us tend to follow as if it’s the only path available to us.
So I was not surprised when her name appeared in an article on relationship anarchy, a term I hadn’t heard before but one that expands on rethinking the way we privilege romantic/
sexual relationships over every other type of relationship.
“In RA, the idea is that all kinds of relationships are important,” she tells the Establishment, a feminist site. “People are interested in RA because it does reflect the reality of many people’s lives: that platonic relationships can be very important, and that things change over time, so it’s important to have freedom and flexibility to keep considering how we manage our relationships.”
Freedom and flexibility
I love having freedom and flexibility in my romantic relationships although it took me a long time to understand that. I didn’t realize that I had choices, that I didn’t have to ask for permission to live my authentic life, that my platonic friendships — which have lasted longer than any other relationship (except with my parents, sibling and my kids) — really matter to me. Well, better late than never.
Yes, I believe all kinds of relationships are important. So, am I a relationship anarchist? I haven’t been, although I’ve come to a place where I make it known in my romantic relationships that my friends matter a lot to me and I’m going to see them frequently and sometimes when it “should” be partner time.
But are my relationships equal? No; although I’m pretty much a serial monogamist, I still let my romantic relationships run the show. And so have many of my female friends. Are we freely choosing to live like that or are we unconsciously following the societal romantic love script?
While I have more recently been much more protective of my gal-time (especially now that my kids are grown and I have “me” time), it’s easier to do that when you’re already in a romantic partnership; my friends who have gone years without a romantic partner and who want one probably would like to put him or her first for a change.
If having an open or polyamorous relationship seems challenging to many of us, being a relationship anarchist seems to take relationships a step — a huge step — farther.
Why must love trump friendship?
In questioning why society emphasizes romantic love over friendship, writer Andrew Sullivan notes that “friendship delivers what love promises but fails to provide.”
Yes, but romantic relationships typically delivers sex and passion — for a while, anyway. Many of us want that.
I can see that we’re already starting to rethink old romantic scripts, such as the increase in interest in parenting partnerships. That indicates some people value the co-parent relationship as much or more than a romantic/sexual one. Same with the rise in multiple marriages. Longevity and “until-death-do-us-part” alone doesn’t mean you have a happy, healthy relationship.
What matters is that during the time the couples are together, they’re committed to each other or, in the case of parent-partnerships, to being co-parents. All kinds of relationships need a certain amount of trust and commitment to be meaningful. According to Swedish activist Andie Nordgren, who coined the term “relationship anarchy” and created a manifesto on how to make it work, it’s the same for those who want to practice RA:
Relationship anarchy is not about never committing to anything — it’s about designing your own commitments with the people around you, and freeing them from norms dictating that certain types of commitments are a requirement for love to be real, or that some commitments like raising children or moving in together have to be driven by certain kinds of feelings. tweet
Right. Like love or the desire for sex. Why should those feelings and desires drive our relationships? Why do we consider the person we have sex with as the most important person in our life? And if we stop having sex with that person, but still remain married or in a relationship with him or her, does that change anything?
I’m intrigued by the idea of RA just as I am intrigued by the idea of consensual nonmonogamy. Putting them into practice in my own life? That, I’m not so sure. How about you?