Poly/partnership. No gods, no masters, no hierarchies.
It’s a simple line tucked away in her dating profile, but it’s enough to make me swipe right. And when the dating app informed me that he and I were compatible, I decided to send the opening message.
This was not my usual strategy; In the past, I’ve been inundated with matches on dating apps, so I filtered out those who didn’t start a conversation. But I wasn’t overwhelmed by the matches anymore — I’d met nine people, despite having swept the entire Bay Area — so I’d started to get a little bolder in conversation starters.
My lack of matches was a direct result of being extremely specific about what I didn’t want. I wasn’t looking for casual encounters or one-night stands; I also didn’t want someone who was already in a relationship, or who was looking for their better half.
I may have ended up with just nine games after swiping left on everyone else, but those nine all mentioned the one thing I was looking for – they all hinted at the practice of relationship anarchy.
The word “anarchy” may conjure up chaos, but the core belief of relationship anarchy is really quite simple: it recognizes that all relationships are unique, with no relationship necessarily being more important than another. Relationships don’t come with predetermined expectations; instead, each relationship can be tailored to the people in it.
I didn’t start out as a relationship anarchist – most of my previous relationships were monogamous, though they never seemed to last more than a few months. I would be frustrated with the expectations that seemed to come with these relationships; I don’t like the societal message that your romantic partner should be your other half, that you should prioritize them above all else.
I had no desire to spend most of my time with one person or to put my romantic partner above my friends and personal interests. Above all, I didn’t want to be half of a couple – I didn’t want to mix my identity with someone else.
After I gave up on monogamy, I started getting interested in non-monogamy. My first forays were unsuccessful. Most people I dated saw non-monogamy as a way to connect with as many people as possible, until they were ready to find “The One”.
It wasn’t quite the right solution for me. I wanted to have meaningful relationships that were more than just a hookup; I just didn’t want to have to step on the “relationship escalator” with anyone.
“The relationship escalator” is the main societal scenario we have for romantic relationships. It’s a concept most of us are familiar with: you meet someone, fall in love and become exclusive and end up merging lives and getting married. With the relational escalator, “till death do us part” is the goal.
I tried non-monogamy again, but this time I made it clear that I wasn’t looking for casual sex. I quickly met someone who was married to his primary partner, which initially appealed to me. There was no expectation that we would plan major life choices around each other, but he seemed capable of emotional attachments and was interested in more than a short-term fling.
We saw each other for a while, but that relationship quickly fell apart; I liked the person, but hated his style of hierarchical non-monogamy. It felt like there was no place for me in his life – he and his wife may have had an open relationship, but they were still a couple, and most of their time and energy revolved around each other.
This breakup led me to my current state: identifying as a relationship anarchist and only seeking romantic relationships with like-minded people. It reduced my encounter pool considerably – as I learned when I was done with my nine matches – but it was worth it.
The man who had slipped an anarchist slogan into his profile asked me out shortly after I texted him; we went on a date, then several more.
With this new person, there is no pressure to jump on the relationship escalator and plan the rest of our lives together; nor is there a sense that our relationship is casually disposable.
He makes time for me and I do the same, but we do it without neglecting the other relationships we already have in our lives.
Our relationship seems easy, simple, the way friendships often are. While sex and romance are a priority in our relationship, there’s no pressure to be one and the other – inside or outside the bedroom.
And therein lies the appeal of relationship anarchy for me: romantic relationships can take shape naturally, in the same way that we often allow platonic relationships to progress without rigid expectations. It is not necessary to maintain a love relationship on a different level; there is no need to prioritize a romantic lover over a platonic boyfriend.
Some might think that anarchy leads to chaos, with its lack of rules and regulations. But to me – knowing that there are no limits and expectations as to what a relationship can or cannot be – it seems simple.
Rachel Musselwhite writes the Tuesday sex column. Contact the Opinion Bureau at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.