Polyamory vs. Relationship Anarchy

I have mixed feelings about Louisa Leontiades’ recent post entitled “The Mass Exodus of Polyamorous People Towards Relationship Anarchy.” My first thought is that it’s silly. Relationship anarchy and polyamory are compatible. I, and most of the other RA people I know, identify as polyamorous. Relationship anarchy simply involves forming and developing relationships without preexisting structures and coercive power dynamics. This approach does not always lead to polyamory, but it often does. I don’t know of anyone who left polyamory in favor of RA.

But reading the piece, it isn’t really about that. Louisa’s main complaint is about polynormativity. When polyamory is discussed in the media, there tends to be a heavy focus on the sexual aspects and a lack of attention regarding what separates polyamory from other forms of nonmonogamy – honesty and love. Louisa has a real point that it’s impossible to talk about polyamory publicly without sex becoming the focus of everything you say. Though I haven’t seen any evidence of this, it may be that people are rejecting the label “polyamorous” because of it.

For my own part, relationship anarchy was never an alternative to polyamory, but an augmentation. While polyamory was about having multiple loving, consensual, honest relationships, relationship anarchy was about empowering my relationships and putting consent first. However, as Louisa has, I’ve recently found the label relationship anarchist much more useful that the label polyamorous. For one, I’ve found the larger polyamory community, particularly those who claim the title “leaders,” to be incredibly disappointing, and I am cautious about associating myself with them. Second, I have very little in common with people who practice by far the most popular form of polyamory – hierarchical polyamory. As The Thinking Asexual put it:

There’s a primary romantic-sexual relationship that all other romantic and/or sexual relationships are secondary to, meaning the primary relationship gets the lion’s share of emotional energy, commitment, time, etc. Usually, it also means that the primary couple has veto power over the other satellite romantic/sexual relationships. The secondary (and even tertiary) romantic-sexual or sexual relationships will be sacrificed, diminished, damaged, etc to preserve and protect the primary romantic-sexual relationship if necessary. A secondary partner, whether sexual or romantic-sexual, has fewer rights than the primary partner by default. I’ve seen hierarchical polyamory described as “monogamists doing poly by monogamy’s rules” and I think that’s a pretty accurate description.

When I say “I’m polyamorous,” the above description is generally what people think of, and it bothers me because it’s light-years away from the way I practice relationships. In that sense, relationship anarchy is a much more useful label for me to communicate how I practice relationships and to find like-minded people.

So contra Louisa, I don’t think that there is any “mass exodus” of polyamorous people away from that label in particular, but I do think that the growing numbers of relationship anarchists may have something to do with the greater usefulness of that label vs. others. For me, identifying as a relationship anarchist much more clearly communicates my philosophy on relationships and helps me find like-minded people.

2 responses to “Polyamory vs. Relationship Anarchy

  1. Traditional Relationship Anarchists have been frustrated by the wave of polyamorists running away from their community. Relationship Anarchy is our label, and it’s not fair that you “try it on for size” and keep it without understanding it’s full meaning.

    Relationship Anarchy are seperate concepts. Polyamory is an umbrella term for non-monogamous romantic/sexual relationship styles. Relationship Anarchy is a straight up philosophy that says “anyone you choose can be your #1”.

    Poly highlights romantic/sexual dynamics as more important then friendships, just like monogamists do. Meanwhile, RA provides safe-spaces for aromantic sex-repulsive asexuals and crossorientation individuals; both of whom tend to be incompatible with all or most polyamorous types. Your friends can be #1, or your children, or that stranger you struck up a conversation with.

    Please discontinue the use of applying a label where it doesn’t belong. That’s also a RA trait, by the way. That’s why we refrain from using girl/boy/datefriend, husband/wife/spouse, best/regular friend/acquaintnce/stranger. Because people use it to mean something it doesn’t actually mean.

  2. Huh. Looks the definitions of relationship anarchy given by the article, the article it responds to, *and* the first comment requesting it be used a certain way, are all different. I guess the label isn’t well defined, but since there seems to be a thread about rejecting labels, maybe that’s the point. 😛

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