Understanding the terminology around different types of relationships in 2023 can be complicated—whether you’re leaving a situationship, dwelling on a talking stage, or becoming ‘exclusive’ with someone. This applies just as much to non-traditional styles of relationship as it does to conventional monogamy. One particular term you might have come across on Feeld is “relationship anarchy.” It’s an attitude towards relationships that is oftentimes misunderstood or misconstrued, and this guide is intended to clarify exactly what it means.
As the name suggests, relationship anarchy has its roots in political anarchy. It is similarly based around following your own core values and autonomy when approaching relationships, while simultaneously rejecting hierarchy, normativity, and any external rules. The term was first devised by Andie Nordgren, who first wrote the Swedish language pamphlet “Relationsanarki i 8 punkter” in 2006 before it was translated into English and hosted on tumblr. Nordgren’s pamphlet served as a manifesto outlining the core components of relationship anarchy: that is, that love is not a finite resource, that every relationship is unique, and that relationships should be built on love and respect rather than entitlement. Put simply, relationship anarchists can enjoy multiple, different relationships concurrently, instead of prioritizing one primary relationship.
Being a relationship anarchist doesn’t necessarily mean you have lots of sexual or romantic partners, though you can if you like! It’s more that the nature of your relationships—be they platonic, romantic, sexual, or even business partners—does not automatically dictate their importance in your life, with all connections being equally deserving of your love and attention. For example, relationship anarchists may have close friends that they see as just as important to them as their family members and intimate partners. They might, at any one time, have a predominantly platonic partner they live with, a sexual partner they see weekly, and a long-distance friendship with a strong romantic component, with all of these figures occupying a significant role in their life.
Roy Graff from JoyClub is a relationship and life coach and leader of a non-monogamous men’s support club. He often works with clients who are relationship anarchists. “It's kind of like saying: no relationship is inherently more valuable than another just because somebody says so,” Graff explains. “Each relationship gets to be lived on its merits.”
The broad nature of relationship anarchy and its focus on different types of connections distinguishes it from non-monogamy, so you can still practice it if you otherwise identify as monogamous. This also means that people who identify as asexual, aromantic, or elsewhere on the ace spectrum can also be relationship anarchists.
Of course, the spheres of relationship anarchy and non-monogamy can and do intersect. The same way that most polyamorous people seem to own cats and run a D&D group (seriously, why is that?), many people who practice polyamory and non-monogamy are also avid relationship anarchists. But a couple who see each other as primary partners and have secondary partners they each individually date, for example, would not be relationship anarchists.
Relationship anarchy can be a challenging philosophy to live by, mainly because most societies prioritize romantic love over other relationships both culturally and legally. This can lead relationship anarchists to feel excluded and sidelined, and often like their beliefs aren’t accommodated for, or respected by, those around them. “There are laws and regulations that specifically lead people to have a hierarchy in a relationship, and to basically have to choose,” Graff explains. “So you can only marry one person, you can only put one person as your next of kin, some hospitals will only allow certain people to visit you if you're sick.” Inevitably, this sometimes leads to uncomfortable decisions, or having to temporarily prioritize certain relationships at different times in their life, such as when starting a family. “I think that that's also allowable within relationship anarchy to decide that at the moment, for this time period, your kids are most important so you're going to prioritize time spent with them and with your co-parents, for example,” Graff says. The ever-changing nature of relationship anarchy, and its classification as a philosophy or belief rather than an innate orientation, allows for this flexibility.
Graff advises anyone thinking about relationship anarchy to begin by questioning the norms around them, as well as the relationships they have already established—to ensure that they are being practiced on merit rather than any perceived societal expectation. “It's really important that the first thing that you do is start questioning things that you have accepted until now as established norms or learnt beliefs,” he says. “Question everything, and ask: why is it there?” Like any relationship style, communicating regularly with your partners is also key to establishing healthy and long-lasting connections. This is especially true of a relationship style where connections often change and transition of their own accord, from friends to lovers and back again, for example.
Ultimately, the nature of relationship anarchy means it is a highly personal and autonomous relationship philosophy to live by. What works for one person might not be right for another. As Nordgren outlines in the manifesto, it all comes back to figuring out your own core values, boundaries, and working out the sort of things that are important to you when establishing your relationships, and deciding who you’d like to spend time with. While guides like this, non-traditional dating apps like Feeld, and the relationship anarchist manifesto itself can help point you in the right direction, the rest is up to you.