Exploring the Freedom of Love:
A Perspective on Polyamory and Relationship Anarchy
Written by Brendan Hadley
Published 9th September 2023
In a world often marked by convention and tradition, it is crucial to explore alternative perspectives on love and relationships. Today, we embark on a journey into the realms of polyamory and relationship anarchy, unconventional yet profound approaches to human connections. While some might find my endorsement of these concepts surprising, it is essential to remember that embracing diverse viewpoints is a hallmark of a truly free society.
Polyamory, a concept emerging from the Latin words “poly,” signifying many, and “amor,” meaning love, denotes the practice of nurturing affection for more than one person concurrently. It’s imperative to clarify that polyamory does not inherently equate to a pursuit of multiple sexual partners. Before we embark on this exploration, it would be prudent to establish a robust definition of love. I propose we adopt Robert A. Heinlein’s eloquent characterisation: “Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.” This definition offers us a path to sidestep the intricacies of distinguishing between romantic, familial, sexual, or any other manifestations of love.
At its core, polyamory is the practice of forming intimate relationships with multiple individuals simultaneously, with the knowledge and consent of all parties involved. This approach prioritises open communication, honesty, and respect, challenging the monogamous norms that have long defined our societies.
For those grappling with the notion of how one can sustain love for multiple partners without succumbing to jealousy, instability, or strife, consider the love a mother has for her children. With each addition to her family, a mother seemingly possesses an inexhaustible wellspring of affection to share. The arrival of a second child does not diminish her love for the first, nor does a third child reduce her affection for the second. Each child is cherished for their unique qualities, and while the nature of a mother’s love may vary slightly, it is uncommon for her to harbour significantly unequal love for her offspring.
Indeed, siblings often vie for their mother’s attention, experiencing feelings of being shortchanged or envious. Yet, these sentiments, for the most part, do not lead to destructive behaviours and do not undermine their love for their mother or each other. By and large, society acknowledges that a child growing up with siblings accrues intangible benefits that an only child may miss. So, why, then, are we, as a society, predisposed to perceive polyamory – a system that functions harmoniously for parents and children – as nearly untenable in other forms of loving relationships?
To fully grasp what polyamory is, we must also consider what it is not. First and foremost, it is crucial to distinguish polyamory from promiscuity. Loving multiple individuals does not imply loving everyone or engaging in indiscriminate sexual liaisons. Promiscuity, on the other hand, entails casual, indiscriminate sexual relations with multiple partners. A polyamorous person may indeed have multiple sexual partners, yet they are just as capable of fidelity, love, and attentiveness to their two, three, or more partners as a monogamous individual is to their sole partner.
This commitment to multiple partners is referred to as polyfidelity, and those who practice it are termed polyfidelous. Promiscuity and similar conditions, such as love or sex addiction, manifest at approximately the same frequencies in polyamorous individuals as they do in their monogamous counterparts.
It is also vital to understand that polyamory does not carry inherent value judgments. It neither stands as objectively virtuous nor wicked, right nor wrong. It represents merely a description of how certain individuals think, feel, and love.
One must recognise that either one possesses the capacity for polyamory or does not. Transforming a monogamist into a polyamorist, or vice versa, proves nearly insurmountable. While individuals may acquire skills and knowledge that facilitate the practice of polyamory for those with such inclinations, one cannot fundamentally rewire a monogamous mindset into a polyamorous one. Polyamory does not universally suit everyone, and those who assert that it should be universally adopted demonstrate the same dogmatic rigidity as staunch advocates of monogamy.
Even for the minority of individuals whose cognitive disposition aligns with polyamory, navigating a predominantly monogamous world poses considerable challenges. In many Western cultures, the majority equates polyamory with promiscuity, adultery, and infidelity, leading to a proclivity to ostracise or condemn those associated with or practising polyamory. Curiously, even in these ostensibly “enlightened” times, the refrain that “the government should not dictate whom we can love or marry; people should be free to marry whomever they choose” tends to fade when one wishes to marry more than one person.
Despite the legalisation of same-sex marriage on the premise that the benefits of matrimony should extend to any individuals, regardless of gender, the implicit caveat often presumes the union consists of only two individuals. It is indeed ironic that some of society’s most ardent proponents of social justice and tolerance toward alternative lifestyles exhibit reluctance to support legal changes that would legitimise polyamorous unions.
As for myself, I used to think something was wrong with me. I’ve been in and out of monogamous relationships throughout most of my adulthood. Yet, I had always felt something was missing in my life and, at times, even intolerably lonely. I’ve never cheated on anyone before and don’t intend to start now. Through my journey of self-discovery, I’ve had several new experiences that helped me to expand my mind. I’ve had every value I’ve ever held questioned, and I grew to be a better person because of it.
Polyamory recognises that love is not a finite resource; it’s abundant and boundless. Just as one can have multiple close friends without diminishing the value of any one friendship, polyamory asserts that one can experience deep, meaningful connections with multiple romantic partners without diminishing the significance of any single relationship.
Polyamory allows individuals to explore and experience a broader spectrum of emotions and connections. Each relationship can offer unique experiences and perspectives, enriching one’s emotional life.
In polyamorous relationships, open and honest communication is paramount. This commitment to transparency fosters strong emotional bonds and encourages personal growth.
Additionally, with multiple partners, individuals often find greater emotional support and a sense of belonging. The diversity of perspectives can help navigate life’s challenges more effectively.
Understanding Relationship Anarchy
In the complex landscape of today’s diverse relationship terminology, whether you’re navigating a “situationship,” pondering the nuances of a ‘talking stage,’ or entering an ‘exclusive’ partnership, the intricacies apply to both non-traditional and conventional relationship styles. One term that may have crossed your path is ‘relationship anarchy.’ It’s a mindset towards relationships that often faces misunderstanding or misinterpretation, and my aim here is to provide a clear understanding of its essence.
Relationship anarchy, though lesser known than polyamory, is a philosophy that emphasises autonomy, equality, and the rejection of societal hierarchies in relationships. It suggests that every connection, whether platonic, romantic, or sexual, deserves equal attention and respect. In essence, it encourages individuals to create their relationship structures based on their unique needs and desires rather than conforming to societal norms. For adherents of relationship anarchy, every connection is equally deserving of love, attention, and autonomy.
As the name implies, relationship anarchy draws inspiration from political anarchy. It revolves around embracing your own core values and autonomy when approaching relationships while simultaneously rejecting hierarchy, societal norms, and external regulations. The term was coined by Andie Nordgren, who initially penned the Swedish-language pamphlet “Relationsanarki i 8 punkter” in 2006 before it was translated into English and shared on Tumblr. Nordgren’s pamphlet served as a manifesto outlining the fundamental tenets of relationship anarchy: the belief that love isn’t a finite resource, that every relationship is unique, and that relationships should be built on love and respect rather than entitlement. In simple terms, relationship anarchists can cultivate multiple distinct relationships simultaneously instead of prioritising one as primary. Thus, relationship anarchists reject the notion that one relationship must be primary, recognising that love can manifest in various forms and intensities without devaluing any of them.
Being a relationship anarchist doesn’t necessarily entail having numerous sexual or romantic partners, although you can if you wish. It means that the nature of your relationships, whether platonic, romantic, sexual, or even professional, doesn’t automatically dictate their significance in your life; all connections deserve your love and attention equally. For instance, relationship anarchists may hold their close friends in the same regard as family members and intimate partners. At any given time, they might have a predominantly platonic live-in partner, a weekly sexual partner, and a long-distance friendship tinged with romance, with all of these connections holding significant roles in their life.
Relationship anarchy is akin to saying that no relationship inherently possesses greater value just because someone says so. Each relationship is assessed based on its own merits.
The inclusive nature of relationship anarchy, focusing on various connection types, sets it apart from non-monogamy, making it possible for individuals who identify as monogamous to embrace this philosophy. It also means that people identifying as asexual, aromantic, or anywhere along the ace spectrum can also be relationship anarchists.
Of course, the realms of relationship anarchy and non-monogamy can intersect. Just as many polyamorous individuals seem to have cats and run Dungeons & Dragons groups (seriously, why is that?), numerous practitioners of polyamory and non-monogamy also identify as passionate relationship anarchists. However, a couple that views each other as primary partners and individually dates secondary partners, for instance, wouldn’t be considered relationship anarchists.
Living by the philosophy of relationship anarchy can be challenging, primarily because most societies prioritise romantic love culturally and legally above other forms of relationships. This can lead relationship anarchists to feel excluded and marginalised as if their beliefs aren’t acknowledged or respected by those around them. There are laws and regulations that inherently establish relationship hierarchies and compel individuals to choose. You can only marry one person, designate one as your next of kin, and some hospitals restrict visitation to specific individuals when you’re ill. Consequently, this occasionally requires uncomfortable decisions or temporary prioritisation of specific relationships, such as when starting a family. Within relationship anarchy, it’s also acceptable to decide that, for the time being, your children are the top priority, so you’ll allocate more time to them and your co-parents, for instance. The ever-evolving nature of relationship anarchy, categorised as a philosophy or belief rather than an innate orientation, allows for this flexibility.
Anyone considering relationship anarchy should start by questioning the norms around them, as well as the relationships they’ve established, to ensure they’re founded on merit rather than societal expectations. It’s crucial to begin by challenging things you’ve accepted as established norms or learned beliefs. Question everything and ask why it exists. Like any relationship style, regular communication with your partners is key to establishing healthy and enduring connections, especially in a relationship style where connections naturally evolve and transition, moving from friendship to romance and back again, for example.
Ultimately, relationship anarchy is an incredibly personal and autonomous philosophy to guide your relationships. What works for one person may not be suitable for another. As Nordgren outlines in the manifesto, it all boils down to identifying your own core values boundaries and determining what matters most to you when establishing connections and choosing who to spend time with. While blogs like this one and the Relationship Anarchist Manifesto can offer guidance, the rest is up to you.
Intersection of Polyamory and Relationship Anarchy
The beauty of these philosophies lies in their compatibility. Many polyamorous individuals naturally gravitate toward relationship anarchy because it aligns with the values of autonomy and respect that polyamory promotes. In this intersection, individuals can build relationships that are not only open to multiple partners but also free from hierarchical constraints.
Polyamory and relationship anarchy represent two paths to love and connection that diverge from traditional societal norms. They encourage us to break free from the confines of convention and explore the full spectrum of human relationships. In doing so, they provide opportunities for personal growth, deeper connections, and a more compassionate society overall. While these paths may not be for everyone, they undeniably contribute to the tapestry of human experiences and deserve acknowledgment and understanding in our ever-evolving world.