Baby, I’m a relationship anarchist

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Poly/partnered. No gods, no masters, no hierarchies. 

It’s a simple line tucked in his dating profile, but it’s enough to make me swipe right. And when the dating app informed me that he and I were a match, I decided to send the opening message. 

It was not my usual strategy; in the past, I have been overwhelmed with matches on dating apps, and therefore filtered out those who don’t initiate a conversation. But I was no longer overwhelmed with matches — I had connected with a whopping nine people, despite having swiped through the entirety of the Bay Area — so I had begun to be a bit bolder with starting the conversation. 

My lack of matches was a direct result of being extremely specific about what I didn’t want. I wasn’t looking for casual hookups or one-night stands; I also didn’t want someone who was already part of a couple, or was looking for their other half. 

I may have ended up with only nine matches after I swiped left on everyone else, but those nine all mentioned the one thing I was looking for — they all made some allusion to practicing relationship anarchy.

The word “anarchy” may bring chaos to mind, but the fundamental belief of relationship anarchy is really quite simple: It recognizes that all relationships are unique, with no one relationship necessarily being more important than another. Relationships don’t come with any predetermined expectations; instead, each relationship can be tailored to the people who are in it.

I didn’t start out as a relationship anarchist — most of my earlier relationships were monogamous, although they never seemed to last more than a few months. I would get 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 individual interests. Most of all, I didn’t want to be one half of a couple — I didn’t want to enmesh my identity with someone else.

After I gave up on monogamy, I began to dabble in nonmonogamy. My first few forays were unsuccessful. Most of the people I dated viewed nonmonogamy as a way to casually hook up with as many people as possible, until they were ready to find “The One.” 

This wasn’t quite the right fit for me. I wanted to have meaningful relationships that were more than a casual hook-up; I just didn’t want to have to get on the “relationship escalator” with someone.

The “relationship escalator” is the main societal script 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 eventually merge lives and get married. With the relationship escalator, “till death do us part” is the goal.

I took another stab at non-monogamy, but this time I made it obvious that I was not looking for casual sex. I soon met someone who was married to his primary partner, which initially appealed to me. There were no expectations that we would plan major life choices around the other, but he seemed capable of emotional attachments and was interested in more than a short-term fling.

We saw one another for a while, but this relationship quickly fell apart; I loved the person, but hated their style of hierarchical non-monogamy. It felt like there wasn’t space in his life for me—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 break-up led me to my current state: identifying as a relationship anarchist, and only seeking romantic relationships with similar folks. This has dramatically cut down on my dating pool — as I learned when I ended up with my nine matches — but it’s been worth it.

The man who had snuck an anarchist slogan into his profile asked me out shortly after I sent him a message; we went on one date, and then several more.

With this new person, there is no pressure to jump on the relationship escalator and plan the rest of our life together; neither is there the feeling that our relationship is casually disposable. 

He makes time for me, and I do the same — but we do so without neglecting the other relationships we already have in our lives. 

Our relationship feels easy, uncomplicated in the same way that friendships often are. While sex and romance are a priority in our relationship, there is no pressure to be each other’s one and only — inside the bedroom or out.

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. There is no need to hold a romantic relationship to a different standard; there is no need to prioritize a romantic lover over a platonic pal. 

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 for what a relationship can or cannot be — it feels simple.

Rachel Musselwhite writes the Tuesday column on sex. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.