I read an article by joreth the other day that got me thinking about my identity as a relationship anarchist. I tend to refer to myself as polyamorous because I use that as an umbrella term, but I don't line up with mainstream polyamory. I am a relationship anarchist because I have the intention of building nothing but continuously voluntary associations where anyone is free to leave at any time for any reason, and only does what they want. This will remain true unless I decide to raise children (I consider it unethical to leave children before they become adults, after you made a decision to parent them).
Mainstream polyamory, as I interpret it, is monogamy* with add-ons. Most polyamorous people I have known structure their relationships in a role-based hierarchy with romantic relationships on top, just like monogamy except with more people. Many of them put those relationships into an additional hierarchy, with 'primary' and 'secondary' etc. In mainstream polyamory as with monogamy, a relationship is created by achieving certain milestones and/or agreeing on certain limitations: you are 'officially' in a relationship when you say I love you, or when you decide to be exclusive or partially exclusive. There is an end goal, and the progression generally looks the same. One rides the relationship escalator: initiating romance, determining roles (boyfriend, girlfriend, etc), changing to fit each other better, committing, becoming comfortable, creating a legacy. OR the relationship is defined by the absence of those things, and understood as lesser for not having them.
I don't want any of that. I don't want to choose a role with all the un-negotiated expectations that usually come along with it. I don't want to change to fit someone else or have them do that for me. I don't want to have external commitments which I count on rather than making the decision anew every day. My legacy is what I learn and what I teach and it happens along the way, not at some end point, and not through 'relationship milestones.'
My desire to not have roles or vows is certainly not due to being lazy, irresponsible, selfish, or uncaring. Rather, it is because I have found that roles are giant bundles of un-negotiated expectations (which are unethical) and that changing for any external reason or doing something because I agreed to do it even though I don't want to is usually both ineffective and damaging. Conversely, I am simply not nourished by changeless connections: I need change and growth in my connections and I need that change to be internally motivated for each person.
I am defining 'want' not as in transitory desire, but as in overall goals. So, while partially I may not 'want' to be open with you about a difficult topic because it is uncomfortable, in my larger goals I have a VERY strong desire to maintain openness and this is larger than my transitory desire to be comfortable: it makes it so that I actually desire the momentary discomfort in pursuit of my overall desire.
If I did not have that very strong overall desire, then being open just because I had agreed to would be a terrible idea. I would resent the person and the relationship for making me uncomfortable when I didn't want to be. Each time I did it when I didn't want to, that resentment would increase until it became unbearable and I broke up with the person, feeling great animosity towards them for 'stealing' so much of my effort (which they have not actually done! but having given what I didn't want to give, I feel stolen from nonetheless).
I am convinced the process of unwanted expectation and resentment happens with the vast majority of humans, and the only way I know to have a healthy relationship is for each person to do only what they genuinely want to do and would do regardless of the person or the connection. So, the only things I do for my romantic relationships are things I have the goal to do in any connection. For my lifesharers and core tribe, I make these things a higher priority, but they are intentions I have with any person I am connected to. Whether the relationship is romantic or not, sexual or not, makes no difference. (my friendships are just as important as other relationships)
[My Goals With Everyone]
My Goals With Everyone
I do my best to always:
respect your personhood: never mock, belittle, or call you names; never shut you up or treat you dismissively; never complain about you behind your back; never assume rights to your things; never try to deliberately deceive you for my gain; never use your vulnerabilities against you; never deliberately or carelessly hurt you; never treat my convenience as more important than your need; never consider myself better than you; never break an agreement without explanation or apology; never use 'loopholes' to justify behavior that I know goes against the spirit of what was expressed.
respect your bodily autonomy: never to touch without consent and never to verbally disrespect or attempt to sway your choices on what to put in or on your body.
respect your agency: never to try to persuade you to do something you don't want to do; never to use emotional manipulation to get you to do something; never deliberately or carelessly make it difficult to say no.
(all of the 'respect' ones are my minimum requirements for friendly acquaintances)
harm none, if possible: do my best to not cause harm to others or myself, yet maintain willingness to cause slight harm to others if the cost of not doing so would be significant damage to myself. Considering not to whom the harm goes, but which harm would be greater.
negotiate expectations: never have any non-consensual expectations of you, nor tolerate you having them of me.
build expectations from desire, not fear: base expectations on practicality and the needs and desires of all affected rather than blocking out scary things.
allow relationships to grow or shrink on their own merit: never invest in or withdraw from a relationship due to its current role. be willing to take breaks or break up if there is a harmful pattern. note patterns and set boundaries if a pattern of behavior begins to cause me damage.
prioritize needs: consider who has the greater need when making decisions on who to give my energy to if I have to choose.
share with you: whatever resources I have to spare I will share with you.
allow you to be the only one responsible for your self-care: never to try to caretake you in a way that has not been negotiated. If you want or need me to caretake you in some way, you are responsible for explaining this and for accepting if I cannot do it. I will not try to read your mind or predict your desires.
support you in your self-care and growth to my best ability: encourage you spending time and energy on activities that nourish you and help you grow and learn, even when they are not at all beneficial to me.
be responsible for my own self-care: never to assume that you will caretake me in any circumstance, and to be prepared for you to be unavailable at any time. I will never expect you to read my mind or predict my desires.
respect my needs: check in with myself regularly on if I am getting my needs met, express it if there are unmet needs, accept help when it is offered and I want it. If one person cannot meet my need, seek another person instead of trying to get the first to change.
pay attention: absorb and try to fully engage with what you share with me. (also, express that this is a need for me!)
avoid bad judgement: assume best intentions and ask questions before assigning meaning to behavior.
compassionately work shit out: kindly and frankly express and resolve upsets before they become resentments or harmful patterns, and empathize and explain before problem-solving.
respect your other connections: make room for them to be nourished and grow.
express affection: when and how I feel it, with consideration for how you feel most loved.
balance kindness with firmness: easily forgive mistakes and be gentle with people's feelings whenever possible, but never invalidate my own experience because the other person is sorry. Be willing to affirm when someone says they acted badly, if it is true.
*It is completely possible to be monogamous and negotiate your expectations of course. Or to have role-based polyamory where expectations are negotiated. It's just easier (though not less painful) to not negotiate them, so most people don't.
The post that introduced me to relationship anarchy: Relationship Anarchy Basics