I’ve worked hard to disentangle myself from hierarchy but hierarchy does not want to let me go. I returned from my brother’s wedding this weekend having spent five days of valuable intimacy with Morten, my nesting partner. Family time. As my brother and new sister repeated their vows, we squeezed each others’ hands and with tears in our eyes assured one another of our abiding love. We love each other, in our core. But just as soon as we found Morten’s girlfriend Sophia at the airport, I submitted to the hierarchy of the world and the one Morten lives by. The airport bus has only two seats side by side. My place was not beside him. When the three of us are together, it never is.
Relationship anarchists[ref]Note: I use of the term relationship anarchy for ease of understanding. Many relationship anarchists believe that I who separate my relationship style from the political aspect of anarchy should not be appropriating the word; in order to differentiate my style from theirs, I generally use the term relationship fluid[/ref] do not necessarily rank friends below lovers, so the theory goes. It’s considered by many to be the epitome of rationality and healthy love. But the more I learn about the self the more I realise that we choose the way we think is our most successful survival strategy. For better or for worse…
For relationship anarchists then, romantic and sexual hierarchy might go against their fundamental, usually subconscious beliefs of how they choose most successfully to survive. It does mine. In this age of disharmony, geographical reach and divorce, I believe that relationship anarchy, the blend of family by blood and/or by choice as a relationship style represents an increasingly valid survival mechanism. Valuing each relationship according to its own evolution and validating each in their own right seems more accommodating to our–and my–times. Yet many, those like Morten, still run their old programming.
I am growing to love Sophia my passionate metamour; but nothing disguises the fact that no matter how much Morten and I declare our love to each other in the moments we are alone together, our filial love defaults to his and society’s romantic and sexual hierarchy when he meets his romantic partner. Morten’s overriding desire for romantic love means he has neither the time nor the inclination to invest in friendships; they are secondary. He is not a relationship anarchist and I am one of the few friends he has. Our shared passion and commitment is our children. Last weekend we clutched one another’s hands watching as Maya and Freddie charmed the pants off my relatives, we saw the result of our past passion manifest in the little people we love more than anyone else in the world. It reminded us, of how close we are and I loved that, I loved him.
The difference between us is that I would sacrifice romantic love for the filial love which beats ever more strong in my heart. For me–one friend–Morten, is more important than anyone else. My love is bound up to my children and therefore to the father of my children. I would do almost anything for any of them.
My biological mother has become my friend over the twenty odd years we’ve known one another. As an adoptee, I am not born of the old hierarchical ways. I am born of anarchy. I am anarchy. The bond of blood was broken, and as adults we have chosen each other as family. Yet our histories are diametrically opposed. In order to preserve her other blood bonds, she once chose to give me up. So to survive we’ve each chosen different strategies to hold our respective families together. We both hold family in high esteem even if her family is defined by blood, love and marriage whilst my family is necessarily by choice and includes friends (of which I consider her one). We spoke about it, a rare moment of vulnerability between us, but then she laughed casually and said,
You’d never sleep with Morten though unless you felt romantically for him. That would be prostituting yourself.
Wouldn’t I? I increasingly identify as aromantic and consider that sex can occur highly enjoyably independently of romance, but also if Morten told me the only way our family would remain intact was to be sexually active with each other I like to believe that I wouldn’t dismiss the suggestion out of hand. It is of course theoretical and Morten, given his normative desire that romance and sex be intertwined is highly unlikely to suggest it.
I have no one more important than my chosen family. Right now I exist for them and as a reflection of them. I fear that the death of my family, would be the death of me, even if logically I know it to be untrue. In the past I have cleaved towards friends whom I considered family, only to have them demote me–when push came to shove–in favour of blood ties, even blood ties they despised. Perhaps it’s a consequence of my adoption. My parents’ divorce. Our estrangement. I know the work it takes to commit to those who are unrelated to me. I actively decide to commit regardless of blood and I know the reasons why I choose and un-choose. I only have parents on paper. Whereas Morten’s parents are still together after sixty years and right now they’re cycling around France even though they’re over eighty. Morten doesn’t know the work it takes to create a family without blood, or what it’s like to lose family, chosen or otherwise. He doesn’t know that pain.
So as his love for Sophia grows, activities we used to do together are relegated to the ‘friend zone’ sidelines. Worse, our past shared passions he shares with Sophia. We watch Eurovision together she by his side, me on the opposite end of the sofa. Finally I couldn’t take such an obvious statement anymore and gave it up. That’s their thing now. But I would do a lot more than embracing and supporting his romantic passion in our lives to keep my family together. I might even, in my mother’s words, prostitute myself. Casual sex with someone you care about can be pretty fun.
Respite from our dynamic comes from Janus my partner, who has become something of a third parent to my children. When we are together it alters my perspective and balances our dynamic. I willingly share parenting with him, but usually as a default when my co-parent Morten isn’t around. But not Morten.
‘Freddie,’ says Morten, ‘shall I brush your teeth? Or shall Janus brush them?’
I hear the question echoing from the other side of the house and am immediately furious. For we both know the answer will be Janus, in fact that’s why he asked the question. It’s how he absolves his responsibility for that particular activity. I have caught myself doing the same thing.
Parenting has been hard for us. I have struggled through years of post-natal anxiety and self-doubt. It’s not Morten’s favourite thing either, mostly he says, because it’s boring. And neither of us like brushing Freddie’s teeth which even as he approaches his fifth birthday, continues to be one minute of screaming, crying and utter torture. Yet endure it we must because whilst parenting has moments of joy, a lot of it is monotonous, painful and yes, boring. It is these activities which for me mean we are parents. It’s these activities which cement the bonds. It is what it means to be a parent.
If Morten were to pass on parenting because of anxiety, I would understand more. When my anxiety is high I also give up those activities, believing it is better for my children as otherwise I become weepy, snappish and generally a worse parent. I give it up so that my children can experience better parenting. But as Morten passes it off because it’s in his own words, boring, I feel like he is passing on parenting, on the parenting relationship, on our relationship.
And I’m angry with him because right now it’s the only thing we share (and yet still takes up 80% of our time). And when he gleefully, intentionally gives it up, his delight feels like an insult to me. A taunt. Morten doesn’t care that he’s passing on our parenting relationship. Step by step it feels like he’s letting go of us and no matter how much sacrifice I make, all my emotional labour, the way I’ve readjusted my life and my support of his romantic goals… I can’t change the way he chooses to survive. He survives by romance. He hates monotony, adores passion and seeks to reproduce as much as possible of it in his life. Which means that unless something changes, I–part of his ‘boring’ parenting relationship–also increasingly fall victim to the hierarchy of his romantic survival mechanisms.